The gentleness of youth was a stunning thing; even at such a tender age, the small Elric brothers had toiled and worried over the holidays with all the stress of a new line worker, wondering how they would be able to afford to get their mother and their second family gifts to satisfy all their worldly desires. Sure, they had heard of Santa, that fabled old man would who give to the good, but who had been better than their mother? Who had been more perfect than her? Who had been more deserving than her?
"I want to bring father back for her," Al had whispered the week before Christmas fell.
Edward's big golden eyes ("Your father's eyes, Edward. They are so beautiful...") blinked once, before narrowing. A childish fist lashed out, striking his sibling in the arm enough to elicit a protest from stunned lips. "Why would she want that jerk back after what he did? She's better off."
Al's mouth was screwed down as he rubbed his arm ruefully. "Because she loves him," he answered, his voice exasperated.
"Well, she shouldn't," came typical flawless child logic.
Al was silent for a moment, crayons held tight in his fist as he worked on a page in a book that he had set about coloring; creating, decorating, had always helped him to think. "He loves us, too, you know."
"He has a shitty way of showing it."
Wide eyes turned to his older brother, wondering briefly where he had heard such words and how dare he speak them; if mother heard them, they could expect the bar of soap being lodged atop their tongues for ages, he was quite certain. "Brother..."
"I don't wanna talk about it anymore, Al."
Edward crawled to his feet, frowning as he peeked outside their bedroom window, offering a glare for the snow that had been lightly drifting from Heaven for two days now. "I'm going to sleep."
"But it's only seven-thirty!"
And the elder Elric didn't bother to respond, instead simply crawling into his bed and wedging himself beneath the blankets. Alphonse sighed, familiar with this side of his brother, and begrudgingly went back to the picture before him, coloring the edges of the kitten's fur in a bright orange.
The days ticked by, and Christmas fell with the flare of an eager puppy: papers were tossed, boxes opened, the tree glittering under tinsel and lights and shiny pregnant bulbs. The presents were few, but appreciated; clothes were met with the customary disregard in exchange for toy trucks, for new crayons and chalk, for building blocks that had been carefully cut, sanded, and painted by their mother in the hours while they slept for two weeks before the holiday.
As the time wound down, the carols sung, the breakfast laid out before them, they had fallen into a family unit, a full one without a break, and Alphonse had forgotten about bringing their father back home.
The youngest brother looked up from his scrambled eggs (with syrup atop them, a habit Edward would always make faces over), staring at his mother's wide eyes, helpless as they ran over a slit envelope and an opened letter gripped in her shaking hands. Her gaze was glassy, watering, her lips moving as they whispered words he couldn't see, couldn't spot from this side of the table. Concerned, he crawled from his seat and walked over. "Mother?"
"It's from your father," was all she could say, before clasping the letter to her chest tightly, a lifeline, an extension of her heart. "He says he loves us, misses us, and he'll be home soon."
And Al was crawling into her aproned lap, wrapping his small arms around her neck, laughing and happy, giving into the moment. It wouldn't be until later at bedtime that he noticed how shaky his brother's smile was during the embrace, or the dusty remains of an array drawn in chalk on their bedroom floor. While curled in their respective blankets, he ventured a quiet whisper: "You made her happy."
"I guess." There was a moment of rustling as Edward's little fist pulled the blanket up over his shoulder. "I just wish it could have been real."
"Someday, Brother," Al whispered as he drifted off on Christmas. "Someday, we'll be a real family again."