It had begun as an accident.

Started on one of the now-frequent mornings that he woke sweat-slicked and shivering, skin feverish and body tense with an ache that had become nearly habitual.

And as he lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to ignore the way that his brother whimpered beside him, caught in the throes of some awful dream—Al didn't dare reach out to comfort him, not now, not when touch always made the feeling so much worse—his mind offered a vague suggestion.

Maybe, it said, cold water would help.

So the boy disentangled himself carefully from the rumpled sheets, eyes lingering perhaps a bit too long on the picture that Edward painted, sprawled out over the bed, nightshirt up to expose the skin of his abdomen. And then Alphonse picked his way to the bathroom—because even if the ache didn't leave him, at very least perhaps a shower would help him to cool down.

The boy ran the water a bit colder than usual, stepped into the spray and let his eyes fall closed under the pressure of the droplets on his back.

With gratitude, he realized that it seemed to be working. Perhaps not as well as he'd hoped, but the agitated, too-hot sensation was beginning to subside, and that was enough, as far as he was concerned.

And so the boy decided to make it a proper shower, as long as he was there—reached for the soap and a cloth, rubbing them together until the dark green of the fabric turned frothy and white. Ran it over his arms, rubbing briskly, up and down his sides.

It wasn't until Alphonse reached his chest that he realized the contact seemed to be negating the effects of the water. But by then the fabric had caught the edge of a nipple and made his breath stick in his throat.

For the space of several seconds, Al wondered whether he should stop.

And then he repeated the motion, more firmly than the first time.

Legs suddenly shaky, the boy leaned hard up against the wall, breath coming in quick, startled gasps. Again, his mind insisted quietly—and he complied, rubbing the cloth against the sensitive nub in a circular motion, the sound he made drowned under the rush of water.

Sitting down might be a good idea, Al registered distantly—because with alarming speed, he was beginning to suspect that his legs might not hold him much longer. And so the boy let himself slide to the slick white surface of the shower bottom, reduced to a jumble of nerves and a series of sharp, open-mouthed pants.

He couldn't seem to stop the motion of his hand, the slow, firm pressure that had the rough cloth scraping back and forth over sensitive skin—couldn't keep the other still when he realized foggily that if touching one was good, two must be better.

And so he moaned shakily as fingers slick with soap searched out the neglected nipple, skated over the surface almost experimentally. The boy lifted his hips against empty air when it connected, feeling the tightness in his groin grow to an unbearable pitch—whimpered helplessly against the fire that burned in his body, setting every inch of him alight.

It was the hand still clutching numbly to the cloth that began the downward creep, more instinctual than by any conscious decision. The fabric on his skin, wet and coarse, had him squirming by the time he reached his stomach, needing with a desperation that bordered on insanity.

And then it dipped just that little bit lower, and he was mewling with the feel of it, bucking up in search of more—more, because he had never even imagined that pleasure could come like this, sharp and raw and so very, very good.

Alphonse couldn't seem to find a rhythm, couldn't make anything about this astonishing sensation seem regular—but that was alright, because even the quick, frenetic motions, nothing more complicated than a desperate rubbing, were enough to steal the breath from him. A moan fell from his lips, heated and wanting, utterly uncontrolled, and the part of his mind still capable of thought suggested, very faintly, that the only way this could be better were if it was his brother's hand moving against him, his brother's fingers slick with the soap that still covered the cloth.

He hadn't even been aware that he was teetering on an edge, but he toppled over it with astounding force, voice rising in a strangled cry that was swallowed below the pounding of water on tile.

It was several long minutes later that he picked himself up off the floor, legs wobbly and uncertain, skin still flushed with the glow of residual pleasure. And when at last he twisted the handle of the faucet to off and gathered up a towel, tucking it around his waist so that he could venture back into the bedroom and procure some clothes, Alphonse opened the door to a sight that was not at all what he expected.

His brother, hand halfway to the doorknob, expression one of stunned disbelief and cheeks just beginning to stain crimson.

Later, Al wouldn't know how he'd managed to get out a coherent apology. Wouldn't be able to imagine how anything had formed beneath the idea that came rushing in at the sight of Edward, lips half-parted, golden eyes wide and staring.

Because Alphonse's mind insisted, very quietly, that if his brother had only arrived a few moments earlier, they might have gotten a chance to recreate a few of the scenes from his dreams.

It was a thought that plagued him for the rest of the day.