Roy wakes shortly before dawn, entangled in both the blankets and Alphonse's limbs cast loosely around him. He raises himself on one elbow to consider the sleeping blond, all honey coloured hair and blissfully lidded eyes, and tries to recall what awoke him so early. Not a nightmare; it has been a very long time since his last bad dream, when he woke alone, sweat soaked and shivering. He leans back against the pillows, running a hand slowly along Alphonse's flank, and frowns at the ceiling as he thinks.
The phone beside the bed rings abruptly, but before he can do anything Alphonse is awake and thrashing against the bedcovers to the other side of the bed to reach for it. The younger Elric shares several traits with the elder, such as his complete inability to function in mornings, and the first attempt to grab the phone merely knocks it off the hook. Al catches the cord on the second, and pulls the phone back up to his ear, growling an irritated, "What do you want?" into the receiver. The reply is indistinct, but Roy knows who it is by the way Al's shoulders relax, his expression softens, and he rests back against the headboard, idly twisting his fingers in the phone cord. "Morning, brother. Mmmmm. What? ...Okay. Yeah, I get it. Okay. Sure, why not. What time do you think your train will get there? Ten? I'll be there. Yeah, see you then. Bye."
"I thought Edward wasn't due back from his mission until tomorrow," Roy says with a scowl. It's a Saturday, and he gets too few weekends with Alphonse all to himself to appreciate Edward's interruption.
"He said he got the problem solved quicker," Al replies with a yawn, flinging his arms above his head. His eyes are squeezed shut, his dark blond hair spiky and sleep-ruffled. Roy finds himself wanting to reach over and run his hands through it, muss it up a little more, but knows Alphonse will object. "The train stops just short of Central, however, so I've got to go pick him up from the station. There's enough time for a shower and breakfast, though." He wriggles back down, squirming until he faces Roy. "What're you going to do today?"
"To be honest, I have no idea. I'll give Havoc a call; he owes me a day at the obstacle course anyway."
"What happened, a bet gone bad?" Al asks with a fond grin.
Roy smirks, and doesn't reply immediately. "Just a shower and breakfast?" He says eventually in his most seductive tone, stretching languidly and letting some of the blankets slide off his torso. Alphonse blushes, catching his meaning at once.
"I guess there's time for that," he says, grinning wickedly despite his flushed cheeks. "Honestly, Roy, you pervert. I'm the twenty-six year old, so what's your excuse?"
"A libido as active as my own only gets better over time, much like a good wine," Roy purrs, reaching over Alphonse for the lubricant they keep in the top drawer of the little bedside cabinet, and Al laughs good-naturedly as he lets Roy manhandle him.
Roy does get to mess up that golden hair, after all.
Edward's train hasn't arrived by the time Alphonse gets to the station. This doesn't surprise him, as there's still a quarter of an hour left to go; he parks Roy's car—which he drives more than Roy, to the point where the man has seriously considered gifting it to him—behind the station, and buys Edward a coffee and himself a newspaper at the little restaurant beside the ticket booth. He stands on the platform, juggling the broadsheet and settling for leaving the coffee on the bench behind him, and busies himself with a report on some sort of scandal in the financial world until the train rumbles into the platform.
Edward is one of the last ones off, suitcase in hand and coat wrapped tightly around him. Alphonse folds his paper up and tucks it under one arm, casting his brother a sunny smile, and scoops up the coffee, holding it out for him. Ed takes it and sips cautiously as Al leads the way back to the car.
"So," he says, throwing Ed's suitcase onto the back seat and offering his brother a small smile.
"Is he home?"
Al glances at him as he inserts the key into the lock, but shakes his head. "I asked him to go out for the day. He'll be back around six."
Ed hunches further into his seat, drawing the collar of
his coat around him. "Good," he says, voice muffled by the thick red fabric.
Alphonse lets one of his hands shift from the gear stick to Ed's knee, squeezing
gently, but removes it a second later to take the hand brake off.
"It's your birthday next week," he offers when Edward doesn't respond to the contact. "Are you planning anything?"
"I was going to go back to Rizenbourg," Ed replies, gazing steadily out of the window. Al starts the ignition and glances over at him before doing anything else; Edward's hands are clasped tightly in his lap, twisting nervously. "I mean, since Auntie Pinako got sick, Winry-"
"You don't have to explain yourself to me, brother," Alphonse says gently. Ed's face is tilted down, all angles and sharp lines, and Alphonse frowns, deciding to change the subject. "Have you eaten anything today?"
"No," Ed admits cautiously, his fingers twitching in his lap, like maybe he wanted to reach out and touch something but didn't dare.
"Okay. Do you want me to drop you off at the dorms or feed you at my house?" Al asks, carefully. Edward hardly ever visits him at home, unless there's something he really needs, and Al never pressures him to do so no matter how much he misses him. It's hard enough for Edward to deal with Roy in a professional sense as it is anyway; he doesn't need to see the man at home and all over his younger brother.
"Your house," Ed replies in a small voice, and Al spares him another worried look, then nods, understanding.
Ed drops his suitcase in the hall right by the door and his coat on top, and Al recognises the subtle gesture that he doesn't plan to stay long. He ushers Edward into the kitchen anyway, inquiring after the mission as he finds bread, chicken and butter and begins making sandwiches. Ed relaxes slowly as he talks, his face becoming relaxed and more like it used to be, back when they were young, for the first time since he stepped off the train.
The awkwardness returns, though, when the telephone rings and Alphonse answers, Ed going quiet at the familiarity evident in the exchange. "Hello, Lieutenant Hawkeye. Nope, you missed him by a couple of hours. Around six. Can I take a message? Okay. Yeah. I got that. I'll tell him when he gets back. Thanks. Bye!" Al puts the phone back down and scribbles a brief note on the small pad right by the hook, leaving it there for Roy to find when he returns. He comes back to the table, but it's too late; Ed is withdrawn and stiff again, muscles rigid with tension. Alphonse frowns, but goes to stand behind his brother, fingers hovering over but not yet touching Ed's temples.
"Al? Are you... are you happy with him?" Ed asks, and his voice is raw and thick with something not quite fear nor hope of the answer. Al drops his hands down onto Ed's shoulders, massaging them absently as he thinks. One is warm flesh, the other cool metal, and by now he has a hard time remembering when things were different and Ed was whole. He's hesitant, reluctant to answer; Ed has been distant with him for a very long time now, but looking back he's sure the rift began around the time he told his brother he was with Roy.
He removes his hands from Ed's shoulders and tangles his fingers in Ed's braid; opens his mouth to say something, but changes his mind when Edward twists in his seat to look back up at him, eyes wide and pleading. Something inside him flinches, and instead of saying anything that might hurt his brother, he offers a tiny smile and a nod as a reply. Ed's shoulders slump like something important has just left him, and he turns away to look down at his empty plate and the table. Al bites his lip; he can't help but worry about his brother, when Edward is practically a hermit when he's in Central and chooses to be out on field missions more often than not. He worries about Ed's health, too; his brother is pale and thin, too thin, his eyes a dull brass rather than a vibrant gold, the hair under his fingertips thin and straw-like. He's tried to get his brother to move in with him, and when Ed refused, procured keys to the dormitory room Ed shares with an empty trunk and a stack or two of books. He calls his brother every night he is, for want of a better word for it, home; in order to harass him into eating, and should that fail he invites himself over and cooks Ed's meals for him.
"I should go," Ed says, standing and pushing his chair back, reaching behind him with the automail to untangle Al's fingers from his braid. Al curls the newly-released fingers into a fist and raises it to his mouth, and suddenly wants very much to pick Ed up and cuddle him and not let go, like Ed's one of the lost little kittens he brings home to care for from time to time. Experience has taught him how Ed responds to that kind of treatment, though, and he settles for catching Ed's living wrist, thumb gliding over the tendons on the back of the hand.
"You've only just got here," he says, wincing when he realizes how sullen he sounds. Ed's shoulders stiffen, and he shakes Al away with a sharp flick of his wrist. He doesn't look back as he makes his way out into the hall, tugging on his coat, and Alphonse follows him.
"I need to write a report for my new commanding officer," Edward says, pulling his gloves on. "Mustang probably told you I'd been assigned away from his jurisdiction."
"Yeah, he did," Alphonse admits quietly, watching the harsh lines of Edward's back. His brother still hasn't paused to look at him, and Al is still trying to resist that urge to pull Ed into his arms and force him to stay, something that will make neither of them happy. "Can't it wait?"
"It's a big report, so the sooner I get started, the better. See you later, Al."
"Call me tonight, okay?" Al says, watching Ed walk down the tiny path leading from his doorstep to the gate, and his only reply is a flippant wave over Ed's shoulder. The sky is grey, and when his brother steps onto the paving at the side of the road, it starts to rain; Alphonse hopes, for a moment, that Ed will double back, ask to borrow an umbrella or to come in and sit out the rest of the shower inside.
He watches Ed walk all the way down the street, and not once does his brother even pause to look back at him.
It's January, and Alphonse has never seen the month this wet before. It's rained every day, and Roy is always cursing the weather. Alphonse teases him once that he must be glad Hawkeye taught him how to use a gun, since otherwise he'd be completely worthless, and Roy doesn't speak to him for the rest of the day.
If he would permit himself to be honest, Alphonse would admit to Roy that he hates the rain, too. It was raining on That Night, and it was raining the night Nina died, and the day Edward almost let Scar kill him. When he was the armour, the soft hollow patter of the raindrops hitting his metal surface served as a constant reminder of what he was, and what he needed. Rain makes his brother's scars ache, all of them, and there are far too many for Alphonse to ever be comfortable. Rain makes Ed rub at his automail ports more frequently, a dull pain blossoming in the flesh shoulder and thigh beyond the hard steel; this serves as a bitter reminder to Al that while he is perfect, his body smooth and flawless, his brother's is not, and never will be.
It usually snows on Ed's birthday, as the day usually falls during the late January snowstorms. Alphonse has always liked snow, for no apparent reason, but Ed treats it as a mild nuisance, something to be tolerated but ultimately ignored. He never used to be that way, but his twelfth birthday marked the last one when he enjoyed it, and that is something which always saddens Al. He had plans, this year, to take Ed out to dinner then somehow wind up in the park just up the road, where he would engage his brother in a vicious snowball fight until Ed caved, and they both wound up breathless and laughing in the snow. Ed's departure for Rizenbourg stops this plan, but, as Alphonse reasons aloud to a newspaper-reading Roy at the breakfast table, there's nothing stopping him taking Ed out to dinner. Roy turns a page and raises one eyebrow, and asks him if he thinks Fullmetal will be happier in a restaurant or simply spending the day with his brother, and Alphonse finds himself unable to answer.
So on the day before Ed's due to leave for Rizenbourg, Roy is not surprised to find Alphonse up to his elbows in cake mixture, swearing at the oven, face streaked with flour. He's endlessly amused, particularly when Al spots him standing in the doorway and hisses at him either to leave or to help him with the blasted thing, and he does. Alphonse never spends so much time on preparations for his birthday, Roy knows, and doesn't care; he's used to the fact that he'll always be second place as far as Alphonse is concerned to the brother who gave up his right arm, five years of his life, and his left leg almost as soon as he got it back. Somehow he can't bring himself to care about that, when what matters is how close a second he is.
While they wait for the cake to bake, Alphonse sits at the table, a glass of water in his hand, and wraps Ed's birthday present up. It's a book, and Roy recognizes it from the title as being both very old and very hard to find. He wonders how much of their money Alphonse spent to get hold of it, and decides it's best not to inquire. Alphonse ties the last ribbon and sits back, running his hands through his hair. Ed's birthday card lies open on the table next to it, empty of writing, and Al picks up a pen. He doesn't start immediately, though, instead choosing to ask, "If I was to ask my brother to stay here, and he was to accept, would you mind?"
"Would I mind living under the same roof as Fullmetal?" Roy asks, a little surprised. He knows Al's asked before, quite frequently in fact, and that Ed's turned him down each time. "Why?"
Al sets his pen to the top of the card and writes Ed's name. His handwriting is beautiful; he insisted on calligraphy lessons a few months ago, and even outside of a decorative context they've changed the way he holds a pen. "I think he's lonely," he says quietly, beginning on the first 'h' of 'Happy Birthday'.
"Even so," Roy replies, "He has refused before. Why should now be any different?"
"It's not," Alphonse answers with a crooked smile. "I just miss him. I know, I know, I see him all the time, but it's not the same. And I don't think he's been doing so well lately."
"Define 'lately'," Roy says, with a frown. The last few times he's seen Ed, all at work, the elder Elric has seemed fine; a little quiet, but that's been the same for the past decade since he and Alphonse got together.
Alphonse shrugs. "The past nine, twelve months?" He signs his name onto the bottom of the card with a flourish, blows on it gently while the ink dries, and slides it into the envelope. "I don't know, he doesn't tell me much any more. I mean, he does, on the surface. He tells me everything about his missions, and his research, and the latest person to annoy him, but he never talks to me about how he's feeling."
"Really?" Roy asks, dubiously. "He seems perfectly normal to me, Al. Perhaps you're being oversensitive; he is your brother, after all."
"Maybe," Al whispers, staring down at the blank envelope and the gaily wrapped gift, "I just can't help but feel like we're growing apart, though."
Roy leans over him, hands on his shoulders, and when Al looks up kisses the younger man on the upturned mouth. "It's natural for people to grow apart, Alphonse. Now that you've achieved your goal, and you've got your body back, it was probably inevitable for you two to drift apart. Find other people you like being with, and such."
"Which reminds me," Al said thoughtfully. "I don't think brother's ever told me about anybody he likes. You know, in that way. Have your men heard anything?"
"My men?" Roy asks, feigning surprise, and Al smirks at him.
"Don't lie, I know all about the bets. I can't think of anyone better placed to know if brother's so much as been kissed than men who have laid five hundred thousand cenz on him being a virgin until he reaches thirty."
Roy laughs; with just over two years left to go, he knows Havoc's been twitchy to say the least about that bet. "I've noticed no cries of 'that was my rent!' yet, no. I'll ask Hawkeye tomorrow, just in case."
Alphonse grins at him, raising a hand to rub at one of Roy's, still on his shoulder. "It'd be nice to see brother get married," he says softly and more than a little wistfully. "I'd be his best man, of course. I'd like to see brother have kids, too. Genius kids with his eyes, and I'd be their mad uncle Al."
"It's the thing with families, isn't it?" Al asks, the edges of his mouth twitching in a sweet smile. "There's always the crazy elderly relative, who owns about thirty cats and usually smells faintly of cabbage."
"Then, pray tell, who am I?" Roy asked, arching his eyebrows in anticipated indignation, and Alphonse smirks at him.
"What, you mean it's not obvious?" Alphonse leans against him for a long while, eyes closed, and doesn't elaborate for several seconds. When he does, his voice is quiet and muffled, and Roy has to ask him to repeat himself. "You'd be the really cool uncle, the one they tell all their friends at school about," Al says softly, and Roy is thankful the blond still has his eyes closed and therefore can't see the touched smile creeping across his face.
Ed tosses and turns, but can't sleep well that night. The bedcovers are too heavy, the air too stuffy, and eventually he rises and pads his way over to the single window in his dorm room, opening it as wide as it will go. He switches on the light and finds his notebook on the table, the pages covered with disorderly scrawls about the nature of arrays, and retreats back to his bed to work some more on his pet research project. His coat is hanging over the wardrobe door, his suitcase by the foot of his bed, and his train ticket rests on the nightstand; Central to Rizenbourg, two weeks return date. He'll have to hand in his report before he boards the train, to his new commander, the freshly appointed and annoyingly smug Colonel Davies. Of course, anything's better than Mustang, he tells himself, glancing at his notes and giving up when they make no sense.
He curls into a tight ball on top of the bed covers, not bothering to turn the light out, and closes his eyes. Falling into a light sleep, his dreams are deep and arousing. He wakes a few hours later to find something sticky and at the same time wet smeared across his belly, and before he can do anything about it, a series of sharp knocks at the door. He doesn't answer, for fear of being caught in the aftermath of a wet dream like some sort of adolescent boy, and slides off the bed, opting to hide in the bathroom instead of answering the door. He winces when he hears the key slide into the lock; there's only one person who has a key to his room other than himself, and he bites his lip at Alphonse's call. "Brother? I'm sorry it's so late; I kinda had an accident with the oven... Brother, where are you?"
He leans heavily against the wall opposite the entrance, grateful the bathroom door locks from the inside, but Alphonse raps sharply at the wood. "Brother, I know you're in there. I can see your shadow underneath the door."
"Give me a minute," he calls, reaching for a tissue and wiping some of the mess off his stomach. He flushes the used tissue down the toilet, pulling his boxers off, and hesitates. "Al, could you pass me some shorts or something?"
"Sure," Al replies, and he hears his brother set something heavy down on the table then rummage through his chest of drawers, now slightly bereft since he packed his suitcase. He opens the door a crack and thrusts his hand out, taking hold of the offered garments, and pulls them on. Unhooking a bath robe from behind the door, he pauses in front of the mirror; his eyes are dark, with large rings around them, but he can easily pass this off as a restless night. He holds back a sigh, opens the door and then pauses, blinking at the sight awaiting him.
Alphonse smiles sweetly from his seat on Ed's bed, his umbrella dripping silently from where he's rested it against the nightstand. The hem of his coat is a little soggy, but Edward's attention is drawn to and held by the large birthday cake Al's cleared his notes off the table to make room for. "Um," he says, eyes following the wavering lights of the candles.
"I know it's not your birthday yet, but I thought that since I couldn't be there on the day, I'd give you this now," Al informs him brightly, hands twined together in his lap. "Sorry it it's a little bit damp, it was raining like you wouldn't believe," he adds, as if Ed can't judge when to the second it will start to rain, based just on the ache in his automail and scars.
"I... thank you," Ed says, slightly helplessly, and Al's grin widens.
"Aren't you going to blow the candles out?" He uses a sweet, slightly pleading voice, and Edward obediently tucks his bangs behind his ears and does so. It takes him four attempts, and Al laughs and says that that means he doesn't get to make a wish. "There should be a knife in the box," he adds. "Didn't think to bring plates, but hey, we can always make some."
"Don't, I like my furniture. And I am not eating off the floor or walls," Ed complains, holding out the first slice for Al to take. His younger brother scoots closer, taking the sole seat at the table, and cups the cake in his hands.
"Fair enough," Al replies with a shrug, around a mouthful of cake. "Hey, it's good!"
".. What did you think it was?" Ed asks in mock horrified fascination, looking down at his own slice and reminding himself that he can deal with this situation as long as Al doesn't touch him.
"Well, I told you, the oven broke," Al says. He's finished his first slice, and now he licks his lips and smiles at his older brother. "Are you going to actually have yours?"
"Aa, yeah. Sorry." He's right, Ed realizes as he takes a bite, the cake is good. It has almost the same texture as sponge cake, only not so dry, and Al's used a very subtle, sweet and smooth cherry jam that compliments the cake well. "Thanks, Al."
"No problem," Al grins, and snatches up the knife from where Ed's let it drop. He pauses before cutting himself another slice, looking askance at his brother, and Ed smiles and nods. "Happy birthday, brother," he adds after he's finished his second, cutting himself another. Ed watches, in no mood for cake, no matter how good it is, and tries to relax.
It's unfair, he thinks, that Alphonse should be so beautiful. His hair, though short, is fine, and Edward longs to sift it through his fingers and feel the silky softness of it against his face. Al's skin is a light gold, nowhere near as pale as it had been when he was freshly restored. It's almost as smooth now as it was then, save for the calluses which have developed on his fingertips, which Ed can feel when his brother touches him. His eyes are bronze, but sometimes they seem closer to grey, and it's an interesting transition Ed would like to be able to observe closely. His features are like Ed's own, but slightly different; Al has a softer jaw line, sharper cheekbones, and more expressive eyebrows. His eyes are the same shape as Ed's, and they share the same nose and ears, but Ed thinks they're better suited to Al's face than his own.
He knows he's infatuated with his brother, and he's not sure whether it's just Al's body or all of Alphonse he's in love with. He does know, however, that he's never liked anyone else the same way, in all of the ten years since the restoration and some time before. And that's unfair too, he thinks, that he hasn't found anyone. Girls don't particularly interest him, and neither do most men. He tells himself he has no time for relationships and that sex isn't everything, but knows that he's lying to himself. It hurts, to see Alphonse so happy with Roy, but Ed knows when to step down and let things be. It's better for Al this way, and Al always comes first. He tells himself this, but sometimes in the hours after Al's daily phone call, when it's harder to concentrate and he finds himself in the bathroom with his own hand down his boxers, imagining it's bigger, the palm squarer and the fingers longer, it's hard to believe it. He wants to separate himself from Alphonse completely, but every time he tries, he finds he can't, and by now he's given up.
"Are you all right, brother?" Al asks, suspiciously, and Ed smiles at him.
"Yeah. Just tired. It's what, three in the morning?"
"Ah, sorry," Alphonse says, ducking his head with a rueful grimace. "I bought your birthday present, too. Do you want to open it now, or wait-?"
"I'll open it now," Ed says, reaching for it. Metal fingers pull at the bright red ribbon, and it slithers, unnoticed, to the ground. The brightly-coloured wrapping paper follows it to the floor, and Ed blinks at the book then gasps in recognition. "Al—this—this is—do you know how hard I tried to get a copy of this book?"
"No," Al said with just a trace of sarcasm; Roy's been having an effect on him, Ed thinks, but even that can't dampen his enthusiasm. "I found it at an antiques shop in Southside," he adds, examining his fingernails with studied nonchalance, "but if you don't like it, I could always take it back..."
"Nah, I suppose it'll have to do," Ed replies, just as teasingly. "Though next year..." Al laughs and reaches over to pull his brother into his arms. Ed ducks under the guise of scooping the ribbon and paper from the floor, sliding off the chair and scuttling along the floor to deposit it all in amidst the other rubbish. He stands, now on the other side of the room, and tosses Al a smile, like he hadn't seen the gesture. "Thanks, Al. I really appreciate it," he says quickly, dusting his hands and knees down.
"Aa, it's okay, brother," Al says with a warm smile, leaning on the table and propping his cheek in his hands. "It's your birthday, after all."
"Mmm." He wishes Al wouldn't smile like that. He's tired, weak and hungry, and his resolve is breaking. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to kick you out, now," he says with a thin smile, rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his flesh hand. "Got a train to catch, and I need some sleep."
"It's okay," Al answers readily, his smile not dimming in the slightest. Ed ushers him to the door, and realizes his mistake when it's too late, when Al pauses before opening it to draw him into a tight embrace. He tries to struggle out without it seeming like a struggle, but he can't help himself; it's the thing of his most secret dreams, to be held like this, and he finds himself tilting his head up to press his lips against Al's in the softest of kisses.
It's good. That's all he can think as he shyly brushes his tongue against the closed seal of Al's lips, eyes squeezed shut and hands resting lightly on his brother's shoulders. It's good, but Al doesn't reciprocate. His lips taste like sugar and cherries, like the cake they just shared, Ed thinks; and he wants to prolong the kiss, the culmination of years of secret, shameful need. Despite this, he doesn't resist as Al's hands press against his chest to push him away roughly, releasing Al's shoulders as he stumbles back a few steps and opening his eyes to gauge his younger brother's reaction.
Al hesitantly touches his mouth with his fingers. He looks stunned and scared and a little revolted, and when he looks back up at Ed his bronze eyes are unfathomable. He doesn't remove his fingers from his lips, but he fumbles behind him with his other hand and wrestles with the door handle. He retreats from Ed's room without releasing Ed from his gaze, and slams his door shut behind him.
When he's gone Ed backs away for the few steps it takes him to collapse listlessly on his bed, and curls up again. He's just ruined his relationship with the one person he loves the most, he thinks, and wonders why there are no tears. His eyes burn and he squeezes them shut, willing something, some form of release, but nothing happens. There's nothing left except a nauseous feeling in the pit of his stomach and a great sense of loss, and he pillows his chin on the hard metal of his arm and suddenly wonders if it's worth returning from Rizenbourg at all.
Roy is awoken by Al getting into bed, and turns lazily to consider the younger man. "Good morning, Alphonse," he says wryly with a glance at the clock. Alphonse spoons up behind him, and he shudders at the dampness. "You could have dried yourself off," he says reproachfully, then realizes that Al is shivering. He sighs, turning and reaching over Al's head to switch on the bedside lamp, and considers his young lover. Al's eyes are wide, and there's wetness on his cheeks. He looks terrified, and Roy realizes that he's not shivering with the cold after all. "What happened?"
"Just something Edward did," Alphonse replies hoarsely, his voice raw and wavering, and he blinks to hear Al use Ed's name. "Nothing important." He reaches out and dries Al's cheeks, quietly. He's not much good at giving reassurance, and he's never really needed to be; whenever Alphonse has been upset over something so far, he's gone to his brother for comfort. He's never seen Al like this, either. He's seen a couple of fights between the Elric brothers, but they've most been sniping at one another before making up an hour later, if that. Alphonse has never cried over something Ed has done, to his knowledge.
"If you're going to have a breakdown, tell me now, all right? Otherwise-"
"I'll be fine. I just need to think," Al says quietly, and his eyes beyond the telltale glimmer of unshed tears are fierce and determined. Roy watches him sceptically for a few moments, then nods, letting himself down on the pillow beside Al. He doesn't object when Al grabs one of his hands with one of his own and grips it tightly, and Roy lets himself fall asleep after a few minutes.
Alphonse only follows Roy into sleep about a half-hour before dawn, having reached some sort of decision, but until then gazes up at the ceiling with a thoughtful expression on his face.
It's raining again by the time Roy shakes him awake, so they can have breakfast together before Roy leaves for work. Al's tired and sleepy, but he follows Roy back down to the breakfast table without complaint. The events of last night, whatever it was to get him so worked up, are still there in the wariness in Al's eyes; there's determination in him, too, and when Roy asks what he plans to do about this rift with his brother he answers without hesitation. "I need to talk to him, but that can wait until he gets back from Rizenbourg. We both need some time to think, that's all. Pass the marmalade, please."
"Are you sure?" Roy asks, standing to pour Alphonse a cup of tea.
"No," Al admits eventually, lacing his fingers around the offered cup, "but I don't have any other option."
Roy frowns slightly. "What did he do, to upset you? Fullmetal may be an inconsiderate soul, but usually he knows not to annoy you."
"He didn't annoy me, just scared me," Alphonse says, haltingly. He wants to tell him, Roy can see, but at the same time doesn't. "He... he... he kissed me," the younger Elric confesses, "And I'm not sure what to do about it."
Roy has frozen, a slice of toast halfway to his mouth. "He kissed you? As in-?"
"Like I kiss you," Al finishes for him, staring down at his cup. "I'm not sure what to do, though. He just... he looked..."
"I think avoiding each other for a fortnight is a very good idea," Roy says quietly. It's not his place to comment, but he's glad he's not Fullmetal's commanding officer anymore. It's all he can do to suppress his instinctive —brothers shouldn't do that' disgust in front of Alphonse, who is drumming his fingers on his mug and looking less and less sure of his decision every second. "Fullmetal is impulsive, and needs time to cool down. He probably just has a crush on the body he spent so long trying to get back, that's all."
"You think?" Al asks, looking up quickly. There's hope in his eyes, and Roy offers him a solemn nod. Al breathes out, a sigh of relief and something else, and reaches out to pinch the last remaining slice of toast on Roy's plate. He may be relaxed, or he may be faking it, but the sudden ring of the phone stops Roy from asking. He slides his chair back and heads into the living room to unhook it, pressing it to his ear. "Hello?"
"Is Alphonse Elric there?" The voice is unfamiliar, a young man, and Roy holds the phone out to glare at it suspiciously. Not many people call Al; his brother, the Rockbells and his teacher have been the only ones in the last year.
"Who is this?"
"I am Lieutenant Adam Rogers, Colonel Davies' aide. Is he there?" Colonel Davies... Ed's new CO, he thinks, and looks back at the table. Alphonse glances up from his newspaper and offers him a smile. This call must be about his brother, and Al doesn't need to be pressured with anything like that right now.
"No. Can I take a message?"
"Sure. Tell him the Fullmetal Alchemist was admitted to the A&E ward of Third hospital about half an hour ago. He collapsed in front of Colonel Davies. You got that? Hello? Hello? Hello, are you there?"
Alphonse has asked Roy to drive him there, since he's too jittery to do it himself. Roy spares him a glance as they hit the second traffic jam, the windscreen wipers working furiously with the light shower that has quickly turned into a torrential downpour. Everything is wet, grey and miserable, and the noises Al makes are worrisome. Al's shaking, hands curled into fists and pressed tightly against his mouth, and he makes little whimpering noises at each delay; Roy reaches over and grabs Al's hands, lowering them forcefully. "He'll be all right," he says calmly, "he's harder to kill than that."
"You don't understand," Al babbles, his fingers clutched together tightly and twitching nervously as he shivers. "I did this to him, oh God, I did this! I ran away when he needed my help and now if he's dying it's all my fault! God!" He's crying, angry tears on his cheeks and dripping onto his lap, and claps both hands over his mouth as he rocks gently back and forth. "I did this to him," he repeats, voice a hoarse, harsh whisper. "I'm so fucking selfish. I should have thought, he's been trying to hide this for ten years at least and when he finally works up the courage to let me know I had to go and run away and leave him on his own—! What was he supposed to think?! God, I'm so fucking pathetic!" He's hunching over, still rocking, and Roy finds his own anger rising. Damn Edward, did he not realize what his little confession and his melodramatics would do to Al or did he just not care?
"Alphonse. Stop blaming yourself. It's not your fault that Edward feels the way he does, nor will abusing yourself help him." Alphonse turns teary eyes to him, and Roy lets the car roll to a halt in the parking bay outside the hospital. He reaches over, dabbing at Al's cheeks and eyes gently with a tissue, and gestures at the hospital building. "Go on."
"Don't wait for me, please?" Al begs, catching his sleeve, and he nods slowly. The younger Elric forces the door open, wriggling out the seat, and in a few seconds is running across the wet grey concrete to the hospital's entrance, ignoring the rain. Roy watches him go with a small frown.
The receptionist is a matronly woman with a kind smile. She tells Alphonse that Edward's been moved out of the A&E and into a private room, and gives him the directions. He hesitates, torn between wanting to hare off and comfort his brother and finding out what happened, but she smiles at him and taps the hospital entry. "Stress-related breakdown, dear," she says. "It happens quite frequently, with those State Alchemists. He's resting, but he'll be fine."
Al thanks her, though his guts are doing something nasty, and follows the instructions she wrote down for him. He climbs several flights of stairs and drifts, a little lost, past several wards, but eventually he finds Ed's room. The door is shut, but the curtains have been drawn back from the large window next to it, and through the glass he can see Ed sleeping. His face is completely taut, lines crinkling his brow and eyes, and Al thinks he looks far too old, closer to forty than thirty. He opens the door quietly, closes and locks it behind him, and pulls the curtains over the window before coming to stand next to Ed.
His breath catches in his throat, and he has to force back tears when he realizes how thin his brother is. He hasn't seen Ed, really seen Ed, in a long time, he realizes now. Looking back he remembers Ed's sudden preference for thick clothing to keep out the chill, and how well they've been hiding his weight loss. The pale green hospital clothing brings to light how sharp Ed's collarbone is, and when Al unbuttons it and closes his teeth sharply against a hiss, how pronounced his ribs are. There are dark circles under Ed's eyes, his skin is too dry, too papery, and now he's so close, he can count several grey hairs in the golden mess spilling over the pillow and around Ed's shoulders. He takes a deep breath to try and calm himself, abruptly furious. How could he not have noticed? How could he have been so blind? Ed has been sick for a long, long time, much more than the year he'd first thought. He falls into the seat by Ed's side, catching his brother's living hand and running his thumbs over the back of it, raising it to his forehead and holding it there tightly. How can he call himself Ed's brother, if Ed can't even rely on him?
He raises his head to find Ed watching him, groggy with sleep, and smiles for his brother. "Al?" Ed asks uncertainly, licking his lips and forcing the words to come out, "What are you doing here?"
He's crying uncontrollably now, and opens his mouth, but only a few broken sounds emerge. They make no sense and he can't seem to force anything beyond them, so instead he raises Ed's hand to his lips and kisses his brother's trapped knuckles, as softly as one might a newborn. Ed's eyes widen at this display, though he makes no sound, and Al raises his head to meet his brother's eyes. Gold and bronze, and the sight lets him have the courage to speak. "I'm sorry," he says, and isn't sure about which particular thing he's sorry about. Ed blinks at him, confused and quiet, and with the combination of the hospital gown, the sudden weight loss and the lost and slightly helpless expression, Al can't help but be reminded of a stray kitten. And with that thought, Alphonse finds it the easiest thing in the world to sweep him close and hold him, chin on Edward's automail shoulder and arms tight around his back, to let Ed bury his face in his collarbone, his breathing low and ragged. "I'm sorry," he whispers again into Ed's hair, eyes shut tight. "I'm not going to run away from you this time," he promises as he pushes Ed back down on the narrow hospital bed, curling next to him and touching his forehead to Ed's shoulder.
"Promise?" Ed demands, gold eyes searching.
"I promise," Al says quietly, and Ed's face relaxes. Ed's flesh hand is still caught between his, and now he reaches out to grip the automail one too. Ed clings to them tightly, even once he's fallen asleep again.
He holds Ed until sundown, and Ed doesn't once let go of his hands.
Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, is placed on temporary medical leave, and Al insists he stay with them in order to make sure his brother is eating properly. Roy quickly grows used to having to fight for his coffee, and is disgruntled to note that Al takes sides shamelessly, frequently reserving the last cup for Ed. He grows used to Al and Ed vanishing outside for hours at a time, returning muddy and sometimes covered in snow, jostling each other for the fire and mugs of hot chocolate. He grows used to finding them together on the garden patio, Alphonse running a brush slowly and softly through Ed's hair while Fullmetal sits, completely relaxed. And Ed does seem better, his skin flushed with health, regaining some of the weight he's lost, eyes and hair a brighter gold; there is something missing, however, and Roy is not surprised that Al will know how to cure it. Even so, he still raises an eyebrow when he finds Al packing an overnight bag in their bedroom, expression perfectly serene. "Where are you going?"
"I booked a room in a hotel on the other side of town for brother and me," Al says quietly, zipping the bag up. "I'm sure you know why."
Roy breathes out, slowly. "Are you sure what you're doing is wise?"
"No," Al replies with a crooked grin, "but it's for the best. I'm sorry, Roy, but you're going to have to share me."
"I see," Roy says, crossing his arms and trying not to scowl like a petulant five-year old. "If it makes you happy, Al."
"Thanks," Al offers with a small smile, then descends the stairs and calls his brother. Ed's already packed, and Roy watches him climb into the car from his bedroom window. Alphonse pauses, a hand on the car door, and waves at him before opening it. There's a brief spat over something or other, and through the window he sees Al throwing his head back and laughing, at the result or something Ed's said, he doesn't know. He watches the car make its way down the street, through the afternoon drizzle, and remains at the window long after it's gone, expression unreadable.
The hotel is a nice one, Al has to give it that. He puts his bags on the dresser, exploring the bathroom appreciatively, while Ed presses his metal hand against the glass of the window and admires the view. There's only one bed, but that's fine; Al flings himself onto it and Ed joins him soon enough, lowering himself to perch on the edge. He's nervous, Al notes, and wonders if that's due to fear of the circumstances or fear of the unknown. He reaches out, fingers brushing over Ed's human shoulder, and asks, "Have you ever done anything like this before?" Ed shakes his head violently, and blushes. Al's not sure whether to be touched that his brother has been saving himself for him, or concerned that his brother was willing to wait this long. He decides not to dwell on it, and kicks his boots off and strips off the rest of his clothing, until he's completely naked, kneeling beside Ed. "Brother," he says, and Ed turns to look at him, face a bright red. Al reaches out, caressing his brother's cheek, and says, "Touch me. Go on, I don't mind."
Ed bites his lip and shakes his head, obviously fighting the urge to do so. "Al, don't-" He gulps, and starts again, choosing not to look at the patience on Al's face. "I don't want you to do this just because you think you have to," he mumbles, and Al grips his jaw in both hands and pulls him in for a kiss neither gentle nor rough.
"Idiot brother," he mutters against Ed's lips, his brother's eyes wide and gold, "I'm doing this for both of us. Now touch me, I don't mind. I want you to."
And Ed does touch him, everywhere. He slides his fingers over every inch of Al's skin that he can, his face and chest, back and arms and legs. He kisses Al's mouth and eyelids and forehead, buries his face in Al's hair as he strokes Al's shoulders. Al kisses back, undressing Ed with hungry, searching fingers, exploring his brother's body with his own hands. Ed is warm, and the coolness of the automail a striking contrast to the rest of him.
They kiss, break apart for air, and come back together again, tongues scraping desperately as their hands glide over the other's skin. It's Al who moves things further, pushing Ed onto his back and trailing his tongue over Ed's chest, counting the scars on his brother's body as Ed flings his head back and whimpers. His hands, both flesh and metal, are still dragging over Al's back and shoulders and neck; his cheeks are flushed and warm. Al kisses his mouth as softly as he can, as his hands work their way over Ed's chest and stomach and hips and between his legs, and Ed yelps and bucks into his touch, surprised by it. Al's fingers move faster, the pad of his thumb especially seeming to have an effect on his brother, and never takes his eyes off Ed's face.
When Ed is done, languid and pliable, Al kisses him and asks if he's okay with things going any further. Ed cracks one eye open and smiles, automail hand curling gently around Al's wrist, and says, "I trust you." Al is stricken by the simplicity of the statement, and kisses Ed again and again as his brother laughs and makes no effort to fight him off.
He does his best to make it good for Ed, slow and gentle and something to remember. And when he's finished, and rolling off his brother, Ed curls against his chest, tangling their hands together. They exchange slow, deep kisses, the closest Ed will ever get to saying 'I love you', and Al really does say it, over and over. Eventually they shift closer together, sleepy and content, to the point where Al almost misses Ed's soft whisper.
"Thank you," he says, and Al squeezes his hands tightly.
"It's okay," he murmurs; it's all he can think to say. He smiles for his brother, who smiles back sleepily, and Al tries not to cry.
It's raining the next morning, when they check out. Al sprints the hundred meters or so across the parking lot, fumbling in his pocket for the keys. He flings his bag in the backseat, and turns back to help his brother—his brother, who stands about twenty meters away, bag discarded on the floor and hands held up to the rain. He's laughing, the lines on his face temporarily erased, and seems not to care about the water dripping down his face or off his braid, about his sopping wet clothes or his metal limbs. At that moment, he looks for the entire world like he's seventeen again, fresh-faced and cheerful. Watching him, Al can't help but think it's worth a lifetime of thunderstorms to see him so happy again.