The reaction is the most intense Edward has ever seen. The light spills, pure, golden and gentle, up into the air; it is soft, and warm on his face. Almost like a physical touch. Almost tangible. Almost, almost—almost over. Just a few more seconds, and the thing he and Al have been working so hard on, for so very long, will be over, will be complete.

The light flares and crackles, and he felt his heart quickening in his chest. He grins, slowly, as he sees something taking shape in the centre of the array—but that grin is tinged with fear, slightly maniacal. Please, he thinks, though he can't say to whom or even what the almost-prayer is directed at, please don't let this be a repeat of last time.

It seems the prayer worked. The light goes from golden to blue to fading, without stopping at purple. And the thing in the centre of the array coughs in the smoke that had risen with the dying of the light, its form obscured.

Ed stands on shaky legs, his stomach tied in a hard little knot—of hope, of terror—and stumbles over to the very middle of the elaborate array, collapsing onto his knees a few feet short of his brother's huddled form. He can't bring himself to reach out and touch Al, not after so long, and it seems like forever until he can get his voice working, his throat too clogged to allow it to sound anything more than raspy even then. "Alphonse?" he whispers, and feels something inside him give when Al uncurls, raising his tear-blurred, but otherwise perfect, face to the light.

"Brother?" Al asks, rubbing at his tears with the back of one hand and then blinking, staring down at that hand as though he's never seen it before. He hasn't, or at least not since he was nine. He has so much to catch up on. He folds and unfolds the fingers into a fist, watching the hand move, and Ed feels everything inside him surging up, boiling to the surface; he wants to cling onto Al and never let go, wants to feel his brother's skin for the first time in far too long, wants to touch every inch of him and whisper his apologies into Al's hair.

And he can't speak, at the same time; he wants to just sit and stare, wants to admire without touching and marring that flawless skin. There's a tickling in the back of his throat and an ache in his chest, and he withdraws a little, hunches his shoulders against it. He feels abruptly foolish, and shamed; but Al is looking up from the fascinating distraction of his own hand, and their eyes are meeting, and suddenly—like somebody's just flicked a switch inside him—the unease and fear is draining away, vanishing as quickly as it rose.

And it's not hard, not hard at all, to reach out and rest his hands on Al's cheeks. It's the easiest thing in the world to lean forward, closer to Al's smile, and brush their noses together. "Hey," he says softly, voice still hoarse. "Welcome back."

Al's smile widens, mouth curving slowly upwards into a sweet grin. They may not have been the most emotive words to choose, after all the effort that had gone into this moment, all the pain and longing and hope; but they'd served their purpose, and watching Al smile, Ed can't find it in himself to be too embarrassed. He shrugs out of his red coat and wraps it around Al's shoulders; slips his arms around Al's back, pulling him closer, and tucks his face into the junction of Al's neck and shoulder. The skin there is soft, just the way he remembers it from the time before.

His brother is back. His brother is back, and realisation sinks into him, really truly sinks into him, with a sensation of something inside him being ripped open, something he'd kept shut and locked and hadn't even known was there.

And somewhere in there it goes from him holding his little brother to him pressing his face further into Al's soft new-old skin, crying until his eyes are scorched and his cheeks are numb, Al's hands running soothingly over the fabric of his jacket. He pauses, backs off to look at Al's wide bronze eyes, the worry on his little brother's face, and can't help but grin, through his tears, at the irony. Surely it should be he comforting Al after that chaotic transmutation, not vice versa? Surely it shouldn't be he who steals all of Al's attention, when there's a world outside there to explore?

Surely it shouldn't be he whom Alphonse is kissing like that, so slow and tender, more a brushing of lips than anything else? It should be some girl with pretty eyes and soft hair, who likes cats and has a warm and gentle smile, not... he, who is Al's brother and the one who stole five years of his life and and and—

Encouraged by the lack of resistance, Al deepens the kiss, mouth moving sloppily and hungrily over Ed's. It's not the best first kiss either of them could have wished for; but neither are experienced, and Ed's eyelids lower as he relaxes into it despite himself. Thoughts are flitting through his head like butterflies, colourful with possibility and so delicate that he dares not attempt to catch one for fear of crushing it in his grip.

Finally Al pulls away, hands clamped on Ed's shoulders, eyes wide bronze and mouth trembling a little with—fear, Ed realises with a sinking sensation; Al's frightened of his reaction. He manages somehow—he can't remember where his limbs are, they feel heavy, awkward and clumsy—to raise his good hand, his flesh hand, and gingerly cup Al's jaw; sweeps the pad of his thumb in a gentle curving line over Al's lips, tugging the corner up into a half-smile. "Don't be scared," he whispers. "We've come through so much Al—there's no reason to be scared any more, right?"

Al stares back at him, wordless pleading consuming his expression, and Ed pauses with his thumb pressed to the centre of his little brother's upper lip. Al looks so small and helpless and beautiful, in this body that is his and always has been and now, always will be, that Ed finds it the easiest thing in the world to lean forward and replace his thumb with his mouth, in a kiss slow and hesitant and fumbling. Achingly sweet, just like the first sight of Al in his perfect body was; wonderfully precious, just like that first, nervous moment.

Al is warm, and tastes of nothing aside from himself, just as he should be. There is no food freshly consumed to flavour the taste of his mouth, no tang of cherries or sweet trace of cinnamon, and Ed deepens the kiss, tongue slipping further in, brushing Al's in a greeting before falling away shyly, forcing the younger brother to reciprocate. Al reaches out and buries his hands in Ed's hair, undoing the tie to let it fall, soft and shining, over his shoulders, his fingers curling into it, knuckles dragging painfully but—oh, Ed will not tell him stop, never has and never will, now; not when Al is pressed against him so warm and beautiful, strong bronze eyes and soft, fine honey hair against his cheek.

Al breaks this kiss and puts a finger to Ed's lips, eyes shining with hope. He's gorgeous, swathed in Ed's red coat—a little too small for him, though neither brother mentions it—and then he leans forward and lies his head there, just over Ed's heartbeat. Ed doesn't say anything, just presses a kiss to the back of Al's neck. He should move them, he knows; the floor of a basement is hardly a good place to curl up for the night.

But Al's breathing is evening out, and he's so warm and comfortable in Ed's arms, fast asleep, face innocent and as sweet as it had been all those long nights, in Ed's desperate dreams. Ed smiles and tugs the red coat further around them. Roy will be here soon, he knows; he asked the man to come, after all, to scrape his guts off the walls if anything went wrong and deal with Alphonse no matter what happened. Edward had not intended to survive, but he had; and now, with Alphonse's tousled hair tickling his ribs with every rise and fall of his chest, he can't think of a better reason to live.