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Concessions


It is a relief that he can finally eat solid food again, since Al has no desire to repeat the traumatic oatmeal incident that taught him the impossibilities of balancing a mug, bowl, and spoon on a crowded Parisian street. Mornings now find him with a thermos and a croissant from the café down the block as he runs his daily errands, and each day the scribbled French of his shopping list becomes easier to read.

The first stop is a metal shop where he picks up the screws and wires his friend will need for the day, then the market for dinner, and the newsstand, and finally loops back across the Seine to the store, where he delivers the order, puts away the groceries, and tucks the day's paper under his arm before running back out to catch the tram down to the library—more specifically, the Bibliotheque de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, which he can now say with proper accent that doesn't make passers-by laugh when he asks for directions.

He settles down at the table he has claimed for his own and works his way through the paper, improving his French day by day, studying the list of words she made up for him the night before, and, when he finally feels that he has accomplished enough linguistic studying for the day, he buys lunch from a street stand, curls up with a science book, and thinks.

Alphonse Elric thinks about his life in Paris, a million miles and lifetimes from everywhere he ever thought he'd be. He thinks about what it means to learn an entirely new society and master a completely new language, he thinks about how incredible French food is now that he's finally over his bout of dysentery, and he thinks about his friend, Gwendolyn de Roche.

He calls her Winry, because that's her nickname, after all, but even if it wasn't, he couldn't help it. When she walks into the room, he smells machine oil and metal mixed with lavender and roses, and sometimes the scent almost brings tears to his eyes. She is beautiful, she saved his life, and he has tried so hard to fall totally and utterly in love with her. She could be his everything, if only he had something left to lose.

Around 5 pm, Al closes his book with a sigh, replaces it on the shelf, and gathers his things to head home. I's late fall, and the lights come up earlier every night. He pulls his coat tight around himself and muses on dinner as he walks. Every night, when he reaches the front door, he promises that he won't be disappointed when he finds her alone at the kitchen table, he promises he will do his best to love, to forget, to give up what's now just a fading seal of blood on a heart that should have been pieced back together by now.

Every night, he fails, because he wants her to be someone else.


He's at a loss now, really, at least when he's vaguely coherent.

Night and day pass like shadows and the days blur together in an ugly smear of drunk, alone, and dirty.

Ed has lost track of the number of gutters in which he's spent some period of hours—-he's never sure how long he's unconscious now—how many times he's stumbled into an alley behind a tavern and been horribly sick only to march back in and start drinking again, how often he ends up with his head in his arms on the counter, poked and prodded as bums try to pick his pockets and find nothing but crumpled paper with notes on physics problems long since forgotten.

In moments of lucidity, when he's sitting in a park trying to choke down a cheap roll, he wonders what the hell he's doing with himself. Edward Elric was a boy wonder, once, a genius. Once he had friends, and he was loved—he never conceded it then, but he was—and now he is sitting on a bench in a torn coat and ruined trousers and what in the name of god or no god is he doing?

"I loved someone," he slurs to the bartenders that dare to interrupt his miserable reverie ask him what his story is. "And then they died."

"It happens, kid."

"And then when I found them, I killed them again."

Usually after that, they leave him alone.

One by one he sells his ruined books to try and pay for train fare back to Munich. There's nothing in Paris, in the whole of France, in the rest of the world, now, but at least in Germany he has a bed that he can sleep in until forever ends, and if he's lucky, the bed will still smell a little bit like...

Memory scares him now, because it takes so much effort to remember things properly, but he's terrified when he forgets. If he forgets Alfons, there is at least Noa to carry him on. But if he forgets Alphonse, his brother is lost to this world forever.

And what he wants to do is go back to Winry—-Winry, oh Winry—and ask where they buried Al, if she would take him to the grave. He's come close several times, standing across the street and watching her, but every step is like heading for the executioner.

The day he finally works up the courage to cross over to her, she eyes him with pity and turns away at his request.

"I do not know where they is bury him." Her voice is soft, hesitant. "Montmartre, peut-etre, or Pere Lachaise. If his sickness was tres mal, the hospital, they may have burned him."

"I'll check those places." Ed says weakly, and makes himself turn away before he falls into her arms, or asks her where Pinako is, or tells her how much he wants to go home.

Before he enters Pere Lachaise, he buys a bottle of wine, intending to offer it to the grave, or do something with it. He promises that when he finds Al, he will apologize, he will honor his brother, he won't beg for forgiveness or cry.

But some promises are built to be shattered.


Al doesn't know how he made it to Paris. Much of his journey is lost in a haze of sickness and pain, the desire to find someone, anyone he recognized the only thing that kept his body moving across three countries on nothing more than watery tea and the occasional crust of bread.

Prague he recalls, but Vienna is dim, Calais utterly lost and England consists solely of the face of a waitress in a café. She had blond hair and glasses and he remembers feeling terrible that the tea she gave him on discount was barely in his system long enough to make him warm.

To the best of his knowledge, he passed out between the Channel and Paris, was brought to a hospital, given medicine, and woke up three days later to the sound of the sweetest voice this side of the universe.

"Winry,"he hissed from a dry throat, and the girl talking to the patient next to him turned.

"J'te connais?" Her eyebrow was raised and her intent was clearly to seem cocky, but he saw right past that to concern, to curiosity, to a sunny day far away.

He didn't know French, didn't have enough fluid in his body to cry, but he sobbed anyway.

Winry paid for his hospital time and took him to her house, offering him a place to stay in return for his help in her shop and his assistance with the household chores, like cooking and cleaning. Al complied and promised to help her with her English as she taught him French, and so began his new life.

"Eh, Alphonse, you have a...un frere?" Winry asked one night as Al sipped his soup slowly.

"Mm," he nodded. "He's older. His name is...Edward."

"You do not...talk about him very much, non?"

Al set down his bowl and looked away.

"We had..." he paused and tried to use his new language. "Une querelle."

"What did you fight?"

Al shook his head.

"It's too much to explain. But I had to leave him in Munich. I don't...I can't seem him again. It might even be better if he thinks I'm dead."

Al thought he saw something strange in her expression that night, but he let it pass.

Tonight, that look has returned, and he softly ventures, "Winry? What's wrong?"

"Al," she rests her head on her hand. "Tell me... between you and him, what is happened? Really?"

Al tells her a long story that starts long before a tragic rainy night and ends a universe away, and when he is done, he falls silent and waits for her judgement. There are things he has said that are unamibiguous about his feelings, and while his own Winry might have accepted them, he cannot say this one will.

Instead, she says something else entirely.

"I have done something very bad." she says, and begins to tell her own story.


He's lost, again, of course.

There are thousands of graves at Le Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise, some weather-worn with names erased, some large and dramatic and stately, some small and unmarked, a few recent piles of earth with the flowers not yet dead.

Was there anyone to put flowers on Al's grave? Surely Winry must have brought something, but by now the rain will have washed it away...

Because it's raining again, of course, and he pushes his bangs out of his eyes and squints. How will he ever find him? Ed had been so certain that he could track Al across an entire continent, but now when he's faced with a few miles of graves, he feels the impossibility of the task as never before.

How do you find someone who barely existed in this world now that they're gone?

And he trudges along between stones and steps into puddles and thinks about Alfons, how at least he had a grave, he had a marker, he had a funeral and friends and he wasn't alone. He died with Noa, he died aware that he'd helped Ed gain his greatest desire...

What would Alfons say if he saw Ed now, having thrown that desire away so easily, and now unable to find the traces that it was ever there?

He's robbed his friend's death of meaning, just as he's robbed Al's life of evidence.

And the rain, the cold, the bitterness of this particular fall makes his automail throb, the automail that exists because once he pleaded with fate to give his little brother back, that was all that he wanted, he would have given up anything, everything.

Ed stops, finally, in front of moss-covered tombs that promise him "Concession a perpetuite:" concession is perpetuity. If he could just give in to the inevitable, if he could just understand that conceding this loss is all he has left, maybe...maybe something. Maybe anything. Maybe he would be struck by lightning and die in a flash of brilliance, because that's all he ever was. Bright but not logical, idealistic but not directed, loved but unaware.

He leans against the tomb and slowly slides to the ground, uncorking the wine and chugging half of it in one go.

No.

He can't concede just yet.

Edward Elric has one more challenge for God, for the Gate, for whatever it is that so enjoys taking his soul apart. That which is dead could not be brought back to Amestris, but he's in a different world now. Perhaps the rules have changed.

"I'll give you anything, I'll give you all of me this time. Just give my brother back. He's all I have."

It's cold, and he pulls his knees to his chest, burying his face in them.

"He's all I've ever had."


Al remembers a time when he could run like this without having to gasp for breath every few blocks, but the sickness certainly took it's toll on him. The cold air makes his lungs hurt and his mouth taste like old blood, and he's utterly, desperately soaked, but staying out of the rain is the last thing on his mind.

"You...you saw him? And you told him..."

"Oui. Pardonne-moi, Alphonse, I am so sorry, I thought...I thought I make you a favor."

He stops to check his directions on a piece of paper that is gradually melting. It's hard to read the street signs, but he's close, assuming that he's picked the right location. To have to head north and outside the city again to reach Montmartre would take hours, and there would be no trams home until morning.

"When? Where? How did he look? What did he say? Dammit! Dammit, brother!"

He misses the red coat; it wasn't particularly warm, but on this dark stormy night like so many others in his bad dreams, he wishes he had some kind of comfort.

Al is scared that he won't find his brother, but even more scared that he will.

What can you say to the person for whom you lived, and for whom you have now—even if it was a lie meant to protect his feelings—died? How can he even look at Ed, Ed who abandoned their past, Ed who broke his heart, Ed who is the first and last thought of every day? What will he do with the person he ran away from? Where can he go from here?

"I want to make you not pain. I thought I was helping. When he come again, I am shocked, I say the first places I think of..."

"Write them down. Tell me how to get there. Now, Winry. Si vous-plait."

The gates and road leading into Pere Lachaise are bigger than he'd imagined, but there's little time to spend thinking about them. There are too many places to look, too many miles of headstones, and the raindrops are getting closer, the trees darker, and where?

Winry said that many famous people are buried here. Ed won't have chosen a famous grave, and not just because the celebrity of the dead of this country mean nothing to him. He will be looking for graves unmarked, off to the side, lonely places where he thinks his brother might have been buried and forgotten.

He's lost track of all time, but it's been too long, far too long. He should go home before he gets sick again, he should give up and come back in the daylight.

But partly by accident, partly by miracle, partly by the strange way the sound you're looking for can override even thunder, Al hears the brief shattering of glass, and runs toward the memory of it, guided by nothing more than sheer will. As he turns onto the side path he slows, because someone is there, sitting not too far away, waiting for something.

He's too afraid to call out his name—-he's shaking, and now it's not the cold, it's everything but—and he freezes several feet away when he hears the person talking.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Please."


Dropping the wine bottle must have summoned ghosts.

That's the only clear thought he can come up with to rationalize why Al is suddenly in front of him.

It can't be grace, because that would be silly, that would mean he might have to start believing in something other than nothing.

"Al?" he says, his voice heavy with disuse, his throat sore and tight.

"Brother," the apparition says softly, and reaches for him slowly.

Ed closes his eyes when the hands brush his cheeks and scoop strands of sopping hair behind his ears. The touch is cold, which makes sense, since the dead have no body heat, but it's enough that he has this moment to connect one more time.

"Al, I'm sorry, I'm sorry I'm stupid, I'm sorry I made so many mistakes, I'm sorry I didn't get to you before you died, I'm sorry I didn't know you were dying at all." It pours out faster and faster, tears or rain running down his face and mucus pouring down the back of his throat as he chokes back the sobs to get the words out before Al disappears for what he's certain will be the last time. "I'm sorry I was horrible, I'm sorry I made you come here, I'm sorry I ever learned about alchemy, I'm sorry about mother, I'm sorry about everything I've ever done because none of it was ever worth losing you.

"I'm sorry I lost you. I'm sorry I never told you how much I needed you. I'm sorry I thought I could replace you and then use you to replace someone else. I'm sorry this is all I am."

He cries again, hopeless and helpless and the ghost takes him into its arms—-so strangely firm, so almost substantial—and it holds him forever, almost forever, until it pulls back and tries to drag him to his feet.

"Am I dying? Did you come to get me?"

"I did come to get you." Al's phantom slings Ed's flesh arm around his shoulders and begins to rise. "But you're not dying. You still have good legs. Use them to walk."

Ed hears and sees nothing else after that.


It's been hard to shake the chill, even after several warm baths and the sweaters and blankets Winry has heaped on him. He shifts in his chair and thinks that it would be much easier to stay warm if he could lay down, but Ed is taking up his bed, as unconscious as when Al dragged him from the cemetery, and as much as he wants to, as much as every fiber of his body cries out for it, Al can't bring himself to join his brother, even if Ed would never know.

Instead he rubs his eyes and watches his brother sleep, then picks up his mug from the floor, scalding his throat on the newly warmed camomile tea and not really minding.

Ed is thin, his beautiful hair a mess of matted tangles and filth, his eyelids red from crying and black circles beneath them so dark he wonders if Ed has slept since he left Munich, whenever that might have been. By Winry's admission, it had been almost two weeks between his brother's initial meeting with the mechanic and his return to inquire about the grave, which meant that Ed had been wandering around Paris alone that entire time.

Al feels sorry that his brother had to do that, and partially wishes he didn't, since he traveled hundreds of miles on his own with no one to take care of him. But it seems silly, when he thinks about it; in the long run of their lives, Al has bypassed much greater grudges than this one. Concentrating on that would be trite when it's clear now that Ed has suffered for his sins all over again, and the least Al can do is change the hot water bottle to keep his sibling's feet warm.

Winry is clearly unsettled by the situation, and Al isn't sure if it's because of what he revealed about their relationship, or because she's once again on the lookout for his feelings. Or maybe it's that in the two days since Ed's rescue, Al has insisted on sitting at his bedside, forgoing his usual errands and taking his meals upstairs instead of at the table with Winry. He doesn't mean to be rude, and in moments of quiet reflection, Ed's breathing soft and even and thin sunlight coming through the curtains, Al wonders if he should tell Winry how much he wanted her to change him, how hard he tried to change himself for her...

But Al looks up sometimes to find her standing in the doorway watching them, and it's clear she already knows.

She may not like it, but she knows, and she nods and quietly descends the stairs.

Ed's lashes flicker, and the rest of the world vanishes.

Al only has eyes for one person, and they start to burn, his throat grows impossibly tight, as Ed looks right at him.


Ed remembers the first few days after Al arrived in Munich as being characterized by a kind of awkwardness. He had chalked it up at that time to not being used to the surroundings, the people, the language, the food. The fact that Ed had a home and a life established, and Al was only learning about it now.

The tables have turned completely, he thinks, sitting down to breakfast in what seems pretty accurately to be Al's new home and new life in Paris, complete with a kitchen he knows his way around and a companion with whom he can converse in her native language.

"Café? The? Creme ou sucre?" Winry spares him no rudimentary lessons—Al has already mastered French breakfast conversation, and Ed has to learn on the fly.

His interactions with Al, on the other hand, are quiet. His brother was at his bedside when he woke up, and it took several minutes of nothing but sobbing on both their parts before he could actually reconcile his hung-over and cold-addled brain with the fact that the Al from the graveyard was not a spirit, but was real, alive, and waiting for him to rise.

But beyond that, he doesn't know what to say. Al certainly heard his drunken confessions to a living ghost, and normally it would be easy to address any lingering strangeness between them.

Well, normally would have been when they were at home, he thinks as he scrubs weeks of dirt and smoke out of his hair, but nothing in their lives in normal now.

Al has placed a clean pair of shorts and trousers for him outside the bathroom, but his shirt is absent. When he enters the downstairs to look for it or his brother, Winry takes one look at his mechanical arm and drops her toolbox directly on her foot.

Ed spends the next few minutes dodging the tools she hurls at him while she hops around screaming expletives in French.

When Al has returned with Ed's shirt, he diffuses the situation, and before long Winry has become utterly fascinated with this new form of machinery. She demands Ed forego his clean clothes and spends the afternoon picking and poking at his arm and leg, tightening screws and fixing small dents of wear that Ed hadn't even noticed. She smiles at him across the dinner table that night, a real smile, streaked with grease and as bright as a Resembool summer, and he thinks that it's possible that no matter how far, some things never change.

Unless they're Al.

Four days after he wakes up, Ed asks Al to take him along on his daily errands, and Al seems surprised at the request. His older brother watches as he navigates the city with ease, buys them both croissants and coffee, and takes him to look at the Seine.

They sit in silence for a long time, and suddenly it occurs to Ed what he's forgotten to ask all this time.

"Al, when you left, you were sick. Winry said you died of it. What did you have?"

"Dysentery." he says simply, tossing a piece of roll to a passing duck.

"Dysen-you could have died, you moron!"

Al shrugs, and behind the action, Ed can hear "I didn't think you'd care," even though Al actually says "But I didn't, and now I'm all right."

Ed sighs and looks at the paper from his croissant.

"I'm glad you found Winry. She's really incredible. I wasn't sure you'd actually...find what you were looking for, but I should have known, I mean, that..."

"Winry is very special, and I owe her a lot." Al steps in, saving him the embarrassment of having to continue. "I don't know what I would have done without her."

"She's very fond of you, too."

"Mm."

He's cautious now, and though he knows it is a bad idea, he has to test the waters, he has to know.

"I think she'd be very happy...if you stayed here with her."

"I think she would be too." Al stands up and dusts the crumbs off his lap, looking at the river once more before turning to go back up to the street. "But I also think she'd be upset if I didn't take my second chance."

Ed blinks at Al's back and is still staring as he turns around.

"Are you coming, brother?"

And then Ed understands.


Al has been somewhat reticent to take Ed to his library, but finally, after six days together, once the shopping is done and put away, he leads his older brother to his favorite corner and offers him a book on Marie Curie. Ed nods and takes it, and Al settles down with his newspaper and notes.

But before long, Al is aware that his brother is fidgety, flipping through pages and making little grunts, and finally he turns in his chair.

"What's wrong? I thought you'd like to read about Marie Curie. Have you read her work before?"

"I can't read French, Al." Ed says with a look that can only be describing as angsty disgust. "It looks like English, but with a whole lot of ridiculous and useless letters."

"Well it—"

"At least when people speak it, though, they don't sound like they're gargling, like in German."

Al falls out of his chair laughing, and the invisible wall between them collapses.

They sit close together like they used to, Al teaching him words and Ed nodding as the sentences reveal themselves. They joke about alchemical theory and how scientists in this world cling to their own arrays, the periodic table and the shape of the atom. They remember old theories and Ed teaches him new ones, things he was learning on the trains as he traveled, and Al tells him the little he's heard about the current state of French physics.

The day passes and the light outside dims, and it is when Ed's hand brushes Al's that he finally brings up the question he's been dying to ask all day.

"Did you...In Germany, when you first got there... did he teach you how to read like this?"

Ed is silent, and Al is suddenly scared that the wall is reforming, closing them off to one another again.

But Ed tucks some hair back and says "Sort of."

"Sort of how?"

"Alfons would give me lessons like Winry gives you, notes on pieces of paper, little hints, that sort of thing. Usually I practiced on my own, at night when I couldn't sleep."

It surprises Al how much it hurts to hear that name, that intonation, and he recoils slightly.

"His name bothers you."

"Of course it does. How could it not?"

"I never noticed." Ed shuts the book in front of them, but stares ahead. "I should have thought about it, how you two having the same name might upset you."

"It wasn't just that, it was us...having the same you." Al is surprised to hear it come out, the words he's kept quiet for so long, but they hang in the air, tangible and heavy, and demanding that he finally let go. "Everything I wanted, he had, and to top it off he was...me, only better. He was older, he was with you when I couldn't remember four years, he took care of you and helped you and got you home and... And you liked him. You liked him the way I wanted you to like me, maybe you even loved him that way too, and it wasn't fair that he had all that when I was first. Those things were supposed to be mine.

"And then knowing...knowing that you wanted to turn me into him, knowing that the real me, your brother, wasn't what you wanted anymore... Of course it bothered me! It still bothers me!"

He has to turn away and presses the heels of his hands to his eyes as he grits his teeth. Making a scene like this is immature, and maturity was always something else Alfons held over him.

"Al." Ed says, quietly. "Do you think it was easy for me to meet him?"

"I don't know what you mean by that."

"Do you think it was easy for me to be walking down the street with the old man and see someone who I could have sworn was you but wasn't? It broke my heart, Al, it broke my fucking heart that he wasn't you."

"Apparently you got over that."

"So we became friends, so what? He was all I had. He and the old man and science I didn't even recognize and every day was spent trying to figure out how to get back to you. I never thought I'd love him, but Al, if he didn't... if he hadn't..." He swallows hard and pauses. "He was my friend, and I liked him for being smart, for being Alfons Heiderich. He was a good man, and he was brave and clever and had this endearing habit of singing in the shower that drove me crazy at the time and he made terrible toast."

Al snorts at that, but his eyes are still focused out the window.

"I could never have done half the things I did without him, or his help, or his support. But Al, I was attracted to him because he looked like you. I was never attracted to you because I thought you looked like him."

Al turns sharply, hoping to see his brother's face, hoping to understand what this revelation means as if he could read all the subtext from his expression, but his bangs obscure the view.

"Brother..."

"It was weird, then, seeing you. I was so happy, so happy that you came back and didn't leave me here, but then suddenly you were real and I could touch you the way I'd been dreaming for so long... and I couldn't take it. You were beautiful and young and how could I do that to you after everything else? How could I ask you to take on my sick wants?"

"But I—" he tries to interrupt but Ed continues.

"And then I thought about Alfons, about how for two years I foisted all I wanted from you onto him, I used him, maybe intentionally, maybe unintentionally, and maybe not the whole time, either, but at least part of it. So there you were and I was so happy to see you, I wanted to do awful things to you, but there he was, and he was dead and I was happy, and I'd betrayed him this whole time? What a fucking mess! What else could I do? I shut down."

"You could have said something!" Al finally injects, punctuating it by slamming his hand on the table, angry or frustrated or confused or elated, he's not sure which he is or which he should be, but now he needs more than ever for Ed to look at him, and see him, see who he is, real and whole.

But Ed just flinches, and the clock on the wall ticks and ticks, louder and louder until the younger Elric is certain he will go completely mad and—

"I thought you'd wait."

"Huh?" Al jumps slightly.

"I didn't think you'd leave me. I thought you'd wait forever."

"You pushed me away. You hurt me."

"I didn't think I could." Ed is curling into himself. "I didn't think I could hurt your feelings like that. I was wrong. And when I realized how wrong I was...I fell apart."

Al reaches for his brother then, slowly, carefully with one hand as if offering food to a frightened animal. But to his surprise, Ed takes it, holds it with both hands, and looks up at him, gold eyes as bright as they'd ever been, as deep as a thousand oceans, and Al feels his breath catch.

"There's something I've been wanting to ask you," he says. "But I've been too scared. Do you hate me, Al? Do you hate me for what I've done to you? All these years? All this time?"

"Even if I did," Al feels the words clumsy in his mouth around the shaking smile that's starting to form. "I wouldn't have been able to after I carried you out of Pere Lachaise."

"Who's so dumb," Ed's smile stumbles too—-it's clear he's trying not to break down as well—"That he can't even figure out his brother's ghost is a little too substantial?"

They laugh until the mixture of giggles and sobs makes the head librarian come over and ask them to leave.


Ed almost hates to go, more for Winry's sake than his own. She looks as though she might burst into tears at any moment, and when she hugs Al on the train platform, it is a hug that lasts much longer than a hug between friends. It's clear she would never let go, but just as obvious that she knows where her friend's heart lies, and that's with the blond boy holding his suitcase.

They settle down in the same seat, close enough to touch if they needed, but far enough apart that their books don't collide when the train bumps and jostles them around. Lunch and dinner are composed of rolls and brie and sandwiches that Winry packed them, and as the day fades, Ed finds the familiarity of the situation, the complacency of having finally gotten out what had been unsaid for so long soothing, and he only realizes he is dozing when his hand abruptly slides off the book and into mid-air.

"You're tired, brother, why don't you get some sleep?"

He looks up at Al's equally sleepy smile.

"Nn, I'm still good, my eyelids were just...meditating."

"No part of you meditates, brother, I'm not buying that." He gestures with his head to the door of the sleeping car. "Why don't you go lay down?"

"What are you going to do?"

Al shrugs.

"I can just sleep on the seat here."

Ed barely thinks for a moment before reaching over and snapping Al's book shut, setting it on the seat, and pulling his brother up by both hands.

"Come on," he says.

He picks a bunk near the end, and Ed climbs up first to give Al a hand up. The younger brother giggles slightly as they shift around and try to accommodate each other, but the sound is nervous. They're finally close, so close that they can't move without touching, they have to touch to fit.

"I can't imagine how you think this is going to work," Al shifts around, trying to make sure he isn't infringing too much on his brother's personal space. "I mean, you can hardly fit one person on these, two is just ridiculous."

Ed rolls his eyes and eventually clamps a hand down on his brother's hip to hold him still. Al practically freezes and Ed drags him closer, until they are centimeters apart, foreheads just barely grazing each other as they lay on the same pillow. It's dark, but they are close enough to see each other clearly.

"Did you ever do this with...Alfons?" asks Al, barely above a whisper.

"Does it matter?"

"I dunno."

"It shouldn't, Al, but yeah."

"And?"

"And what?"

"Did it...work?"

"No." Ed grins, "We got pissed at each other and didn't speak for an entire day."

Al laughs.

"What makes you think this will be any different?"

"Because it is." Ed's arm snakes around his lower back and presses them flat against each other.

Al lets out a gasp and stiffens totally, and the train sways slightly, once, twice, three, four times, and then he relaxes, folding into his brother, tucking his head under Ed's chin.

They are silent for long moments, until Ed reaches up to cup the back of Al's head.

"Don't leave me again, Al. I was terrified. I thought you'd died and no one would ever know you were here but me. That you'd be totally lost. And I was scared that you died alone."

"Everyone dies alone, brother," Al's voice is warm though the words are flippant and cool. "And that's the price we paid when we came back. The chance that no one will remember us when we're gone. Except each other."

"That's depressing, Al. It's awful, actually. You said you never wanted to be separated and now you're saying we'll die without each other. Thanks."

"Well we've been separated." His fingers are winding into Ed's collar, lazy and gentle. "And now I know that no matter how far apart we end up, we'll always find our way back together."

"...and now you sound sappy."

"Nothing pleases you, does it. Someday you'll have to resign yourself to me being either depressing or sappy, even if you don't like it."

"I don't think so. I've put up with enough of your weird shit already."

"Is that a challenge? I don't think you want us to wrestle in this bunk. You know you'll end up on the floor."

But the fight doesn't start because Ed kisses him, and it is hot, messy, terrible, and utterly perfect.


The morning sees them across the border, and by late afternoon they have arrived in Munich. Ed phones ahead to tell Noa they have arrived, and she doesn't hang up the phone before racing out to meet them.

The apartment is bare of anything consumable, and though Al volunteers to get the groceries, Ed knows he will get hopelessly lost as usual, and instead commandeers a bike that they walk between them to the store.

It's dusk by the time they finish shopping, and Ed instructs Al to climb on the back so they can make it home faster. Perched precariously, Al holds on to the bag as Ed barrels in and out of alleys and between cars, much cursing and fist-shaking following them.

Munich has never looked better than it has during this sunset, and though he misses Winry, he misses home and he always will, Al concedes that this world is much more appealing than he'd first thought, and Ed glances back, shooting him a grin.

Ed pulls the bike to stop and looks back over the buildings at the last rays of the sun.

"It's a pretty sunset. I've never really noticed them around here before."

"I dunno," Al says softly, mostly to himself. "I think the sun is rising for the first time since I got here."

"What was that? I'm sorry, were you being sappy again? Do you want to walk home?"

Al laughs, and squeezes his brother's shoulder, and then holds on tight as Ed takes off again. There are other words that could be said, and they are both close to saying them, but actions have always spoken louder between them, and this small one is enough.

The sun sets on Munich, and Ed and Al are home.