chapter 2.

I Promise You gold

"Stop fidgeting," Al said, for what felt like the seventeenth time. "Your tie is crooked."

"Honestly, who came up with something like a bowtie anyway?" Ed complained, tugging at the irritating thing to correct its slant, only of course to end up with it tilting the other way. Al sighed and stepped in to fix it, again. "It's a singularly dumbass invention."

"I don't know," Al said honestly. He glanced at the clock; still an hour to go. Did all of these ceremonies have to be as complex as a twelve-step distillation process? Ed was pacing again, so Al retreated back into the tiny waiting room's only chair. "I think that a lot of formalwear is just a matter of tradition, no matter how silly or impractical it is. I mean, just look at the military uniform's cavalry skirt."

"Skirt," Ed snickered, but sobered up faster than Al would have preferred. "Why is it just guys who have to deal with crap like tuxedos, then?" he grumbled, and his fingers crept up to tug under the collar again. "Girls get all sorts of variety in their dresses, and they look gorgeous. Guys just look dumb."

"You look good, Brother," Al said, simply. Ed did. And he didn't just mean in the tuxedo, although it did set him off quite nicely. But more importantly, Ed was looking better; he'd put back on some of the weight he'd lost, towards the end, and his skin once again lit from within with a healthy glow, not a feverish flush. His hair gleamed brightly gold, not lank and pale like it had been, during those terrible weeks they'd spent on the run – chasing it, or being chased, sometimes it was hard to tell. Not a decent night's sleep in all that time, and hardly enough food to keep Ed going – it hadn't been fun, watching Ed drain himself dry in the last desperate sprint for the Stone.

It was all worth it in the end, he agreed now. Now he had his body back, his body, the real flesh and blood one, and he could touch his brother, and see him smile for real, eyes bright and free of guilt for the first time in so many years, and, well – Ed said he'd gotten taller, but Al thought that it was just for the first time, he was carrying himself without all those heavy burdens on his shoulders. Now they had closed the final distance between them, and could love each other with their own bodies, as their should. It was a long road they'd traveled, the price of years they'd paid for these past couple of months of bliss.

But in the end – in the end. Was this, then, the end? Now they were free, and safe.

"I'm doomed," Ed said hollowly.

Al sighed, and propped his head on his arm, leaning against the arm of the awkward little chair. "You'll be fine, Brother," he promised him once again.

"I won't be fine. I'm doomed," Ed pronounced. "I'm getting married. To Scieszka. Who is pregnant with my child. And I'm seventeen. I'm doomed."

"You don't have to marry her if you don't feel you're ready," Al pointed out, trying to keep his voice patient and supportive. "Winry would be more than happy to support her, and the baby. You know she'd love it like her own kid, and Scieszka too. It's not a good idea to get married out of some sense of obligation, Brother."

"It isn't like that," Ed said hastily. "I mean – I don't feel obliged – I mean, I do, because it's my kid, and I'll cut my other leg off before I abandon it, but I don't resent it at all. Besides, Winry would kill me if I made Scieszka sad. It's just – fuck, Al, I'm seventeen!"

"You already said that," Al observed. "Several times."

"Well, I'm still seventeen," Ed quickly said in his defense. "Al, I don't even have a job any more. How am I supposed to support a – a wife and a kid?"

"Scieszka has her own job at the library," Al reminded him. "And besides, Brother, remember who's been taking care of your banking all this time? I know exactly how much you've got tucked away."

"Yes, but that won't last for – it's not—" Ed floundered a bit. "We don't even have a house, Al, where are we supposed to live?"

Al leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest, and rolled his eyes. "Brother, remember Youswell? You assembled an entire inn from bottom to top in under an hour. I don't think you exactly have to worry about living out on the streets."

"Yes, but—" Ed said, and Al sighed.

"Brother," he said. "Nobody is forcing you to marry her. If you don't want to – if you don't love her – it would only be cruel. You need to be honest with yourself, and with her."

"It's not that—" Ed was pulling on his hair, now, and Al pushed himself out of his chair, took the few steps across the small room, and put his hands on his brother's shoulders. A part of him still marveled that he could do this, that he could touch his brother and feel the give of his flesh, the warmth radiating even through his clothes. That heat sent a spike of longing through his throat; for warmth, closeness, comfort, touch, but he swallowed on it hard. This was his brother's wedding day.

"Do you love her?" Al asked, looking Ed in the eye.

Ed's anguish was plain. "I love you, Al," he said, sounding a bit desperate.

Al sighed again. "I know that, Brother," he said calmly. "I've never forgotten. But that's not what I'm asking. Do you love Scieszka?"

"I do love her!" Ed flailed around a bit. "I do love her, it's just... I love her the same way I love you, Al."

"The same way?" Al pressed him.

"Yes, the same way. Exactly the same way."

"Exactly the same?"

"Well. Almost exactly the same. Slightly different."

"Slightly different how?"

"Well," and Ed blushed slightly, "I don't actively want for Scieszka to push me down on my stomach and—"

"All right, brother!" Al had turned bright red, and flung up one hand to interrupt. "I think I get it."

"It's not that I don't love her," Ed said in a softer tone, lowering his eyes to stare at Al's chest. "But – I didn't expect all this to happen, Al. Back when I – when the two of us slept together—"

"It's all right," Al reminded him again, heading off the impending guilt trip with the ease of long practice. "She was unattached, she didn't get together with Winry until we left – you were unattached, it would have been just stupid to hold out for someone who didn't even have a body – and it was good for both of you."

"—it never occurred to me that she would, you know," Ed finished in a subdued tone. "Get pregnant."

The reply to that was obvious. Too obvious, so Al held his tongue on it. "You had other things on your mind at the time. It's all part of being an adult, Brother; getting married and making a family and... things. It would have happened sooner or later."

"But this was all so sudden," Ed groaned, and his agitation was plain in the way he fidgeted under Al's hands, not wanting to break the contact, but unable to hold still. Without hesitation Al pulled his brother into his arms, and hugged him tight. Ed's arms wrapped around him equally fierce.

"I just thought—" Ed started to pull back, then apparently changed his mind and buried his face deeper against Al's neck. "I thought we'd have more time, Al. To rest and – and get used to things, and teach you about your body again, and catch up on everything we missed."

Al had to squeeze his eyes shut against another spike of melancholy. He was happy for Ed, he really was, he really was – it was just—

"I don't want to lose you," Ed said, muffled against his neck, and for a moment Al couldn't make his voice work.

"It can't be helped," he murmured at last, sadly. "It's just called growing up. It's a kind of equivalent trade, too. You give up childish things, and you get adult things in exchange."

"Am I being greedy like a kid, then?" Ed's voice wavered, but he sounded serious all the same. "I don't want to give you up, not even – not even if it means getting Scieszka and the – and the baby. I want to have everything – you, Scieszka, the baby, and Winry, and place where we can call home – and—"

Al couldn't help himself. He laughed. "That would be a pretty strange home, Brother," he said, somewhat shakily. "You and your brother-boyfriend and your wife and child and your wife's girlfriend." It still lightened the mood enough that he could let go, pull back enough to look his brother in the eye, and pretend he didn't notice how much Ed was blinking. Older brothers didn't cry, after all, and grown men didn't either, and his brother was both.

"We can have two beds in the bedroom," Ed suggested jokingly, tipping his head back and flashing his brother a smile. "That way anyone can switch off, and not have to worry about waking other people up if they want to get in and out of bed."

"I don't know, Brother," Al said flippantly, playing along. "Maybe Winry and I would want a bedroom of our own. You snore, after all."

"I do not," Ed began indignantly, then did a double take. "You and Winry? Al, still? She turned down your proposal, remember?"

"We were six," Al reminded him. "But she's still – Oh, I'm not going to argue with you now, Brother. But we did talk about it, right after I got back."

"You talked about it?" Ed seemed faintly offended that his brother and near-sister had gone behind his back, even about something like this. "And what?"

"And we decided that since there was you and me, and there was her and Scieszka, that we could just be friends." Sadness threatened to invade Al's thoughts again, but he resolutely pushed it back. Right now Ed needed him to be cheerful and supportive. This battle might be with rings and vows instead of chimera and homunculi, but his brother still needed him to watch his back, and for as long as that was so, Al would be there.

Out in the chapel, the music switched from a pleasant background to a stunning organ cascade. Al shot a quick glance at the clock – how had he lost track of time? and patted frantically over Ed's tuxedo, making sure everything was straight. "Time to go, Brother!" he said urgently. Ed gulped, and nodded, putting on a face as hard and determined as his namesake.

Al stepped back, feeling oddly lost, but Ed grabbed his hand before he could retreat out of range. "Al," he said, voice pleading. "You'll stay – afterwards, won't you? At least for a little while, until we get settled. Stay with me, please?"

Al blinked, and then let himself smile. "Of course, Brother," he said. "I'll stay with you as long as I can." He hesitated, then added, in a low voice, "I never want to be—"

The rest of his words were cut off in a blast of organ music as the door swung open to reveal the chapel, gorgeously filled with light and flowers, family and guests. Across the rows of pews, at the other set of doors into the chapel was Scieszka, glowing brilliantly in her white and gold dress, flanked by Winry.

Ed swallowed – Al watched his throat work – took a deep breath, and stepped out onto the carpet. His spine was stiff as a rod, as he made his way down the aisles of guests to the front of the chapel, his best man walking just beside and behind him.

All the way to the altar, he never let go of his brother's hand.