"Why don't we just say you got some kind of skin disease?" Edward Elric demanded, whirling on his brother and brandishing a mixing spoon. Pancake batter dripped disconsolately to the floor; the Fullmetal Alchemist's eyes blazed.
Heaving a sigh, Al wrested the utensil from him in a last-ditch effort to save breakfast before Ed's carelessness ruined it entirely. "Because I don't have a skin disease, brother."
"So?" Deprived of the spoon to wield, Ed settled for using his hands as emphasis, waving them enthusiastically to illustrate his point as he stalked the kitchen, back and forth, back and forth. "We'll say your clothes hide it, or bandage you or something—and then in a few months, that you're recovered." Golden eyes were triumphant, grin a touch dangerous. "Doctor's orders that you keep the armor off, though, or you might relapse."
Alphonse switched the spoon for a spatula, began attempting to pry the blackened mess from the pan on the stove; it didn't budge, and he made a mental note never again to let his brother cook while something else was on his mind. "A bit strange that a rash is enough to keep me from a suit of armor I was fond enough of to spend five years in, though, don't you think?" Briefly, he wondered what the older boy could've put in the pancake mix to make it stick so badly to begin with—considered asking, even, before deciding that he'd be better off not knowing.
The grin faltered, faded, gave way to a look that was quite decidedly sulky, though Ed would have denied the fact had anyone pointed it out. "I still don't see why we don't make that asshole come up with a reason himself." With a snort, he deposited himself into the nearest of two chairs pushed up under their kitchen table. "It's his fucking fault for not discharging me like I asked—if he spared ten seconds to wipe the smirk off his face and go talk to someone, this wouldn't even be a problem!"
"You knew when you took the test that getting out of the military might be difficult, brother. And to be fair—" He raised his voice to make it heard over Edward's wordless noise of contempt. "-to be fair, we'd have needed to come up with a reason to explain the way I look now, anyway." Reluctantly, Al turned off the stove top; most of the batter was still uncooked, and he hadn't managed to do anything at all for the pan, but a quick glance at the clock on the wall revealed that it was too late for salvage efforts. The dish he could leave to soak while they were out; otherwise, Alphonse suspected, it would never come clean.
Most of his brother's response was lost under the sound of water as he turned on the faucet, a few muttered words along with Mustang's name. Judging by Ed's expression, it was nothing flattering.
"It's not just for the sake of military business, you know," Al pointed out reasonably, waiting for the water to rise high enough to cover the pan. "You're rather famous—someone's bound to recognize us eventually." Carefully, he twisted the faucet to ‘off' again.
When silence met the remark, Alphonse glanced up to see that his brother had resumed sulking. He didn't look quite so defiant anymore, though, which was probably the closest he'd offer to consent on the issue.
Briefly, the younger boy cast his gaze about for a towel and, failing to find one, wiped his hands dry on the thighs of his pants. "Now, you've got a briefing, I believe," he pointed out with a sunny smile. "Let's not be late again."
Golden eyes lifted to take in Alphonse's expression before drifting first to the sink and then, considering, to the ground. A moment later, Ed was picking his way barefoot between the moist, pale puddles of batter dotting the tiled floor, stopping only when he was close enough to wrap his arms around his brother's waist and pull him in close.
"I could always transmute it," he offered quietly, the warmth of his breath ghosting over Al's collarbone with the words. So distracted by it was the younger boy that it took him a moment to realize that he must be talking about the pancake mix, and another to recall that Ed really did have a briefing that he ought to be leaving for.
"Don't be lazy, brother," he chided gently, eyes flickering closed as Edward began to nuzzle the side of his throat. "You can't use alchemy for everything." The touch became light kisses, trailed along the curve of his neck, and Al reflected distantly that he really ought to be pulling away, now, if they were going to be on time.
"Mm," the older boy offered by way of response. The kisses were open-mouthed now, fuller, all heat and wet. Above him, Al made a small noise of want, shifted in his arms to settle in closer.
Warm lips pressed against the column of his throat, closed firmly to suck at a patch of skin as pale hands came to rest on a head of golden hair, silently encouraging. A moment later, Ed broke contact, soothing the stinging, over-sensitized flesh with a flick of his tongue. "Hey, Al." His voice was low, rough. "Let's make Mustang wait."
Alphonse couldn't think of a good enough reason to disagree.
The donut was sticky and sweet, and Al let his fall eyes shut, determined for the moment to ignore the rest of the world in order to enjoy it.
It didn't matter that he'd had his body back for several months, now; he still managed to get caught up in the simple pleasures of daily life, still managed to be a bit surprised whenever something was particularly warm, or sweet, or soft. He'd wondered, once or twice, whether he'd ever really take feeling for granted again—and as he swallowed the first bite and took his second, Alphonse decided that he rather hoped he wouldn't.
It was his brother's voice that pulled him back to himself, and when the boy half-turned to look askance, he was greeted with a crooked, pleased grin and fiercely shining gold eyes. He rather suspected that Ed liked to see him enjoying his new body—but he'd never said anything and certainly never teased about it—and so Alphonse had never asked.
"Yes, brother?" Absently, he licked the glaze away from his lips and went to take another bite.
"You're certainly taking your time for someone who was so worried about being late," Ed pointed out casually, handing a bill to the lady behind the counter.
"And you're the one who wanted to stop and get breakfast," the younger boy countered mildly. "Didn't you say something about not being able to..." But the rest of his words trailed off, unfinished, as he realized that the sweet old woman bagging their donuts had stopped what she was doing in favor of staring at him.
"Er..." Feeling his cheeks begin to burn under the scrutiny, Al turned to face her. "Is... something the matter, ma'am?"
"Alphonse?" she asked, by way of response. "Alphonse Elric?" And abruptly, the surprise was replaced by a quite disbelieving smile, and she was laughing. "Well, I'll be—how did you ever manage hauling around that giant suit of armor?" Slowly, her hands began moving again, and she placed the final two donuts into the bag with the others. "Why, you're not so much bigger than your brother, after all."
When he reached out to restrain Ed's impulsively violent response, it was reflexive, his thoughts caught up in a realization that had very little indeed to do with the older boy's tantrum.
Of course the poor woman must have been surprised, he berated himself mentally—they hadn't been to this particular shop since he'd gotten his new body, after all. But despite having warned Ed that someone might recognize them, Alphonse hadn't expected it to happen so soon—nor had he stopped to consider that they were fairly regular customers here, when they chanced to be passing through Central.
Laughing nervously, Al reached to take the bag from her as she leaned over the counter to offer it. "I guess I'm just stronger than I look, is all."
"Well," she replied, kind smile crinkling the corners of her eyes as she moved to count out Ed's change. "I hate to say this, sweetie, but it didn't serve you very well at all, I'm afraid. You've got a nice smile—don't hide it any more inside some clunky tin can, y'hear?"
At a loss, Al opened his mouth, closed it. Nodded slowly, feeling his face burn a brighter red. "Yes, ma'am."
"Don't worry," Ed was saying, the abrupt rage over the comment on his height long forgotten. In its wake had settled a casual, lazy grin, and Alphonse felt an instinctual twinge of misgiving that led him to suspect his brother was up to something. "The doctor says he's not allowed to, anymore."
Biting back a groan as he realized that Ed was going to go ahead with the not-particularly-thought-out plan he'd been tossing around for the better part of two days, Alphonse settled for a barely audible sigh and hoped that his brother knew what he was doing.
"The doctor?" came the expected response; the old woman's eyes widened fractionally, concern etched into her face. "Something's not the matter, is it?"
"Nah," Ed was quick to reassure. And then, sure enough: "There was some kinda skin problem cause the armor didn't let enough air in. It's supposed to clear up pretty soon, though."
"Well, I hope so." The shopkeeper nodded to herself, turning to fix Al with a considering gaze. "Poor dear—it looks uncomfortable. You put some cream on that, okay?"
But before Al could open his mouth to ask what, precisely, looked uncomfortable, his brother had begun steering him toward the door. "I'll make sure he does," Ed assured breezily, as they stepped out into the street. And then, as an afterthought: "Thanks for the donuts!"
Realization as to what, precisely, they'd been talking about came only as the door swung shut behind them, and in its wake Alphonse's face achieved a spectacular shade of crimson.
"Brother!" he hissed, punching Ed in the arm as the older boy's grin broke into laughter. "You promised you wouldn't leave marks anymore!"