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Aubade


I. Scuffles

Tempers flared in the summer, when cicadas hummed, when Riesenburg sweltered, when the air in the house smelled of their mother's cooking and the air outside smelled of fruit. Dappled with patches of dirt, Edward himself usually smelled vaguely of sweat and mostly of earth. Alphonse always noticed this as they tumbled down together, blunt nails scraping sun-kissed skin.

Edward protested with every kind of noise he could muster. Yells and groans slipped through his lips as his sibling's digits sought out his wrists, grasping them with playful roughness. Both boys shone with a thin sheen of sweat; their breathing quickly grew ragged as Ed squirmed and Al teased giddily. When his brother continued to resist, Al's fingers abandoned the wrists and went for Edward's soft belly, tickling mercilessly.

"Get offa me, Al!" Ed demanded, red-faced from heat and indignation.

"Say 'please', brother."

Al rolled his eyes, unrepentant. Ed had started the fight. Al could not remember the reason why just now, some silly issue, but Edward had challenged him. The elder Elric's temper had always been shorter than he; when Ed became difficult, Al could either exercise patience or pounce his brother like an animal. Today had been a day for the latter.

Ed panted, still struggling. The sun baked mud upon the boys; neither was in the shade, though all around them, trees stirred in the breeze. The scuffle had taken them down the hill, one flipping over the next as tiny bumps that tomorrow would be bruises peppered their smooth flesh. Alphonse's hands, skilled in fighting as his brother's were in alchemy, had been quick and steady enough to secure a grip upon Edward. Obstinance was both his brother's last remaining defense and his greatest flaw.

But Alphonse could hold out for a very, very long time. They had been through this often enough for Al to know every sensitive place upon his brother's body: the soft spot beneath both knees, the epidermis of the arms (whereupon miniscule blond hairs could be dusted with fingertips until the butterfly touches caused Ed to bite his lip hard, wince, and cry out). Fingers dug clumsily at Edward's chest, poking and prodding through the thin fabric, jabbing at skin and the last remnants of baby fat lurking around Edward's ribcage. A mischievous grin overtook Al's cherubic features. He reached up, hands sweeping beneath Edward's arms and plunging swiftly into the soft indents where the arms and shoulders met.

Edward howled, exasperated beyond reason. Al's knees pinned him.

"Do I hear a...?"

"Please leave me alone, Al, you jerk!"

Al eased off his brother, grin fading to a satisfied smirk as Ed rolled over, growled low in his throat, and pushed himself to his feet. Both boys had muddied their clothes, coating everything in russet and dark green patches. Blades of grass clumped in Ed's hair, dangling awkwardly from his fringe. Dirt smeared his skin. Other pieces of grass cut thin red lines across his face, criss crossing his cheeks and chin.

"You're starting to stink, brother," Al said, suppressed laughter bubbling beneath his voice.

That was only partially true. Now that he and Alphonse had begun dabbling in alchemy, both had developed trace scents of ozone and iron, and no amount of scrubbing behind their ears could erase the smells for long. Alphonse did not mind. He thought the tinge of iron added an air of strength to his brother's scent. Edward was Riesenburg incarnate: home, the trees and the grass, moist earth after a rain shower, fresh and heady, wonderfully alive. Sunshine set his hair on fire, though his smile outshone even that.

Edward was not smiling now. He never smiled after a fight. His breathing slowed, hands balled into fists as he bent over slightly, beating the grime from his knees. Alphonse watched, enjoying his predictable victory. He knew what came next. When Ed turned and ran off, Al could only smile and sigh. Soon, his brother would be down by the lake, sulking quietly. Al would wait for a while, enjoying the breeze and the chorus of chirping birds.

In time, he would follow his brother. He always did.

Nearby, Winry watched with wide blue eyes, hands fisted in her paisley dress, fingers tugging at the hem. She had been the subject of this fight, if not a participant, but she did not know that. In her arms, she cradled a small bundle of black and white fluff. Beside her, Pinako chewed her pipe, puffing tendrils of smoke and shaking her head at the Elric lads. Boys will be boys, as the saying went. She had given up on scolding them. Probably better that they have tiffs, anyway; best to beat some of that rowdiness from one another. Den sniffed, and, without warning, began to bark. Feuds melted away; summer sun poured down in stifling waves, and the day wore on.

II. Change

As the years passed by, Trisha wondered how she could continue supporting her family. She insisted upon being frugal, struggling with finances as she put aside anything she could spare. Her savings began to grow, and she dared not touch them. No matter how much she smiled when the sun was up, when her boys could see her, there were nights where she sat up, weeping, hands clutching her face as she mourned the lives her children could not have. They missed out on pets, new clothes, and most toys. Meals tended to be simple, unseasoned; Trisha ensured that her children waste nothing.

She did whatever she could for some meager earnings; she mended clothes, cooked and sold food, gardened, sewed. Ends were met. Trisha kept shirts upon her sons' backs. Even so, signs of growing poverty had begun to afflict the house. Cracks bit the walls; mildew had begun to seep into the bathroom. Chills swept the house as insulation slowly began to give way. At night, creaking sounds could be heard. The house sounded as though it were moaning in pain.

If the boys noticed, they gave no indication.

Edward could and did grow, more mentally than physically. Child prodigy. Alchemical genius. Typical little boy in most ways. Lazy summer days and cool winter evenings flitted through Riesenburg. Years fled. With each season, the speckle of stars at dusk changed, but above the clean, open village, the evening glow never diminished.

Both brothers would sit and watch the sunsets, wind stirring their hair. Many times, Winry sat with them, offering friendship and fuelling much of their rivalry. Much as they loved her, they always kept some measure of distance between her and them. Someone, something—her dead parents, their vanished father, or simply the passage of years—had erected invisible walls between the boys and their friend.

Predictably, she grew to love her work first and foremost; they grew to love theirs. They forged a private bond over alchemy texts, arrays scribbled until their fingers bled, and a trust deepened by the understanding that they could count on one another first and foremost. By nature, alchemy destroyed most bonds in favor of producing new ones. For Edward and Alphonse, it merely urged the bud to blossom.

As he grew older, Alphonse realized by and by that some reparations could not always be helped along with lemonade, a mother's proud smile, and a visit to the lake. Throughout their little scuffles, he had many times caused Edward to sprout bruises, but something inside of his older brother went deeper and hurt more.

Their father's disappearance had impacted Ed, jaded him to a degree, wounded his ability to trust, though many did not notice. Edward still spoke with Winry, argued with Pinako, played with Den. Despite the grain of cynicism already beginning to take root within him, likely an inevitable mark of their father, Edward still hoped. Alchemy instilled in him the feeling of control over the world, and Alphonse provided his most valuable reason to hope.

Though both boys knew they wanted their craft and each other in their future, neither fashioned exact dreams; adulthood still seemed far away, though less so for Edward. Riesenburg remained the centre of the world, and they remained the centres of each others' lives.

III. Urges

Adulthood came as swiftly as a blow to the stomach, though it hurt infinitely more.

Trisha lay in her bed, the paleness of death and illness already beginning to seep into her skin. Placid. Beautiful. The vision etched itself into both boys' minds, promising to haunt them for so long as they lived. Small hands brushed her face. Short arms wrapped around Trisha Elric's body one final time. Warm flesh met the cold as hot tears fell down living cheeks and flecked those of the dead.

Alphonse could not understand. She had been alive just a day before. Breath had come and gone. Her lips had moved. Her eyes had seen.

She had loved them.

Now, she could not. Her life and love had been lost to her children, as well as to the world. Only echoes remained: her scent wafting about the house, her store of salted meat and vegetables in the cellar, her dresses and aprons hanging in the closet and awaiting consumption by moths. Alphonse expected to see her in the doorway, or sitting by the window looking at the horizon expectantly. He expected to hear the velvet timbre of her laughter, or to feel her fingers brushing against his hair.

Reality did not sink in for him until the funeral, until he saw his pallid mother laid to rest within the same ground he had once frolicked upon as a child. Then, he had understood. Then, he had embraced himself, lowered his head, and wept.

A mother's love was ever the final remnant of childhood, the one quality a child could count on to endure from before the moment of birth and for long afterwards. With that love removed, the relative seclusion of Riesenburg could splinter; the world was bound to pour in. Instinctively, without consciously realizing they did so, both boys isolated themselves further, tightening their bond.

Alphonse had never felt so close to his brother as he did at their mother's funeral, though then and afterwards, he lacked the words to adequately express his emotions.

In the midst of tragedy, Alphonse began to realize the truth of his feelings. Later, he would suppose that in some capacity, he had known all along. Even when he and Edward had competed for Winry's affections, Alphonse had best loved the sport. Hindsight, an astounding creator of tapestries, strung together various pictures from childhood to weave a perfect image of a love formed by blood, trust, and many elements which even alchemy would have been unable to give names to.

From the moment the burial ended and the others went home, Alphonse knew.

Alphonse had always loved his brother, but love by nature was multi-faceted and often impossible to contextualize. Crouching before their mother's grave, bathing in the grim knowledge of the hollow that had been carved for worse loneliness to come, Alphonse shifted his gaze to his brother. He took in the pain in his distinctive golden eyes, the slight furrow of his brow.

The sun was setting, colouring Edward in deeper shades of gold, orange, and red. At the sight, something stirred within Alphonse, something not quite impure enough to be called lust, yet too ineffable to be platonic love. Edward looked determined, his posture and expression suggesting a maturity belied by his smallness. Al wanted to stand beside him for eternity.

(but, also...)

He wanted more. The realization sent a tingle throughout his body, prodding his spine with tiny needles. Worms of discomfort rolled beneath his skin. Evilwrongevilbadwrongwhatareyouthinking? So inappropriate, he thought, mentally chastising himself. What kind of boy wanted to touch his brother in such ways? Wrong, his mind screamed at him. Wicked. Craving his brother in such odd ways, and discovering his urges toward Edward at their mother's funeral, no less! Shameful! He could imagine Pinako's stony glare, her tsk tsks and head shakes. His mind's eye saw Winry gaping in horror.

(numb, had to go numb, had to dull the feelings...)

Misery chilled his longings for the time being. Sudden hot passion toward Edward cooled. Melancholy overtook Alphonse once more. Different emotions tugged at the boy, flip-flopping in his belly until he thought he might get sick enough to vomit. He could not fathom why all of this was coming out now. Vertigo assaulted his senses. No matter the catalyst that had broken the dam, Alphonse's feelings raged now, surging upwards before crashing back down with accompanied whispers of condemnation.

(best to just try not to think about anything; just let the mind slumber...)

When Al asked how they could live without their mother, Edward bluntly informed him that he—no, they—were going to bring her back to life. A glint flashed in Ed's eyes, mingling with the hues of the sunset and the natural warmth of gold. A shiver scurried down Al's spine. The prospect frightened him, just as it would have frightened most in his position, but ultimately, he agreed to Edward's idea. His brother may have been arrogant and impetuous at times, but when it came to alchemy, Al knew no equal to his brother.

For an instant, a look passed between them, and Alphonse could almost imagine that he saw his own emotions reflected within the eyes of his brother.

(wishful thinking)

Slowly, Alphonse nodded.

IV. Impulses

Alphonse lay awake, staring at the ceiling; his hands pillowed beneath his head while his eyes caught the moonlight. Since their mother's death, he and his brother had been taken in as Pinako's wards, but they had not moved in with her and Winry. That would have been wrong; that would not have been home. Yet, this scarcely felt like home, either.

An autumn chill hung in the air; wind whipped against the front door, making it creak as though someone were going or coming. The house was empty and cold without their mother's warmth. Even the wood and bricks seemed to miss her smiles, smells, stories, and songs. A window was open; the stars were out, but Al saw only shadows creeping along the walls. Edward rested in a room down the hall, exhausted and still securing his emotions within himself, still refusing to grieve as Alphonse had done.

Al had never stopped mourning his mother, but the stabbing sorrow from her sudden death was now easing into a dull ache, throbbing and familiar, embedded deep within the muscles. Despite the anxious, lingering hope for their mother's revival, Al was coping. He suspected his brother was not. A general feeling of loneliness swelled within him, coupling brutally with his insomnia, with the mishmash of thoughts and desires he had been trying to suppress.

Naive he had sometimes been called, but he was not ignorant. He had a general idea of what society at large did and did not find acceptable. His own urges, he knew, were not common, were not permissable, were not appropriate. This was a tacit understanding of how the world operated; scarcity defined incest as a taboo more than did any spoken caveats. No one had ever cautioned the boys against loving one another as their mother had loved their father, but because no other siblings they knew of loved in that manner, Al understood the quiet truth.

It was not normal. He was not normal, and surely his brother would resent him if he knew.

Despite the warmth of the bed, he felt cold. He did not like being alone with these thoughts. Even if he could not allow himself to harbour thoughts of running his tongue and fingertips along his brother's supple body, he could visit his brother, comfort him somehow.

Throwing the covers back in one quick jerk, Al eased out of the bed, wrapping his arms around his little body and hugging himself against the sudden bite of cold. He was clad only in thin undergarments, and he knew perfectly well that if they failed in reviving their mother, then they would be lucky to even keep enough money for new clothes. Winry and Pinako earned profits from their trade, but selling automail in a remote village was not exactly the height of wealth, and with Winry's parents dead, times had grown harder for the Rockbells.

(but if Ed and Al succeeded...)

If they restored their mother's life, they could get by somehow. They always had.

Alphonse had almost expected to find his brother up and intently reading alchemy tomes, but instead Edward Elric lay in bed, golden hair lambent in the moonlight. With all the shadows in the room, it was difficult to gauge his expression. Light played tricks. He may have been contemplative, determined, frustrated, or anguished. Knowing Edward, it was probably all of the above; though quick to show emotions and half as quick to act upon them, Alphonse knew his brother was nothing if not complex.

"Brother?" he tried.

At first, there was no answer save for something which might have been a sigh or a particularly harsh exhalation. Then, after a moment, there came a dry, weak chuckle. "You couldn't sleep either, Al?"

Shuffling sounds followed as Ed moved over and pulled the covers back, making sufficient room for his brother to crawl in beside him. Al hesitated, resisting the urge to swallow hard. He wondered if—

(never could he recall his heart beating so quickly before)

—if it were possible to want something too much. Logic dictated that yearning was yearning no matter the intensity of the desire, but though still very much a child, he was beginning to grasp at some adult truths. The only problem was that he was not quite sure what bigger picture he was starting to see.

Either way, it did not matter. Not right now. Not when his brother was so near him; warm, cold, grieving, repressing, stubborn, beautiful beyond reason, dedicated and faithful.

"Don't worry, Al," Edward repeated, not for the first time, as his brother settled in the bed beside him. "This'll work. You'll see." He flashed a sad smile. "We just...we need to find an alchemy teacher."

Alphonse nodded, though he continued to maintain his misgivings. What if they failed...? What if...? Mother. Dead. Buried. Cold in the ground. Colddeadcoldgone.

It was all he could do to keep from breaking into sobs at the thought. Instead, he shamelessly threw his arms around his brother, shoving his face against the crook of his neck and pleading with Edward again and again never to leave his side. Even then, a part of him knew this demand to be impossible. All things had to die.

(but...)

But they were just children, not adults. They were new to life, and though he did not have the words to properly express his sentiment, Al felt all children should have had at least a fair chance for a childhood, a time to enjoy living. Leave it to the adults to make peace with dying.

Al had expected Edward to frown, to push him aside and ask what exactly he thought he was doing acting like a soppy little girl. But Edward remained still, his usual knife of an attitude dulled by their mother's death. Heartbeats ticked away the seconds. Warm breath mingled as the sound of breathing intensified in the night's silence. No doors creaked and no animals cried; no barking dogs resounded in the distance; no dripping water hammered delicate ear bones.

Instead, they lay there in silence, one brother holding the other as his chest tightened with unspent sobs. He delighted in his sibling's heat, in the way starlight mixed with a wan sliver of moon to play upon Edward's face. Beautiful in light, beautiful in darkness, more beautiful still when the two found harmony. Edward smelled more like iron than unusual, enough so for Al to know he had been practicing alchemy. As far back as Al could remember, Ed's scent had been intoxicating in its sheer simplicity. Yearning swept over Al's skin, through his mind. He swallowed audibly, nearly hiccuping out of sheer nervousness and fear.

He managed to catch himself, focusing on his brother's scant smile as their bodies rested against one another, eyes level, knees brushing knees. Arms and legs tangled together. Hands passed over sinews, ridges, soft flesh. The embrace intensified. Al's fingers met the hardness of bone lurking beneath the skin.

Wrong or not, he wanted this, wanted everything his brother could give him. No, not wanted; he needed Edward, craved him. His mind screamed a thousand protests, each louder than the next, but none of them meant anything in this world of darkness. Only the compounds of two bodies, not much in terms of alchemy, separated his brother's throbbing heart from his. In the waking world, taboos made sense; here, the twilight ripped society asunder. Raw need overtook reason. Passion overcame Alphonse, muting the dissenting voices once and for all.

"Al..." he heard his brother say. His voice sounded distant, muffled.

Waves of frenzied emotion assaulted the younger brother's head, making the world around him swirl and grow fuzzy-edged as if he were in a drunken stupor. Don'tthinkjustactdon'tthinkjustact. Arms encircling his brother as though he meant to squeeze the life from him, Alphonse kissed, nibbled, and bit at whatever he could. His hands fumbled around Edward's clothing and back, apparently unsure of whether they wanted to shred his shirt or tickle him as fiercely as they had done during play time. Al had only the vaguest notion of what constituted sex, but he understood love perfectly well. He was sure of that, now.

His tongue slid over cheeks. Teeth grazed the side of Edward's nose lightly, nibbling. Eyelashes fluttered, brushing together. Sudden puffs of breath wet both of their faces, though Alphonse could not have said whose breathing it was. The boy was too eager to pause, to consider his less than perfect aim. If he paused...no, no, he couldn't pause—

(couldn't stop to think that this was wrong, that Edward would hate him; he had to ride out the moment, had to savour the experience)

"Al..." This time, the voice was louder, more real. It penetrated the haze, the dream, the darkness.

Words reverberated within Al's ears. Hands clamped down upon his shoulders. Within the span of an instant, he found himself face to face with his brother. Edward's eyes had gone wide, lips parted slightly. Without realizing he did so, Al mimicked his expression. Over. Finished. His heart thumped in leaps and hops, much like a stone cast whimsically across a lake.

What had he done?

You idiot! Now you've gone and done it! What did you wanna do a dumb thing like that for?

Edward stared at him, seemingly expecting some kind of verbal response. Al shifted, averting his eyes as he shrugged feebly. Panic killed endorphins in a remarkably short amount of time. Al wiggled fitfully, wanting this to be over as much as he had wanted it to progress a moment before. Paranoia touched him; he knew without looking that Ed must have been glaring at him, probably thinking to himself that his brother was ...what? Abnormal? Evil? Weird?

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, quietly, miserably. "I just...with Mom gone...I was lonely...I'm...I don't know."

"What do you want, Al?"

The question startled Alphonse. His gaze shot back up, eyes meeting those of his brother.

Ed removed one hand from his sibling's shoulder, letting the other gently trail down Al's arm. His own eyes began to drift (or was that only a phantom of the moonlight?) over Alphonse's body. The elder Elric looked to be in a daze.

After a long, tense moment, he asked again, "What do you want? Do you want...?"

Al's lips pressed together and his eyes widened instinctively. How hypocritical he felt, so eager to act upon the idea yet so unable to say the word. Blush blossomed on his cheeks. His hands clasped together in front of his mid-section, thumbs fighting one another.

"Al, think about what you're saying here. Think about what you're doing." Ed looked tense and sounded almost pleading. A moment before, his tone had been hushed and strangely solemn. Now, it was cautionary, edged with the silhouette of a shrill whine.

"Mom just died..." Edward added in a whisper. The hand still resting upon Al's forearm began to squeeze and tug slightly as Ed sought Al's full attention. Something glinted briefly in Ed's eyes. Al knew it was not the moonlight.

The apparent daze shattered. Ed shook his head, eyes closed tightly. "We can't! You know if Mom were here...if Winry knew...if anyone..." He opened his eyes, looking down as he knuckled the sheets ruthlessly, jaw clenching suddenly. "You know I can't do that to you, Al. I could never do that."

Al blinked, taken aback.

"You sound like you've thought about this before, brother," he blurted.

Ed winced and started shaking his head all over again, fringe slapping his forehead. Al watched, curious. He knew his brother well enough to discern that Edward was definitely being avoidant. Whenever he spoke, long pauses punctuated his words. Alphonse took this for a sign of hesitation and uncertainty. Ed certainly had not responded as Al had expected. He had put space between them, but not as quickly as one would if disgusted. Ed had gaped; he had looked bewildered. Yet, Al had seen no horror, only shock.

Could his brother possibly want this too?

What do you want, Al?

"You asked me what I want, brother? I'll tell you. I don't know," Al said, trying to push some confidence into words that were anything but. "I don't know exactly how to explain it. I just know that for a while now, every time I see you, I feel..."

He gave Ed a furtive look, then returned his eyes to the sheets. "...You're all I really have. Now that Mom is gone, you know we have to be there for one another."

Ed nodded. "Yeah. That's right. You know I'll stay with you for as long as I live, don't you, Al?"

He sounded relieved, lending Al to suspect that he was quite grateful for the more innocent new subject. Normally, Al would have shied away from talk of his earlier exploration, too, but at present, something got the better of him. It may have been idle curiosity. It may have been knowing his brother had not yet been completely forthcoming with him.

"I know that. I trust you. And thanks. But brother, right now, I need to know something else. What do you want?"

Edward frowned sharply, huffing. "It's not that simple, damn it!"

"Why shouldn't it be?" Now it was Al's turn to sound pleading. Of course, he knew why. His own mind had been telling him the exact same thing not so long ago. But if Edward really did love him in the same way he loved Edward, then society's standards meant nothing.

"Because you're my brother, in case you haven't figured out what that means," Ed replied, petulance and his usual iron stubborn side rearing up like a barrier against the vulnerability he had earlier displayed.

"But you love me, right? You want me, don't you?"

Alphonse knew this to be simplistic, childish logic: if A, then B, forget all the variables in between. He knew this only consistently worked in a child's eyes. He also knew himself to be a child.

"I..." Their eyes locked. That same familiar, knowing look passed between them. "...yes," Ed admitted finally, quietly. "But Al—"

"But Al what? Brother!" He threw his arms up into the air as though he intended to gesticulate wildly. "Dad left. Now Mom's gone, too! We don't have anyone but each other, and if I love you, then why can't we—?"

"What, Al?" Ed demanded, rising to a kneeling position. "Why can't we what? Have sex? F-ugh—ugh—fuck? Is that what you want? Do you want me to ruin you like Dad ruined Mom? Huh? Is that it?"

"No!" Al rose so that he was level with Ed. His hands scratched anxiously at his forearms. He did not like this. If Edward loved him, then why couldn't he just be receptive? "It's nothing like that! I mean, yes, I want you, but I don't want you to ruin me or whatever you were going on about!"

"Then what were you trying to do earlier?" Ed sounded more frantic than Al had ever heard him before. In fact, he was growing downright confrontational.

"I don't know!" Al burst out, ashamed of the shrill, whiny note he heard in his voice, ashamed that pains of rejection were already threading through him when he knew as well as anyone that he and Edward could not be together, that loving one another in such a way would have been wrong. He choked back a sob. Instead of giving into tears borne of loss, unrequited desire, and pure exhaustion, he amassed a healthy dose of the very same obstinance his brother used to get by in life. Al stared hard at Edward, trying as best he could to resist the urge to grind his teeth together.

After long seconds spent in tense silence, Al's features softened. He sighed loudly. Then, while profound confusion began to mark Edward's features, Al leaned over and kissed his sibling's forehead gently. "I don't want anything in particular from you, brother," he murmured. "Only you. I want you in any way I can have you. I want everything of yours. All your tastes and touches." More determined, he added, "I want anything you'll give me. I want you to love me, and if you want me...well, here I am."

Silence resumed. Another long pause floated by.

Edward exhaled. Slowly, his arms lifted and wrapped around his brother, pulling Al close. He managed a smile as he returned the kiss, lips touching Al's brow.

"I love you too, Alphonse." He hesitated, a pained expression flickering across his face. "I—I want you, too. I'm just scared. That's all."

"Scared of what?" Feeling bolder, Al snuggled close. When Ed did not push him away, he took the opportunity to lower his lips to Ed's neck, kissing here and sucking there. He moved up quickly, feeling brave and suddenly adventurous. Conceptually, sex still seemed odd and even a bit stupid, but this went deeper than sex. Al simply wanted to inhale his brother, to ingest him. There may not have been much of Edward, as he was a small boy, but every inch of him flooded Al with hunger and thirst.

"Scared of hurting you. Scared of being a bad person."

Al snorted. "Don't be scared of hurting me." His lips brushed Edward's earlobe. When Ed held very still, Al slipped his tongue inside. It pleased him to feel the shiver provoked by that little action. "I'm scared of being 'bad', too, but we're already going to use forbidden alchemy to bring mother back, so it's not like...we haven't already crossed a line."

"Yeah. Have to agree with you there. I guess it doesn't make much sense to worry about being damned when we've already picked the quickest path to hell." Ed rolled his eyes, wordlessly proclaiming his usual contempt for the forbidden label inherent in human alchemy.

Al nodded, sticking his nose into his brother's hair. Edward's messy blond locks were beginning to get so long! Al could hardly believe it. He loved the sensation of golden hair tickling his nose. "Come on," he whispered into Ed's ear. He still felt shy enough that the prospect of what he was about to request made him tremulous. "Take off your clothes. I don't, um, well, I don't want to—lead?"

Edward understood. He pulled his shirt over his head, dropping it aside with languid slowness. Now that he had accepted their mutual attraction to one another, his motions had grown stilted. Al decided to remedy this. As soon as his brother's chest was bare, he eased his palms onto the sternum. From there, he wasted little time about pinching one nipple, then the next.

Edward gasped and, as Al had predicted, he made to take his pyjama bottoms off a little more quickly. While he did that, Al took the opportunity to rid himself of his own night clothes. Starlight bathed flesh. Eyes searched bodies. Al saw Ed staring at him, saw his tongue appear briefly as it slid along his lower lip. Al doubted his brother even realized he had done that.

With a soft laugh, he lunged forward, taking his brother's tongue and lips in a ferocious kiss. To his immense surprise and joy, his brother responded with matching passion, deepening the kiss and tangling his tongue with Alphonse's as clumsy, sloppy movements left them both moaning. Saliva filled their mouths and spilled over, trailing down Al's chin and shining there. Edward licked away the residue before proceeding to kiss his brother again, sucking his breath from his body. When Ed demonstrated this more aggressive side of himself, Al instantly went still in response. He wanted Edward to be in complete control. He wanted his brother to know the depths of his trust and love for him.

In as much as he had resisted earlier, Edward now went beyond simply acquiescing. Alphonse could only figure his enthusiasm must have been contagious, because Edward had gotten ravenous all of a sudden. Alphonse found himself pushed into the bed, pillow squishing around his head as his brother licked him, bit him, fingered his arms, neck, chest, and abdomen. Al's breathing hitched, becoming awkward. His hands linked together behind his brother's back, pulling him closer.

While lips continued to quest, Edward's hands went to his brother's crotch, lightly touching the erection at first, then squeezing once the initial shy touches subsided. Al arched into the touch, whimpering in the hopes of conveying the extent of pleasure he derived from it. Vaguely, in some distant part of his mind, Al wondered how he could have ever thought this could have been 'wrong'. Normal, he told himself. Perfectly normal. They had bathed together plenty of times as children. Edward placed one hand on Al's shoulder, pinning him to an extent while his other hand worked on his brother's cock, alternating between strokes that were quick and slow, rough and gentle.

"Y—you must have done this before, b-br—otheerr!" Al managed, hips bucking.

"Just to myself, yeah," Ed said huskily, chuckling deep in his throat.

"To thoughts of me?" Al chimed with a false note of innocence.

Ed blushed darkly.

He leaned down, lashing his tongue along the moist slit of his brother's glans. Al squirmed, fists tugging the sheets so hard that they almost tore. Ed's tongue played over the smooth tip of the penis before he decided to take as much of it as he could into his mouth. He opened wide and took almost all of the cock into his mouth, exhaling and inhaling steadily through his nose as he sucked hard. Al could not handle that. He arched sharply, muscles clamping down as he spasmed. Alphonse's first orgasm struck him hard and filled his sibling's mouth with hot, salty white liquid.

Ed drank everything, then licked at the remnants upon the softening penis as a cat would lick at cream. He moistened his fingers with some of the cum before placing them into his mouth and coating the digits with a thick layer of slaver. Beneath him, Al's breathing normalized as he slowly descended from his endorphin high. When he saw what Ed was about to do, however, his hands clenched the sheets all over again.

"Trust me?" Ed said, and Al nodded hastily.

Ed was slow, careful, obviously concerned. His wet fingers found Al's cleft and touched the tight ring of muscle. Al lifted his hips automatically, trying to give his brother the best angle possible. He would have been afraid of the pain, save for the fact that he really did trust Edward to be gentle. As though he were drawing an array, Ed circled the pucker with tedious slowness. He pushed in just enough to make his brother moan in ecstasy, but not enough to actually enter his brother...yet.

Once he felt the muscles loosen slightly, Ed gauged his motions as having been enough for him to continue. He stuck a finger in, stretching. Soon after, he added a second, scissoring his brother's insides. Al fought back the natural urge to tense and instead held very still, forcing himself to relax as his brother explored him in ways he had scarcely dreamt of before. Edward touched something, Al had no idea of what, and Al groaned loudly, pushing back against his brother—his lover.

Ed increased the speed of his ministrations little by little, and when he was finally certain that Al had been given enough preparation, he removed his hand from his brother's ass altogether. He repositioned it upon his own erection and gave himself a few strokes. "I could—ngh—get some lube if you want?" he volunteered between pants. "Know I've got some oil for alchemy; or, if I need to, I could go get some water..."

Al shook his head vehemently. Since his brother was positioned more or less directly above him now, he wrapped his legs around the small of Edward's back and pulled him close, securing a death lock around his waist. "Does that answer your question, brother?" Al smirked. He would not allow anything to consume time right now, not when the moment was so ripe. Nothing would come between his brother and himself. Nothing. This surpassed fighting, playing, and even alchemy.

Even in the slim light, Alphonse could see that his brother's eyes had darkened with lust. Ed growled beneath his breath and placed his hands on either side of his brother's head as he crushed their pelvises together. Al threw back his head and cried out. Oh, he liked this side of his brother. Ed shifted, lowering one hand to angle his brother's pelvis upwards so that his thrusts would be as effortless and deep as possible. He then held his own cock and placed it against his brother's ass, easing the head in first before pulling out, then slowly burying himself as deep as he could go.

Alphonse hissed in a mixture of pleasure and pain, though the latter did not bother him. If anything, it merely intensified the experience. The sensation of being literally filled was an unusual one, but sweet in an inexplicable way. Closer to his brother than he had ever been before, Al felt whole, complete in some way. He sucked his breath in sharply, nails scraping Ed's back and shoulders. Pressure shot through him. When his brother slid past the place he had discovered earlier, Al pulled him even deeper with his legs and feet. This was the best kind of pain: lancing and threading, icy yet burning, soothing and scorching, tearing his insides even as the emotional impact of the act clawed deeper than the physical, consuming Al's other ache, flames of pain consuming his anguish until only ashes remained. For now, at least, he could forget his sorrows.

Edward pulled nearly all the way out before giving the first slow thrust. Alphonse's body shook with the force of the movement. Ed gasped loudly, sweat beading all over his face. He started moving, in then out then in again, breath and heartbeats regulating the pace. At first, Edward maintained a steady, easy rhythm. Not every thrust was smooth; some were downright awkward. Still, after about five experimental jabs, the boys managed to connect at the same instant, hips and cock clashing together as both cried out. Following that overwhelming crest of pleasure, they found an agreeable pattern, matching one another almost perfectly.

Just a little more, Al thought, misgivings completely abandoned. Just a little more. An inch. A breath. A motion. Only a few more strokes until the dance, the sex, the harmony of bodies and spirits could be completed. Equivalent exchange: from brothers to lovers. What more pure and perfect alchemy could there be than this?

Except that this is better, because we're still brothers, Alphonse reasoned, in as much as a person could reason when their mind, senses, and body had been split apart and effectively overwhelmed.

Another thrust, another scream, and all coherent thought was lost. Al's eyes closed half-way once his brother's slick, taut abdomen (all baby fat had long ago dissolved) struck his restored erection, massaging and wetting him. Ed pulled himself forward and sank his tongue into his brother's open mouth—

(I can taste myself on him...)

—inhaling, engulfing, shaking as the bed springs whined in protest beneath them. Eyes went wide, then narrowed. Hands grasped and clawed at anything within reach. Screams faded into breathless, broken pants. Voices died. The moment before the final release, all senses culminated. Ed tensed, flooding his sibling. Al closed his eyes and let himself succumb once again to the heat.

Even better than the first one...

Afterwards, the same blissful silence embraced both boys while their bodies cooled and their minds slowly began climbing back up from whatever abyss they had fallen into. Al moved first, shoving a hand up to his forehead to swipe at his messy hair. The moon must have slipped behind a cloud, as the room had grown darker, or maybe that was just his imagination. He regarded his brother with a small, loving smile.

"I love you, Edward," he said, quietly.

He assumed Edward was still trying to catch his breath. The older boy had grown very quiet. Al figured maybe exhaustion was finally getting the better of him. It was late, and besides, he had just done a lot of work. That would have tired anyone. Al stirred slightly when his brother gently eased off of him. What now, exactly, he wondered? A conversation about their mother? Chit-chat about nothing in particular? Playful scuffling? Or were they supposed to just curl up in one another's arms and sleep peacefully? Al liked the last option. He rolled over and proceeded with an attempt to initiate another hug.

Ed looked up, golden eyes shining with tears. At the sight, Al hesitated.

(why couldn't you have seen this coming?)

"What's wrong?" he asked, then, on instinct, added, "I'm fine. Don't be worried about me. Or, are you worried about something else? Is it about Mom?"

Ed shrugged, quickly wiped his eyes, and rolled over. "I'm going to sleep, Al. You should do the same. We have a lot of work ahead of us."

"Brother—"

"I'm just sleepy, all right? You're the one who's worried, Al."

"Brother—"

"Would you knock it off with the repetition already? I heard you the first time, and I know what you're going to say." He laughed pleasantly, as though he had not looked so distraught a moment before. "It's just been a long day is all."

Al sighed. Grudgingly, he said, "Well, all right. As long you're not...you know."

"I'm not. I'm all sticky now, though. I'm gonna go take a bath and put my clothes back on. You try to go to sleep, all right? Stop worrying so much." He laughed again and placed a hand on Al's head, efficiently making an even bigger mess of his hair with a few simple strokes.

When Ed got out of the bed, Al made no move to stop him. Instead, he wrapped himself tightly in blankets and closed his eyes, willing his body and mind to relax completely. He knew his brother had not been completely frank with him. He also knew his brother would not be completely frank with him until he was ready to do so. Few qualities defined Edward quite like his stubborn nature.

Still, Al noted that just before he went to sleep, he thought he heard his brother sobbing.

Maybe it had only been the beginning of a dream.

V. Nevermore

Afterwards, Edward had said it would never happen again.

It was wrong. I love you, but it just can't work out, Al. We're brothers. Think about it. Think about what it means in the long run. I'm sorry. I love you, but I can't do that again, and I'm sorry.

In actuality, it did happen again. On many occasions. Alphonse found himself in his brother's bed several more times before Izumi deposited them on the island for training. It happened there, too.

Eventually, the outdoors awoke all of the boys' more primal qualities. They exchanged touches at night, sometimes when it rained and they had only one another for warmth. They grew bold enough to experiment during the day, even knowing someone else was there. Secretly, the thrill of possibly being "caught" only intensified the rush. Lips, tongues, legs, arms, bodies all in a tangle. All is one and one is all. Oh, they had made their own definition for the phrase, but how could they have told their teacher that of all things?

With each successive tryst, Edward became less wont to inform his brother that they could not possibly continue this relationship. After the first time, he never cried again. After the third (or was it the fifth?), he abandoned the pretense of this being something which they had to cut short. Alphonse had only been so patient with his prior arguments because he had never believed Edward would make good on his words. The denial did become a little tiresome at times, though. Al appreciated it when his brother shut up and let his actions speak for him.

When failed alchemy ruined their bodies, they could not help but wonder—even if both refused to speak this concern aloud—whether their sins had played a part in their failure. Neither was superstitious enough to believe as much, but idly, privately, questions arose within their minds. Tears which could not be seen, Scar had later said of Alphonse. He could not argue. Once yet another massive tragedy had devastated their lives, once Al had been very literally left hollow in the wake of destruction, unseen tears had filled him.

After the disaster, Edward only grew more beautiful. His hair fell down his back in a braid or a ponytail; when he had newly risen from sleep or recently exited a shower, gold flowed freely. Alphonse wished he had flesh fingers so he could touch his brother's hair, so he could feel the softness, so he could feel him again.

As a child, Al had once heard a story about a man who stole from the gods and ruined his own family. The gods had punished him by forcing him to stand in a place where all his desires lay in sight, yet he could never reach any of them.

Now, Al remembered that story. Wryly, he thought, maybe that is like me. Maybe I touched something I shouldn't have. Maybe I violated something sacred.

But that was a silly fable, one whose origins Al didn't even know, and it may have been very old. His mother had said their father had been fond of the tale and had often repeated it with a sad smile. Al had never guessed at the meaning of that.

He could still see his brother. He could hear his voice. But he missed Ed's warmth, his taste, his scent. He had his memories, yet this new lack of feeling dimmed even those. He wondered if all memories of sensation would eventually abandon him. All he could do was hope they would linger.

Because he insisted on having Edward treat him like a complete human being and not an empty shell of armour, they still tried to be together, but it was never the same. If Ed had previously felt ashamed about using his brother for pleasure, then how much guiltier did he feel for using a brother he saw himself as having grievously handicapped? Alphonse insisted that it was fine, that it did not hurt, but in a way, it did. It hurt to be in the vicinity of his brother without even being able to partake of his warmth.

Sometimes, Edward climbed within the metallic construct of his brother's body, though for the most part, Al would sit cross-legged while Ed made his way up to his brother's chestplate and seated himself upon it. He shed his clothes, belt and watch clinking against metal as they were discarded, casually falling to the ground. Red and black pooled at Al's feet. Hair like hay cascaded everywhere. Sometimes Ed looked at him and sometimes he looked outward, face flushed with need and possibly shame.

Al knew what to do. One leather-clad hand cupped his brother's erection; the other held his testicles and gently rolled a large thumb along them. Ed's back would arch so beautifully that Al thought he could almost feel physical pain at the sight; yearning absolute claimed him and his jerks became quicker. Occasionally, Ed was not careful and cut himself. Bits of carmine were known to mingle with the tributaries of sweat which doused Al's armour.

Al took note of every drop of blood and sweat, every nuance of his brother's expression and body language. He watched as lithe muscles moved in all of the right ways. When Ed moved forward and upwards, Al slid a hand from his testicles to his perineum. The tip of the rough finger rubbed the delicate, thin skin with torturous slowness. That always sent Ed completely over the edge. He whimpered like a child, automail hand clamping down hard upon his brother's armour as cum splashed forth, trickling down to slide over the crease of his buttocks and onto Al's chestplate.

"Don't worry, Al. I'll do whatever it takes to get our bodies back," Ed said after they coupled. He spoke the words breathlessly, body sweaty, seed spilled.

Ed always seemed disgusted with himself, but Al insisted that he ought not be. In flesh, metal, or spirit, their souls linked together forever. Al watched every time Ed pushed his sweaty blond hair away from his face and pulled his pants up, resuming his Fullmetal persona.

"I trust you, brother." By now, the reply had been given so many times that it had become standard. No matter their past failures, Alphonse still trusted his brother. Edward was the most determined person he had ever known. He had challenged the gods once and lost two limbs. Now, he could swing at them with automail and have a better fighting chance. When felled, he only came back stronger. If his admiration and love did not extend to such depths, Al might have envied his brother for that.

They had left Riesenburg one night around sunset. Together, they had watched many sunsets before and since. Now, Alphonse's eyes had turned toward the dawn. His brother was the sunrise incarnate, new hope coming on the wings of a new day.

Al could remember. Al could hope.

In heaven or hell, at sunset, sunrise, or night, some part of them would forever remain together. Both of them knew this in their own tacit ways. The connection may have seemed a flimsier one nowadays, Al without his body and Ed without his freedom from the State, but they knew better than to think they had grown apart. Success or failure, they stayed together.

In the desert, the sunrise leapt into the sky, hot an impatient. While Ed struggled along in a distinctly similar condition, Al gazed upwards. Above, an endless expanse of orange painted the sky. Below, sand dunes went on as far as the eye could see. Somewhere between both, the future awaited.

If only for a little while, unseen tears exchanged themselves for an unseen smile.