Ed’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. Mustang was waiting for him; his own hand clamped around Ed’s wrist as soon as it got close. Ed stared up at him, found him smiling in a way he wasn’t used to, in a way that . . . he wasn’t sure what it meant. He worked his mouth, finally found his voice.
“This . . . isn’t really a dream, is it.”
“I think it is.” That same deep voice he remembered, but missing the smug overtones that always got on his nerves. “But I think we’re both having it.”
Ed dropped his eyes. He wasn’t sure if this was better or worse.
“What’s the point, if we just wake up,” he said, looking at their joined hands. It felt so solid, so real, but he knew that was an illusion. He wanted to pull back, to turn away, to end this now before it got any more painful, but the most he could get himself to do was avert his eyes.
They were on the wing of that airship, the wind whipping around them. Mustang brushed his hair out of his face, caressing his cheek with the back of a finger. That point of contact another solid anchor in the shifting dreamscape, another little piece that felt real. “I don’t know,” he whispered, and it was painful hearing so much emotion in that normally calculated voice. “Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe—”
The wing beneath them fractured and Mustang pitched backwards, the panic on his face a mirror of Ed’s own. “No—no no no not again—” He could feel his grip slipping and scrabbled for a hold, grabbing for anything he could. In desperation he lunged—
—And struck hardwood.
Ed lay there in the dark with his face against the floorboards for a full two heartbeats before his mind would accept that he was back in waking reality. He cried out and pounded all that frustration and anger into the floor.
Al switched on the light. Ed squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the inevitable question. But his brother didn’t say anything this time. He got up and knelt down next to him and quietly tugged the blanket free from the tangle Ed had made around himself.
When he was finished he sat down with his back against his brother’s bed. “Sometimes you cry out,” he said, voice soft. “Even when you don’t wake up. I think it happens more nights than you realize.”
Ed held his breath.
“Brother . . . these . . . aren’t just dreams, are they.”
Ed sobbed and struck the floor. He choked back the next sob, but when Al’s hand settled on the back of his head the last of his control shattered. He drew his arms in and wept there on the floor. Wept for himself and his own life for the first time in a long time. He wanted to scream that it wasn’t fair, that it wasn’t supposed to be like this, but he didn’t believe in fairness anymore. He certainly didn’t believe that the world would ever be so kind as to give him a break.
Al sat with him, stroking his hair the way their mom used to. Before long Ed cried himself out. No point in pining over the impossible. He wiped his face on a corner of the blanket and sat up, hugging his knees to his chest and staring down at the floor.
“Al. . . .” he said at last. The last thing he wanted to do was dwell on it, but his brother deserved an explanation. “Did you . . . ever believe the stories? About souls . . . and people. . . .”
“You mean—soul mates?”
Ed grimaced, balling his left hand into a fist. His fingers were still tingling.
“I don’t—know,” Al said. “I always wanted to . . . but. . . .”
“But it sounded like a fairy tale,” Ed finished for him. He hunched into his knees, nails digging into his palm. “Fuck.”
Al was quiet for a long time. At one point he reached over and coaxed his brother’s tight fist loose, rubbing a soothing hand over the half-moons impressed on his skin. “You . . . you never said anything.”
“I didn’t know!” he sobbed. “You know how I was back then, I never took the gloves off! And I hardly touched anyone. . . .”
Al squeezed his hand. “And now we’re here . . . and he’s back in Amestris.”
Ed didn’t bother to ask how his brother knew who they were talking about.
“And the dreams?”
“I think . . . I think our souls are reaching for each other. I dunno.” He choked out a short, bitter laugh. “This is probably the most unscientific thing I’ve ever experienced. Maybe it is just dreams.”
“. . . I doubt it.”
“Yeah? If someone else was describing this, I’d say it sounded like lunacy.”
“But I know souls can reach across The Gate. Mine did, when I was searching for you.”
Ed lifted his head. “Really? You’re serious?”
Al sighed, and glanced away. “I would see you through his eyes. The other Al. Never for long. It just confused me more than anything else. I didn’t tell you because . . . I wasn’t sure how to.”
“Wow. So I guess . . . I guess this is happening.”
“Yeah. I think it must be.”
Ed leaned back against the bed, staring out the small window in their room at a sky that wasn’t the one he wanted to be seeing.
“What’s it . . . what’s it like?” Al ventured.
He barked out another laugh. “Right now? Pretty miserable.”
“I’m sorry, Brother. I shouldn’t have asked.”
Ed hooked an arm around him and rubbed his hair. “S’okay. It’s not really so bad. It’s just . . . just . . . constantly wanting something I can’t have. And I’m used to that.” But it was more than that; it was a tug, an ever-present awareness of the spaces where Mustang would fit, a feeling of being incomplete. It was potential, and promise. It was having it all snatched out of his grasp before he even knew it was there. “It felt kinda warm at the time. Tingly. My fingers still tingle whenever I think of him. Or—dream.” He sighed. “But mostly it’s just . . . knowing. I just . . . knew.”
Sometimes it seemed to Ed like he and Mustang had done everything upside down and sideways. Weren’t you supposed to meet your soulmate, shake hands or brush against each other or fall into each other or something and know, and then build your happily ever after together? Wasn’t that how all the stories went? Instead, they had met and clashed and grated and Ed had hated him and admired him and had hated admiring him.
But no matter how much he’d despised it, no matter how much he’d fought against it, Ed had been drawn to the colonel. Had developed a crush on him at twelve that he would wrestle and squash down and trample only to have it spring back up and tackle him any time Mustang spoke or even looked at him.
It was as if, deep down, he’d always known. Maybe his soul had always been pushing him to make that contact, and he’d been too stubborn and oblivious to listen. And now. . . .
“It doesn’t matter, now,” he said, more to himself than to his brother. “The Gate’s closed. We can’t open it again, it would cost way too damn much and hurt too many people. It’s not worth it.”
“Even to have the other half of your soul.”
“Yeah.” He sighed and closed his eyes. “Not with that high of a price.”
“Yeah.” Al’s head came to rest on his shoulder. “I know. I just wish . . . there was some way.”
They sat in silence for a time.
“Maybe . . . maybe it’s enough,” Ed ventured, voice barely above a whisper. “That we can see each other in dreams. That we can still touch each other like that. It’s—it’s still something, at least.”
Maybe he could make it be enough.
It wasn’t as if he had much choice.