It was uncomfortably warm when he woke, light streaming thick and golden beneath the curtains to fall across rumpled sheets and bare skin.
And for the space of several heartbeats, that moment during which he teetered between waking and sleeping, Edward struggled with the images from his dream, close enough still to set his heart pounding. Flesh shifting below his fingers—bone out of joint—an unearthly sound of pain, keening and inhuman. The lines of the array, so carefully drawn, and beyond them a dark smear that glistened in the moonlight.
But daylight was quick to chase the vision away, dream-sights skittering from his mind when he dug to recall the rest of the nightmare—and by the time the boy shoved the thick quilts aside and rose shakily to his feet, all that he could remember was that it had been particularly bad.
It was half an hour later when at last Edward staggered into the kitchen, steps still uneven and proclaiming quite clearly that, no matter how often he protested it, the boy hadn't yet gotten used to two automail legs.
Alphonse wasn't at home, of course—he would be working now, Ed reminded himself—but there were signs that his brother had already been and gone. The sink held a plate with crumbs, thick and brownish-orange, and the older boy suppressed the urge to roll his eyes, making a mental note that he'd need to buy more pumpkin bread. Al went through the stuff like candy, though Edward had always found it revolting.
The curtains were pulled wide already, tied back to let the morning light brighten the little room, and on the counter sat a thick, white mug, coffee and sugar measured into it in the amounts that Ed had always taken.
The boy couldn't quite stop the smile that drifted to his lips as he crossed the room to begin boiling water, inordinately pleased to know that, however busy Alphonse was with this new job, he still had time to think of his big brother.
After all, now that Edward had nothing particular to research, no overbearing drive, the alchemical texts that he read were the ones in which he took an honest interest.
The sensation had been a novel one at first, not to be consumed by the compulsion to do more, faster, better—to pick up a book that he thought he might like and settle himself down for the fun of it. Since the night in the ruins of what had been their house, the night that he'd transmuted his brother and remade both of their lives, Ed had rediscovered what he'd enjoyed so much about books as a child. The feel of them. The smell of them. The possibility that lay within their pages.
Al would laugh, he thought, if the older boy were to share something so childishly idealistic—but he would approve all the same, because that's how Alphonse was. There would be that quiet chuckle, and a fond voice, and then his little brother would nudge him aside so that there was room to settle in with a book of his own.
The pen scratched idly on parchment as Edward took notes, and he flipped a page almost absently, thoughts really only half on the research spread out before him.
The smile just beginning to tug up the edges of his mouth froze halfway. And for a moment, golden eyes remained enchanted, tracing the lines of the diagrams on the page.
Very carefully, he closed the book. Unlocked the large drawer on the right-hand side of the desk, and set the text carefully atop a stack of others. All it took was a push of his hand and the twist of a small brass key to put it out of sight.
Edward lowered his head to the desk and remained unmoving for a long time, fighting the sting of bile at the back of his throat.
The boy didn't need much—there were only two of them to feed, after all, and it seemed they always had leftovers—but he bought more than he probably should have, anyway, picking out a large, soft loaf of pumpkin bread for Alphonse and even swallowing his pride enough to get a small bottle of milk.
Not that he'd touch the stuff.
The mail had come by the time he returned to the little house they shared—a lone letter today, from Winry, and he had a moment to feel a twinge of annoyance at the fact that there was only one name on the front of it.
She'd been upset when Edward had finally sickened of her insistence that it wasn't healthy to be alone all the time—that holding onto the past wasn't doing him any good. And perhaps he had snapped a little harshly that he didn't need a fucking girlfriend when he had his brother—and perhaps it had been a tactless way to break the secret they'd been harboring for so long—but she didn't have to take it out on Al, the boy thought grumpily, and slit the envelope open.
It was a pleasant enough letter, Ed thought.
She and Auntie Pinako were doing well—though she hinted unsubtly that their income had been severely reduced now that he wasn't damaging his automail every other week. She'd been enjoying the change in weather, and wanted to know how Ed had been getting along. Was he feeling better? Should she come and visit?
The boy set the envelope on the counter with a sigh and told himself that he'd get to answering it later.
And though the boy missed his brother occasionally, wasn't this better than it had been? Now, at least, Alphonse could feel—could live his life as he was meant to—could enjoy the body that had taken years of wasted effort to achieve.
And if he was away long hours doing it—well. At least Edward still had his little brother.
The cutting hand slipped.
The knife dug in, and the tip of the boy's thumb landed on the counter, blood pooling thick and red around slices of carrot.
"Fuck," Edward said, and turned away from the sight, disturbed by it.
The small puddle of liquid brought images from last night's dream to the surface—the ruins of their house in moonlight and a thick, wet smear amidst them—and the boy felt quite suddenly as though he might throw up.
He ate his own meal a bit mechanically, feeling shaken and out of sorts, and washed dishes in the same daze, not caring when the bandage that he'd wrapped round the tip of his thumb got drenched and turned pink where the water soaked it. It was only with a vague, detached sort of obligation that he remembered to pour half the bottle of milk out and choke down a bit of pumpkin bread to leave the plate in the sink.
His response to Winry came next, and the boy stared blankly at the paper for the better part of an hour before words occurred to him.
The weather was a nice change, Ed agreed, though he supposed that they must be more grateful for it in Riesenburg—he didn't miss winter in that forsaken place, not a bit. He was getting on much better now, but very busy with work. Could she wait a few months before dropping by, so that he had time to show her around the city properly?
After that, nothing seemed willing to come—and so he signed his name, folded the sheet up, and rummaged about until he found an empty envelope.
And so he put out the lamp as he came into the kitchen, habit making the path to the window an easy one.
The moon was full tonight, the boy discovered as his flesh hand pulled the curtain away from the wide pane of glass, automail tying it carefully back with an extra strip of fabric. The light streamed into the room pale and silver, making the blotch of red on his bandage a spot of colorless darkness.
The second curtain joined the first, and for a moment his view of the sky was unobstructed. There were the stars, bright and shining, exactly as they had been when two little boys had lay in the grass so long ago and stared up at them.
Abruptly, Ed turned away, metal legs loud on the surface of the floor as he made his way to the cabinet where their glasses were kept. It took him only a moment to find the one that he was looking for—he'd done this enough that it was a simple thing to manage by touch—and set the white mug on the counter while he retrieved the coffee from its jar.
The boy tried not to think as he spooned the stuff in—actually closed his eyes when he began measuring out sugar. But then it was done, and he was setting the result carefully on the counter, and finally—finally—he could sleep.
The way back to the bedroom, too, was managed in darkness—he'd made the trip often enough that it wasn't a difficult one.
And when he slid in under quilts that were too heavy and squeezed his eyes shut against the world, Edward didn't cry.