It was the same this year as it had been the last two, the way my brother moved to the corner of the house, kneeling before the tree dotted with small glistening bulbs, the way he would lay the small gift wrapped in cheap paper down beneath one low hanging branch. There would always be this silence in the air, stifling, thick, foggy and almost opaque, and I would watch from the mouth of the hallway, hands in front of me, our kitten, Unsere, threading through my legs. I would feel my heart skip a beat, feel it crawl into my throat as the candle light ignited his hair, made him a rainbow, made him...perfect. Or maybe just more perfect.
Last year, I asked him what it was that he was doing, why there was no tag on this Christmas gift, who was it for. My first, only thought had been for Noa, who was living on her own but still came by to visit when the weather was permittable. After all, his presents to me were always grouped in a far corner of the bedroom, somewhere I couldn't reach because he knew I would shake them until I deciphered each and every one.
Old habits die hard, I guess.
And his eyes, twin stars that should have been up on the tree, looked at me from where he was kneeling around the skirt of the tree. "They're for the people at home."
Funny, how long we had been living here in Germany, we both still thought of Amestris as home, the only try place for us to be even though we gave up that dream eons ago. One time, he told me that 'Home was where the heart is, and my heart's with you, Al', but I could still spot him staring off into the distance on warm midnights, looking out beyond the fabric of this world. I sat down beside him, crossing my legs and pulling Unsere into my lap, stroking his furry little calico ears. "What do you mean, Brother?"
There was a smile over his lips, something soft and human, just a boy that missed his home, just a boy who could be who he truly was around the only person who understood him. "There was this wrench in the store, you know that one on the corner?" He waited for my nod to continue. "It screamed Winry. And there was a protractor, real nice, real steady, that I picked up for Alphons. I picked up a book for the old man, and pair of normal gloves for that asshole Colonel—"
"He's not a colonel anymore."
"Whatever the hell he is." There was a wave of his artificial hand, before he smiled again, sadly. "And a picture frame for Hughes so he won't bend the pictures at the edges when he shoves them down everyone's throat."
I looked back to the box, that single box that held so many things. I didn't complain that although our money was tight, too tight, here were these gifts for people we would never see again. I didn't complain when I woke up the next morning, finding it gone with the ashes and twisted remains like skeletons in our fireplace, burned for hours and left to cool. I didn't complain when Brother looked at me from the floor, his hair loose over his back because his arm was having a bad day, and his lips puffing out little breaths because he had left the window open in hopes of masking the scent of fire.
"Merry Christmas, Al," he whispered, marking the new tradition, making it a habit.
We kissed under the lights, our foreheads pressing together afterwards to stare into each other's eyes. The scent of coffee was drifting through the little room, battling with pine needles and lonely dreams.
"Merry Christmas, Brother." Another kiss, a softened smile, and the warmth of our bodies was the only gift that we needed that day.
Ask and ye shall receive.