There's a lingering fear in the back of Alphonse Elric's mind that someday he and his brother will snap and take things too far. He's not sure what too far is, but he knows that they'll know in the minute they've done it, the second it's happened. It's Ed who will do it, most likely, because his brother is wild and vibrant and slightly deranged sometimes, but it will be his fault for causing it. Because Ed's only doing this for Al's sake, and Al knows in his heart that he couldn't make it without him.
How far is too far not far enough?
Al doesn't know, but he has the nasty feeling he's going to find out.
He wonders about it sometimes at night, when the lights are out and he's close to what passes for sleep. Worries about it while his brother just lies there, passed out somewhere convenient with that automail arm lying across his chest. Would he have given up his limbs for Ed, Al wonders? Could he have made that same choice if their positions had been reversed? He likes to think he'd say yes, but the thought itself terrifies him. Ed gave his arm for him, what else would he trade? His body? His soul? He's seen what Ed's like, when the cards are laid down and their lives are on the line, and he knows his brother would do just about anything to keep him alive. Maybe there's something about that first sacrifice that makes you that way, gets you invested. Maybe that's just the way his brother is. Either way, it worries him. Someday Ed is going to get in over his head and go too far, and when that happens...Al doesn't know if he'll have the strength to stop him.
That's why Al doesn't say anything, at least not at first, when the morning sun starts glinting off more than the puddles. It rained some last night, shortly after Martel left, and Al has been waiting ever since to see when his brother would show up. Not if. When. Because Al is perceptive where it counts, and he knows what it meant that Martel left him last night...as he knows what has caused the slump in his brother's shoulders.
It isn't just machine oil staining Ed's automail.
"Brother..." he breathes, though the greeting is meaningless; Ed doesn't look like he's listening anyways. His brother's eyes are a dull, brassy color, and his strange, halting gait tells Al immediately that his hunch was correct. There are times when it looks like Ed's automail doesn't fit with his body quite right, like it's not quite capable of keeping up with his movements. Only Al knows the truth, because he's spent so much time at the Rockbell's—because Winry's automail is perfect and moves without failing, and it's Ed who can't follow its confident strides.
"Hey," Ed says quietly, and even his voice is subdued, sounds hollow as Al's. He draws close and they examine each other carefully, taking in all the cuts and bruises (and dings and dents) they're both covered in.
"You okay?" "I'm fine."
They say it in unison and pause when they realize it. Al laughs at their timing, more out of habit than anything else. He's learned to laugh a lot, to make up for his lack of facial expressions, but even Ed cracks a smirk at the harsh, tinny sound. His eyes have lost that vacant look, and Al releases the breath that he was mentally holding. Maybe, thankfully, it isn't that bad.
Ed doesn't say anything. Instead, he reaches forward and runs the tips of his fingers—his real fingers, not the automail ones—over Al's sturdy chest, eyes strictly business. He checks the whole armor for wear, tear, and damage, and Al keeps quiet and turns when necessary. It is a ritual between them, after they've spent time apart, and Al knows better than to ask any questions right now.
"Dante is dead."
The words startle them both with their suddenness, and Al isn't sure how he's supposed to react.
"S-she was already gone when I got there," his brother continues, still running his hand over the side of Al's arm plates. "And Greed..."
Ed's voice falters and fades into nothing, and Al's voice follows suit, refuses to work.
And his brother is looking up at him now, his examination paused over the center of Al's breastplate—Ed's hand hovering over the exact place Al's heart would be, if he still had one. Ed's eyes are two slivers of bronze, and Al can practically see the wheels turning behind them, as if weighing two options. They have been here before, and he can only wait and hold his non-existent breath and see what Ed tells him. Sometimes, he prays that the hand will come down and Ed will tell him gently they are done, they are going to quit, end the nightmare before it worsens. That at least, though they've failed, they haven't lost everything. But they always get here, and the hand never falls.
"C'mon," His brother reaches up and raps him once on the helmet. "We have to get going."
"C'mon!" Ed growls, and the light in his eyes is determined again, almost rabid. He turns on his heel and lopes forward, not once looking back. The proud, desperate march of the damned, driving forward.
After a second, Al follows. Only the question remains, unspoken between them—
How far is too far?
Not far enough.