Hidden Messages

It's raining when Al comes in, water dripping from the hem of his coat into a sad little puddle on the floor. He wanders through the house, setting his bag on the kitchen counter, and shrugs his coat off, frowning at how quiet it is. There's no hoard of cats rushing towards him to be fed, for one, but his frown only deepens when he spots the scraps of chicken over the floor. "Brother, cats choke on chicken bones!" he yells, making his way into the living room. As an afterthought, he feels the need to add, "And that was supposed to be our dinner, too!"

There is no reply. Al flops on the couch, and almost immediately a cat makes her presence known, leaping onto his lap and settling down so quickly that in five seconds she looks like she's been there five hours. Al sighs, but digs his fingers in and begins stroking.

Ed's notes are spread out over the little coffee table; Al can see his handwriting—which closely resembles the marks a tap-dancing spider might make if it fell in an ink pot first—sprawled over the page, transmutation circles more oval than round in the margins. He stretches to pick one page up, wincing when he squishes the cat and she digs her claws into his lap in sullen retribution, and reads it carefully.

It's a list, entitled '10 Good Restaurants in Central', and Al eyes widen. Coded. Right. He glances surreptitiously around the house, still can't see his brother, and settles to cracking it.

The list is incomplete, and only restaurant on it is the 'Golden Archer', which is along Venus Street. Obvious, Al thinks with a snort. Gold was a symbol. The Archer, Sagittarius, was a symbol. Venus was a symbol. So. Assuming the 'gold' part of the 'Golden Archer' meant his brother, did the Venus mean love? Or maybe it was a date—gold, one of the seven major alchemical metals, assigned a day of the week. Sunday—Sol.

No. He must be going about this the wrong way, because that makes no sense. Sagittarius the Archer, representation of the chemical process of 'ceration', or to reduce something to a wax-like or pliable state. But that made no sense—what could his brother be trying to do? Reduce red stones back into red water? Something else, something worse?

He lets his head fall back against the couch, and then straightens again. Damnit, he will not give up that easily; he's always been just as stubborn as Edward, in his own way. By tilting his hips and therefore his lap, he just about manages to get the cat to slide off, and draws his knees up to his chest, regarding the notes. Hmmm. Venus Street—Venus, the Goddess of Beauty and Love, in the old religion of Creta known as 'Aphrodite'. Her metal was copper. And Sagittarius could represent Jupiter, another old god, Zeus. His element was tin. Tin, copper and gold? Thursday, Friday and Sunday, respectively. His brother might be planning something for those days, he thinks, and scratches his head as he tries to recall Ed's timetable for next week. Today's a Sunday, so his brother could be off doing anything. He might even be doing whatever it was he'd coded so carefully.

Al traces a finger over the hastily scribbled arrays, carefully, and frowns. Ed was acting strange this morning, he recalls; normally he rises about ten-ish, showers, falls down the stairs and into a seat at the table, and doesn't make proper conversation until his third cup of coffee. This morning he woke up before Al did and made breakfast for them both, humming cheerfully as he did so. Al remembers stopping in the doorway and staring, open-mouthed, as his brother slid some bacon out of the skillet and onto a plate before turning to grin at him.

He hears a steady stomping as someone descends the stairs and hastily puts the notes back onto the table, just as Ed comes up behind him and wraps his arms tightly around his neck, nuzzling into the back of his head. "I got the shopping you wanted, brother," he says lightly. "How was your nap?"

"Good," Ed says cheerfully and makes his way around the couch to straddle Al's lap and rest his hands on Al's shoulders. Al smiles, hoping he doesn't look too guilty, and decides to distract his brother with a kiss. "So," Ed murmurs as he draws back, a cocky grin on his face, "You are still free tonight, right?"

"Yeah," Al admits cautiously. "Why?"

"Just checking. What's the time?"

Al stretches backwards and glances over at the clock they have hanging on the wall. "Six-thirty."

"Ugh, I slept longer than I thought. We'd better make a move, then," Ed says, pushing himself up and off of Al with evident reluctance. "Come on, Al, we don't want to be late," he adds with a grin, making his way over to the rack by the door upon which his coat hangs.

"What? Late for what, brother?" Al demands, half-rising. Ed doesn't answer, instead shrugging on his coat and slipping his keys into his pocket. He looks up as he pulls his hair out of the confines of the collar and flashes Al a lightning-fast grin, holding out one of his hands. Al hesitates before taking it, but his long-time trust for his brother wins, and he allows Ed to draw him closer. His brother's eyes are lit with amusement and ill-veiled mischief, and Al can't help but grin back.

"That's it, Al," Ed purrs, and then he's flying out the door in a flash of gold braid and red swirling fabric.

"Brother-!" Al calls, then sighs, grabs his own coat, and steps outside after him. It's cool, an early autumn evening with just enough of a nip in the air to make him require the extra layer of clothing. Ed's waiting at the foot of the garden, standing on the gate with his blond hair slightly disorganized, strands slipping out of the braid and drifting around his face. Al sighs and grips him by the hood, pulling him backwards as he re-braids Ed's hair as best he can with nothing other than his fingers. People walk past the street outside, and he wonders what they see when they see he and Ed, whether they see brothers or lovers. Both views are right, but it amuses him sometimes to see the differing expressions on their faces according to whichever one they hold. He smiles, letting the now-finished cable of hair fall to thump against Ed's spinal cord, and pads around to be in front of his brother again. "So, where are we-?"

"Aha, you'll see," Ed says cheerfully, reaching behind him to run the fingers of his living hand over his braid. He pauses to lock their mouths together, a kiss as speedy as everything he does, and sets off down the street. Al has to jog to catch up with him.

"That's not very good of you, brother," Al complains, and Ed tilts him a knowing grin.

"Neither is your trying to decode my research notes when I'm not around," he points out.

Al shuts his mouth sharply on a retort and plunges his hands into his pockets. "How did you know?" he asks finally, a grudging note in his voice.

Ed laughs. "I didn't. I guessed based entirely on the guilty expression you were wearing when I came downstairs. Al, I love you, but you can't lie to save your life."

"Isn't that something to be proud of?" Al asks empty air, relieved that Ed doesn't seem angry or even reproachful.

"Depends you how you look at it, I guess," Ed replies noncommittally as they turn into a broad street lined with bright, expensive looking shops. Most of them are shut, but Ed doesn't even look in the window displays as he heads along, his breath forming little clouds of condensation in the air. Al notices bright confectionery shops, the displays made of wreaths of bright silk entwined around carefully packaged collections of chocolate. Ed has to grab him by the crook of the arm and tug him away from one, which is only just closing and the scent of melting chocolate floating rich and tantalizing through the air.

"This had better be good," Al grumps, feeling unusually petulant. Ed smirks at him and stops in front of a pair of large double doors, a man in a smart uniform standing in front of them. He fishes in his pocket, finding two white rectangles of cardboard, and hands them to the doorkeeper; they are ushered through with only a glance at their attire. "What is this place?" Inside is a mess of white-clothed tables and men in tuxedos, women in smart evening gowns. Al feels a little self-conscious in his clothes, an almost duplicate of Ed's familiar clothing, but Ed salutes a waiter over to them and flashes the—tickets? Invitations?

The waiter guides them up to a gallery, to a small table for two tucked into a corner and surrounded by plants. It's sheltered and private, and Al feels relieved as he slips into his seat. The waiter leaves them with their menus, and vanishes.

Al can't help but laugh when he notices the address printed discretely on the front is 'The Golden Archer, 109 Venus Street'. When he looks up Ed's grinning innocently, having not even opened his own menu. "So, they weren't notes after all," he says with a sweet and slightly accusatory grin. "You could have just said you were taking me out to dinner."

"What would be the fun in that?" Ed protests, mock horror on his face. Al reaches across the table and catches his hand, shaking his head fondly as he returns to the task of choosing his meal.

The food is good, the service excellent. Alphonse persuades his brother to try some wine with him, and they drink to each other. They listen to good music, they talk openly, and Al feels relaxed. It wasn't his intention to pry into anything of Ed's life that he might be keeping private (although admittedly, there isn't much of that anymore), and he's glad he's forgiven. In fact, after the bill's paid and they've walked home, after they've left their clothes in a winding trail up the stairs and along the hall, grappling with each other over who tops today (Al lets Ed win, he's too content to really fight about it), Ed never mentions the notes. It's only in the morning, when yet again Al wakes up at seven and decides to leave Ed sleeping for another few hours, that he wonders about it.

The page is still on the coffee table, since they didn't have much time for anything except each other's bodies last night, and Al transfers it back into the kitchen. He regards it over his coffee, thinking carefully, and suddenly, an idea begins to form in his head. He finds a pencil, and quietly begins to make notes.

Gold—Sunday. Edward. That much is plain. The Archer—yes, Sagittarius, which starts on the twenty-third of November. His own birthday rests on the 23rd of July, which makes him a Leo, a lion. Leo shares the same alchemical symbol as Sol—gold. Venus—Goddess of beauty and of love, ceration—to make something—someone—pliable, the doodled array—a circle with a dot in it, symbol of Sol... "Brother, you sap," he says, and rests his head against his forearms. "Gold goes around to gold, a circle. Love, beauty, seduction. On a Sunday. You wrote down your plan, and I didn't even pick it up... Oh, damn it; I feel so stupid right now."

"I was kinda proud of that," Ed admits, and he grins, knowing even before he looks up that Ed will be leaning casually against the door frame.

"Oh well, I suppose it takes an idiot to fool an idiot," Al retorts. "I'm not doing breakfast for you if you're going to play tricks on me. You can make your own coffee."

Ed makes a face, but passes him to put the kettle on. As he pads towards the cupboards they keep the mugs in, Al hooks out an arm and snags him by the waist, pulling him down until Ed's practically sitting on his lap. Ed turns a mildly irritated look at him, but he pushes himself up on his seat and pulls Ed even further down for a kiss, long and passionate despite the awkward angle and Ed's morning breath. "I love you, brother, even though you're cruel," he says when they pull away. Ed flashes another mischievous grin, then reaches over to ruffle his hair. "On second thoughts," Al adds, and his brother stops his hair-petting with a quizzical look, "maybe I love you because you're cruel."

When he pulls Ed down this time, they don't get back up for another hour, long after the kettle boils over.

—notes: All the alchemy-related blatherings gathered from this website. This ficlet was written for pellaz, so I hope she enjoyed it!