The sun coming through the window behind him warmed his back, and settled on the cushion Edward felt very comfortable. He'd been left alone sometime now, and rather than missing company, he found himself enjoying the chance to practice in peace.
The kitten was batting a ball around at the other corner of the room, and Edward concentrated on it. "Cat," he said. "Here, cat, cat, cat." With effort he'd made the words distinct now, it was becoming easier to speak. "Come on. Kitten, kitten, kitten. Mother said we couldn't have a pet unless we could take care of it, Alphonse. No more cats." It was satisfying to hear the words echo round the room and know he'd spoken them. "No more cats," he repeated. "If I beat you then you have to take care of the cat, Colonel. It was little and cold in the rain. No, Al, put it back. We can't keep it, it's impossible—"
There was a sudden intake of breath and Edward turned to see the woman leaning heavily against the soor. Her eyes were wide and shocked and fixed on him. Edward looked down hastily even though he knew it was too late. She must have heard him—
He heard her take a deep breath and then walk over to him carefully. A hand rested on his arm and she knelt next to him. "Edward-kun? Alphonse and Roy didn't tell me you could talk."
He ducked the fingers trying to turn his face towards her, relaxing only slightly when they settled in his hair instead. She wrapped an arm around his shoulder, gently stroking his back.
"Do they know?"
If he waited, she would go away.
"Edward, it would make me very happy if you talked to me. All of us have been wanting you to talk to us for a long time now. Won't you please . . . ?"
Very carefully, without looking at her, Edward edged his arm around until he found her shoulder and tried to push her away. He was still clumsy, and she was a lot stronger than he was. The only thing he accomplished was to push himself further off the cushion.
The woman said nothing, but after a few minutes she stood, and Edward felt himself lifted back onto the cushion and the blanket retucked around him.
"I won't force you to speak, not if you don't want to," she said. "None of us would. But I hope you'll talk to us soon. Alphonse will be so happy when we tell him tonight—"
She couldn't tell him! "No—"
She paused, moving to sit just in front of him. "No?" she said carefully. "You don't want me to tell Alphonse?"
"But—why? Alphonse wants to hear you talk more than anyone else—" She stopped, leaning in to read his expression. "Are you angry at Alphonse?"
The idea would have made Edward laugh if she hadn't been so serious. What was there to be angry at Alphonse for? As the big brother, he wasn't allowed to be angry at Alphonse anyway. "No."
"Then tell me why? I want to understand, Edward."
The effort of concentrating this long made his head hurt and he brushed the hair out of his eyes irritably. Everything was so hard. "I'm not stupid."
"No one thinks you are—oh," the woman said. "Is it—Edward, are you embarrassed by this?"
Edward looked at the floor. She said it so easily. "No," he said. "Just practicing."
A hand was wrapped around his shoulders and he was suddenly pulled into a tight hug. Edward blinked in confusion as the woman—was she laughing?—squeezed him tightly to her.
"Edward-kun," she said warmly. "It is good to have you back."
Edward didn't say anything, but he was pretty nearly exhausted anyway.
She seemed to understand. "I was coming to see if you wanted a snack," she said. "You seem pretty tired, perhaps a nap afterwards?" She paused in the doorway with a thoughtful expression. "You know, Edward, you're pretty lucky. The last guy to grab my chest like that wound up in hospital." And with that she disappeared down the hall.
Edward was very grateful; he didn't want a fuss made over the discovery that he remembered how to blush.
The woman kept her promise, she didn't push him and the afternoon passed quietly. Edward napped on the sofa as she worked on her knitting in the lounge, and she let him and the kitten relax in peace as she prepared dinner, although she left the door to the kitchen open and told him to call if he needed anything.
She was quiet at dinner as she watched the man cut Edward's meal into tiny pieces for him, so quiet that Edward began to grow worried. Surely she wouldn't say anything? There were pieces missing still, but she seemed like she was reliable.
"Quiet tonight, aren't we?" The voice was doing his best to sound cheerful. Edward watched closely as he readied a forkful for him.
"You're going to feed him?"
The man paused, and the fork came to a halt. "Who else is going to?" he said, plainly confused. "I fed him last night and this morning too—"
"Perhaps Edward-kun needs a bit more of an impetus."
"What do you mean?" The voice wasn't pleased either. "Alphonse and I take good care of him—"
"That's the thing. If you two do everything for him, what is left for Edward to do?" Edward stared at the floor as a chair was scraped back. The woman placed the plate of food in front of him, and wrapped his own fingers around the fork. "There."
Edward's fingers tightened around the fork, angry and tense. She was close, too close and he would drop it, he just knew he would—
"That's not going to work. We've tried—"
"How about we go for a little walk before dinner, Roy? Around the garden? We can pick some fresh greens for the salad."
"And leave Edward alo—ow," the voice sounded annoyed now and Edward stared at the table. He'd made them angry again. "Well, if you're going to be like that about it—"
The woman's hand rested on his shoulder a moment and then they were gone, the garden door swinging shut behind him. Edward waited until their voices faded. When he was sure he couldn't hear them he moved his head to look at the plate. This wasn't so hard to do, really.
The first mouthful, the one he'd already got on the fork was easy, but it took more concentration to get the next. Chasing the neat portions around his plate absorbed his attention completely and he stiffened when he heard the chairs either side of him pulled back, dropping the fork. It clattered noisily to the table, but neither of the others seemed to pay it any attention.
"I'm surprised at how much the garden's improved in the time you've been here."
"Alphonse's doing, I wouldn't know a thing about how to keep a garden. The flowers and that were already here when he bought the place, but he put in the vegetables himself. Said a proper home needed a vegetable garden."
Could it be that they really weren't paying attention to him? Edward stole a glance towards the man, but he was looking at the woman. Very carefully Edward stretched his hand out towards the fork. He drew it back quietly and hesitated, waiting for any fuss.
There was none.
Still tense, Edward let a few minutes pass before reaching out to stab the next piece of meat. Nothing bad happened, even though he fumbled with getting the fork to his mouth and almost lost the meat. He ate slowly, the other two finishing long before he did. He was glad when they took their coffee into the lounge. Although reassured they weren't watching him, he still felt so nervous around them.
He could just hear their voices through the open door.
"—can't believe we didn't notice—"
"You did mention he'd been more aware lately. It's probably only recent. At any rate, I think the important thing is to give him more independence and privacy. I can't even begin to imagine what this feels like for him, but if it were me in his position—"
"Point taken. The last thing I'd want was to be treated like a child. Still, I can't believe it—we weren't even sure he'd recover—" There was a pause then, and the woman came back.
"You've finished?" She said, clearing the dishes away. "Well done, Edward. Your brother is going to be very happy when he comes home tomorrow."
Edward shifted involuntarily at that; Alphonse was coming home?
"Would you like to go into the lounge?"
Edward shook his head. He could barely keep his head up. "Bed."
"Of course, this has been a long day for you." Edward was grateful that she managed to keep her tone normal as she answered. "I won't be a moment."
He heard her voice in the next room. "Edward-kun is looking rather tired, I think you should put him to bed."
"I'll let him sit up until Alphonse phones—"
"I think you should put him to bed now."
It was a relief to find himself lifted into bed, the ever-present aftershave tickling his memories. He curled up immediately he was set down, prepared to fall asleep at once. But the man had other ideas, pulling the covers up over Edward, then sitting on the edge of the bed, stroking Edward's hair gently. "I'm proud of you, Fullmetal," he said. "Very proud."
Edward looked up at him hazily. If only his head hadn't been so full of sleep, he could have worked out why the words meant so much, why the man made him so happy, what was wrong with the black shadow that was always across his face now, but the thoughts came too slowly, and the light was out and the man down the hall way before Edward had even realised he was gone.
"Muh," he said softly into the darkness. "Mustang."