chapter 3.

garden of light

Alphonse wakes on the morning of the twenty-fifth to the shrill buzz of his alarm clock, and a mouth filled with Edward's hair. He spits it back out, grumbling under his breath as he does so, and slams the clock with the palm of his hand. It is hard to resist the temptation to cuddle for a while, but he knows that if he puts his head back on the pillows he will not be awake in time to start cooking.

Sometimes Al hates being the rational one.

Ed mumbles in his sleep as Al gets up, burrowing further into the blankets. Al sits on the edge of the bed, yawns, stretches and looks over his shoulder; an automail arm slides out of the nest of covers to flap weakly in his general direction. Smiling, Al grips it by the wrist and tugs. "Come on, brother, get up."

"No fucking way," Ed growls. "You can't make me, anyway."

With a final yank, Al frees him and sends him tumbling onto their cold bedroom floor. "Of course I can 'make' you," he says as he begins digging through the wardrobe, "I'm taller than you, after all."

Ed raises his head from the rug and glares at him. "That was low," he complains, and Al drops a pair of fresh boxers on his head, choosing not to dignify the statement with a response.

With a lot of moaning, they manage to dress themselves, and Al wins the usual early-morning scrabble to reach the bathroom. Ed, being Ed, sits outside the door, so that Al falls over him when he leaves. He's still snickering over Al's undignified tumble when he gets into the kitchen; Al, already waiting there, shoots him a dire look and puts his hands on his hips, surveying the spotless surfaces. Their kitchen hasn't been this clean since they moved in; both brothers give each other a long look. "Master," Al says with a sigh, at exactly the same time Ed runs his hand through his hair and says, "Looks like Gracia to me." They blink at each other, and then Ed grins. "Maybe it was a duel assault?" he volunteers, and Al snorts as he turns the tap on and begins to wash his hands.

"So, ham? Chicken? Turkey? Duck? What're we doing?" Ed asks, as he sets out a pair of chopping boards.

"We've got... you, me, Winry, Auntie, Master, Seig, Mason, Gracia, Elysia, Scieszka and Rose coming. Eleven people, brother. I'd say we'll need to use every single bit of meat we have, you?" Ed laughs and goes to tinker with the oven. "And no transmuting anything!" Al warns, pointing a knife at him. "I'll handle the meat. You take the vegetables. Don't forget that although you hate runner beans, not everybody else does, brother, so you will still have to cook them."

"Fine, fine," Ed says grumpily, reaching into one of their cupboards and fetching the basket of potatoes one of their neighbours gave them last week, as thanks for Al's babysitting the man's three little hellions for an entire four hours. "I don't know how you managed to get them to behave," the neighbour had said in honest admiration; Al had just grinned. He'd decided previously not to tell him about how Ed, trying to study for his upcoming and over-due assessment, had simply thrown them into the garden and locked them out, at minus six degrees Celsius, for all four hours.

Al drains the blood out of the meat before he begins to slice it, and Ed peels the potatoes. He does it with his right hand, and slices his left thumb within seconds of getting started; Al resists the urge to sigh and instead resumes cutting.

Their visitors arrive all at once about mid-afternoon, having taken a cab from the hotel. Izumi can't seem to keep out of the kitchen, wandering back and forth and peering over Al's shoulder, and eventually snatches the knife from him and elbows him out the way. Ed snickers, but then Auntie Pinako is at his elbow informing him that he's messed up the carrots.

Somehow they find themselves pushed out of their own kitchen, and sprawl in the living room with a vague air of baffled hurt. Seig hovers by the kitchen door, but Al manages to distract the man by asking him to help with some heavy things Al's needed to be moved out the attic for three months, guessing rightly that if he doesn't Izumi and Seig won't be able to stay apart. Ed slouches in an armchair by the fire, and Winry hovers before perching on the arm and beginning to talk about the improvements she'll make to his automail in his next appointment.

It is, Al thinks, not bad. It's cosy more than anything, and he's never been able to picture that word in relation to his life before now. It's a good feeling. He takes the seat opposite Ed, and smiles cautiously at his brother, who grins back and innocently suggests a card game to pass the time.

By the time Izumi pokes her head out the door to order the brothers to lay the table, Ed owes Mason five hundred cenz, Seig seven hundred and fifty, Winry one thousand three hundred and seventy-two, and Al the amount known colloquially as Far Too Much; his complaints can probably be heard next door. "Stop gambling," Izumi says with a frown, snatching Al's cards from him, then Ed's. She eyes Ed's hand and sighs; Ed reluctantly drops the extra aces from his sleeve.

"And you still lost," Winry laughs as she stands.

"'Loser gets to wash up tonight', brother," Al reminds him, and with a grin follows her into the kitchen. Ed huffs and pillows his chin in his hands, sulking.

"It's not fair," he calls through the open doorway. "How come you guys cheat better than I do?"

"Practise!" Winry and Al chorus, and Izumi smacks him around the back of the head before reminding him of one of the lessons she taught him, which was that he shouldn't gamble unless he can pay for it. Recognising the not-so-subtle hint, Ed digs out his wallet and counts a bunch of notes out for Seig and Mason.

"You're all picking on me," he complains when the money has been pocketed. Winry comes out of the kitchen with an armful of plates, and Al follows a second later with more.

"You deserve it," Winry says, as Al dumps his burden and vanishes back into the kitchen to fetch more. Izumi follows him, and Ed can hear her filling Pinako in on what this latest outburst was all about. Gracia stands from her seat in am armchair by the fire to offer Winry some help, while Rose, who had been talking to her, keeps a careful eye on Elysia and her own son, Cain. "Ed, quit sulking and give us a hand."

"I'm not sulking!" Ed flares. "I never sulk!" Despite his words, he slinks out of his chair and into the kitchen, shooting a last, malevolent glare at Winry over his shoulder as he does so. She laughs, brushing some stray hair behind her ear, and arranges the cutlery.

Dinner is very good. Izumi has always been a superb cook, and Auntie Pinako isn't bad, either; Ed polishes his plate off in under five minutes and fidgets relentlessly as he waits for seconds, occasionally glancing at Al's meal out of the corner of his eye. "ED," Izumi thunders, and he hunches in on himself; Al takes pity on him and transfers a slice of turkey from his plate onto Ed's.

"Thanks," Ed replies briefly, not even pausing to cut it up before jamming it into his mouth. Al scowls and treads on his flesh foot underneath the table. "Ow!"

"Eat like a human being, brother," Al says with a sigh, jabbing at one of Izumi's special bacon-and-sausage rolls with his fork. Ed glares at him, but proceeds to slice up the remainder of the turkey almost daintily; Al rolls his eyes, but decides not to argue with his brother, not on Christmas day.

After the meal they retire to the garden, where the sun is just setting. There's a set of battered garden furniture left there by the previous owners, and Al brings out two chairs from the dinner table; Winry, Rose and Izumi take them, Seig hovering behind his wife and Mason leaning against the back of Rose's chair, discussing her son in a low voice with she and Gracia. Elysia has kidnapped 'the bookworm lady' to play 'pirates and ninjas' with, although Scieszka didn't seem to object too much. Al watches them, and smiles.

As the sun sets, the fireworks begin—exactly as Ed had known they would, as he'd noticed the house across from their garden had received a huge import of Xingese specialities. They are stunning—if somewhat loud; Greebo hides behind Al and hisses at the noise—and Al tucks his hand into his brother's, attention focused on the bursts of red and gold sparks.

Their garden is lit by the flashed of light, colours swirling and flickering, lightning-fast, towards them. A particularly large rocket goes off with a boom that has Greebo racing back into the house and Rose gasping, raising a hand to her mouth; Ed tilts his head back to Al and grins, wild-cat devious, white teeth and sharp canine. "It's great, isn't it?" he boasts, and Al nods and laughs.

"Merry Christmas, brother," he says, lacing his fingers with Ed's; his older brother laughs, and leans into his chest. Al settles his arms around him and leans forward, burying his face into soft, sleek golden hair, and squeezes his eyes shut.

The fireworks are flashes of colour, lighting the inside of his eyelids; but Ed is warm, and smells wonderful. There is more than one beautiful thing here tonight, Al thinks, and cringes a little at how damn sappy that sounds; but his brother shifts in his arms and reaches over his shoulder to touch Al's face with the back of his fingers. Al nuzzles into the contact, and for a moment, everything is perfect.


The telephone's shrill ring is nothing short of irritating. Al scrunches his nose up at it and tucks his face into the curve of his brother's back; Ed shifts almost lazily, and with a click of his brother's metal hand against the metal receiver as he picks it up, the phone stops ringing. Al mumbles bleary thanks, and slips back into sleep.

When he wakes up, it has only just reached ten, and his brother is nowhere to be seen. Even his side of the bed is cold to the touch; when Alphonse glances over, he sees that Ed's taken his uniform off its hanger, hooked into the handle of the wardrobe. He huffs out a breath and sighs, threading his fingers through his sleep-ruffled hair in an attempt to comb it into some sort of order, and climbs out of bed.

Ed's left a note on the table, and Al picks it up and reads it as he puts the kettle on to boil for his first mug of coffee.

Something came up, will be working overtime. Don't wait up for me.

"'course I will," Al whispers fiercely, and crumples the note in his fist. "Idiot brother."

Ed had enabled him to sleep in that morning, but that doesn't excuse him from opening the shop anyway. There's a few customers loitering outside; the middle-aged man gives him a foul look before launching into a rant about 'responsibilities' and how things have changed for the worse since he was a lad. Al mutters apologies and retreats to the counter, while the man is promptly distracted by a display of translated chimerical theories from Xing.

It's not shaping up to be a good day, he thinks miserably as he stirs his coffee. Not, admittedly, the worst—That Night will always, always have that position, in his mind—but not a good one, either. There's just an air of sullen irritation in the air, a feeling that something is wrong and he doesn't know what.

About lunchtime, the phone rings; Al reluctantly reaches out and snags it off the hook, muttering a bored sales jangle into the receiver.

"No, Al, I'm not interested in the discount on crucibles. Are you busy right now?"

"Brother!" Al perks up, and then forces himself to relax. Only one of his four customers spares him a glance, but promptly goes back to perusing the alchemical equipment section. "No, I'm good. What's the matter? Where are you?"

Ed heaves a sigh, but Al can hear the gentle humour in his voice—even if it is somewhat strained, as though his brother is under a considerable amount of stress—when he says, "I'm still at HQ, Al. In Mustang's office, to be precise—it's the smirking bastard's lunch break, so I'm the only one in here."

"Oh," Al mutters, and glances around the room quickly. "Look—brother—if you want to. You know. Talk like that to me, I have customers, and I can't really—"

"Al, you pervert," Ed interrupts, and gives a tired chuckle. "I'm just calling to say that a case came up today—Mustang called me this morning, I don't know if you were awake for it."


Ed pauses, and then starts again. "Have I ever told you that you can be quite scary?"

Al laughs, as the would-be shoplifter scuttles closer and hands him the book she'd been trying to stuff under her jumper. "No," he says, "I think that's a first. That's twenty-five cenz, thank you... so anyway, what's the case about?"

Ed hesitates before answering, and when he does, the mild humour has gone from his voice. "We found a bunch of chimeras," he says, and Al can hear the unhappiness in his tone; knows without words what Ed really means.

"They were human mixes, weren't they," he whispers, feeling his heart ache for his brother—his brother who has never stopped blaming himself for Nina, no matter what Al says; has never stopped looking sad whenever he sees Elysia, or a dog of the same breed as Alexander. "Ed, is there anything—?"

"No," Ed cuts him off, flatly. "The transmutation fucked up, Al. They're not even perfect chimeras. Half of them are dead, the rest are grotesque, and I've gotta try to separate them even though it might kill them."

"Brother," Al says, and closes his eyes. He feels Ed's pain, muted though it is; he wants to tell Ed not to be an idiot, to come home and have something to eat and not to worry, to let someone else handle this before it tears him apart. But he can't; his brother has always been, and always will be, too proud to foist the things he does not want to do onto someone else. It's one of the reasons Al loves him; but now, he wishes that there was someone else, someone who could protect Edward from himself. "Don't push yourself too hard," he says instead. "What time will you be back?"

A pause, and then, voice soft, Ed says, "I might not be coming home at all tonight, Al. It's a big task."

Al frowns. "Promise me you'll get something to eat, brother."

"Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine."

"Of course you will," Al whispers, and gives a sad smile that he knows Ed can't see. "You're my brother, after all."

There are voices in the distance, and Ed takes the phone away from his mouth to respond to them. Al runs his fingernails over one of the notches on the counter surface, and sighs; the bells over the door jangle as another customer steps in, and he glances up to see Winry hesitate at the threshold.

For a moment, he can only blink—he and Ed escorted she and her grandmother, along with the rest of their guests, back to the hotel last night, when they'd finished. The train back to Rizenbourg that Pinako and her granddaughter had intended to take had been due to depart at half-eight this morning; what had gone wrong?

There's a rustle on the other end of the line as Ed returns, and he holds a finger out to her—wait just a moment—and says, "Brother?"

"Break's over," Ed replies wearily; "See you later, Al."

"Be careful," Al whispers, and Ed manages a tired noise of agreement before hanging up on him. He takes a deep breath before putting the receiver down; scrubs at his face with the palms of his hands before summoning up a small smile for Winry.

"Al?" she asks, approaching the counter nervously. "What was all that about?"

"Brother's in a bit of trouble at work," Al says vaguely, then frowns, changing the subject. "Winry, what're you doing still here?"

Winry hesitates, and looks down at her shoes. There's something very strange about her; a startling contrast to her behaviour of yesterday, and it makes Al feel more than a little worried. As if he didn't have enough on his plate, what with Ed's sudden bombshell... "I needed to talk to you about something, Al," she confesses, finally. "I asked Granny to go back home without me, but with my luggage. I'll be okay—I've got enough money for a ticket back. I just..."

"Is here okay?" Al asks, gesturing around the shop, and she looks over her shoulder before reluctantly shaking her head.

"I'm sorry, Al," she says, and he smiles at her.

"Don't worry about it. You'll just have to hang around for a few more hours, though—closing time, you know?"

She nods. "Yeah, I can do that. Got anything you want me to do?"

Al rolls his empty mug at her, and gives her the biggest, most sorrowful puppy-dog eyes he's ever made. She blinks at him, then laughs as she reaches out for the cup; there's a note of stress to the laugh, though, and Al is hard pressed to keep from frowning. "You're hanging around Ed too much, Al," she says with a laugh as she takes it. "He's rubbing off on you, I swear."

Al lifts his eyebrows, but does not offer a reply. Winry smiles—there's still a hint of tension in her expression, but enough that it's easy to overlook. "Where's your kitchen?"

"Up the stairs, first on your left," he says, and tilts his head to one side. She ruffles his hair before she heads up, a movement that is more her, somehow, more his tomboy childhood friend and near-sister than she's been since she stepped inside, and he can only wonder what has caused the change.

They make small-talk together as they await closing time, about little, unimportant things such as her customers and his, and about his brother and Granny Pinako and the military and politics and anything, really, other than outright asking her what the matter is. She seems to relax as the day draws on, seems to become less defensive, more talkative; but by closing-time she is still not herself, not completely, and that worries Al. She is his best friend—and Ed's too, although his brother would be ashamed of admitting something so sappy—and both of them owe her so much; for always being there, always waiting, never growing resentful or getting tired of being their friend, and if she is not happy, then that is not all right.

Once the floor has been swept and the lights turned off, Al locks the front door and ushers her upstairs, into the kitchen. He sets the kettle on to boil, and takes a seat opposite her, giving her his most charming smile. "What's wrong?" he asks, and she takes a deep breath.

"It's Ed," she blurts. "I need to talk to you about Ed."

Concern darts through Al's chest, and he pulls his chair closer. "What has my idiot brother done this time?" he asks, tracing a curved scar in the wood of the table with his thumbnail, and watches her face intently.

"This is going to sound stupid," Winry says, with a faint blush, and rubs at her cheeks. "Hell, it sounds stupid to me, and I'm the one involved, but."

"Winry?" Al asks, cautiously, and she brushes a lock of her hair out of her face. "Can you tell me what you're talking about? I can't help you if I don't know, right?"

"Good point," Winry says, with a weak grin, and tells him.

Al sits back in the chair when she's finished, feeling like he's been slugged in the gut, and says, "Oh." It's all his brain can manage, the surprise still ringing throughout his mind; across the table from him, Winry shakes her bangs back in front of her face, folding her hands stiffly in her lap, and Al pushes his own turmoil aside. She needs his help in this, after all. "How long have you... been... in love with my brother?" he whispers, feeling the guilt surge inside him.

Winry shrugs, the movement sharp and awkward, and whispers, "A few years, now."

Al doesn't know what to say to this. His mind is still reeling, but that's nothing to the guilt surging in his stomach, the guilt that whispers that he's fucked this up for Winry; that he's got to explain to her that she can't have Ed, no matter how she feels, because some selfish moron seduced his brother before either of them knew how she felt.

"I'm sorry," he says, quietly, and means it. She blinks up at him, blue eyes wide; and Al is honest enough that he doesn't look away as realisation sinks in, as her hurt and disappointment are reflected in her eyes. "He's... found someone else."

"I guess it was inevitable," she says, shakily. "I mean, your brother is... a very good catch, right? And once he got over the whole hormone thing, there was... there were... a lot of girls..."

Al doesn't say anything, just pushes himself up and walks around the table to stand behind Winry, wrapping his arms around her. At first she is stiff, and unresponsive; then she twists, in his embrace, and buries her head in his chest. She doesn't cry; Winry has never been that sort of girl. She'll cry for her brothers, but not over them, and she just accepts the quiet support Al offers without a word. "I'm sorry," Al repeats, helpless and feeling like he's the cruellest liar in the world. Because if he were truly sorry, he'd be willing to give Ed up for his best friend, willing to step aside, and see them both happy; but he is not, and he knows it, and he can feel the guilt seething inside him.

She pushes him away, gently, but firmly, and smiles up at him. "'s okay," she says, and rubs at her eyes with her sleeve. "Th—thank you for letting me know, Al. I appreciate it."

"It's the least I can do," Al tells her softly. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah," she says, and gives him a weak grin. "Now I know I can, at least, stop pining away like some damn schoolgirl and get on with my work. Did I tell you about the latest development from the Rush Valley college of Automail Surgeons? It looks great, makes the steel—"

"Winry," Al interrupts, and runs a hand through his hair. "Are you sure you'll be okay?"

Winry drops the weak smile, and rubs at her face with her hands again. "Yes," she says, eventually. "It was—disappointing—and I guess it hurt, a bit. But I'll live. I mean, I didn't even see Ed for four years, between the automail installation and the time the idiot let Scar take his arm off, I should function fine now. I can still talk to him, right? As a friend?"

"Yeah," Al replies, and flashes her a smile that feels so false it almost stings. "I'll make sure my moron brother keeps in regular contact, this time."

The smile Winry gives him is hesitant, her cheeks dimpling just slightly. "That'd be nice," she whispers, and climbs up to her feet. "That would be... very nice."

The kettle lets out a shrill cry as it boils, and Al hastily knocks it off the hob. "Stay for tea?" he pleads; but Winry shakes her head.

"Thank you," she says, "But no. I have to get going. I didn't tell Granny why I stayed behind, after all, and the sooner I arrive after she does, the less angry phone calls the two of you will receive."

Al, knowing what she really means, just nods. "All right," he says, "If this is what you want. I'll walk with you to the train station, okay? You're... my best friend, Winry, and I don't want to see you hurt."

She gives him a long, appraising look, and then smiles. "All right," she replies, shrugging on her jacket, "That sounds like a good plan. And—thanks, Al. For everything."

Al blushes, but reaches for his own coat. "It's not a problem," he says, and quickly changes the subject. "Brother said his automail leg hasn't been responding as best as it could do—do you want me to drag him down to Rizenbourg, or do you want to examine him here?"

"I'll come up here in a few weeks," Winry says, with a shrug. "From the sound of it, it's nothing serious." The glint to her eye informs Al that she knows what he really means by the question, and appreciates it.

They step outside, onto the streets, together. It is dark, already, and the air is brisk and heavy with the December cold. Not too long until New Year's Eve, Al thinks, and frowns; it will be a very empty New Year's Eve, spent alone, and he wishes he'd thought of that before his teacher, Granny and Winry set off home. It's too late to change that now, though; the station is ahead of them, and beside him, Winry takes a deep breath. She holds it, as if she's about to say something; but evidently changes her mind, and lets it spill out again as a cloud of condensation. Al spares her a sidelong glance, but she just smiles at him; a sad smile, with a hint of something else, and Al looks away as the guilt slithers through his body and collects in his stomach with a sharp bite. Because this is something that he has done to her; this is something he has caused, and that is not fair.

"Al—um, can I borrow a few cenz for the train?" Winry tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and stops a few yards short of the ticket desk, biting her lip. "I don't have any food on me, and—"

Alphonse digs into his pocket, and extracts three thousand-cenz bills. They are crumpled and slightly faded; he puts them in her palm and gives her his most disarming grin. "Hey," he says, "You don't have to be nervous about asking for things you need, Winry. You should know that by now."

She blinks at him and then stuffs the bills in her pocket, motions hesitant and awkward. "Al," she says, cautiously; and then throws that caution to the wind, stands on her tip-toes and envelops Al in a hug. "Thank you for being such a good friend," she says quietly, and he feels her words burning, deep inside his gut.

"No problem," he says, casually. "I owe it to you, right?"

The look in her eyes—accepting, knowing—does nothing to alleviate the emotion crushing his heart, but that's okay. It doesn't need to. All that he needs to know is that she will be all right; once he knows this, he can pick the pieces up from there, attempt to make some sense of this strange, awkward puzzle.

"Winry," he says, and takes a deep breath; she tugs her jacket around herself and tilts her head to one side, and the words die in his throat. "Have a safe trip," he murmurs, leaning out to pull her into a hug. She relaxes in his arms, trusting in the boy who is very nearly her brother, and Al's misery deepens, takes root. "Sorry," he whispers into her hair, too low for her to hear. "I'm so sorry."

He waves her off at the station; stands on the platform, hands stuffed into his pockets, and watches the train slowly fade into the distance amidst a billowing stream of smoke, and wonders: what did she do to deserve this?

There is no answer forthcoming, and he did not expect it to be. Head bowed, chest aching, Al sets off for home; but the visit has raised many questions, and he knows he cannot leave them for long.

thank you

He knows as soon as he pushes the front door open, that Ed is not yet home. The house is too cold, too empty; it is fast approaching half past eight at night, and when Al shuts the door behind him, the guilt he feels over Winry is eclipsed by worry for his brother. He takes a few moments to remind himself that Ed is not a little boy anymore; that he is a strong, wonderful adult—if a little immature—and can look after himself.

His resolve lasts until he gets into the kitchen, and finds himself preparing sandwiches to pack into his bag, enough for both Edward and himself. Rather than fight the unconscious action, he continues; prepares a flask of coffee and, knowing Ed's predicament, spikes it with rum. The sandwiches are Ed's favourite, prepared as best he can; he wraps them in tin foil and nestles them at the bottom, so that they won't be damaged during the trip.

After he steps back out onto the street and locks the door behind him, he thinks, rapidly. Where would Ed be? First Laboratory is for the study of alchemical techniques suitable to warfare; Second Laboratory, for the study of spread and prevention of diseases; but Third... Third...

Chimerical and Botanical Studies, Al thinks, and smiles grimly. He knows where to find his brother, now; sets off, without looking back.

The Third Laboratory is a tall, grey-bricked building, towering over the surrounding homes. It is an ugly, squat eyesore, and when Al hovers, at the entrance, he thinks he can almost smell the tang of blood. He is almost relieved when a blue-clad military man tells him that Ed is not inside; that he has gone for a walk, to calm himself.

He finds Ed in a small path beside the Laboratory. His brother sits on an ornate bench, all cast-iron spirals and swirls, and he is illuminated by the strong yellow of the street light, behind him. Moths flutter against the glass, and Ed drums the heel of his boots against the pavement. Around him, the wind rustles the bushes, which sway and rustle with a noise like a thousand birds taking off; but they are not enough to disguise Al's footsteps, and Ed looks up as he approaches.

"Hey," Al says softly, drawing to a halt some yards away, and tries not to stare at the red liquid coating Ed's arms, up to the elbow. His sleeves have been rolled back, and he's taken his red coat off; the automail's gullies are filled, and Alphonse can't help but think that it's going to need to be detached in order to be cleaned. "I bought you something to eat, brother."

Ed just blinks at him, and Alphonse takes the seat beside him. "I knew you'd forget to get yourself dinner, no matter what I told you," he lectures gently, keeping his voice low and kind. As he talks he unfolds the tinfoil, revealing the sandwiches; eyes the blood on Ed's hands, and frowns. "Here," he says, and holds the sandwich out. "Take a bite."

"Al," Ed whispers, instead, and the sheer wretchedness of his tone is enough to break Al's heart.

He doesn't say anything, at first. Just pulls his brother into a tight embrace; lets Ed bury his face in his chest, and just holds him as his shoulders shake, as he fights back sobs. And only after a while does he begin to speak; as his hands stroke down the curve of Ed's spine, as Ed's shudders fade into a sort of breathless gasping. He only repeats what they both already know: that Ed needs to keep on trying, needs not to give up, not to give in. That he needs to not dwell on whatever's happened, and face forward in order to move on.

And that Alphonse loves him, and will support him the whole way.

After a while, Ed calms down, at least enough to unclench his hands from Al's jacket. He's left behind two bloody handprints, not really noticeable against the black; but they are sticky, and wet, and damp; uncomfortable against Al's bare skin.

Al holds up the sandwich, instead of commenting. "Here," he says, and smiles—albeit a thin, strained smile. "You must be hungry. Take a bite."

Ed leans back on the bench instead, raising one shining wet flesh hand to brush his hair out of his face. "Nah," he says, softly. "I don't feel like it."

"You have to eat..." Al begins, and trails off when he sees Ed's expression.

"There were fifteen of them, Al," Ed says, into the abrupt silence. "Fifteen. I tried, I really fucking tried, but now, there's only ten left. Five times I drew that motherfucking array. Five times they died on me."

"Brother," Al whispers, shocked, and more than a little appalled at the military. "Wasn't there anybody—?"

"Oh, their fucking shitty 'experts' wanted nothing to do with this. Only wanted to stick two living creatures together and call it a day, not to try to—not to try to separate them..."

Al closes his eyes against an image of his brother, alone, chalking out the array; of scientists in pristine lab coats watching, sketching notes on their clipboards and surveying Ed's expression, as another helpless creature was placed in the centre of the array, over the tops of their glasses. His fist clenches, resting on his knee; he wraps the sandwiches back up, and reaches for the flask of spiked coffee. "Here," he says, not meeting his brother's eyes, and thrusts it into Ed's lap. Ed takes it—has to make a grab for it as it slithers through his fingers—and blinks at him. "It's coffee, with some rum in. I thought you might need it."

"Thanks," Ed says, shortly, and after pulling the cap, proceeds to drink the entire thing dry. Al bites his lip; shifts closer on the bench, and hesitantly reaches out to touch his brother's automail arm, on the sticky wrist joint.

"Brother," he whispers, awkwardly; shifts closer to Ed, pressing their thighs together. "I—I love you, okay? I do. So please, don't do anything..."

Ed leans over and kisses him, softly. His lips are gentle; his tongue shyly brushing the line of Al's mouth, and Al silently moves into the kiss. He nibbles gently at his brother's lower lip, sucks on his tongue, and slides his own over Ed's teeth, feeling the light rasp and exploring the bumps and ridges.

Should anyone walk past at the moment, Al knows there would be no way they would not be noticed. It's a stupid idea, to be doing this in such an exposed, public place; but Edward is drawing back, and the expression on his face and the helpless need in his eyes just makes Alphonse reach out and settle his hands on the back of Ed's neck, draw him close and clumsily kiss him again. His brother tastes like coffee and rum and salt and—something else, something strong and sharp.

"I love you," Al repeats again when they break this kiss, too. He gives Ed a gentle peck on the lips, and smiles; Ed returns it, very slowly, and then squirms forward, climbing into Al's lap. He rests his head on Al's collarbone, and Al presses his cheek against his brother's temple as he slips his arms down from their grip around his brother's neck to cling to his back. "What are you going to do about the chimeras, brother?" he asks, softly, although he regrets the question the instant Ed's body stiffens in his arms.

"I don't know," Ed admits, cautiously. "I don't—I don't want to go back there, but I guess I gotta, hmm?" He gives Al's chest a gentle push with his hands and sits back, absently grabbing a fold of his red coat to wipe his hands on. Alphonse reaches out and grabs his good wrist, holding him in place.

"Brother," he says softly, "You can't do this again. I know you can't."

"So what do you suggest?" Ed asks, flicking his metal hand. Droplets of blood fly from it to splash in an irregular pattern against the light grey concrete of the footpath, and Ed glares at them, jaw set.

"I—I don't know," Al admits, and looks down at his hands, still balanced on his brother's hips. "I think—couldn't you make the experts help you, brother? I know for a fact chimerical separation is possible—it was mentioned in passing by—-"

"Huntingdon's Treatise on Relative Separation," Ed finishes, and frowns. "That was one of the books we looked at when we were still planning to—to bring mom back, wasn't it?"

Al nods, throat abruptly clogged, but does not look away from his brother, who is still avoiding his gaze. "Yeah," he says, and frowns. "Surely the experts can do it, or at least take a reasonable stab at it. Surely they will be able to help those poor people."

"They can't be bothered," Ed informs him flatly, "There's nothing in it for them."

Al frowns, looking down at his lap... and then raises his head, bronze eyes wide and bright. "Yes, brother, there is!" he whispers, enthusiastically, and Ed blinks at him. Lightning fast, one of Al's hands plunges into Ed's pocket, withdrawing the silver watch. "Brother—I remember you saying—you can confiscate their watches if they refuse to help you! Strip them of State funding, like you did with the Brine Alchemist!"

Ed blinks at him, lips parting silently. Al waves the watch at him, stretching it as far as the length of the chain will allow. "Al," he says, slightly stunned, and Al forces a smile on his face, raises a hand to gently touch his brother's cheek.

"Please," he says, "It's worth—a try at least, right? Because, what's the alternative?"

Ed closes his mouth with an almost audible sound, expression grim, and says, "Nothing." He sighs, raising a hand to rub at his face, and wrinkles his nose. "I'll do it tomorrow. I need a break, Al, I can't go back in there today."

Al sweeps him up in a tight embrace again, hands moving up Edward's back, applying gentle pressure to taut muscles, and squeezes his eyes shut. "I know," he says, and smiles sadly, into the sleek softness of Ed's hair. "I'm impressed that you can go back in there at all, brother."

Ed makes a little noise of agreement, shifting under Al's ministrations, and says, "If I don't do it, Al, nobody else will, the lazy bastards."

Al shifts his head; presses a kiss against Ed's ear, and resists the urge to use his teeth to toy with the lobe. "Yeah," he murmurs, and smiles, softly and more than a little sadly. "Just—don't burn yourself out, brother," he whispers, pulling Ed even closer. "Don't make yourself suffer over this. Please."

Ed grunts softly, and just leans over and presses a kiss to Al's forehead. "Give me more credit than that, Al," he objects, lips quirking in a wry smile. "I'm not gonna do anything stupid."

Al lets out a deep breath, nods and summons a smile that seems to pass for genuine; and wishes that he could believe his brother, on this.

you're a manservant

It was Ed who bought the issue up, at dinner a few weeks later. Al had cooked, as per usual; nothing complicated, because his day had been long and tedious, and he'd wanted a simple meal that wouldn't be too much hassle.

Ed's day hadn't been much better—he'd been dealing with paperwork for the last week, since he'd separated the last of the chimeras, a tricky mess of human, serpent, fish and bird. "I don't know what the fucking retard who made her was thinking," he sneers, as he chops the lettuce leaves in the kitchen for the salad. Being with Alphonse has drained away some of the tension in him—and vice versa for Al—but not all, and his shoulders as he works are stiff and tense.

"If they were thinking at all," Al interjects, sourly, and pulls an oven mitt on. Through the open kitchen door, the table waits, already laid by his brother; it isn't hard to transfer the meatloaf onto a waiting platter, then return for the rice just as Ed begins to prepare the dressing.

"Speaking of that," he says, measuring out the vinegar carefully for the olive-oil base, "Did I tell you the military tracked down the officer who ordered the experiments?"

"No," Al replies, liberally spooning butter on top of the rice and then proceeding to mix it up with a serving spoon.

"Well, they did," Ed says, smug. "He's gonna be prosecuted on thirty-four different charges. 's likely he'll never get outta jail—they don't execute officers."

"That's wonderful—isn't it?"

"Yup." Ed flashes him a grin over his shoulder as he spoons a tiny bit of mustard into the dressing, mixes it, and begins applying it. "Not quite as good as—well, you know."

Al pauses, still clutching the spoon, and smiles. His brother, aided by a few choice books out of Al's stock and with the five most knowledgeable experts on chimeras since Tucker died, had managed to successfully separate all but one of the remaining ten chimeras; the deaths of the six, however, had weighed heavily upon his conscious. The victims had been nobodies, homeless children stolen from the streets with nobody to miss them. The military didn't want the grotesque bodies, which explained their reluctance to waste their experts upon them; and so Alphonse and his brother had taken disposing of the bodies into their own hands. There were six tiny graves out back, each marked by a plain headstone. They'd never found out what the kids' names were, and probably wouldn't, now.

On the bright side, Alphonse thinks, the remaining nine had been taken to an hospital not too far from Central HQ, and are shortly due to go to a high quality orphanage on the east side of Central. He knows that Ed visits them, sometimes, before work; doesn't say anything, but when he hands Ed his packed lunch in the morning, sometimes there'll be nine small wrapped gifts.

Because there is no point focusing solely on the bad, on what they 'failed' to do. If his brother dwells on the six gravestones rather than the nine names on the clipboards at the foot of nine hospital beds, then he'll never stop feeling miserable, will never be able to get on with his life.

And Alphonse loves him too much to let him do that to himself.

He loves Ed too much to let him drown, in guilt and angst and 'what-ifs'. Loves him too much to let him succumb to that part of him that hungrily seeks more hurt, more pain; the part of him which believes it has sins to atone for, and only pain and suffering will suffice. The part that will not let Ed be at peace, ever; that will not let him forgive himself.

"Al?" Ed nudges him, gently. "What're you thinking about? You've been staring into space for the last few minutes. If you're not careful, I might do something to you while you're outta it."

Al shakes his head to clear it, and grins. "You never know, brother," he says, "I might like that."

Ed raises his eyebrows. "I'll take you up on that, then," he purrs, and steps out of the kitchen with the salad and dressing in his hands and a wicked smirk on his face. Behind him Alphonse, speechless, stares at the back of his head; and then, blushing, he returns to his task, furiously mashing the rice and attempting to hide the heated flush of his cheeks.

Despite its hasty preparation, the meal is good. Edward wolfs it down, as does Alphonse, and they spear the last piece of chicken with their forks at the same time. Ed bares his teeth at his little brother, and tugs futilely; Alphonse casually leans over and kisses him, an open-mouthed sloppy kiss that fully serves its purpose. By the time they break apart, Edward is panting and the chicken has vanished, reappearing on Al's plate.

"Cheater," Ed grumbles, as Alphonse finishes it off.

"You weren't complaining," Al points out, and his brother folds his arms out in frotn of him, popping his knuckles.

"Heh, nope," he says, teeth very white in his face. "By the way, Al, I was thinking."

Al tilts his head to one side, placing his knife and fork together neatly on his plate. "Brother?"

Ed fidgets restlessly, and makes a few noncommittal noises, before eventually he gathers his courage and hesitantly pieces together what he wants to say. "After last night," he says, picking at the table surface with his metal hand, "And the great b—bl—blowjob you gave me, I was thinking about. You know. Going further."

Al bites his lip. This isn't something they've discussed before, though he knew they probably should; in truth, he isn't quite sure how two men would 'go further'. His childhood biology textbooks had carried clinical descriptions of sex between a man and a woman—he remembers he and his brother lifting the pages to peer at them, in turn, and then dropping it and bolting away as though they'd been burned, cheeks a bright red. He knows that two men can have sex with each other—actual sex, too, with the penis penetrating—

He retreats from the thought with an embarrassed squeak, and realises Ed is still watching him, cautiously. And that makes him think: it can't be... bad, precisely, this sex thing. Because if it was, people wouldn't do it, would they? And if anything, his brother was the one least likely to hurt him, to try his best to make it feel good... what did he have to be afraid of?

"All right," he says, slowly, and Ed's shoulders slump as he releases his breath.

"Good," he replies, and flashes Al a sharp-toothed grin. "I wasn't gonna push you if you weren't ready, but..."

"But I am," Al insists, softly. "So how do we go about this, brother?"

Ed shrugs. "No idea. I need to research it. There's probably a few books on it somewhere, but I’ve tracked down rarer books than they’ll be, right?"

Al hides his smile in his drink. "All right," he says, and then a thought occurs to him. "I heard something about it when I was—still in the armour, brother," he adds, and puts the cup down. "Apparently one of us goes 'on top' and the other on the bottom... also, the one on the bottom is supposed to feel a bit of pain, or something?"

"We'll get 'round that," Ed mutters, pushing his chair in. His cheeks are a brilliant pink.

"If you're sure," Alphonse agrees amiably; and then smirks, wicked and very similar to his older brother. "If we don't, can I go on top?"

Ed... flinches, which catches Alphonse by surprise. "Yeah," he says, and laughs, a fake, hollow noise. "I don't want to hurt you, Al. God knows I've done that enough already."

"Oh, brother, you moron," Alphonse snaps, crossly. "Would you just let go of that damn guilt, already?" He leans over and snatches up his brother's plate, stacking it on top of his own, and continues ranting as he throws their napkins on top and takes the plates into the kitchen. "I'm getting a little bit fed up of tripping over your manic guilt complex—" his words become muffled once he passes through the kitchen door, but they are still discernable—"It's really rather tiresome, brother, and you should know by now that you have nothing to feel guilty about!"

"Of course I do," Ed replies irritably, drumming his fingers against the table top, his biggest sign of his irritation. "Or have you forgotten what I did to you?"

"Oh, don't start that again," Al snarls. "I'm surprised you haven't asked me to beat you bloody with a club or something, since you seem to believe so strongly that you've wronged me so badly that I should be hurting, or something equally as idiotic. Get a grip, brother, you moron. If you're going to be a slave to your angst, do it somewhere else."

"Don't—don't talk to me like that!"

But Edward draws himself up, sucks in a deep breath to launch into a rant, Alphonse cuts him off by slamming one of the glasses down onto the table so hard that it cracks.

"No," he breathes, slowly, and for a while neither brother movies, both glaring each other down. "I am sick of your—of your angsting, brother. When did you turn into this? The brother I knew wouldn't have wallowed in guilt so pointlessly—-"

"Maybe I always have been," Ed whispers, voice eerily calm. "Maybe you just never noticed."

Al scowls, thin bronze eyebrows drawing together. "No, that's not it," he says, drawing back. "That can't be it. The brother I knew wasn't a slave of a guilt complex so huge that it could engulf a large city."

Ed tilts his head to one side, allowing an unnerving, knowing smile to creep onto his face, and Alphonse takes a step away. "Brother," he murmurs. "Stop doing this to yourself. Please."

"I'm not doing anything," Ed replies, leaning back in his chair. "I'm just... being the way I have been. For a long time."

"NO!" The denial had been torn out of Al's throat unwillingly, but he will not take it back. "No, that's not the way you are! Stop pretending, you moron!"

"Al," Ed says curtly, his own eyes narrowing, "Would you stop trying to tell me what my personality's like? It's becoming really annoying, so knock it off."

"Hell no," Al mouths, and at his sides, his fists itch, longing to punch Ed, longing to strike sense into his idiot brother. "Not until you stop doing this to yourself, you—you—you—where are you going?"

Ed merely sticks his arm into the other sleeve of the red coat, and then stamps his boots on before spitting, "Out for a walk. Before I say something I'm gonna regret."

"Brother!" Furious, Al makes a grab for the coat; Ed twitches the fabric out of his hand and stalks out of the room, onto the landing above the stairs. "Come back here!" Alphonse hisses, but Ed takes the stairs two at a time, and then vanishes around the corner at the bottom, towards the shop floor. Alphonse scrabbles after him, with more haste than dignity. "Ed! ED!"

The door slams shut behind his brother, and somehow Al knows there'll be no use in waiting up for him. Seething with anger, he stomps back up the stairs, grumbling the entire way. Stupid idiot moron foolish brother, to walk out on him! But then, Ed was being so damn bone-headed, so determined to serve his guilt complex that it'd been making Al nauseous for a while—and he knew that if this was going to work out for any amount of time, he needed to not be pissed at said guilt complex

"Stupid," he mutters, "I hope something happens to you."

But he doesn't, not really, and he knows it. Because how could he ever wish harm on Ed, knowing him as well as he does, loving him as much as he does? It is impossible, Alphonse decides, stomping into their bedroom.

Try as he might, sleep eludes him that night; an image of his brother—on his knees in a pool of blood, leg wrapped in his shirt, hand clutching the ruined line of his shoulder—intrudes upon his thoughts. And by dawn, he's reached a decision, and knows it to be the best available.

Damn Edward for an idiot; but he's an idiot Al loves, at any rate.

after a fight

Edward comes in to work the next day in yesterday's clothing, rumpled though it is, having stayed the night at Gracia's home. She had been kind enough not to quiz him about his argument with his brother, much to his relief; and no-one out of Mustang's staff is insane enough to do so either, which is a relief, considering his workload for the day does not look like fun. He is met by the sight of two towering stacks of paper, balanced precariously on his desk; Breda informs him that there had been a minor avalanche shortly before he arrived, with Havoc accidentally brushing one of the mammoth stacks on his way to his own desk. Cautiously, Ed takes his seat, and catches sight of Hawkeye's unimpressed face beyond the gargantuan contents of his IN tray. He has a feeling that bad things will happen to him should he not have finished by the end of the day, and gulps, nervously.

The day is very slow. By lunch time the other officers have run out of things to do; Breda and Havoc discuss the strange behaviour of Havoc's new girlfriend in hushed voices' Farman does a crossword puzzle; Fury is in the process of reassembling a household radio; Hawkeye is teaching Black Hayate how to respond to orders in sign language; Mustang is answering his considerably large amount of fan-mail; and Edward has managed to get through three-quarters of one of the towering stacks. By the time the other officers file out for their lunch breaks, discussing a cafe which has just opened in the next street—Hawkeye simply informing Edward that, since he would of course be working through this, she'll buy him a sandwich—Edward is just starting on the second one.

He only dares move to stretch his legs when he is quite sure that Hawkeye has gone, gathering a few documents he needs copied, on the alchemist who created the chimeras and the officer who authorised the transmutation, for the sake of the military brass. He takes a moment, when he shuts the office door behind him; makes sure he has everything required, and then sets off down the narrow, starkly-decorated corridors of Central HQ. Military precision; plain, but efficient.

Not tuna, he thinks, as he walks. You can't have a tuna sandwich without mayonnaise. And mayonnaise is disgusting—looks like milk, ugh. Gross.

He is aware that he is distracting himself, using his work—he's never normally this efficient—to avoid thinking about Alphonse. Because he came to a decision, tucked up on the sofa of Gracia's living room, unable to sleep, hearing echoes of Al's words inside his head. He had decided that Al had a point—that, although Ed will never stop feeling guilty, over what he did; will never forget the armour and what he did to Alphonse—he can try to—let it go. Release it, a little. Al is right when he says that it's not like him, to enjoy—what was the word he used? Ah, yes—wallowing in his guilt. Like he's trying to make a martyr of himself.

He shifts the papers under his arm into a better position, to ensure that he does not drop them accidentally, and rounds a corner. He's going to have to make up to Al, he decides; not with flowers or chocolate, because that's just pitiful, and besides. Al's not a girl, surely he won't appreciate such sappy sentiments. No; he'll stop off at an animal shelter, on the way home, and see what kittens they have. Something neither long-haired nor short, he thinks, and gold or orange in colour.

Feeling immensely pleased with himself, he quickens the pace. Yeah, that'll do—it's perfect. Al won't be able to stay mad at him with a new kitten in his arms, and if Al's not mad at him, it'll be easier to make his apologies. Besides, it'll be—

Someone collides into him with a dull noise, and the papers spill out of his hands. Edward hits the wall with a thump; rubs the back of his head irritably and bares his teeth to demand the other explain what, exactly, they thought they were doing; when a pair of hands land on his shoulders, pinning him against the wall. Edward drops his hands, and fights back a gulp.

Honey-dark blond hair. Bronze eyes, still looking pissed.


"Al," he says, and clears his throat, reaching up with his good hand to grip Al's wrist gently. "What're you doing here?"

Al's eyes narrow, and then he grins, sharp teeth very white, and swoops in to kiss him. Their mouths meet with a soft sound, and Edward eagerly parts his lips under this most welcome invader. Al's tongue is hot, slick and inquisitive; he slides his metal arm up, over Al's hip, curving around his little brother's back and pulling him closer as he sucks on his little brother's tongue. He releases Al's wrist; pitches his arm over his brother's shoulder to bury his hands in soft, beautiful hair, and sharpens his teeth—gently, fearful of hurting—on Al's lower lip.

Al breaks the kiss first, and Edward doesn't release how exhaustive it was until he realises that they are both breathing heavily. There is spit on his chin, and Alphonse is heavy and warm in his hands; his papers are still strewn over the floor, and the wall is hard against his back. The hallway is open, and lunch break should be ending soon; they are in so much danger of discovery—

—and he shrugs, and tugs Alphonse back for another kiss, this time less messy, more heat and tongue—ah, god, Alphonse has a wonderful tongue, and he knows how to use it. The hands on his shoulders let up—Al grabs him by the blue lapels of his uniform coat, pulling him closer, and when they part, doesn't back away. He just puts his head on Ed's shoulder, eyes fluttering half-closed, and says, "I'm sorry, brother."

"Yeah, well." Ed rolls his shoulder, the one not currently being used as a pillow by his younger brother. "Well." Alphonse's eyes flicker towards his face, and he sighs. "I'm sorry too, okay? You had a point. Moron."

His brother's mouth twitches in a smile, and Al leans up, kisses his cheek. "I'm glad," he says, his eyes wide and honest, "That you're not mad with me."

Ed looks away, but that doesn't hide the flush in his cheeks. "Al," he tries, and is cut off when Al kisses him again, tongue dipping inside his mouth to lightly trace a highly unorthodox array on the top of his tongue. This is another messy kiss; when Al breaks it off, he licks up the saliva, and with a grin says, "Should we be doing this out here, brother?"

Ed blinks, and then looks around the empty hallway. "No," he says, and takes hold of Al's hand, beginning to drag him along like a small child. "Come on—I know somewhere—"

"But—what about your papers, brother?" Al attempts to dig his heels into the floor tiles, but unsurprisingly fails, and nearly falls over his own feet.

"Fuck 'em," Ed says, with a grin. Al makes a small sound of disapproval—such a terribly irresponsible way to behave—but follows him around a corner, though several hallways, up a flight of stairs, around a corner, down a flight of stairs—until—

"Here we go," says Ed cheerfully, pulling a cord. The light bulb flickers and then steadies, and Alphonse raises an eyebrow as it illuminates a perfectly normal broom cupboard.

"This'll do," he decides; kicks the door shut behind him and jams a pale aluminium mop into the door handle to serve in place of a lock, before he grips his brother's jacket again and gives him a good hard push. Ed stumbles, takes a step back, manages to manoeuvre around a bucket, and ends up pressed against the wall while his younger brother licks and nibbles at his throat.

"Woah—Al, careful—ooooh, that's good—this thing is right behind Mustang's office and—whew—I'm not sure how thick the wall is—-"

"Thick enough," Al says, between licks and bites. He yanks the front of the blue jacket open, and pulls Ed's black undershirt out from his belt; slips his hands inside, roaming up past smooth, warm skin, closer to his brother's nipples. Ed manages to keep from crying out—bangs his head against the wall as Alphonse pinches, still not removing his mouth from his older brother's throat.

"Al," Ed manages, golden eyes mere slits; Al just grins, and kisses him again. He rolls Edward's left nipple under his fingers; drags his thumbnail across the hardened bump, and Edward gasps and makes a grab for his shoulders, seeking support.

When Al releases both his mouth and his nipple, Ed feels the loss acutely; he grits his teeth, gropes for his brother again, and snarls, "Al, get back here."

"No," Alphonse whispers, bronze eyes aglow, and presses his hands flat against Ed's stomach, against the smooth skin. "You're so thin, brother," he whispers, head dipped downwards, and it takes Ed a moment to release that Al is sinking, going down on his knees. For a moment his mind blanks out; and then he realises why just as, through the wall, he hears the door of Mustang's office click open.

"Oh, jeez Al, no," he whispers, and is met with a smile that can only be described as 'sultry'. It is an odd expression, all the stranger on his little brother's innocent face, and he forgets to protest as the distant voices flare up in discussion, as Alphonse casually undoes his belt and drops it, almost daintily, to the floor behind him.

"—Edward go?" asks Hawkeye from the next room, loudly, and Edward stuffs as much of his metal hand into his mouth as he can. Alphonse, on the other hand, unzips Ed's fly and pushes both the uniform trousers and his older brother's pants down; the fabric pools around his knees, and Edward blushes at the raw appreciation on Al's face as he looks at his older brother's bared genitals. If he wasn't already hard from the nipple play, Ed thinks sourly, he'd be hard from that expression.

"What?" he mumbles after a little while, "You've seen it before, Al—hurry up, before she tries to use Hayate to track me down..."

Alphonse licks his lips. "Okay, okay," he says, in a low voice, and leans forward, gripping Ed's hips firmly. For a moment he just—waits, and Ed screws his eyes shut as behind him, Havoc replies, "No idea, but he didn't leave a note."

"A—aaah!" It starts off as a demand, but trails off somewhat when Alphonse simply licks him, one long swipe up the underside of his cock, from base to tip. Ed's breath comes a little faster; Alphonse swirls his tongue in a slow spiral around the crown, trailing in towards the slit; leisurely, like it's an ice cream and not his only living relative's erection before him, and with just as much enjoyment in his expression. "Mmm—ah—ohgod!"

"—we look for him?" Fury offers.

Alphonse trails one of his hands from Ed's hip; drags it through skin dappled with a layer of sweat to wrap it around the base of his brother's cock, as he wraps his lips around the head. He shoots his older brother proud glances as he does so, pleased to be able to do this to Ed, to make him moan like this.

"Oh, god," Ed whispers, winding the fingers of his good hand into Al's hair, soft and fine and beautiful; his voice is barely audible, the automail now clamped firmly in front of his mouth rather than inside. Al lets go of Ed's cock with his hand, though he keeps his mouth where it is; gently traces dark golden curls with one finger, even as he fights back his gag reflex to fit more of his brother's erection into his mouth, careful not to bite. Ed's doing very well for a normally extremely vocal lover, and Al's in no hurry to push him.

"—worry about it, Fullmetal will come back—his own," Mustang says, and there's that horrible scrape of his chair against the floorboards as he sits down. Alphonse starts, and the hand in his hair clenches; Edward hisses softly from between gritted teeth. Al hastens to quickly run soothing hands over his brother's thighs, but the distraction prevents him from taking more of his brother, and he has to let go, feel the warm thickness sliding out of his throat with a twinge of regret.

He licks at his brother's cock, cleaning up the excess saliva; and then ducks his head underneath, passing his tongue briefly over his brother's balls. "Bear with me," he whispers, hand closing around Ed's length again; a quick check confirms that Ed's eyes are unfocused, lips parted. He's close to the edge, Al decides, and begins to pump, gently, with his fist before bowing his head to suck, again.

This seems to do it—heat and warmth and pressure and suction, all at once. Ed comes without a sound—and without warning for Alphonse, who backs off with a muffled gasp to avoid choking—before sliding, bonelessly, down the wall.

"I suppose he is an adult now," Hawkeye says, clearly unimpressed. Alphonse swipes his tongue over his chin, cleaning away the semen there; runs his tongue over his brother's gradually-softening cock, to clean up the remaining come, too.

"God," Ed whispers, dazed. "You give good blowjobs." He holds out his arms; Al climbs into his lap, straddling his thighs. He's taller than Ed by a long shot, like this; but Ed doesn't seem to care, just reaches up and gently touches Al's cheek. "Thanks," he says, and grins. "Do I still have to buy you the cat now?"

"Mmm, n—wait, what?" Alphonse's attention is focused on his brother, who winces and sighs.

"I was gonna stop off at the shelter, you know, the one along Battersea Lane, and pick up a kitten for you after work," he grumbles, not meeting Al's eyes. When he does look up, Alphonse looks exactly like he'd thought his younger brother would; star-struck, eyes lit with an avaricious gleam.

"Really?" He bounces slightly, on Ed's thighs. "Can we still get one, brother? Can we? Please?"

Ed lazily flaps a hand. "Fine, fine," he says with a sigh. "You can take care of it, though."

"I can do that—I already take care of Greebo." Al scrabbles to his feet, offering his brother a hand up. "Can we go now?"

Edward tugs his boxers up, and then his trousers, re-zipping the fly. "No," he hisses, softly but urgently. "I have work I need to do—-"

"—I'll help," Al says, and smiles. "It's only signing things. It's easy."

Ed pauses, eyes him, but smiles. "Fine," he says, straightening his jacket; reaches out and removes the mop from the handle. "Come on, then." He pulls the light bulb cord after they leave, and shuts the door behind them; besides him, Al is practically vibrating with eagerness.

"Say, brother," he says, as they make their way back to the corridor in which Ed had dropped his papers, "Does this mean I get a kitten every time I give you a blowjob?"

Ed casts him a sidelong look, and meets only pure sweetness and innocence. He huffs out a breath, wraps an arm around his little brother's shoulders, and says with a grin, "Don't count on it."