He realized for the first time that Edward, who he was used to seeing shadowed by blood and sweat and his own private sorrows, was actually beautiful.
But he's traveled like this before, and the hope that it won't end in failure a second time is, at this moment, enough.
This was getting crazy. He knew that his college years ran equivalent with his sexual peak, but honestly?
Fingertips drifted over curves, up over hips and thighs and the dimple of ribs, and if my eyes were closed, I could have told you in detail every perfect flaw and scar.
"I'm sorry Al," he said at last. "For what it's worth, I never meant for this to happen to you."
"He's the Fullmetal Alchemist," Alphonse interrupted, tapping his pen against his clipboard. "Are you sure you're up to the task?"
But suddenly, when Al had his body back, it was like picking up an old book and learning something new.
Ed tosses four sausages at once into his mouth and swallows almost without chewing, shooting Al a smug, triumphant grin.
"You aren't Envy, are you? Because if you are, I'll kick your ass and find out what you've done with my brother."
The only other tradition that was better than eggnog to Al, was that of mistletoe.
It's almost as though Al is the blind one, seeking to memorize his brother's features by touch.
It wasn't enough just to know what chemical components went into a human body, not if the structural knowledge was completely lacking.
With no warning at all, something changed in the air between them, and the fight turned dirty.
He's a pessimist with an ego seven miles long; he's a scientist, too, doesn't approve of Al's books.
For an instant, a look passed between them, and Alphonse could almost imagine that he saw his own emotions reflected within the eyes of his brother.
It is snowing in earnest by the time the fire has begun to burn low, but neither boy wants to move to add more wood.
Sometimes Al thinks that somewhere back in the Armstrong family tree lurks an alchemical accident in a sequin factory.
Twenty-one days, and it all falls down.
He would ask questions, even though Al knew he didn't particularly care, simply because he liked seeing Alphonse so animated about something.
"I forgot my....the ticky thing? It's...it's round and it...tells the time..."
"Brother," Alphonse said, voice soft with horror, "I think that Winry's going to kill you."
There were many things that Edward Elric didn't want the world to know, secrets to be protected at all cost.
There was something extremely satisfying about Ed's body.
His brother seemed to like it when the leather left marks, a residual token of ownership, even when the collar (by job-dictated necessity) had to be removed.
"It was a while ago," he offered nervously. "Before your time. He's, uh, well, he was a persistent bastard, and... You're not mad, are you?"
With a sense of rising dread, Alphonse raised his fist to pound for admittance, worry tinging his voice. "Brother? Are you alright in there?"
There were precious few memories remaining, now, dimmed with the passage of time and the years that he’d spent lacking a flesh body, but he kept them close to him all the same.
"It's cheating," he declared at last, "To pick a fight while I ache."
Al didn't complain about his brother's occasional delinquency, so Ed didn't have room to complain about Al's taste in boyfriends.
The sunrise is spectacular, and it is the first that Edward has been awake to see in years.
Tenderly, Ed's flesh fingers threaded into hair that he had created — short and bronze-gold, the same downy texture that he'd recalled from childhood.
In the summer they competed at climbing through the twisting branches, risking life and bruises to collect baskets of fruit and bring them back home.
The house rumbled gently, as a cat purrs, and Alphonse tied off the braid, pressing his hands to Edward's scalp one more time before dropping them to his side.
Everything — Ed's wishes, his remaining dignity, even his trust — was going to have to come second to Ed's life.
This new life was staggering - more so, the feel of Alphonse's shoulder, warm and flesh beneath his cheek as the train lurched out of the station.
"All this will do is give your soul access to the feelings that should be in your body right now, just like a normal teenage boy."
"I know," Ed replies, and grins. "I mean, I can totally see why. Nobody else kisses the way I do."
"Don't worry about it," he says bossily. "I know what to do. Give me the book--don't close it--ah, thanks."
"Stop that," he snapped, flicking the tap on. "Change into something a little more appropriate. You're not him, brother."
Alphonse settled for a barely audible sigh and hoped that his brother knew what he was doing.
"Your arm," said Al, smiling apologetically. "It's kind of heavy."
It's important that a little light always comes in, even if it's only enough to see shadows and outlines, and not words at all.
"So by 'torture,' you really mean 'sexual gratification'. Specifically your sexual gratification.
His tone was all weary patience, as though explaining to a child why candy was out of the question until after dinner.
His ruse works; Ed dismisses him - with a harsh, impatient rejoinder that he isn't finished yet - and devotes his attention to his brother.
Sweet nothingness, just feeling, no Stone, no pesky mental commentary or guilt, and just this goddamn sensation that eclipsed the sun.