Sometimes Al has nightmares about the armor; about being trapped in it, unable to breathe, unable to feel, suffocating. And sometimes he misses it—when the cold is too sharp on his skin, when he's hungry and there's no chance of stopping for food, when someone is pointing a gun at him. Then there are times when the nightmares and the nostalgia get hopelessly, bewilderingly jumbled together until he can't tell the difference and can't remember when he ever could, and only knows that he can't breathe.

Times like now, when there is soft gold hair between his fingers, freed from its bright braid to spill over Al's lap, tumbling in heavy waves and slender wisps into Ed's face.

Ed's sulking. Rain is sheeting against the windows, thunder rumbling low in the distance and coming nearer, and Ed is curled up on the bed with his head in Al's lap, exercising a vast indicolite vocabulary under his breath. "I fucking hate him, Al," he mutters.

"Brother," Al begins. He wants to say He just beat you at arm wrestling, for heaven's sake, but sheer self-preservation forbids it. When Ed gets like this, it's best just to let him rant it out; and Al gets the feeling that Ed is going to be ranting about this particular episode, in an oblique way that will allow him to complain without actually admitting to having lost at something, for a good long time.

Lightning flashes outside, and Al finds himself thinking, unwilling and uneasy, of the firelight on his brother's skin.

"The bastard, it's like he thinks we're still twelve! Never tells us anything, never—"

In Ishbal the desert stretches into endless sky, surging against ascetic red rock formations that soar upward like sentinels. It's hot there; Al, who was in the armor then, knows this because he saw Ed sweat, saw him redden and wilt, saw him wince and hold his automail at an awkward angle and hold himself as if he were trying to get away from his own joints. Once, he watched as Ed stripped to the waist in muttering annoyance and upended a clay jar of water over his head, water sloughing over him and trailing into streams and rivulets over his skin, plastering his hair to his face and neck. With no body to react, Al had found himself thinking, in an odd and roundabout way, of their mother; of the slow, sweet song he had heard a woman sing in Liore's cool dusk and then never heard again; of things slipping quietly, forever, out of reach.

The storm is over their heads now, and Ishbal's heat is a long way away, and Al doesn't think he likes this train of thought. He cards his fingers through Ed's hair and makes sympathetic noises.

"He didn't even have the grace to be smug about it," Ed complains. "Well, no, I take it back. He was smug. It was just the sort of smug that you can't see because it's inside but you know it's there."

"Invisible smugness?" Al wonders.

Metal fingers pinch his leg with a pressure just shy of uncomfortable. "Yes, dammit!"

"Oh. That's the worst kind," Al agrees solemnly.

There's a sudden flurry of movement and Ed is sitting up glaring at him, furious golden eyes a hand's breadth from Al's. "You're humoring me," Ed accuses.

"Maybe a little," Al confesses.

"You like that bastard. You always have. Al, I swear, you have soft spots for the weirdest people."

Al passes up the obvious retort. "I know he's difficult, brother, but he's always looked out for us in his own way."

"Always jerked us around, you mean," Ed grumbles, but lets himself be coaxed back down into Al's lap.

"I think you like him too," Al says gently, and immediately knows that he's said something wrong because Ed goes tense and still under his hand. "Brother?"

There's a long, tight silence before Ed shifts a little, burrowing his head further against Al's stomach. "I don't," he says in a hollow voice muffled by Al's shirt. "I don't like him."

"Oh," Al says.

"I don't have to like him."

Al makes Ed-soothing noises.

"It's not my job to go around liking people."

Well, no, Al thinks. That it certainly isn't.

"I like you, Al," Ed says, and his metal fingers tighten on Al's knee. "That's enough, right? Just the two of us, like always."

There was a time when Al expected to fall in love with Winry. There was a time before that when he expected to fall in love with her and lose her to Ed, to smile at their wedding and do his best to be happy for them. That was a long time ago.

"That's enough," Al says, and it is.

The rain is coming down in sheets outside; Ed's hair is soft and warm, gliding through Al's fingers. Al tries to push away the vision of Ed and the General entangled in military-issue sheets, and pleads silently for stillness in this body his brother made him.