When Skies Are Gray

The rain shone slick on the pavement, gleaming silver that rippled every time the water subsided and then began anew. It sheeted off the rooftops, painted the sky a deep, ominous grey, made rivers of the places where the ground dipped just a touch too low.

"Fuck!" Ed exclaimed, ducking under the protection of a cloth overhang; a taller boy followed just seconds behind, panting and quite thoroughly drenched.

"Brother," Alphonse scolded, the tone familiar and exasperated. "You're the one who forgot. If you’re going to complain, you can at least have the decency to—"

But the rest of what he'd meant to say was cut off in a yelp as Edward lunged for him, seizing the front of his jacket with both hands and attempting to work his arms forcibly from the sleeves.

"I swear I'll change it back when we get home," the smaller boy began again. "You'll never know the difference."

Al sighed, a long-suffering sound. "No, brother," he said, and set about prying the fingers of Edward's flesh hand from the fabric. "You can't transmute my jacket into an umbrella." His tone was all weary patience, as though explaining to a child why candy was out of the question until after dinner. "We're both soaked already, so it wouldn't do any good—and then I just won't have a jacket."

He expected a protest—had been getting them for the past six blocks, after all, ever since the sky opened up and began dumping rain on the both of them. To his surprise, however, Ed relinquished the hold, folding arms over his chest as golden eyes glared out into the pouring, icy water.

"Fine," the older boy acknowledged at last, tone managing a curious blend of sulking and resigned. There was more to it, muttered and low, lost under the roar of rain on pavement, but Alphonse didn't quite catch the words—didn't catch much beyond the involuntary shiver that worked its way through his brother's shoulders.

Edward was just bracing himself to step back into the storm when the younger boy caught his wrist, hauled him in closer.

It was almost absently that strong arms closed around Ed's shoulders, opening the much-contested jacket so that it could close about the both of them when the smaller boy was pulled flush against his chest. And when golden eyes drifted shut against the sudden warmth, his brother struggling and failing to fight down the shudder prompted by the nearness, Alphonse laughed quietly.

"What's so funny?" came the response—and if Al craned his neck just slightly, he could see that a single eye was peering reproachfully up at him, slit and watchful.

"Nothing." The smile that came with the answer was an honest one, open and glad—and when Ed snuggled in just a hair closer to the warmth he provided, a wave of contentment rose up to greet the motion. "Can't I just be happy, brother?"

A muffled noise rose up in response to that, a sound that might have been either protest or assent. But if the smaller boy was being contrary, it was only for show—because moments later, a cold nose was nuzzling at the base of his neck, and though Alphonse shivered at the sudden change in temperature, he didn't pull away.

"Fucking rain," Edward declared, dragging his shirt over his head to deposit it in a sodden pile on the floor.

"Well, we're out of it now," Al reminded him lightly, pressing the towel into the boy's hands as he moved to follow suit, stripping off the wet clothing with a speed borne of the promise that he'd soon be warm. A moment later and the younger of the two was rubbing the damp from his hair, drying skin clammy with cold, shivering even as he fished in the drawers of the dresser they shared for something to wear.

Ed's hand followed just behind, so close that the bitter chill of the automail limb brushed him as the older boy snatched up a pair of pants.

They were dressed in record time, Alphonse balancing one-legged so that he could pull on a pair of thick, ugly brown socks as Edward stole the younger boy's slippers and disappeared into the hallway.

A plaintive cry of "Brother!" echoed after the retreating form, but of course the only response was a triumphant cackle and the sound of footsteps falling just a bit faster as Ed sped up to avoid possible retaliation. Heaving a sigh of defeat, Al tugged on the second of the socks and trailed after him.

He found his brother in the kitchen, turning to set a pot on the stove—and for one startling moment, he swore that Ed was crying. Because as the boy glanced up to greet him, a single drop traced its way down the familiar planes of his brother's cheek, leaving a glistening trail in its wake.

It was a sight Alphonse had glimpsed only rarely in recent years, something reserved for those times when the legendary Fullmetal Alchemist woke sobbing in the night, terrified of dreams that he refused to speak about.

But before Al's mind could quite catch up with itself—before he could even begin to puzzle out what had upset his brother so badly—a second drop fell to join the first, from the place where Ed's bangs hung still-sopping before eyes of gold.

Al took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "Brother," he said at last, a hint of relief under the words. "If you're so cold, why don't you dry your hair properly?"

"Too much trouble," came the reply, flippant, and Ed wrinkled his nose as though to illustrate the point. "Especially if it'll manage on its own." A sly grin drifted up to meet the boy still standing in the doorway, and the older of the two continued, almost as though by afterthought: "We're out of milk, by the way. So you have to have your hot chocolate like sane people do."

Alphonse fought against the urge to roll his eyes. "Just because something has milk in it..." the boy began—but Ed wasn't in the mood for counter-arguments.

"...makes it utterly vile," he concluded, with a nod, and resumed the serene stirring of their soon-to-be-hot-chocolate.

Al could have pressed the issue. Could have argued that it was a matter of taste, or that his older brother was actually quite fond of stew with milk in it.

"You're hopeless," he offered instead, sighing as he stepped from the hallway and into the kitchen.

And when he came up behind the boy to wrap familiar arms about Edward's waist, long strands of weather-bedraggled gold dripped water down to soak the front of his shirt, cold and wet and everything they'd been attempting to escape in the world outside.

Alphonse ignored it, and leaned in to press a kiss to his brother's cheek.