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It is raining outside.

Ed presses his hands against the windowpane and glances up, squinting through the gap between his apartment block, and the one next to them; the sky is grey and gloomy, and the rain hits the glass with a soft plink-plink sound, gentle, but threatening to get stronger. Alphonse is clanging around in the kitchen, cleaning up last night's dinner before Winry arrives, and everything feels wrong, somehow.

It's an odd feeling, and he can't quite put his finger on it. It's been six months; he should be used to a window without bars, regular baths, food which changes everyday—even Al, who is beautiful and marvelous and well, sometimes too clingy for Ed to cope with, always wanting to touch, to cuddle—but there's just a... feeling, like his entire world has been turned onto its head.

It isn't until Al shoves the bedroom door open with his hip, a pair of mugs in his hand and a bottle of cheap, nasty wine in the other, that Ed knows why he feels the way he does. "Where'd you get that from?" he asks, nodding at the wine, and Al deposits the mugs and bottle on the floor beside the bed, moving straight onto smoothing out the hideously bright red bedcovers.

"From the place just around the corner," his little brother says vaguely, fluffing one of the two pillows. "Um... could you tie the curtains back, please? While you're there?"

"Sure," Ed says, and glances steadily out the window as he does so. The apartment opposite theirs is empty, and has been for a while; they were woken last night by the bang of its balcony doors blowing inwards with the wind, and it'd taken Ed a while to go back to sleep after the shock. The locks on their own balcony doors were weak when they moved in, but he'd reinforced them since; Al likes to go outside, and has a few plants growing in terracotta pots. He's always loved caring for living things, has Al; talks to his plants as he waters them, and believes that they can understand him in return. "What's the occasion?"

The springs on the cheap mattress creak uncomfortably as Al sits down, clamping the bottle between his thighs and transmuting the cork out of it. "Don't be silly, brother, you know what this is for," he says, reaching for one of the mugs and pouring the drink into it. "Here, this is yours," he adds, holding it out. Ed pads over and takes the mug offered to him, curling his metal fingers awkwardly around the handle; it's chipped blue ceramic, and the wine inside is a red turned black by the colour of the container.

"Al?" he asks, cautiously; Al pours out a (smaller) measure into the other mug, this one orange, and missing a handle. His baby brother beams at him, putting the bottle carefully down on the floor and standing up ever-so-slowly; jerks his head at the balcony doors in an obvious gesture, and follows his brother when Ed goes to open them.

It's cold outside, the rain still light, and the wind sets the leaves of Al's plants waving. The sun-and-moon windchime Al had made out of some scrap metal chimes sweetly above them, and in the street out front of the building, a car horn toots; Al slaps his mug against Ed's as the elder Elric is distracted trying to spot the source of the noise. "Cheers," he says, softly, and Ed turns back to him, surprised. The look of bewilderment on his face must speak volumes, because the younger brother grins sheepishly, and flushes. "Cheers for the, for the trial verdict, and all," he elaborates. "For being found not guilty."

"Oh," Ed replies, and takes a mouthful. The wine is disgusting, just as he thought it would be, but years of gruel have accustomed him to drinking or eating anything he's given, and so he downs the entire glass in one long gulp, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "Thanks," he offers, feeling caught off-guard by the warm expression on Al's face, and leans on the balcony railing, peering down at the alley below.

He tenses a little when Al leans into his side, slipping an arm into his, like he's some sort of fucking lovestruck girl; forces himself to relax, to breathe through his nose and remind that this is Al, not some dick in the shower block who likes blonds. Alphonse swirls the contents of his mug—but awkwardly, like maybe he's watched his foster father doing it at some birthday party or something, and takes a sip—

—and spits it out over the railing, expression one of utmost disgust. "This is wine?" he sputters, expression horrified. "It's—disgusting, why do adults like it?"

"No idea," Ed replies, and can't help but crack a tiny smile at the appalled expression on his little brother's face. "Never had wine before I went in, so it's as much a mystery to me as it is to you." He wants to ruffle Al's hair, all soft fine bronze rippling in the wind; feels a rush of affection for his little brother that is more paternal, really, than fraternal—but he's worried that such a gesture would be rebuffed, and so when his hand jerks he aborts the motion almost immediately.

Al glances at him sidewards, but doesn't say anything; sighs, and gently tugs away from Ed's grip. "Brother," he says, placing the bright orange mug atop the cracked brown railing, "Are you okay?"

"Fine, fine," Ed says airily, raising his good hand to scratch at the back of his neck. "We should go in soon. It's gonna rain."

"Eh." Al crinkles his nose up at the sky, and then smiles. "Not for another few minutes, I think, and it's nice being outside. You don't leave the flat much, anyway."

"'s 'cause of those motherfucking journalists," Ed mutters, "Got nothing better to do than fucking hang around to hassle the hell out of me."

"There's not so many of them," Al says, a little helplessly, and bites his lip. He looks like he wants to scold Ed for swearing, but is afraid to; at the thought, Ed forces his expression to soften, and gives his little brother a wan smile.

"It's the principle of the thing, Al," he says. "Are you cooking, or am I?"

"Me!" Al responds quikcly. "Brother, I love you, but your cooking is... uh... not particularly nice. You can do the washing up."

Ed shrugs. He doesn't mind doing the dishes—it's a simple task, and it's easy to relax in the routine of rinsing, scrubbing, dunking, rinsing again and then drying, since they can't afford a dish stand—easy to forget about his worries and concentrate on the mundane task. "Sure," he says, and Al frowns, as though that's the wrong answer. "What?"

"You hated doing dishes, brother," Al says quietly. "You used to moan about it until I had to... I'm sorry." He sighs, and shakes his head, raking the fingers of his right hand through his hair. "I'm sorry." He sounds very small, suddenly, and pained; Ed bites his lip and takes a step closer, unsure.

"Al?" he asks, tilting his head to one side to see his little brother's face better; Al turns away from him, and reaches out for the mug. He misjudges—knocks it instead of grabbing it, and it falls from their balcony to land with a smash into the alley.

"Oh, f—fiddlesticks!" Al hisses—Ed can't help but smile, clumsily, at the strange exclamation. "Bother bother bother—you're right, we should go in, I need to make a start on dinner..."

It takes all the strength Ed has to reach out and touch his brother, and even then it's just a weak grip on Al's shoulder. His baby brother turns back to him, startled; his eyes are slightly red, and Ed's heart pounds as he opens his mouth. Nothing seems to be working; he gives up after a few attempts to formulate the emotion in him and says, instead, "Sorry. Too, I mean."

Thunder strikes in the distance. Ed can smell the tang of the approaching storm, the sharp scent of ozone that somehow puts him in mind of Rizenbourg's fields; Alphonse's lips part and his younger brother's eyes are wide, tainted with something very recognizable indeed.

And despite his entire body screaming this this is sacrilege, that it's wrong to do this, that if anyone sees his reputation will be ruined (fag, the ghosts shriek from the dusty shower-blocks in his mind, fucking arsebandit)—he doesn't stop himself from folding his arms around his little brother, gently offering as much support as he can. It's a tentative hug—he's tense and it shows—but Al doesn't seem to care; remains stiff before relaxing with a barely-audible sigh, nestling his head into the curve of Ed's shoulder.

Alphonse smells like cheap soap and deodorant; his hair is soft and ticklish. Ed closes his eyes and permits himself to smile, just a little, and forget about the world; he jumps when a fat raindrop hits his forehead and drips down the line of his nose.

"It's raining," he says, more in surprise than anything else.

"Mmm. Should we go in?" Al isn't making any effort to pull away; seems content to stay where he is, and he's so warm... Ed glances up to the heavy grey clouds, and smiles.

"Eh, it's not so bad," he murmurs, and presses his face into Al's hair again, loving the way it feels.

And breathes.


They sleep that night in the same bed, as they have every time since they moved out here, struck out on their own. It had surprised Ed that he didn't mind, so much, that for all his discomfort at Al's need to touch he didn't mind sharing the space; perhaps it has something to do with the scent of Al's hair, and how it reminds him of the life he once had. Whatever it is, he doesn't complain, although normally he tries to keep a distance from his little brother amidst the sheets.

He's thankful for that, when he awakens at three o'clock in the morning, from a nightmare that is less a nightmare and more a memory, dark and bloody. He doesn't scream—he didn't scream when his bunkmate raped him that first time, and he's glad he didn't when he snaps his head to the side, frantically checking to be sure he didn't wake Al; his little brother is snuggled up, back to him, sucking on his thumb in a manner which normally would be terrible grounds for teasing at the breakfast table tomorrow.

His breathing is still too fast, and he swallows, closes his eyes, presses his palms against his temples and concentrates on breathing. Just a dream. Just a dream. Well, a memory, but since Mason and the others weren't standing by the bars of his cell jeering That Time, he's reasonably sure that he can pass this off as a dream.

Stupid, he thinks. Swallows. Licks his lip. Alphonse exhales sharply and he turns, worried; but his little brother merely curls into a tighter ball and doesn't stir again.

His throat is dry and so, moving carefully as he can, he swings his legs over the side of the bed, tucking the blankets around Al's sleeping form; pads into the kitchen and takes the chipped blue mug from earlier off the draining board. Drinks his glass of water leaning back against the kitchen wall, automail arm clamped around his chest.

He's shivering, shivering with the tension of it all. Nobody knows what happened, he's sure of that. His bunkmate. The doctor (and that nurse, the one who looked like she ate raw fucking lemons for breakfast and probably had more muscles than he did). Mason—oh fucking hell, Mason, he's glad he'll never have to see the man again—and a few of the other guards. Noone else. Not even the parole board, and therefore not Mustang... and not Al.

He can never know, he decides, tipping the mug upside down to get the last few drops of water out before realising that he can just refill it. Alphonse can never, ever know about this. He thinks of his little brother's reactions, if he knew; can't quite picture them but supposes there would be disgust, and horror—it's a sign of weakness, to let another man overpower you and Ed knows the shame too well to let anyone else see it.

Or even worse—Al might look at him with horror and then oh god forbid pity, might touch him and say things like It's okay now, brother, no-one's going to hurt you and he couldn't fucking stomach that, not when he's the big brother, the one to be respected.

No, Ed thinks, taking a sip of the newly-refilled mug. If anyone asks, nothing happened to him. He's completely... fine, he is; or he will be, in time.

Or at least until someone finds a copy of his medical records—no! he disciplines himself, steers his mind deliberately away from the topic. Soon as he feels—ready, he's gonna ask Mustang to get rid of them. Burn them out of existence, so his little brother will never know even if he does decide to go digging. They weren't used in the parole hearing (otherwise maybe his beating that motherfucker wouldn't've been brought up like that) so they're probably sitting in a storeroom somewhere and—

—what does it matter? He closes his eyes, carefully putting the empty mug in the sink. He needs to stop thinking about this or else he'll never stop, and then he'll crack and the whole humiliating, sordid story will come spilling out like vomit, all over Al's shoes and he just won't be able to cope, not with that.

He presses his hands to his temples again, takes a deep breath. Stupid, Elric, just go back to bed, stop dwelling on it. Just. Don't think, that's right, just pad quietly as you can through the place you made a... home, I guess. Past the shelf of knick-knacks Al made when he was practising his alchemy for the first time, past the framed photo hanging on the wall outside their bedroom door of himself and Al and Mother; into the tiny room with its garish bedcovers muted by the moonlight flooding in from the balcony. Al's still asleep and that's good, just flip the covers back and climb in.

"Mmm," Al murmurs, turning over; Ed blinks at him, but his baby brother's eyes are closed and he doesn't seem to be awake. Carefully he reaches out and touches the side of Al's face—his little brother is so warm, so soft—and lets his hand slide over Al's skin as it wanders down to recapture the blankets, wrapped around his brother's torso. He arranges himself down comfortably, smiles a little at Al's sleeping face, and whispers 'good night' before nestling into his pillow.

Alphonse never asks his older brother why, the next morning, he wakes up with Ed pressing him close in a killer hug; just watches Ed over the breakfast table, and thinks.