It was only mid-afternoon when Edward pushed open the door, but already the house was silent. He frowned, shrugging off his coat and hanging up his door keys. Where was Alphonse? Normally by the time Edward finished work, Al would be in the kitchen, starting to prepare dinner.

"Al? I'm home," he called up the stairs and thought he received a faint answer from their bedroom. A quick peek revealed Al, lying stiffly in their bed with a pillow over his head. "Hey, what's wrong?" Edward asked, already removing the pillow to check Al's temperature.

"Headache," Al replied in a small voice. "Give pillow back, please?" Edward frowned and slipped the pillow under his brother's head. Crossing to the window, he yanked the curtains closed with a practised tug, dropped his bag on the dresser, and vanished again. Al watched him go with a half-lidded eye before ducking under the pillow.

He could tell his brother was in the kitchen by the metallic clangs and crashes that made him flinch in pain every so often, but he became more worried when there was silence. "Brother? Brother, what are you doing?" he called, removing his head from the sanctuary of the pillow. When there was no answer, he tried again, but gave up after that. It wasn't like Ed would get eaten by a rabid saucepan, or something.

Edward came back in after a few minutes, a mug of some steaming liquid in his hand. Alphonse took a quick sniff and decided the drink was nothing more troubling than warm milk and honey, then did a double take. "You hate milk," he protested as Ed sat on the edge of the bed and wrapped his little brother's hands around the mug.

"It's not for me to drink, is it?" Ed replied, managing to sound both exasperated and gentle at the same time.

"Thank you," Al murmured, closing his eyes against the curls of steam. It was far too easy to remember their mother, with this smell. He thought of Mom, standing at the stove pouring milk out, spicing it with honey in an effort to get Edward to drink it, though her efforts would prove unsuccessful. He remembered being kissed on the head when he handed her the empty mug before being ushered into bed, Mom tucking him in and singing more to herself than to him. Ed had always taken more after their mysterious father than Mom, he thought, but right now his brother seemed very ... motherly, very comforting, though Ed would of course kill him if he knew he'd thought that.

"Finished?" Ed asked, quietly, and Al glanced down at the mug in his hand. Somehow he'd drunk the entire thing without noticing; he smiled his thanks to Edward and handed him the mug, flopping back down on the pillow. Edward leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, as softly as their mother used to do, and disappeared again.

Alphonse dozed for a few hours or so, waking up to find it was dark outside and Ed had returned. He propped himself up with his fist, watching as Ed shrugged out of his clothes, humming very quietly to himself as he did so. With complete disregard to detail, Edward flung his jacket to one side of the room and his belt to the other; he simply stepped out of his pants and dropped his undershirt and boxers on top of the impromptu heap and stretched, catlike, completely naked and surprisingly beautiful. He grinned at Al and padded over to his side, crouching to be on eye level. "How're you feeling?" he asked, his tone soft and tender, and Al was struck by the fact that he may be the only person to ever witness this aspect of his brother.

"I'm better now," he said softly, and Ed smiled and pushed the covers aside, sliding in between them and pressing his cheek out fat against Al's side. "But I am hungry," he admitted with a small blush as his stomach rumbled loudly. Ed raised his head and blinked down at his makeshift pillow, then at Al's face, and laughed.

"Come on, then," he said mildly, slipping out of bed again and heading, still naked, down to the kitchen. With another blush, Al followed.

Ed grabbed a pair of Al's pants from the laundry basket as they went past, hopping awkwardly into them and cursing when he fell over in the middle of the hall. With a barely-muffled snort, Al helped him back up, and then laughed again; the pants were too large, and Ed had to cinch them around his waist by bunching a metal hand in the fabric.

Al flicked the lights on in the kitchen and Ed busied himself locating pots and pans; Al was pushed roughly into a seat at the table as Ed withdrew seemingly hundreds of ingredients out of cupboards. Before half an hour had passed, while the meal—whatever it was, Ed wouldn't tell him—still simmered gently, Al had a mug of hot chocolate clutched firmly in his hands. Ed was sitting across the table to him, making idle conversation about his job, and the latest idiot to insult his height—and what he'd done with them. "There was no need to transmute his clothes into a tutu, brother, I'm sure," Al said with a small frown, and Ed indignantly tossed his head and scowled.

"Of course there was, Al, he was threatening my mental stability—oh, the spaghetti's ready."

Al rested his forehead in one hand, and laughed quietly to himself as Ed flitted around the kitchen. "There's nothing to laugh about," his brother admonished, pointing a wooden spoon at him. "If I wasn't quite so strong-willed, I might be a nervous wreck by now, what with all these pot-shots at my height—"

"—Or lack of it—"

"—Ha-ha, Al, you're comic bloody genius—as I was saying, I could have had my self-esteem destroyed by all those remarks made about my height over the years! It could have been very tragic, you know."

Al laughed as Ed sieved something over the sink. "You're not that kind of person, brother. What other people say about you doesn't affect you."

"That's what you think," Ed crowed as he slammed a plate of spaghetti bolognese in front of Al. "I might have a secret desire to be, I dunno, universally loved or something, I can't remember. Winry was telling me about that kinda thing last time I went in for automail maintenance." He waved a metal hand, dismissive, and jabbed his fork into his meal before spinning it aggressively and sucking the spaghetti straight off it.

Al smiled and paid attention to his own meal; it didn't pay to antagonize Ed, lest he do something wildly dramatic which he really wouldn't regret later. Roy hadn't known that, at least not until Ed had transmuted his dress uniform into a light blue bikini and a fetching mini-skirt at his assessment last year. Apparently all memos addressed to the man now stated, 'to the attention of the Miniskirted Alchemist,' and Al had heard once Hawkeye had gotten the specifics of the mini-skirt plan she'd locked herself in the office with him and his other subordinates, emerging an hour later implacable as always while they trembled weakly behind her.

He was interrupted from his reverie by a sudden decline in the backgroud noise of Ed's disgruntled rambling. His brother slurped spaghetti off the fork, leaving a trail of orange sauce down his chin, and carried on ranting; Al found himself grinning as he tensed, then pounced, wrapping his hands around the back of Ed's head and pulling him closer as he lightly tongued the spaghetti sauce off his brother's chin.

Ed blinked but then made an annoyed sound, so Al slid his tongue upwards and into Edward's mouth. This much Ed didn't object to, and the kiss was long but soft and affectionate. There was something about the way Ed treated his brother, a fundamental component in his behaviour around Alphonse that wasn't there with Roy, or Winry, or anyone else. It might have been born from the desperation of their search, and the mistake they made that required it in the first place; but whatever it is, there was a—kindness, maybe, or possibly tenderness—that Ed reserved solely for Al. And thinking about that he realised his headache had mysteriously vanished, but then again, he wasn't really surprised.

Ed's fingers tugged at the buttons of his shirt, but Al broke the kiss and lightly caught Ed's wrists. His brother gave him a quizzical look, but he smiled and bumped their noses together. "Not tonight, brother," he said mildly. "Tonight I just want to feel you."

"Al, you sap," Ed complained, but he was trying to hide a grin, so Al just kissed him and drew him back upstairs to their bed. He settled close to Ed, marking his brother's throat with soft kisses, and lazily stroked the automail arm—Ed's sacrifice for him, a badge of how his brother felt—with his own right hand. Ed fell asleep before long, his expression smoothed into something content and serene, and Al curled against the warmth of his brother's body and smiled into Ed's hair. He had his brother, and really, he thought, that was all he needed.