Edward woke when the door downstairs shut. He sat up blearily, confused. Roy was going to work—but they hadn't had breakfast. He rubbed his eyes, pushing his hair back out of his face.
Next to him, Alphonse buried into the covers. "Dun wanna get up, Nii-san . . . too early."
Edward snorted softly, in elder-brotherly disdain. Alphonse may have grown in size, but he was much the same as he'd ever been. He pulled the covers up over his brother's shoulders, pausing a moment to brush the hair out of Alphonse's eyes. His brother didn't stir at the gesture, still fast asleep. They'd been up late, he was probably exhausted.
He would let Al sleep, Edward decided charitably. He'd find them some food, and maybe wake his brother for breakfast. His stomach growled agreement, and feeling pleased with his decision, Edward swung his feet over the side of the bed.
The next part didn't go as planned. Edward's legs gave way suddenly and he fell, grabbing at the blanket to stop his fall. The blanket didn't hold, and followed him to the ground dragging Alphonse with it.
Alphonse yelped in shock and then there was silence. Edward couldn't bring himself to meet his eyes as he slowly pulled himself together—he still wasn't entirely sure how that happened. Gah, if Al was hurt—
"Nii-san!" A pillow suddenly hit him in the face. "If you were hungry, you could have just said!"
Alphonse didn't sound upset. Edward stole a look at him, and despite the fall his brother actually seemed amused. "You're not mad?" He asked, clutching the pillow to himself.
"No. You're not hurt?"
Edward ignored the way his elbow stung. "No." And that out of the way, he hit Alphonse with the pillow.
They made breakfast together, Alphonse making the toast, Edward buttering it carefully and they talked. Well, Alphonse talked mostly, Edward answering when he could spare the attention. He felt pleased when they finally sat down to eat; he hadn't been doing his share of helping out lately, and he didn't want Alphonse or Roy thinking he was useless.
"You cut them just like Mother did," Alphonse noted, passing the jam. "I guess that means you remember her?"
Edward nodded, applying generous amounts of strawberry jam to his toast. Alphonse asked strange questions. He was a little worried about the fall that morning, and his legs apparent lack of response, but he would wait before telling Alphonse his fears; he didn't want to alarm his brother.
"That's good. I was worried at first that you'd be like me . . . I didn't remember anything of our journey at first. Winry and Sensei had to tell me everything. But there was so much they didn't know . . . I didn't get my memories back until we opened the gate and you—I was worried at first that as equal exchange for my memories, they'd taken yours—Nii-san, I still don't know what I did wrong."
Perhaps he'd been too generous with the jam. Edward chased a drop with his fingers. "S'all right, Al," he reassured him. "Wasn't your fault." Didn't matter that he wasn't exactly sure what Alphonse was worried about; it was never his fault.
Alphonse didn't appear convinced, his eyes still clouded. "I was so impatient to have you back, I didn't think—and then everything happened at once! My memories came back, and the gate opened—"
"Everyone in this world has a gate inside of them," Edward repeated. "I will not return, I will stay in this world and die in the body that she loved. Goodbye, my so—"
There was a sharp clatter, Alphonse had dropped his knife.
Edward winced, watching the knife slide across the floor. It jarred his thoughts, and he couldn't hold them together anymore.
"Nii-san! Those words—" Alphonse grabbed his shoulders, and Edward went rigid and tight. "Who's words are they? Where did you hear them?"
Edward stayed silent and still. He didn't know what he'd done to upset Alphonse this time, better to stay quiet than risk making it worse.
"Donahue? Maybe Peabody—stay here, Nii-san, I'm going to get a book!"
Edward stared after Alphonse bewildered. His brother returned shortly, carrying a pile of books which he proceeded to leaf through, muttering to himself, letting breakfast go cold and occasionally asking Edward questions he couldn't even begin to understand. Edward gave up and concentrated instead on finishing his toast; he couldn't keep up with Alphonse as excited as he was now.
"Conflicting patterns of exchange, origin point of alchemic matter—maybe Sensei would know? Nii-san, I'm going to make a phonecall—"
"Al, slow down—" Edward grumbled, but Alphonse had already vanished into the living room.
The kitten wandered into the kitchen in search of breakfast before Alphonse returned, and finding nothing in its bowl wandered over to nose Edward's chair and mewl pitifully. Edward leaned over to pet it, and the kitten pressed eagerly into his hand. Alphonse wasn't likely to return to finish his breakfast, Edward decided, leaning over to place his plate on the floor for the kitten. This would have to do.
Alphonse didn't even notice when he returned. "Collin's theory of delayed energy exchange, combined with the rule governing—no, that can't be it. Nii-san, we're going to my study."
Edward was tucked into an armchair in front of a wide work table, while Alphonse muttered incomprehensible things under his breath and pushed piles of books around. Edward didn't care; this was the first time he'd seen the study and he looked around interested. The heavy smell of books and chalk made him feel relaxed and at the same time curious and alert. There were interesting looking devices placed on top of the book cases and hanging from the roof—he had a feeling he could stay here for hours without being bored.
He reached for a book curiously as Alphonse worked, looking with interest at the diagrams—they seemed familiar in a way he couldn't quite define. He turned the page hoping to find more, but it was just rows and rows of tiny text. He let the book slide out of his hand, looking for something new to interest himself.
Alphonse looked up guiltily at the noise. "Sorry, Nii-san, I didn't think. Here, maybe you'd like this—"
Books were cleared aside and a box set in front of him. "A jig-saw puzzle," Alphonse explained. "Pinako sent it to you a few months ago for while you were recovering." He dumped the pieces on the table and helped Edward spread them out. "You remember how to—"
"I know what a jigsaw is, Al," Edward told him. He began to turn the pieces over, already looking for connections between them.
"Oh. Good." Alphonse watched him for a moment, then returned to his research.
Matching and fitting pieces together absorbed all of Edward's attention. He worked steadily, and he was startled when Alphonse stood with what seemed to him unneccessary suddenness. "Nii-san, I have to go to the library. I'll be back really quickly. Do you think you'll be all right—"
"I'm fine, Al."
"Well, if you're sure—" Alphonse bundled books and notebook together with a speed that was somehow amusing. "I'll be back soon, Nii-san."
Edward went back to working on the jigsaw, but Alphonse's departure had broken his concentration and it took a while for him to get back into his task.
There was a sudden scuffling noise near his foot and suddenly the kitten was picking its way across his lap. Giving Edward a cursory sniff and a rub, it jumped up onto the table and continued its investigations. It mewed plainitively, and Edward shrugged.
"No food here, stupid cat."
The kitten looked at him accusingly, and went on with its search. Edward settled back to watch it and wondered how late it was. He was beginning to feel hungry again. Hopefully, Alphonse would return soon . . .
There was a thump and a startled mew. The stack of books nearest the kitten had suddenly come crashing down. Alarmed, the kitten scrambled off the table, scattering papers and puzzle pieces in its wake. Edward managed to stop another stack of books joining the pile on the floor. Pushing the books back onto the table, he lent over to look for the kitten. He found it curled in the far corner, licking its coat with offended dignity. Well, at least it seemed to be all right.
"Stupid cat," Edward informed it, and began to work out what the damage had been to Alphonse's stuff.
The books and papers would be easily picked up, Edward decided, and it didn't appear they'd been broken. He was about to sit up again when he saw it. There, in plain view was a piece of his puzzle. Edward stared at it a second, then pulled himself back up to look at the jigsaw.
It was just as he feared.
The piece halfway across the room was the exact piece he needed.
Pushing Alphonse's books off the table did little to assuage his feelings. Trying to take his mind off it, Edward continued with the puzzle.
It was no use.
The piece taunted him. It was absolutely necessary—and he knew it. Although he was certain that Alphonse would return and retrieve the piece for him, the puzzle would not be complete without it. The fourth time he caught himself staring hopelessly at it, he realised something had to be done.
He held tightly to the armchair. Falling off the bed had shaken his confidence, and he was beginning to suspect falling from the sofa the night previous was no coincidence. Slowly, with great care, he freed his feet from the blanket habitually tucked around him and placed them on the floor. Bracing himself on the arm of the chair, he carefully, carefully pulled himself to his feet.
It didn't take him long to realise that this was not going to work.
Even with the chair taking most of his weight his legs trembled and shivered and there was little he could do to stop himself sliding to the floor. He stared at the sofa blankly. He hadn't expected this. It made sense now that he looked back, pieces of conversation and actions that hadn't seemed important at the time suddenly coming into focus. He hadn't realised . . . or he hadn't wanted to realise . . .
The kitten wandered over to press itself into his palm and he petted it absently. The action drew him out of his shock, and he let the warmth and softness of the little creature soothe him. Think. He had to think.
First thing was that Alphonse could in no way be allowed to know about this. His brother did not need to be worried, he was anxious enough.
Having come to a decision, Edward extended his arms carefully. The floor of the study was smooth wood. If he could just push himself across the floor—
It was tiring work, straining muscles he hadn't used in weeks, but he retrieved the puzzle piece and brought it back to the desk. Alphonse's books were next, and finally his papers. Edward passed them one at a time up to the table. He could order them later.
Now came the difficult part.
Edward carefully manouevered stubborn legs into a kneeling position and felt for a handhold on the chair. Before he could doubt himself, he pushed. It was lucky the armchair was padded, otherwise he might have bruised himself on the chair legs. His own legs shook wildly, but held and he was able to pull himself in to the seat.
He didn't relax until he was curled up in the chair again. It took him a few minutes before he stirred again, wrapping the blanket back around his legs. Alphonse need never know about his misadventure.
There was a hand on his shoulder? Edward stirred sleepily. He sat up, blearily wiping his eyes, his thoughts sluggish.
"You fell asleep with your face on the desk—you've got puzzle pieces imprinted on your cheek."
Edward scowled at Roy, pushing his hand away. He would not be laughed at.
"Don't be like that Edward." Roy wrapped the blanket more firmly about him. "Where's your brother?"
Alphonse wasn't back? Edward looked around the study. The shadows had lengthened and the room was distinctly cooler. How long had he been asleep?
"It's not like Alphonse to just take off," Roy said, carefully scooping Edward and the blanket up. "Did something happen?"
Edward did nothing. Why hadn't he realised the reason they carried him? They already knew. But why? He didn't remember being injured or sick. He didn't remember much of anything. Maybe there was more they knew he didn't . . .
"The two of you didn't argue again, did you? Ah, what am I saying? The famous Elric brothers wouldn't quarrel that badly. Al probably shot out to get groceries."
Roy was trying to cheer him up, Edward realised with some astonishment. Here he was, kneeling beside the sofa, fussing with a blanket and talking away with determined cheerfullness. He was almost certainly worried.
"What say I get started while we wait—" Roy broke off, startled into silence at Edward's touch.
Slowly, seriously, Edward traced the curve of Roy's cheek, trying to put into the touch all he couldn't say. Al was all right, Roy shouldn't worry. Things weren't so bad.
"Edward—" Roy started. "I—" He stalled, and Edward ventured a smile, tugging on Roy's arm to draw him closer. It seemed he wasn't the only one having trouble with words. Emboldened by this understanding, he placed his free hand to his lips in a gesture of silence. Roy seemed to understand, certainly he was silent as Edward feathered his fingers lightly through Roy's hair.
It was an odd feeling to say the least. He could remember this moment and other's like it sharply suddenly, and at the same time there were subtle differences—slight touches of gray at Roy's temple, the way his breath caught at even so simple a gesture, the shadow across his eye—eye-patch, Edward realised, finding it smooth under his fingers.
He glanced at Roy's face, trying to judge his expression. His brow seemed clouded but he didn't try to stop him as Edward ran his fingers along the length of the patch and slowly pushed it up.
"Edward—" There was a strange tone to Roy's voice, and Edward paused, watching him with concern. Should he stop?
Roy wasn't actually looking at him, but at some point on the wall beyond. It must have been fascinating, he didn't look away as he continued. "It's not exactly pretty—"
He'd known, of course, that the man was not as perfect as he liked to pretend, but then he'd also known that he liked to play at weakness for his enemies. It was a surprise, therefore, to see him lay his insecurity so bare like that. Edward brushed his fingers over his cheek again but he could think only of one way to show Roy it didn't matter.
With both hands, he gently tugged the eye-patch free.
He'd seen so many people he knew hurt, suffered losses himself—-knowing the cost of it hurt more than seeing the scar itself. Roy was silent still, and Edward understood. He could tell Roy it didn't matter, that as long as he was still Roy nothing else mattered, but it would not make an ounce of difference. He knew that this was no battlefield memento, no mark of honour to impress the ladies—this was a failure, a sin. And no matter how justly gained, your own sins seemed unbearable in contrast to any other.
Edward could only think of one way to show him how little and how much it mattered. Carefully brushing Roy's hair out of the way he pressed his lips to the scar. Roy's breath hitched, and his hand tightened its hold on Edward's arm, but he didn't pull away. Pleased with this reaction, Edward let his fingers slide through Roy's hair, bringing his mouth to Roy's.
He was clumsy still, and to tell the truth, he'd never been that good at kissing not really seeing the point. Funny how a little distance could make all the difference—his nose bumped Roy's and he pulled back, feeling himself oddly shy.
"Edward," Roy whispered finding his voice at last, and there was something undefinable in his tone. He wondered at it, even as the sound of his name in that tone did interesting things to his insides.
"Nii-san!" The door in the study banged open, and they glanced towards it surprised. "Niiiii-san!"
"In here, Al!" Roy called with amusement in his voice, and he stood, letting go of Edward and turning towards the door even as the eye-patch was smoothed into place.
The lounge door was thrown open. "Nii-san!" Alphonse started breathlessly. "I didn't realise the time—it was dark out when I left the library—so sorry—will never do it again—"
"Alphonse, breathe," Roy commanded. "There's a good lad. Now sit down, before you alarm your brother, and I'll fetch you a glass of water."
Alphonse declined the glass, but he did sit. Edward drew up his legs to make room for him on the sofa, glad that he could sink under the blanket—he had the awful suspicion he was blushing still. Luckily, Al would not have noticed had he been standing on his head and singing. His younger brother had seized Roy's hand and was trying to explain, in breathless excitement, what had been so important he'd let Edward fall asleep on his jigsaw puzzle.
"—absolutely no reference in any of the library books. I'll have to talk to Roze again but I'm almost certain she said she remembered seeing him at some point—"
"Father!" Alphonse beamed at Roy in triumph. "I think Nii-san had contact with him at some point—and if he did, it might explain what went wrong and how we can fix it!"