Untitled - Alphonse

Al wonders, a little, what it's like to live inside Ed's head now.

Everything used to be painted on his face—every emotion, even the very reluctance to show emotion, used to jump out at anyone who watched him, slapping them in the face with his earnestness. His brother could be a very good liar, Al knew, but never with a straight face; he hid lies behind malicious smiles, innocent grins, drawn brows.

Now, Ed can lie with a perfectly straight face. In fact, it's only the dead features that give it away.

Al wakes up to Ed coming out of the bath—and it's always a bath, as Ed periodically reminds him with a tone that shows it's of great importance—with a towel wrapped around his middle. He blanches a little when Al sits up in bed and bends over to retrieve his black tanktop. He's still bone and sinew and muscle, Al thinks, but doesn't say; his metabolism seems to have dropped through the floor. Despite everything, he subsists on bread spread thin with peanut butter, bacon when Al cooks it, apples. "You should eat more," he says on impulse, and Ed makes a face.

"Not hungry," he shrugs, struggling into his tank top. "Whatever happened to 'good morning'?"

Al smiles at the half-hearted accusation. "Good morning," he says warmly while his brother hops back into his boxers. "Is Winly gone?"

"Mornin'," Ed grunts in reply, and shrugs at the question. He stretches and yawns. Since Ed squeaked past the parole hearing, he's been dotting his 'i's and crossing his 't's, and he has a job three blocks down the street as, of all things, a cook. Al can't figure it.

Actually, he's still wrapping his head around his brother being an author.

"Did you want any breakfast?" Al asks after a moment, throwing back the covers. He shivers a little at the cool air, but it is early winter now.

Ed shakes his head, pulling on the loose black pants that are part of his uniform. He hadn't groused about the uniform, but Al had seen the haunted complaint in his eyes and wondered. "I thought I'd buy one of those fluffy biscuit things that guy sells on Third, uh ..."

"Croissants?" Al supplies.

"Yeah." Ed's smile is fleeting and looks pasted on. What is he down about? But Al has given up trying to cheer him; his brother's moods are determined, and since his outburst—"They're pretty good."

"I'm glad you like them," Al says softly, rolling over on the bed so he's just behind Ed. "Are you okay?"

Ed hesitates a moment. "Just a dream."

Just a dream. Al licks his lips and lightly presses his hand against his brother's back; muscles, bone, scars that Ed has never let him see since that first night. He feels Ed tense. "Brother ... please talk to me," he begs, but Ed just shakes his head, a slight wagging. "Stop trying to protect me," he says, pleading and frustrated at once. "You already tried that, and you almost ended up back in—"

"Al!" Ed's voice cracks. "Has it crossed your mind that maybe I just don't want to talk about it!?" He turns a furious glare on Al for a moment before he catches himself, and spins around to bore holes into the wall. But it's enough; Al draws his hand back carefully, and sees Ed flinch a bit.

For a moment Al is utterly torn. Should he put his hand back? Is he making it worse, better? What does Ed want?

Ed takes a deep breath and lets it out, though. "Prison sucked," he breathes out. "It ... really sucked, and I ... I just want to pretend it didn't happen. For five minutes, I want to just fucking forget about it." He's draws a breath and seems to be on the verge of saying more, but then he turns his head and looks at Al. Shifts his hand, still calloused, the palm wrapped from a burn at work, and covers Al's, his fingers threading into his and squeezing hard.

"Brother," Al starts, swallowing, but the moment is ending already. Ed looks down.

"I have to go to work."

"You still have time."

"Better to be early than late," Ed quips, and then he's standing up and starting for the door. "See you tonight."

"I'll stop by and say hello," Al promises, but Ed doesn't even look back; he just waves and turns the corner, and Al can hear him gallop down the stairs—one of the few things that hasn't changed.

For a moment, Al had believed maybe he could be those five minutes of refuge.

He curses his stupidity.

Al wakes up to a faceful of golden hair, and he pinches his nose to keep from sneezing. He sits up slowly and carefully, but Ed doesn't move. He sleeps like one of the dead, actually, rarely even shifting in his sleep.

Al slowly, carefully snuggles up against his brother's back. He's warm; he rests his cheek on Edward's spine, closing his eyes. This closeness, this physical closeness, is something he has missed for ten whole years.

Suddenly Ed stiffens, and Al lifts his head—not a moment too soon. "Get the fuck off me!" Ed is turning, furious, his elbow coming down.

Al flings himself back, scrambling under the covers. "Brother!" Terror speeds him, but the word freezes his brother.

Ed stares at him, and then his eyes clear and he sees Al. "Oh, shit," he breathes, then grimaces, and scrambles out of the bed. "Go back to sleep—" he instructs, and then the bathroom door is slamming behind him. The sound of running water follows.

Al gets out of bed too, padding to the door but unsure why he's sneaking. He grasps the handle, pressing his ear to the door.

The sound he hears is unmistakable.

"Brother," Al implores after listening to his brother retch, but he gets no answer. "Brother, do you need me to get something for you?" There's no reply. ".... Brother?"

"Ah, fuck, Al," comes Ed's voice, weary. "Go to bed."

"No! Are you sick?"

"Ahah ..." the laugh Al hears is self-depreciating, and then there is a long moment of silence. "In a manner of speaking," he thinks he hears in a low, muted mutter. "Please go to bed, Al. I swear I'll come back to bed in a moment."

"... okay, brother." For now, he thinks.

But Ed doesn't come out until he thinks Al is dozing.

Al hears him settle on the edge of the bed, swear softly, then feels him lay down. Feels him turn over. Feels fingers arch through is bangs, a touch so light it's barely there.

"I'm sorry," Ed says quietly, and when Al's eyes pop open, Ed's eyes are closed.

He sleeps with his hand on Al's temple.