His breath forms a cloud in the cool air, and he huffs a few times, squints at it. If he breathes just so, it almost looks like he's smoking, the little cloud curling languidly up into the air. He jiggles his weight from foot to foot, stuffs both his hands in his pockets, and tries not to shiver.

His momentary break, however, is interrupted by a thump around the back of the head with a rolled-up bit of paper. "Ed, you lazy bastard, give me a hand!"


"Stop whinging," Alphonse Heiderich informs him with a scowl, around a huge armful of papers and files. "Honestly, you don't do anything—you don't help out around the house, you don't help with the research—carry these, for heaven's sake, and follow me."

"That's a lie," Ed snaps, tucking the blueprints underneath his good arm. Alphonse raises an eyebrow and shifts the stacks of paperwork he carries in his arms, then jerks his chin at their apartment door. With a muffled curse, Ed tugs it open with his prosthetic arm.

"Really," Alphonse snaps, shouldering past him. "Then you can clean the kitchen for me while I calculate the properties of hydrogen in relation to..." His voice trails off as he wanders further into the tiny apartment, to the second bedroom they turned into a study. ("You'll just have to sleep on the couch, Ed. Or the floor. Your call.")

"Can't," Ed replies, with a shrug. "Water and soap makes my arm hurt."

"Oh, for the love of—-" Al wanders back out of the study and, with a murderous glare, rolls up his sleeves and heads into the kitchen. "Honestly, Ed, sometimes I wonder why you bother sticking around."

Because you're here, Ed thinks, and winces. "Couldn't say. It's certainly not your cooking."

"Hey!" Al pokes his head around the door and bares his teeth, eyes promising murder. "WHAT, exactly, is wrong with my cooking?"

"Nothing," Ed says with a warm smile, and pushes past him through the door. "Where'd we keep the dishwashing sponges?"

"Huh?" Al can only blink at him, blue eyes surprised, and Ed smirks.

"It takes two to clean up this mess," he says, gesturing at the pile of plates. "At least you're eating properly now."

Al colours and hides his face; like Ed, when he finds something particularly fascinating in his research, he tends to forget to eat, or sleep. More than once has Ed had to bring in the blanket from Al's bed and wrap it around him where he lies, out cold, on the study floor; and more than once has he had to pester Alphonse to eat before he picks up a malnutrition-related disease. Sometimes he wonders if his Al ever felt like that about him.

Well. He screwed up with Al. He guesses that he's just lucky that he got a second chance to be a good older brother.

It's a feeling he knows he wouldn't exchange for the entire world.

Al pulls his gloves on slowly, casting a wistful look around the spare bedroom of the Rockbells' home as he does so. It's not home, but then, home is not just a house; 'home' is in the photograph stuffed into his pocket, a picture of a boy dressed in red and black with his golden hair secured in a braid.

He takes that photograph out, now, and runs gloved fingertips over it; traces the contours of Ed's face, the tiny lines (the camera has never been kind to him) in his brow and around his eyes. "Almost," he whispers. "Almost."

He's in the photograph, too; and he wishes he could remember when it was taken. On the back, in a sharp, spiked script, rest the words, "Ed + Al, aged 14 +13". He doesn't know who wrote them, but senses that it was someone close.

It's getting late. He slips the photograph back into his pocket and tugs, nervously, on his ponytail; he'd wanted to braid his hair, but the first—last—time he'd done it he'd made Winry cry.

"Ed's dead, Al!" she'd yelled at him across the kitchen table. "Dead and never coming back! Just like my parents, just like your mother—just accept it! Stop trying to be him!"

"He's not—dead!" Al had shouted back. "I told you, he's alive somewhere and I just need to find a way to bring him back home—"

She'd slapped him, hard. Later he'd supposed he'd only been lucky that she hadn't been armed with her wrench; but her slap—backed up by years of physical work—had hurt like a cow. Nonetheless, he'd refused to back down, and so it had come to this.

He stoops to pick up the suitcase—it's Ed's old one, and sometimes he runs his fingers over the dents and various unidentifiable stains and wonders: what happened? What kind of life had his brother been forced to live; what kind of struggles? He's heard Winry, Master, and Rose's accounts—sometimes repeatedly, as he begged Izumi to tell him how his brother fought the thing named Greed for his safe return. He likes Winry's stories of how frantic Ed became when Al fled from him on that hospital roof, and how he got out of bed and checked himself out—still wounded—to find him. The stories make him feel... loved, in a way, and he needs that comfort when his brother is no longer there.

He steps out the front door without pausing to say 'goodbye'. In his pocket is a note with a name and an address; Mr Roy Mustang, 378 East Street...

And he wonders how—how is Ed coping, in some place Al can't reach, without his little brother? Does he miss Al?

Does he dream of their reunion, like Al himself does?

"Brother," he whispers, turning up the collar of his red coat. "I'll find you again."