Summary: Ed found a way to prove that he was truly from a parallel universe, and Alfons finds himself trapped in Ed's dream of opening the Gate. Premovie, AU
Previous parts can be found here.
Notes: guh, this chapter. It's been way too long coming. Thanks to cryogenia and yixsh for the help and patience. Remaining errors are mine alone.
Thanks to all of you for your support. I guess now is the time to announce that we're officially nearing the end of this fic :) it's such a weird feeling, omg.
Alfons wasn't really afraid of Edward dying. He sat in Gracia's living room, leaning over the back of the sofa to look out the window at the street in front of the house, and he wasn't thinking of Edward getting hung or shot or however they executed people in this world. Because they wouldn't let that happen. When Edward's fate was ultimately in the hands of people like his brother and Colonel Mustang, there was nothing to worry about.
Right now, Alfons was thinking about how they would have to run.
For a long time, now, he had tried to get used to the thought of Amestris being his home, instead of Germany. He would never forget his homeland, that was a given. But he couldn't live his life belonging nowhere, always dreaming of some far-off place he would never see again. So Edward had told him stories of Amestris, and Alfons had tried to think of it as home. Or at least, a land of new opportunities.
It wasn't even that unfamiliar. Amestris was, after all, a mirror of America – and he had lived in America for months. For a month already he had lived Gracia's house, and though she wasn't his Gracia, the face was the same. In this world, she had even married Officer Hughes.
He wondered if somewhere across the sea was a parallel of Germany, and if it was anything like his home. If they had to run, was going there a possibility?
It might be worse, though. Living somewhere that was so familiar, but so wrong. He had seen firsthand how miserable it could make somebody. He was so tired of it all. Going somewhere new, learning a new language, trying to get by – it no longer seemed like such an adventure. And they would probably be running, maybe living in hiding. For the rest of their lives.
Alfons really could have punched Edward, right about then. Because he knew Edward was messed up and had issues, but he hadn't expected this. What the hell was wrong with him?
He sighed and turned away from the window. Five o'clock. Still two hours before they could see Edward, and Alfons was just itching to give him a piece of his mind.
For that matter, he wouldn’t mind having words with Harris. How the hell had he let this happen?
Movement from the other sofa caught his eye. Al had come in at some point, and was slumped in his seat, staring off in to the distance. He looked miserable.
Alfons wanted to ask if he had any idea what Edward was thinking, if he had known, but Al's expression was explanation enough. Had he seen it coming, he wouldn't be looking like his world had collapsed around him, now.
It must be even worse for Al; he hadn't known Edward in Germany, didn't know the sort of things Edward had been willing to do to restore his body.
From the kitchen, he could hear the radio, which Winry had been listening to for hours. If he concentrated, he could make out words. From what he gathered, they were debating endlessly about Edward's announcement of guilt. Whether or not it was a ruse, whether there was a plan, whether Edward was framed or had been betrayed or coerced….
Alfons would have liked to know, as well, but Harris was with Edward. He sighed, and wished the clock would tick faster.
He wondered when they would leave, but it wasn't safe to discuss it, not here. He wondered who would be coming with them. He wondered if being in exile with other exiles was easier.
They all went together, this time, but a smaller, more subdued group than had gone last. It was only him, Mustang, Winry, and Al in the car, and the air crackled with repressed emotion. Nobody spoke.
In their urgency they had arrived early, and were forced to stand around and wait, watching the seconds tick by until the guards allowed them in. For a change, nobody made any lewd comments to Alfons. Which was lucky, because he would have probably attacked them if they had.
Edward and Harris were sitting at the table. Harris had his head in his hands and looked exhausted, several empty mugs sitting in front of him. Edward was slumped his seat, but the stubborn set of his jaw meant that he wasn't feeling nearly repentant enough.
Mustang was first in, and began speaking almost before he had crossed the threshold.
"You insufferable brat!" He strode across the room and grabbed Edward's collar, tugging him up. "You were always an insubordinate piece of work, but I never thought I'd see the day you willfully put your selfish, crackpot ideas before the welfare of the people who have been fighting tooth and nail to keep you safe!"
"Shut up, Fullmetal," he growled, and shook him. Nobody seemed inclined to tell him to back off. Not Al, not even the guards. "You've finally dug yourself into a hole I can't get you out of. Congratulations."
He let go of Edward's shirt and stalked off. Alfons saw the shift of emotions on Edward's face, the sudden fear that flashed across it. He was only now starting to realize how badly he had hurt them. The idiot. Alfons swallowed, and struggled not to cough.
Nobody else said anything, which was making Edward nervous.
"I had to do it," he said into the silence, a pleading edge to his voice. "It wouldn't have worked otherwise. I had to do it this way." At the continuing silence, Edward shifted, eyes roving desperately. His hands clenched on the edge of the table. "Harris, tell them."
Alfons was sick to death of hearing how Edward just had to do things a certain way. And that excuse only ever seemed to crop up when he was risking his life, or worse-
"I think you're the one who owes everybody an explanation," Harris said quietly.
Or worse. Everything crystallized in Alfons' mind, then, and he realized what was going on. "You're trying to die," he said in German. A sick sort of fury rose with the words.
Edward stiffened and stared in his direction, mouth open. "What?" he said, also switching to German.
"I can't believe I didn't realize this before."
"What the hell makes you think I'm trying to commit suicide?" Edward snarled.
"Because you did it already." It all made sense. "You've been trying to die since America. That stupid business with the will – and then you were sure you'd die coming through – you have a fucking serious martyr complex. You keep trying to take the fall, and surviving, and now you're trying to finish the job."
Edward scrambled to his feet. "I fucking told you I didn't commit suicide! The will was to protect you-"
"What else do you call trading your life for your brother's?" Alfons sneered. "Looks like suicide to me."
"I told you I had no choice!" Edward's voice wavered. "I thought you trusted me enough to believe that."
"Until you go and announce your guilt for a crime which has never been pardoned!"
"I have a plan-"
"What, like the time with Al? Where the plan involved killing yourself?"
"Leave that out of this! " Edward shouted, shaking in earnest now.
"Why should I? You keep saying you had to do it. What's to say you don't have to do it now, either?"
"It's not the same situation." Edward's voice cracked. "Alfons, I don't want to leave you-"
"Then tell me, damn it." Alfons wasn't sure why nobody was interfering. They just looked between him and Edward, having their crazy conversation in a language nobody else spoke. Maybe it was some obscure Boyfriend Privilege, that he got to have his own yell at Edward.
Alfons didn't give a damn about how Edward might not want to talk about it. Why had he even come here, if all Edward was going to do was try and get himself killed? "We've been fighting so long for you, you ingrate-"
"Are you crying?" Edward looked horrified.
"No," Alfons snarled, and swiped his sleeve across his eyes.
Heavy, stifling silence descended. Edward tugged at his sleeves. His choked-off breaths were audible.
"It's impossible to create a human body," Edward said.
Alfons' head jerked up to look at him. "What?"
"Too many details. I couldn't have done it from scratch. And neither could Al, even with the Philosopher's Stone. He was close, but not enough." Edward took a steadying breath, but it only came out as a gasp. "The body Al transmuted for me wasn't working right. I would have died. I- I could feel how wrong it was. But using that body as a base – I could fix it. But I had to sacrifice myself to do it." He steadied himself on the edge of the table, gripping until his knuckles turned white. "I was never supposed to transmute Al by myself. We were supposed to do it together."
Alfons tried to digest this. "Why wouldn't you say any of this before?" Maybe it wouldn't have actively changed anything, but the knowledge would have made a difference.
Edward scuffed his shoe against the floor and hunched over tiredly. "Because Al fucked up," he said in a small voice. "Al thought he was sacrificing himself to save me – and it wouldn't have worked. It's not fair. I- didn't want you to know."
So… Edward hadn't said anything because he didn't want Alfons to think badly of Al. For goodness' sake.
"You're a moron. Seriously."
"I know," Edward mumbled.
"And if your body had been perfect, would you have still sacrificed yourself?" Alfons held his breath as he waited for the answer. Edward struggled, then finally squared his shoulders.
"I don't know."
And that, Alfons could see on his face, was the truth. He didn't like it, still. But at the same time, he wasn't sure he would have trusted a denial. Some of the tension left him.
"And this idea of yours? You really pulled this stunt because you think it can work?"
Edward nodded frantically. "I really did come up with something. Alfons, I. I already died for Human Transmutation."
Three times, Alfons knew.
"I don’t want to do it again."
Alfons crossed his arms on his chest and let out a breath. "It had better work," he told Edward, and couldn't keep a sort of grim smile off his face. "If it doesn't, we're going to be breaking you out and we'll all have to flee the country." There were advantages to nobody here speaking German, and Mustang's caution against using it too often where others could hear proved a useful deterrent to decoding.
Edward's mouth dropped open. "You can't do that! Alfons, what the hell? Are you mad?"
"No more than you." He turned to everybody else, and switched back to English. "I think that maybe Edward did have some plan in mind when he did this stupid thing."
"But what's the point of having a strategy if everybody knows he's guilty?" Winry asked. "Isn't that the end?" She struggled to keep her voice even.
Harris, who had hardly moved the entire time, cleared his throat. Edward shook himself a bit, and fumbled his way back to his seat. Alfons pulled up a chair as well, and the atmosphere grew a bit less hostile. When they were seated, Harris explained.
"In our legal system, an admission of guilt is used as testimony, but does not override the prosecution's need to provide evidence of the crime. It will shorten the trial, no doubt, but we will still have a chance to present evidence."
"Evidence of what?" Mustang growled.
Harris hesitated, looked at Edward, then said, "This is not the forum to discuss that. We will talk later."
Later. Alfons wasn't sure if he could wait that long. "You could tell me in German," he suggested.
"Later," Harris repeated, in a tone that brooked no argument. Alfons subsided, but couldn't keep from glowering at Edward just a bit.
"I get that you're all pissed off now," Edward said, tentatively. "And fuck, I'm sorry I didn't say anything before. But there is a plan. And it's going to be easier. Because we've just gotta tell the truth. The prosecution can't do anything against that."
Alfons saw his own shock mirrored on the others' faces, but he wasn't sure if it was for the same reason. When Edward said 'tell the truth', what did he actually mean? Which part of it?
They didn't stay much longer. Mustang wanted some time with Edward, so Alfons and Winry said their goodbyes. Al, who hadn't said anything the entire time, hung back. As Alfons was leaving, he saw that Edward had taken him aside, and was talking to him softly. They had their heads together – one blonde, one leaning towards brown, and with their matching ponytails, they really looked like brothers. Alfons quashed unease.
The conversation continued later that night, in the privacy of Gracia's living room. Elysia was long asleep, and Harris frankly looked like he wouldn't mind sleeping as well. Alfons knew that expression, the tightening of the lips and shortness of speech. His father had done the same thing when he was exhausted, and things weren't working out.
He wondered, uncomfortably, if he and Al had the same mannerisms as well.
"Obviously, the strategy we've been discussing is no longer relevant," Harris began. "Our goal now is to show that according to the laws currently existing in Amestris, executing Ed for the crime of Human Transmutation is no longer legally possible. Hopefully, the judges will be convinced that we hold the moral high ground as well."
Mustang drummed his fingers against his knee. "And how are we doing this?"
Harris clasped his hands, for a moment, then tugged on his tie. "Ed has asked me not to disclose the details."
"Hell no," Al snapped. "Why the hell would he want to keep it from us?"
By us, he really meant me.
"He wants you to hear it at the trial, from him. Because of the sensitivity of the issues which will be raised, and for his protection, I have already submitted a request for a closed court session. Nobody unapproved will be allowed in, and the details of testimony will be kept secret."
"There's no way Ed would do something like this," Winry said, and Alfons wasn't imagining the slight accusation in her tone. Evidently Harris noticed it as well, because his response was just a bit affronted.
"My first responsibility is to uphold my client's wishes."
"You can't think this is a good idea!" Al protested.
"What I think is immaterial. He is within his rights."
Al mumbled something about showing him 'rights', and Alfons couldn't help but say, "He's being a jerk. You tell him-"
Mustang overrode their muttering with more practical issues. "Just how much is he planning on disclosing? If the former head of state is going to be denounced as a homunculus, I had better know about it first."
"No more than necessary," Harris said. "We have no intention of discussing the politics of that time, and the homunculi would just complicate issues."
"So what can we do?" Winry asked.
Al had fallen silent again, and when Alfons glanced in his direction, he did a double take. Al looked positively crushed, though he was doing his best to hide it.
Alfons felt a moment of pity for him. It was obvious he idolised Edward, but he hadn't seen his brother in years. He couldn't understand why Edward would do something like this, whereas Alfons was tiredly unsurprised at the stunt.
Later, he found Winry in the kitchen having a late-night snack. He invited himself to participate, and after a few minutes of companionable silence, raised the issue.
"Don't you think Al seems kind of depressed lately?" he asked over a piece of chocolate cake. Winry was drinking heated milk with molasses out of a mug. At his question, she set it down, cupped in her hands, and sighed.
"I don't even know anymore," she said. "He's made it pretty clear he doesn't trust us nosing around in his business."
"But I thought you all were best friends from long ago," Alfons protested. To him, they all seemed to know each other very well.
"Al hasn't forgiven us – me especially – for believing Ed died," Winry said quietly, looking into her cup. "I tried to move on because if there's one thing I learned from everything Ed and Al went through, it's that holding on too tightly can lead to disaster." She looked up at Alfons. "I'm so glad he's back," she said fervently. "I'm glad to be proven wrong. But there's always a price to pay, isn't there?" She waved her hands around, indicating the whole mess they were currently embroiled in.
Despite himself, Alfons could see her point. Right now, Edward was no happier than he had been in Alfons' world.
"Do you think Ed could have lived happily in your world?" Winry asked, the question loud in the silence, despite the softness of her tone.
Alfons shrugged. "He wouldn't try." His thoughts took a bleak turn, so he tried for distraction. Maybe this trial would end well, despite all evidence to the contrary.
"Remember that time I reversed your wiring? I'm still embarrassed about that."
Winry laughed a bit, grateful for the change of topic. "I think that's your biggest obstacle to becoming a great automail engineer. You keep getting directions confused."
"If only that was my biggest problem," Alfons snorted. God, he wanted to build rockets again. He had a new design idea he was itching to run by Edward, but now wasn't the time. He wondered if the time would ever come.
They talked for a bit more, but before they went to sleep, Alfons couldn't help but try a last time.
"Maybe you should talk to Al anyway? He's young-"
"Al has made it clear that he's nineteen years old, and thus in no need of coddling." Hurt softened Winry's words.
Al might claim to be nineteen, Alfons thought, but no matter how he looked, all he saw was a fifteen year old, in visage and in behavior.
When he saw the huddled form beneath the blankets on Al's bed, he decided he had to speak. He would have thought it was obvious, but how often had he himself tripped up on what should have been clear?
He sat down on his own bed, started pulling off his clothes, and said, "Edward thinks you know what happened to him."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the lump stop pretending to be asleep, and roll over warily to look at him. Alfons continued, peeling off one sock after the other.
"He doesn't know you lost your memories, so he doesn't think he needs to tell you anything. This whole trial is for everybody else – Colonel Mustang, Winry. Them."
He pulled up his pajama pants, then the shirt. "And there's something else going on with him. You've seen it." Alfons rested closed fists on his knees, and swallowed. "Edward can't talk about these things," he said quietly. "He told them to me as stories, at first, because I didn't believe they were true. When it's a story, or when it's not real, it's not so bad, see? That is why he will not say anything now. Because when he goes to trial and tells his story, it's unreal to him. He is doing all this because he does want us to know." Alfons tried very hard to believe it, too.
"Or maybe," Al said roughly from the other side of the room, "he just didn't want you to think he was crazy. And telling you stories was the only way to get somebody to listen."
Alfons sighed, and flopped down on his bed. Really, he wasn't sure why he bothered any more. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but what felt like hours later, he was still awake.
A single choice was hardly any choice at all, he thought. Edward had been so very lonely, and Alfons had been the only one willing to listen. It had been Alfons who pushed for more.
Edward had been afraid enough of being alone that he had been willing to forego returning to Amestris, just so Alfons would stay with him. Alfons rolled over, pressed his face into the pillow, and tried not to let his chest hurt. Tried not to cough.
Al hated him, Alfons was sure of it. What would Edward do, when he found out his little brother couldn't stand his lover? Edward had lived for Al far longer than he had known Alfons. There was hardly any competition.
Edward had said it long ago. Family was forever, and Edward relied on that connection to survive anything. Anything else was secondary. And transient.
This trial was nerve-wracking in ways the first hadn't been. Now, every bit of evidence presented by the prosecution was a nail in Edward's coffin, and Alfons' jaw hurt at the end of the day from clenching his teeth.
Maybe Edward's strategy had been a good idea, because the amount of evidence racked up against him was frightening. He would be more convinced, though, if he had any actual clue what it was. Harris still wasn't talking.
Several residents of Resembool were called, and testified reluctantly to having seen the light of the transmutation from their windows, arcing from the Elric house and coloring the sky purple.
It was unquestionable that a transmutation had occurred that day.
After each person testified, Harris went up to cross-examine. He hardly bothered asking about the details of what had happened, instead asking about Edward himself. The witnesses were happy to answer.
"He's a good kid," a Mrs. Ryans said anxiously. "Even if he did this – I'm sure it was some sort of mistake…"
The prosecutor objected at the assumptions, and was sustained. Still, Harris made his point, over and over. Even when forced to testify against him, people remained Edward's staunch supporters.
How this would save Edward's life, Alfons wasn't sure. The judges did not seem the types to be impressed just by how nice Edward was. But whenever he looked at Edward, which was often, Edward seemed more confident than Alfons had seen him in a while. He was alert, made an effort to look towards people speaking. He walked with more confidence, too, and Alfons wasn't sure how to feel about Edward being blind long enough to get used to it.
But if Edward's fears proved to be founded, and he remained blind for the rest of his life, this was a positive development. As long as Edward was happy, Alfons would be, too. No matter how much it might hurt.
During his evening visit, Edward seemed inclined to be affectionate. He sidled up to Alfons and brushed shoulders with him, sat closer than usual on the sofa and begged to be read to. Since Mustang was around, and radiated general disapproval in Alfons' direction, he felt distinctly uncomfortable at the attention. Even worse, he couldn't help but wonder if it didn't have something to do with the fact that Al had been sent on errands by Harris, and wouldn't be making it today. He really didn't want to see a correlation, but couldn't help it.
He tried to ask Edward about his plans, why he wouldn't share them, but Edward was evasive. Alfons was pretty sure that Edward was taking advantage of their soft-heartedness, and as he was leaving, told Edward so.
"I would probably spend fewer nights up worrying if I knew what you planned to do," he said, feeling bad about the guilt-trip, but sometimes that was the only thing that worked. Edward sighed heavily, and visibly steeled himself.
"When you know, you'll also know why it has to be this way."
The guards were getting impatient, it was time to leave. Edward, sensing his stubbornness, hugged him swiftly and whispered mein Schatz in his ear. Alfons felt a rush of heat, enough to keep him from resisting as he was led out. Edward knew how to manipulate him, too, he thought as he looked back at the door he had exited.
He didn't quite rely on Edward's assurances, he thought as he made his way out. But Harris thought there was a chance, and he certainly trusted Harris – maybe more than he should.
At night, he distracted himself by staying up to draw wavery rocket schematics. He still wasn't used to being left-handed (though technically it was his right hand), and his writing was far from up to par. His mother would have despaired of his penmanship.
The next day in court, Edward was far more attentive than usual. He didn't even seem to mind that the first of the witnesses of the day could testify that Al had most definitely appeared to be an alchemical construct. Alfons supposed it was good that Edward was more cheerful, but he didn't know why that should be, which worried him. He resolved to ask Edward about it that evening. Edward's coping mechanisms tended to be, overall, unhealthy.
The moment he stepped into the apartment Edward barreled into him, almost knocking him over. He had barely gotten out a startled "What-" before his head was yanked down and Edward's lips pressed against his.
Right in front of the guards and everybody. And Al, who was coming in after him.
Before he could panic over whether or not Edward had plans to use his tongue as well and what he would do if so, Edward had let go and stood grinning up at him, the thumb of his flesh hand resting on Alfons' cheek and fingers curving down his neck.
Alfons met his eyes, focused gold burning into his own.
"Edward?" he breathed, hardly daring to believe. Edward's grin widened. His eyes dropped to Alfons lips for a second, then flicked back up.
"You can see…"
But Edward had wriggled away from him, and now threw his arms around a surprised Al, enfolding him in a bone-crushing hug. Then Edward let go and just looked at him, drinking in his image. Edward's hands cupped his face, then dropped to his shoulders, and Alfons' breath came short at the sight. For one moment, there was perfect joy on Edward's face. Even if everything went wrong, he would know that for this moment, Edward had been truly happy. And he knew, then, that Edward could never have been so happy in his world. Every smile he had ever seen on Edward's face was a pale shadow of this one.
"Al, " Edward said. "You… you look just like I remember…."
Judging by the tightening of Al's jaw, it was the wrong thing to say.
Please let it not go wrong, Alfons prayed. Not this time.
Confusion began to take over Edward's expression. "Al," he began hesitantly, "you look… really young. What-"
Al shoved him away violently. "You mean," he spat, "you didn't notice my voice is only changing now?"
Crap. Alfons bit his lip.
"I," Edward said in a small voice, "I didn't think… you sounded the same for so many years, I didn't…" His voice died.
"Damn it, Brother," Al said, his fists clenched at his sides, eyes hidden by dirty blond bangs. "Of course I look like you remember! That's how you transmuted me!" Edward's eyes widened as the implications set in, but Al wasn't finished. "And apparently, you remembered me ten years old."
The one thing Edward had been so proud of, Alfons thought, as he watched Edward shake wordlessly. He ached to touch him, to comfort him, but there was nothing he could do. Not when it came to Al.
"I should have been him!" Al said, gesturing towards Alfons, who was now the target of the gazes of everybody in the room. "And you're fucking him!"
Not again, not this. Edward's eyes darted between the two of them, and from his pallor, Alfons could tell he was seeing every single similarity and then some.
I'm not him, Alfons wanted to shout. He had never been Edward's brother, and never would be. That had to count.
But Mustang was there, and watching him, and he couldn't say it. Because if he loved Edward, shouldn't he do the right thing for him? Alfons was far from being impartial.
Now was Edward's time to speak up in his defense, but judging by the paralyzed look on his face, he wouldn't. It wasn't even about Edward, Alfons thought. It was about him and Al, and Alfons' right to a place in this world.
Al didn't deserve Edward's devotion, and at that, a hard coil of anger began spreading through him. "Maybe it's not about you," he said, his vision narrowed to Al's face, so like and unlike his own. "Maybe Edward loves me in spite of the fact that we look alike, not because of it."
"I spent four years searching for him," Al said, tears standing in his eyes. "Only to find that he's replaced me, and now he's sleeping with the replacement!"
"I didn't-" Edward began.
Al hardly noticed. "Go on, Alfons," he spat. "Tell me there's nothing wrong with this picture. Tell me how you rationalize your relationship."
We're not identical I'm not his brother he never loved us the same way he wants us both how could one of us ever replace the other-
Instead, he snarled- "Congratulations for ruining the one thing I managed to keep Edward from feeling guilty about. I would have expected you to want him to be happy-"
"You don't even belong in this world!" Al cried. "It's perverted, that two of the same person exist in one place-"
"We aren't that similar!" Alfons shouted back. "Your eyes-"
"You can't prove we wouldn't have looked the same if my body had returned-"
"Your eyes were never blue!" Alfons pointed an accusing finger. "We can't have the same DNA, my parents weren't doubles of yours-"
"It doesn't make any sense anyway!" Al shrieked. "And this doesn't matter, because the point is that he doesn't need another brother!"
"He doesn't HAVE another brother!" Alfons dragged air into his lungs, and bellowed, "Because his brother is YOU!" He was forced to pause and wheeze for a moment. Al just stared at him big-eyed, so he plowed ahead, despite the remembered hurt it brought back. "He wouldn't shut up about you. He was willing to risk death to get back to you." Alfons, alone, had never been enough.
But that didn't mean Edward didn't want him in his life.
"Do you really think your brother is so shallow to care for me only because of my looks? Or to forget about you once he encountered somebody who looks similar?"
From the almost fearful look on Al's face, Alfons was making an impression. Al wanted so badly to believe he was still significant to Edward.
Seeming to reach some sort of conclusion, Al's shoulders slumped and he dropped his gaze, suddenly tiny in his black outfit. The victory was empty and meaningless, because it was no victory at all. While Al was unhappy, Edward would never be content.
Alfons looked around, the realization dawning that they had just said all that right in front of him, and from the look on Edward's face, he wasn't happy. He scuffed his foot against the floor, clutched his automail arm in his other hand. "I thought you two would like each other," he said. "I thought... maybe, for once, I had gotten everything right." He looked up at the two of them, and his smile was the sad, familiar one that Alfons had seen so many times. "Figures."
Al swiped the heel of his hand against his eyes. "You made my body perfect, Brother," he said. "Nobody else could have done it half as well. Nobody else could have done it at all."
Edward shifted from foot to foot, then swallowed. "I'm really tired," he said unconvincingly. He faked a yawn. "I think I'll turn in early."
Alfons found himself exchanging a panicked look with Al. If Edward wanted him to go, he would, but he wanted to stay. So very, very badly.
Edward vanished in the direction of his room, leaving Al and Alfons with little choice.
"I'll talk to him," Mustang said softly. "He expects me to bother him."
Hearing that, Al ducked out quickly, meeting nobody's eyes. Alfons hesitated, suspicious. He trusted Mustang to look out for Edward, but he couldn't forget that Mustang was against their relationship.
Mustang rolled his eye and sighed. "Wipe that suspicious look off your face," he told Alfons. "Now is hardly the time to be territorial."
"I'm not-" Alfons spluttered incoherently at his retreating back, which did not affect Mustang in the least. He strode through the short hall, bootheels momentarily muffled on the carpet, to knock at the door to Edward's room.
"Fullmetal, I'm coming in."
"No." Edward's voice came muffled. "I'm sleeping, bug off."
"Wonderful," said Mustang, and entered.
Alfons forced himself to turn away and walk out, despite how much he wanted to stay and eavesdrop. He had done his damage for the day; now it was somebody else's turn to fix things up.
Outside, he found himself standing for a few minutes, not yet ready to head back. The surroundings were already as familiar to him as Munich had been. He had passed by these shops a hundred times. He knew the regular protesters on sight, and now nodded to some of them. In the muddy snow by the wall, green shoots were starting to poke through.
What a long winter it had been.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and started walking. A long winter, and it wasn't over yet. He kicked at a pile of snow and thought about how much simpler everything had been in Germany. What would his life have been like if he hadn't believed Edward, encouraged him to find a way home? What would Edward's life have been like?
Enough. It was pointless to wonder what could have been. He straightened his back, though kept his hands in his pockets and his shoulders a bit hunched against the wind.
Anyway, he thought, watching the street lamps come on, he might as well admit to himself. He had been happier in America than he had ever been in Germany.