Rain water flows from the guttering, pouring over a corner in a steady silver stream, and the blood will not come off his hands.

The water is too cold, he thinks distantly. Mom always said to use

hot water, Al, hothothot water, because cold won't move the dirt

soap, anyway, and it's not like there's any here. The blue-coated men and women behind him are still clearing up, even this late at night; they do not disturb him as they bag the knife and draw a chalk outline around the

man/boy/woman/child i didn't even get to see

body, then lift it up and put it back on the slick, shining-wet cobbles a few feet away, covering it with a black blanket. They stand and take notes, eyeing him suspiciously, but he doesn't turn to meet their eyes, doesn't stop trying to clean the blood off his hands. Another car pulls up, joining the few already gathered, and he sees more blue-coats out of the corner of his eye. He feels


tired and cold and hungry, but he can't leave until the blood is all gone. He can't. There are footsteps behind him, then, and a hand on his shoulders. "Alphonse?"

"Go away," he mutters. The blood is caked underneath his nails and won't come off his palms, and the water is starting to numb his hands.

"Alphonse. You need to go home."

"Don't want to."

Hawkeye removes her hands, and a few seconds later he hears her walking away. The water is cold, so cold, but there is a hot liquid on his cheeks

hothot blood all over me o god i didn't know blood could spray so far like that

and he doesn't want to brush the tears away with tainted hands. The footsteps return, boots clicking high and hard on the cobbles, and he can hear Hawkeye again.

"—breakdown, sir, we're trying to find out what happened—"

"Where's Fullmetal?"

      "Probably still in the library, it seems Al was trying to find him when he

murdered someone

      was assaulted—"

      "Havoc, fetch him."

"Boss." Boots swivelling on wet paving; he takes a deep breath and scrubs harder, with his fingernails. If he could he would

      tear his skin off flay the filth from his bones

ask for soap and a sponge, but he doesn't want to look away, doesn't want to risk seeing the body. Another hand touches his shoulder; even over the copper-tang of blood he smells Mustang's cologne. A second later the hand is removed and a heavy trench-coat is draped over his back; Roy reaches around casually and grips his wrists, prying them from the water. "Alphonse, come on. Come with me to the car. I'm taking you home—-"

      He struggles, wrenching his hands free. The coat slithers from his shoulders but he doesn't even notice, stepping fully into the trickle of water. "Alphonse."

      "Go away." The water is

pure holy untainted

      freezing, but he genuinely doesn't care at this point about hypothermia or pneumonia or—hell, about anything at all. The world is limited to bright red on his hands, a red that won't come off. Mustang stays for a while, watching him, but he ignores the man. Maybe if he pretends Mustang doesn't exist he won't, he'll leave, he'll go away and

leave him alone with his guilt

      let him get clean on the outside, at least. A car screeches. More footsteps. He flinches, but the uneven sounds stop a few yards away, and the silence is awkward. "Fuck," says the voice, new and raw with anger and


sorrow. "Fuck."


"Go away, Mustang. Not the time." The feet step closer, and Ed reaches out and draws him out of the spray. He resists, then twists and buries his face in Ed's chest, lets his brother stroke his hair and kiss his forehead, murmur soothing nothings. He clenches bloody hands on Ed's red-red jacket, and lets himself dissolve in hysterical sobbing.

Somewhere in there Ed manhandles him into a car, and wraps him in his coat, keeps him in one piece as he orders Havoc to take them back to the dorms. Al doesn't notice, shaking and crying and helpless as a newborn kitten

but dirtier inside

in his brother's arms. He huddles weakly closer in the back seat of the car, shivering involuntarily as Ed catches his hands and chafes them gently between his, the automail covered by the fabric of his coat. "It's okay," Ed says gently, "Havoc told me you were attacked."

Al blinks at him then collapses again; Ed catches him as he falls, stroking his hair and kissing his face.

"I didn't mean to do anything," he says, voice small and thick with pain. "He just had this knife and I fought and I got it off him and—he bled too much, brother, he bled too much and I couldn't stop it though I tried and there was blood everywhere and now I can't get it off my hands—-"

"Ssssh," Ed soothes, still petting him reassuringly. "Sssh. We'll get home and you can wash your hands. You're not in any trouble with the law. Ssh. It wasn't your fault, Al, I never wanted this to happen to you."

Al takes a deep hitching breath and says weakly "Brother, I thought it would be—harder—to... to—-"

Ed gently places a metal finger over his lips; he looks sad as he says, "Killing should never be easy, Al."

"But it was," Al wails, feeling fresh tears welling up. He bites back a sob, buries his face in Ed's chest again and feels his brother's arms slip around him, drawing him closer.

"No," Ed says quietly. "It never is. It wasn't easy, Al, look at you. Easy is when you can do that and feel fine."


"Let's just get inside," Ed murmurs. "We'll clean you up and get you to bed."

"Stay with me?" Al pleads, abruptly childishly terrified of letting go.

"Of course," Ed replies casually, brushing their noses and mouths together. "I'll never leave you if you don't want me to, you know that."

Al takes a deep breath, then another, and tries to calm down. The car draws to a halt outside HQ, and Ed helps him out; he can see Havoc watching him through the window like he's some kind of

condemned criminal

glass butterfly, and might shatter into a thousand iridescent fragments if left unsupervised. Ed taps the top of the car roughly, and with a lasting look, Havoc pulls away.

In the dorm Ed sets the kettle to boil while running hot water and soap for Al. He helps his brother wash the dried blood away, tiny clots of brown flaking off his skin and sliding down the drain; Al feels too numb inside to even cry anymore. He barely notices it when Ed pours the hot water into a mug, adding some cocoa, milk and spices, and then two pills taken from the first aid kit by the door. He drops them in, attempting to be discrete; they land with a splash like

a bleeding body into a puddle

a pebble cast into a pond. Still, when he can't clean his hands any more he accepts the drink, and Ed helps him into bed, taking off his boots and coat before the drug can have an effect. Al curls into a tight ball, nestles his face into Ed's chest and curls his fingers around his brother's back, and presently Ed begins humming as he strokes Al's hair. It's a soothing tune, a familiar one, and he vaguely remembers

alphonse, why are you in edward's bed? did you have another nightmare? it's all right, i'm not angry, but if you keep waking edward up like this you know the lack of sleep will stunt his growth. now, edward, don't look so irate! i think it'd wonderful that you're such a good big brother to alphonse. i'm so proud of you both. i am. no, don't worry, you two; i'm not crying because of you, just... your father... i wish he had been more like his sons.

their mother humming it softly as she chopped carrots in the kitchen. "Thank you, brother," he whispers into Ed's midriff, and Ed smiles. He is groggy and sleepy and tired, but nevertheless he doesn't miss how his brother's reassuring petting, the hand stroking over his shoulder and sides. It's so familiar, so comforting, and it lulls him slowly into a deep, dreamless sleep, still wrapped tightly against Ed's chest.

It seems that he's still not too old to crawl into his brother's arms whenever he has a nightmare, but for now, he doesn't care.