The fire in the living room was burning low, but hadn't quite gone out yet. The kitchen was empty, though ingredients for dinner had been spread over the counter. And a book lay open on the arm of Alphonse's favorite chair, as though it had been set aside mid-chapter.
"Al!" the Fullmetal Alchemist called again over the sound of rain on the roof, stubbornly refusing to let the panic building in his chest take hold. "Joke's over—where the hell are you?" But in all the months since the restoration, Alphonse had never once abandoned a task midway as his brother was wont to do—certainly never left the fireplace unattended as he so frequently lectured the older boy against.
And if life had taught Edward nothing else, it was to expect the worst.
So hurried footsteps carried the boy down the hallway once more, past the shoes he'd abandoned, dripping and muddy, by the front door. Every door opened for the second time under frantic fingers: bed made and empty. Papers neatly stacked in study, no Al at the desk. Shower off, little brother not inside.
"Al!" Whirling to head back toward the kitchen once more, the boy passed again by the low window that looked out onto their tiny, unkempt little yard, glass streaked with rain.
And paused, staring blankly for a moment, as his mind processed the fact that, where their pile of firewood had been now stood what looked to be a rather unsturdy wooden roof on stilts. With his brother crouched beneath it.
Ten seconds later, Edward was throwing open the back door to their house and stalking outside, heedless of the fact that his socks sank squelchingly into the deep, muddy puddles that the storm had brought.
"What the hell," Ed demanded, looming suddenly into view, dripping and discontent. "do you think you're doing out here?"
"Oh, hello, brother." Alphonse flashed the smaller boy a smile, startled but pleased. "I didn't hear you come outside."
Edward's brows drew down threateningly, near-frantic worry faded enough to make room for relieved indignation. "Or calling, apparently."
"Were you?" The younger boy seemed genuinely surprised. "It's hard to hear anything over the rain."
The scowl deepened, but it was a remark that couldn't precisely be debated. "Sounds like someone's on the roof with a hammer," the smaller boy groused, instead.
Alphonse smiled again, eyes fixed on the grey of the sky. "Isn't it nice?"
"Not nice so much as goddamned annoying." Edward raked his eyes over both little brother and newly-formed firewood roof, jerked his thumb vaguely in the direction of the house. "C'mon. Let's go inside."
The younger boy lifted startled eyes to Ed's face. "But, brother—"
"No buts." The tone was firm, with just a hint of worry surfacing at last. "Your body's brand new, Al. No way I'm gonna let you make it sick."
There was a second's hesitation, and Al's gaze wavered—flickered away to fix upon one of the glistening blades of grass at his brother's feet. "A little bit longer won't make very much difference," he said carefully. "And it isn't like I'm terribly wet. I was only out from under the roof while I was making it."
"Yeah? Well, it's still cold out," Ed insisted, unconvinced. His own hair, long since past the point of thoroughly drenched, lay plastered to his face, streaming, as the sky reached a new frenzy of activity, upending its contents over him with a mad sort of desperation.
"But I sort of like it, all the same," Alphonse said, voice almost lost under the roar of the rain. One of those newly-formed hands clenched, nervous, in the boy's lap, and at last his gaze lifted to meet Edward's. "I'd forgotten that rain had a smell, brother."
For a moment the statement was greeted by silence, met only by the pounding of rain on the makeshift roof. Ed watched his little brother with eyes that betrayed too much of what went on behind them, golden depths registering first shock, then pain, and finally, both at once, guilt and understanding.
"Yeah. Well." The boy rubbed unconsciously at the place where his flesh shoulder met automail; the old wound ached something terrible, and he would have to take his time about drying it, later. "You're gonna have to move over, then. I'm sure as hell not gonna stand in the rain if I stay out here with you."
The smile that bloomed across Alphonse's lips was enough to kindle something tentatively warm within him, and when his brother scooted over to make room, a grin formed slowly in answer.
"You're soaked," Alphonse observed, as the smaller boy moved in to take the offered space, pressing up against his side so that they would both fit beneath the makeshift shelter. Where they touched, Al's clothes were soon left chill and damp once more, and he could make out the delicate trembling that Edward had been doing such a good job of hiding.
Ed snorted in response, rubbed sopping bangs from his forehead. "Guess it's what I get for being stupid enough to follow you out into a storm."
"Don't exaggerate, brother." Careful fingers reached to help, tucking wet golden strands back behind his brother's ears. "It isn't windy enough to be a storm."
The older boy's response was sullen, expression precariously near to sulking. "You weren't standing in it."
Alphonse carefully bit down both the smile that threatened to form and the response that bubbled up instinctively with it. "That's true," he acknowledged instead, and reached for his brother's flesh hand, coaxing the fingers to entwine with his own.
The words stood undisturbed as outside the rain reached a new pitch of intensity, peeling down so hard that it appeared a solid sheet of water. Two sets of eyes watched, enraptured, as the sky grew darker still, and when Alphonse looped an arm about his brother's waist, intent upon stopping the fine tremors of cold, Edward leaned into the touch gratefully, snuggling up against the offered warmth.
Because as long as they were going to stay outside for awhile, the boy decided, leaning his head against Al's shoulder, he may as well get comfortable.
It was some five minutes later, just as the worst of the chill was beginning to abate, that he stirred again, cracking open a single golden eye to peer up at his little brother's face. "And you're washing my socks.