Sometimes Al stays awake at night, long after his mother has tucked him into bed and turned the lights out. He just lies there, staring up at the ceiling, heart in his mouth as he listens frantically for the house to settle down; can hear her downstairs, working on her sewing, the radio a soft buzz beside her. She'll be rocking in her chair, he knows; fingers moving deft and nimble as they thread the needle in and out of the canvas. Her eyes will be soft, and pensive, the comfortable silence interrupted only by her hacking, wheezing coughs.
He doesn't dare move until he hears her come back up to bed; hears the door shut and the shriek of her curtains on the rail. And even then, he'll wait, nervous, body humming with anticipation, until he's sure she's asleep; his mother is a deep sleeper, like his brother, and even more so with her illness, and he knows how to use this to his advantage.
And when he is sure she is asleep, when the house is silent, he'll tiptoe out of bed; tiptoe out of bed and down the corridor, sneaking past her door as quietly as he can (he has to watch out for creaky floorboards; left-right-jump-right-right-left) and then he is there, standing before his brother's door with his hand resting on the handle. Polished wood, Edward's name carved into it (by their father, something his mother had to tell him because Ed certainly wouldn't); he gives it a push and it swings open with the barest hint of a creak.
His brother is wrapped up in his sheets on the bed; a lump of white with his mouth open, snoring loudly. Al smiles at this, and shuts the door behind him; opens Ed's window. There's a light breeze, and it sets the curtains to fluttering, gently, casting ever-changing shadows over the walls. Ed stirs as he feels the change, pushing himself up and rubbing his eyes sleepily with one hand. He doesn't say anything when he sees Al, silhouetted by the windowsill, a black figure in a world of silver; simply untangles his legs and lifts a corner of the sheets, and Al slips in between them with a grateful sigh.
His brother is warm, and so soft, next to him. His eyes are glinting pools not of gold, not with this lighting, but of silver; they shine along with Ed's teeth when his brother grins at him, gap-toothed and smug. Al rests his head into the crook of his brother's neck, feels a warm, strong arm slip around him, and closes his eyes.
"Brother," he whispers into the soft warmth of Ed's skin, "Is mom going to get better?"
"'Course," Ed says, cheerfully, as he reaches out and pulls the blankets up over them. "She can't die on us, Al, she's our mom."
"I... I guess," Al says, uncertainly, and smiles nervously. "Thank you."
There's a pause, and then Ed begins stroking down his side, over his ribs and flank, and presses a kiss into Al's hair. "Well," he says, keeping his face there as if breathing in Al's scent, his lips tickling as they move, "I'll look after you anyway. You should know that."
"I do," Al replies, instantly, and then hesitates. "But... it won't be the same if she... if she..."
"Don't even think about it, Al!" Ed snaps. "You'll just make yourself more worried. Stop it."
Al opens his eyes again, although the view is less than spectacular, and smiles. "All right," he says, and leans up to kiss his brother on the cheek. This done, he snuggles close again, looping an arm around Ed's waist, and rests his head on his brother's hard collarbone. He fancies he can hear Ed's heartbeat like this, slow and steady and strong, and feels safe, valued. Protected. "I believe you," he murmurs, eyes half shut, smoky bronze hidden behind his eyelashes. "I know you'll keep me safe, brother."
Ed smiles, too, and wraps both of his arms around Al. His little brother is a heavy, warm presence against his chest, the soft puffs of his breaths across bare skin sending tingles down his spine; but Ed can't find it in himself to complain. "Yeah," he agrees, voice light. "I'd kill myself before I'd see you hurt, Al."
Al's sleepy smile is so very sweet, tugging at the corners of his mouth, blissfully content; and Ed feels a fierce glow inside of him, right where Al's head rests. I'll protect you, he thinks, no matter what.