They had toast for breakfast the next day, and sausage. Alphonse talked twice as hard, as if to hide the fact that the other seat at the table was empty. A few days ago Edward wouldn't even have noticed, but the details that had previously seemed so distant and unimportant were beginning to intrude on his awareness with greater insistence. He chewed obediently as directed, putting names to the things around him. Table, cloth, glass, plate, Alphonse.
The door opened, and he felt Alphonse go tense beside him. He had barely time to wonder at that before a hand descended on his shoulder gently.
"How are you today, Edward? Slept well?" The hand patted his head familiarly, before moving away. There was the scrape and clatter of cooking things and when he returned he had a plate. Breakfast, Edward thought carefully.
The voices were cautious, a little more polite and careful than usual, and both seemed to be paying more than the usual amount of attention to him. As Edward finished the last forkful of sausage, Alphonse stood and drew back the curtains.
"It's a nice day," he said, appreciative. "How would you like to go outside for a bit, Edward?"
The other voice was dubious. "Are you sure that's wise?"
"The weather's not supposed to change until later—and this may be the last chance he gets to go outside this year. Besides, the doctor said a change of environment might stimulate him some." He sounded defensive, as though he expected to be argued with. Edward was mildly surprised then to be scooped up and lifted by the strong arms that belonged to the other voice.
"Come on, then, Edward. We'd better find you a coat."
It wasn't his coat. Edward recognised that much, frowning at the sleeves. The colour was somehow unsatisfactory. He didn't rouse himself to voice his disapproval, hower. The voices seemed to be in agreement again, as they settled Edward outside, and he didn't want to jinx that.
"Are you sure here will be all right?"
"He's got plenty of sun, and I'll be right over here hanging up the washing. It's perfect."
"It is. I must say, I'm tempted to join you—"
"If you miss work, Hawkeye will kill you. She worked very hard to get you that position—"
"It's a job in name only, and you know it—"
Wind tugged lightly at his hair, and Edward lost himself in contemplation of his surroundings. The air was different, fresh, and everything around him seemed new. He was leaning against a tree with leaves that rustled with every breeze, and there was grass under his fingers. Sky. Cloud. Bird.
This was so damned hard.
Later that evening after dinner as Edward dozed on the sofa and listened to the sound of the voices doing the dishes in the kitchen, the kitten returned. Its bell rang sharply as it scrambled up the sofa and nosed its way over Edward. Its whiskers were ticklish on his skin and he moved his hand out of its way.
The kitten took this as an invitation to press itself under Edward's fingers. It batted its head against his fingers until he took the hint and pressed his fingers to its fur. He was still too clumsy, and he moved slowly, fearful of hurting it, but the kitten purred, rubbing eagerly against his fingers. Reassured, Edward carefully touched its fur. As it didn't flinch or hiss, he gained confidence, patting it as it curled up on his stomach.
Stupid cat, he told it, only it came out more like "-pdka." Oh well. It wasn't like it could understand him anyway.
He was half asleep, still petting the creature, when the quiet whisper intruded on his consciousness.
"Alphonse. Come here—never mind the fire, come."
"What is it—oh my—"
The voices were back. Edward felt they were close, but his head was still so heavy with sleep that turning towards them seemed like too much effort. They didn't sound angry though, which was good.
"You realise what this means? He's not just moving, he's showing awareness of his surroundings—"
"I knew it, I knew it, I knew he wasn't gone—"
It was rather disconcerting being the focus of so much attention and Edward paused, feeling somehow self conscious. The kitten was likewise unimpressed at being watched and it took the opportunity to scramble off the sofa. Edward turned his head to watch as it stalked in the direction of the kitchen.
"You saw that, right? He moved—he's definitely looking—"
"So you're right, I'll admit that damn cat is good for something—"
"Nii-san! You're going to get better!" Hands that were more excited than gentle gripped his shoulders, and Edward found himself looking sleepily into eyes of teary gold. "Nii-san, do you recognise me?"
His brother was such a sap. With effort, Edward lifted his hand and let it rest heavily on Alphonse's head. The way his brother's eyes widened as he felt his hair being petted was almost comical, and Edward felt very pleased with himself—at least, he did until Alphonse choked and flung his arms around Edward's neck.
Hey, hey! Edward thought in alarm as he felt something wet trickle down his cheek. He patted Alphonse's cheek softly. His brother wasn't supposed to be crying—ah, but his head was so heavy. Edward sighed, leaning into Al as he shut his eyes. He would figure it out in the morning.