part 4 of The Darkest Hour

Alphonse Elric had thought he would never see his brother's smile again. Would never see Ed stretch his legs out before him; bend to touch the tips of his toes and draw back again, laughing at the feeling; would never see him climb to his feet and spin around in a circle for the hell of it.

He sets the little tray down on the coffee table and watches Ed whirl around what will be their living room, when they get it decorated and the rest of the furniture imported. Ed knows he's there, but he doesn't stop moving, the tails of his shirt flying out behind him as he whirls and then executes a clumsy cartwheel, stumbling but bouncing right back up to try again.

And for a while Al is content to watch him, leaning against the wall and smiling as his brother twists and spins and yelps with excitement, safe and confident in a body that is not entirely his, but is close. He only moves when Ed, dizzy with his spinning, trips over his own feet; takes two steps closer and catches his brother in his arms before Ed can fall.

Ed is like a child again, in a way—when he regains his balance, he flings his arms around Al's neck and offers a wet kiss, planted sloppily over the corner of Al's mouth. There's a hint of tongue and it's raspy, rough, not-quite human; but then Ed is breaking away and skidding to his knees in front of the coffee table, eagerly investigating the goodies Al has brought him—solid food for the first time in forever.

"Brother, not so fast!" Al protests, diving in to attempt to wrestle his brother away from the sausages. "You'll choke, and—"

Ed tosses four sausages at once into his mouth and swallows almost without chewing, shooting Al a smug, triumphant grin. "I'll be fine," he says lazily, licking his lips slowly. His teeth are a little more pointed than normal, and they gleam when he smiles; Alphonse is not afraid of them, however, and leans in to kiss his brother. Ed tastes of sausage and sugar from the cake they had earlier; salt too. An unusual combination, but not an unpleasant one, Al thinks.

"There's coffee," Al says when they part, the words breathed over Ed's lips. Ed turns distracted golden eyes away, towards the white china mug with the legend 'best BROTHER in the world' scritched onto it; Al had picked it up and refused to toss, claiming that he thought it was 'cute'. Ed had been too tired to argue with him at the time, still recovering from a memory of tortured existence and pain that broke even his iron resolve.

"It's hot," Al offers and Ed shoots him a skeptical look, fingers curling around the handle. His brother leans over and kisses him on the forehead; Ed hides his smile behind the rim of the mug and takes a sip. He immediately regrets it—spits the scalding mouthful out and goes to wipe hs mouth with his sleeve, forgetting that he has the mug clutched in that hand—and then next thing he knows he's yelping in pain and Al has taken the mug from him, and is running off to fetch an icepack for his burned hand.

He doesn't take long—returns and takes firm hold of Ed's wrist, pressing the ice against his brother's knuckles. "Idiot brother," he says, though his voice is free of any scolding. "I did warn you." He shifts the icepack and raises Ed's hand, pressing a kiss against each knuckle; lowers the hand again and resumes dabbing while Ed looks away very sharply, pretending that nothing happened and that it certainly didn't make him blush. "Don't do that again," Al adds softly. "I don't want you to be—in pain anymore, brother, you know that."

"Al, it's just a little burn," Ed protests. "It's not exactly life-threatening."

"I don't care," Al says, looking up. His bronze eyes are determined and stern; a look Ed knows better than to argue with. "You were hurt and I hated that and I will do anything to make it better, you know that." He sighs, and gently runs his thumb over the soft skin of Ed's wrist, tracing thin blue veins; then smiles, and leans forward to kiss Ed on the cheek. "I love you, you know."

"'course I do, you're kinda obvious about it." Ed fidgets awkwardly, and flashes a smile. "I think the ice has been on long enough, Al, I—-"

"You what?" Al prompts when Ed stops, his brother's golden eyes widening with the onset of a new idea.

"... I want to go skateboarding in our back garden. Let's go find a skateboard, Al! Or make one, that works too—-"

"Brother-!" Al sputters as he's dragged to his feet, and laughing, follows his brother out into their garden. "You don't even know how to skate—I'll make some protective gear as well, hold on—"

"Do you have to?" Ed huffs. "You'll end up making me a suit of armor of something. C'mon, Al, I handle a few grazes." He hops experimentally up in the air, and then launches himself at Al's back; Al barely manages to catch hold of his thighs, much less support him in a piggyback, but succeeds nonetheless. "Hey—forget skateboarding—let's do something else!"

"... I have a ball of yarn in the bedroom," Al offers, hefting his brother's weight, and receives a swat around the head.

"I'm only part cat," Ed snaps, with a haughty sniff, and Al laughs.

"Sure you are. That explained why you flattened the catnip that was growing out here as soon as we first moved in, hmm?"

"Yeah, well, it's... catnip," Ed mutters in a very small voice, and Al smirks victory and lets him climb down.

Ed tosses his hair back; jumps onto the edge of the patio and takes a seat, his legs dangling amidst the yellowing wild grass that had sprung up when the previous owner moved out. Al hasn't been able to clear it yet, aside from one small spot, in which—accompanied by a silent Ed—he'd erected a tiny cairn, a memorial for the kitten he'd sacrificed for his brother's life. Ed doesn't go into that part of the garden; he prefers his current spot where, like now, he can spread his arms out wide and concentrate on feeling the sun on nearly every inch of his skin, lost in the sensation he'd missed for so long. He watches Ed tip his chin back and close his eyes with a heart-wrenchingly blissful expression on his face, and wonders if this is the end of searching.

Maybe it is, or maybe not; but it is, he thinks, a very good place to rest for a while.