It was raining again, in East City.
No, correction. It always rained in East City. Every time they had visited, for the last two years it seemed, there had been rain clouds racing right ahead of them, so that by the time the train pulled in on the Nineteenth Platform there was already a downpour. No matter how beautiful the city might look on the horizon (all those twinkling lights, and the slow spiral of smoke from the factories), the rain was bound to show up by the time they got there and ruin everything with a thick curtain of gray.
Alphonse wondered irrationally if his brother had planned it this way.
"Oh man..." Edward snarled, bristling like an affronted tabby. He had them holed up on the platform, beneath the meager protection of a smoke vendor's awning. "That's it, I'll see the Colonel tomorrow, ain't no WAY I'm going to walk through this to see that moron—"
"I brought an umbrella." Alphonse offered helpfully, temporarily disconnecting his right gauntlet to pull it out of his forearm. His brother scowled.
"No, you should keep it. You need it more-"
"I brought two." Alphonse retorted, and tugged his knee joint apart enough so he could pull it out of his lower leg. A passing straggler looked at him curiously and he waved, trying to act as absolutely normal as possible. The one good thing about people was that most of them could overlook anything as long as nobody panicked. Rather than live in a world in which someone really could open up their entire body, they would convince themselves he was adjusting his "costume". There was a leg in there, they just hadn't seen it.
And having an older brother who exacted vengeance for such dubious offenses as "walking suspiciously" and "eyeballing" helped. Unfortunately.
"Hey! What do you think you're lookin' at?" Edward was shouting at a curious grandmother. "You never see a guy in armor, before?"
Probably not. Alphonse thought, but let it slide. His brother was like any other violent storm—he would rage for a while then peter out on his own, as long as he didn't run into any new material to fuel the tempesto.
"Office, brother!" He reminded gently, and prodded his brother in the side with the tip of Ed's umbrella.
"Hey!" Edward squeaked, and snatched the offending object before he realized what he was doing. "Wait—oh, come on Al, have a heart, we just got here..."
Alphonse pressed the release button on his own umbrella
—over his head, just in case somebody might be walking by—and watched the black material inflate into a three foot wide saucer. He thought about hooking the handle into the space between his helmet and back plate, but that was probably pushing it. Normal people held umbrellas by the umbrella handle, because that's what they were taught the bottom hook was for. They never seemed to bother coming up with anything different. He sighed and wrapped his clumsy fingers around the shaft instead, and positioned it carefully until the world above him was entirely dark. Edward would check him a million times an hour anyways, but this was a pretty good way of making sure he was protected.
He stepped out into the rain and watched in amazement as the outer edges of his armor instantly turned shiny darker gray. It really must be pouring out.
Edward made a displeased noise but predictably followed, barely getting his umbrella open before leaping out to protect his brother from the rain.
"Why don't we stop by the dorm first? The shit Colonel won't care if I'm a little late."
"If we do that, you'll never get going again." Alphonse pointed out gently. "Brother, I know you. Come on, let's just get it over with."
Edward kept glancing worriedly at his shoulders, as if by sheer force of will he could keep the raindrops off of them. Alphonse just started walking, trusting that his sibling would have to follow suit. The best thing about his brother's smothering was that at least it made him predictable.
A little rain never hurt anybody. he remembered their mother (or was it their neighbor?) used to say. It's not like you're going to melt.
Unfortunately, Alphonse noted wryly, these days he just might.
It was blowing even harder by the time Edward got out of his meeting, which only reinforced Alphonse's notion that somehow the weather was secretly empathizing by his brother's emotional state. Edward was red-faced and pin wheeling, and unlikely to stop anytime soon.
"And he knew ALL about the boulder, even though I hadn't had a chance to get to that part, and he wasn't even impressed that I fixed up the hotel, and you know I did it blind and those guys were really happy I got them out -"
"Brother, you caused the landslide in the first place!" Alphonse sighed. "It doesn't count if you rescue somebody from something you did."
"HEY!" The wind gusted harder in sympathy. Alphonse's umbrella jagged sideways and inverted itself, and Edward yelped as if wounded.
"Oh shit!" His brother hissed and tried to climb Alphonse like a tree. "Here Al, gimme that!"
"Brother! Get down, I've got it!" Alphonse replied, and pressed his index finger to the tiny array etched beneath the release lever. There was a flash of reaction and the umbrella rearranged itself neatly into its original state.
"See?" He said proudly. "Got it all under control."
His brother was staring at him with a strange look upon his face.
"W-what?" Oh god, am I wet?
"...your umbrella is BIGGER than mine." Edward noted sulkily.
Alphonse merely stared. He looked at his shoulder-spanning umbrella. He looked at his shoulders. He looked at Ed's.
He looked at Ed's defiant stare.
"You know, brother, sometimes I swear you do this on purpose."
They were still arguing about it when they rolled up to the dormitory, and Alphonse was glad it was also still raining cats and dogs. Otherwise, he might be tempted to take the offending "skimpy umbrella" inside, and leave his brother locked out.
"All I'm saying is, if I had one like yours—"
"Brother, watch the papers!" Alphonse yelped, as Edward nearly avoided dropping his files into a small puddle of water by the door.
Funny. There hadn't been one of those there when they'd left.
"Oh jeez, Al, your legs are leaking!" His brother exclaimed.
"...so they are." Alphonse noted faintly. When had that happened? He lifted one foot carefully and tried to inspect it, but unfortunately his chest plate was too large to see over. He straightened his leg out further, and watched as a tiny rivulet of water seeped out from the back of his ankle. Oh. Probably splash damage.
Edward made a strangled sound and dove toward his cot.
"Okay Al, just don't move! We gotta get you cleaned up."
"Brother!" Alphonse protested as his sibling raked the sheets off his bed. "C'mon, get a towel...you have to sleep on those!"
"Still wet from this morning." Edward grumbled and knelt beneath his brother. "Here, give me your foot."
Alphonse obeyed, and nearly took his brother's jaw off in the process.
"Sorry!" He cringed, wishing he could feel it if he kicked himself. It was hard to tell where he was putting his body parts, sometimes.
"HEY! Watch it what you're doing with that thing!" Edward shrieked, and pirouetted his arms backwards in his usual indignant fashion. Unfortunately, he caught his automail in the sheets and twisted off balance
—and tipped to one side and flailed himself right into the floor.
Alphonse couldn't help it. He started to laugh.
Edward struggled to pull the rumpled material out of his arm joints, and gave his brother an extremely black look.
"I'm sorry brother, it's just—oh, I give up!" Alphonse giggled, and Edward rolled his eyes.
"I fucking hate the rain." He said, and stuck his tongue out at the window.
Cleaning proceeded then, as cleaning was wont to do; it was a tedious process that involved far too much bending at odd angles and Edward cursing at his limited reach. Alphonse was also not allowed to say anything that impugned said limited reach, so as always he was unable to offer any suggestions to speed the routine up.
"Do you want me to take my knee apart?" He asked his midsection gently. "That might be easier..."
"No!" Edward's muffled voice hollered back. "I just about got it—FUCK!"
Alphonse's right thigh jerked, quite of it's own accord, and it was all he could do not to kick it back immediately into its former position. Edward's automail banged noisily somewhere near the middle of his hip.
"Do you want me to get you a stick or something?!" Al finally called into his open chest plate.
His brother extracted himself immediately, visibly affronted.
"Who are you saying is too short to work on his younger brother without using a ten-foot pole?!" He snarled, but his heart wasn't quite in it. His bangs were plastered messily against his forehead from the condensation, and he looked decidedly woozy from being bent upside for so long.
Alphonse caught his automail at the elbow before he could crawl back in.
"It's alright, brother, I think you got the worst of it."
"'s not done yet." Edward protested, swaying back and forth. It was fascinating to see how the blood ran out of his brother's face, turning him back into an elegant porcelain color. Did his face use to do that, too? All Alphonse can picture now is the streams of condensation, dribbling down the sides of his chest cavity.
"Why don't you sit down for a minute?" Alphonse asked, and steered his brother toward his cot. This was the only way of suggesting that Edward take a nap; he was horribly offended by the insinuation that he needed them.
"'m not tired." Edward protested faintly, but he didn't fight back when Al nudged him up against the mattress. That was slightly worrisome. How long had it been, then, since his brother had slept? Alphonse was sure he could remember his brother dozing on the train, but that was probably not very good sleep. Before that...at least two days, perhaps. So much had been happening that neither of them had had the time to turn around.
Edward collapsed onto the bed and again, he wanted to kick himself. His brother must be exhausted, but he'd prodded him into going into in HQ first. And fooling with his armor. If he could only remember these stupid things—or if Ed would just TELL him!—he wouldn't have to feel bad...
He wanted to ask, but decided he knew better than that. Sleep, like so many other things, was still very much taboo.
Edward snuggled into the covers, looking like he was doing his damndest not to start purring. Alphonse watched, fascinated, as his brother buried his flesh fingers into the sheets.
His eyes snapped open.
"Al...this is your bed!" He breathed, looking most distressed.
"You used your sheets to dry me off." Alphonse pointed out. "You'll catch cold if you don't sleep with something."
"No, it's cool!" Edward struggled to sit up. "I can't take your BED, what kind of big brother am I?! Sheesh..." He fixed Al with one of his particularly heart-breaking grins, and Alphonse put his foot down.
"Brother, I don't need it. I never sleep."
Edward froze, and for a very long time there was nothing but the sound of his labored breathing.
"...right." He whispered finally, and sunk back down into the covers. He stared at his brother, but wouldn't quite meet (what passed for) his eyes.
Alphonse began detaching his leg, and silently promised to bludgeon himself with it GOOD once he finished wiping it out.
"Brother, it's okay." He said quietly, fishing Edward's bed sheets out of the hole where his knee used to be. "I swear."
No response. Edward's back was facing him, the surest sign that his brother was deep in self-loathing. Alphonse wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel about it. He was torn between hating himself for always hurting his brother so unintentionally, and between wanting to grab Edward and just shake him until he stopped being ridiculous.
"Do you remember that song Mom used to sing to us?" He asked instead, concentrating on the tiny kinks of the inside of his detached leg. "The one about the ship and the shining stars?"
Edward shifted only slightly.
"I'm trying to remember it." Alphonse tried again. "I think it went something like 'sweet and low...sweet and low'...'silver sails out of the west'..."
"'Wind of the western sea'." Edward said suddenly.
"You're doing it wrong." His sibling insisted. "It's 'wind of the western sea' next."
"Oh." Alphonse said, though secretly he was thrilled. He honestly didn't remember these things so well, anymore. Edward remembered though.
Edward always remembered for him.
"'Low, low...breathe and blow...'" He continued, heartened by how the words were coming back to him. "'Wind of the western sea...'"
Edward made a quiet noise, and rolled over on his back.
"'Over the rolling waters go...come from the dying moon and blow...'" Alphonse hummed happily. "'Blow Him again to me...while my little ones...while my pretty ones sleep...'"
"That's enough, Al." His brother interrupted, a curious look on his face.
"I don't really like that one." Edward said simply.
"But you always—"
"That's enough, okay? Stupid song 's for kids." His brother snorted, and closed his eyes.
We ARE kids. Alphonse thought peevishly, whipping the edge of the bed sheet at his knee joint. What's so wrong with that? But his brother felt it was, his brother always felt it was, and sometimes he wished Ed could understand that it was a bloody privilege that HE could just choose. Everyone treated Alphonse like an adult. No one would ever mistake HIM for a kid.
He stared up at the window despondently and watched it pour, thick sheets of gray obscuring the world outside. Gray like his armor, gray like his brother's arm.
What did you do against so damn much gray?
"'Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day...'" He began, in spite of himself. "'Come again some other day.'"
Edward snorted but didn't interrupt, and Alphonse took it as his cue to continue. "'If you stop then we can play, rain clouds rain some other day.'"
His brother looked up at the window too, with the ghost of a smile on his face.
"It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring..." He supplied, in a beautiful alto that reminded Alphonse so achingly of their mother.
"...hit his head and he went to bed and didn't get up til morning!" Alphonse giggled, and his brother snickered with him.
"Remember the time that—"
"—you actually hit me trying to act it out—"
"—and Mom said—"
"—at least you weren't singing "Rockabye Baby"!"
They laughed for real then, remembering a thousand things they had said and done, and the things that their mother had told them and the things that Winry had made fun of them for, and all the things that had happened since then.
"You remember the one about the guy going to market?" His brother's eyes were shining, just like they used to, and Alphonse pulled his shoulders back and focused on smiling with his body.
"Yeah, I think I know how that goes..."
They continued singing songs until Edward's tremulous voice grew fainter and fainter, and eventually gave way to slow, steady breathing. Alphonse watched until all the muscles in his brother's face relaxed, and the last of his gentle smile faded into the flat, content expression of sleep.
He carefully extracted a piece of chalk out of his private stash in his helmet and etched a separating array on his brother's wet sheets, used a quick transmutation to extract the rest of the water from of it. Slowly, as slowly as he could manage, he tiptoed toward the cot and spread the dry sheets over his sibling.
"Goodnight, brother." He whispered, and ghosted a butterfly kiss into his brother's shining hair.
Outside their window, the storm breathed its last, and began to give way to the peaceful night sky.