Stolen Time

It had worked, Al thought as the blue crackle of alchemical energy faded. It had actually worked. His breath caught on a hitching note as the smoke began to clear; on either side of him Roy and Izumi tensed.

His mind still felt fuzzy from the missing memories being forced in, but nevertheless Alphonse shakily rose to his feet, stumbling forwards woodenly through the smoke and steam. Everything felt numb, and his heart was beating three times faster than normal.

But... What if it hadn't worked? He remembered now the image of his mother, exposed organs and grasping limbs, twisted and blackened. He staggered to a halt, abruptly terrified of pressing onwards through the mist, and tried not to cry.

If it hadn't worked... if it failed... what would he do? Try again? How? It could take years, decades, even, before he could see his brother again, and quite frankly, he knew that was unacceptable. If it had failed...

Ahead of him, something stirred, a jarring motion through the fog. A hand waved, weakly, and Al, heart pounding, dragged his feet forward towards it. He screwed his eyes shut before the distant silhouette could become clearer, feeling his shoulders shaking as he edged ever closer, and then—

A hand gently touched his right cheek, strong fingers tilting his head up. "Al?" He knew that voice, knew it implicitly. He licked his lips, not opening his eyes, and whispered, "Brother?"

The hand left his cheek and a warm arm wrapped tightly around his shoulders, pressing him close. Al licked his lips again, not trusting his voice, and finally opened his eyes. Ed was there, his blond hair in a high ponytail, his right arm hanging limp and unresponsive, his clothes odd and different but... it was Ed, eyes squeezed shut and tears on his cheeks. "Brother," Al whispered, and didn't even try to stop his own tears. He couldn't remember Ed ever crying, in all of the memories he'd forgotten and received again, and if Ed could, then so could he.

Ed grinned at him through his tears, then pulled him close and pressed a kiss against his forehead. It was quick, forceful and slightly bruising, but Al found that he really didn't care. Then Ed drew back, his tears by now dripping from his chin, and cupped his cheek again. "Seven years," he whispered. "Seven goddamn years."

Al couldn't have stopped crying if he'd tried. Instead he wrapped his arms around Ed and pulled him into a tight embrace, taking deep breaths, and whispered, "I missed you. God, brother, I missed you. I don't ever want to be separated from you ever again. I missed you."

"Believe me, Al, I never want to go. I missed you too, god—" The smoke around them was an effective barrier from outside eyes, and Al found himself wishing it would never dissipate. But for now, in this momentary isolation, with Ed warm in his arms and happy tears on his cheeks for the first time in far too long, he will take the time that he's been given.