Ed is three, and his parents are fighting. His grandmother put him to bed early; she's been in the house for a long time now, since Edward's mother is sick—she comes in the mornings to cook and clean while Ed plays with Winry in the kitchen (humors her, more like; her new favorite game is house). Nights she leaves, though, and leaves Ed to his father.
Tonight Ed's mother has finally come back from—wherever she was. Ed pretended to be asleep when his father came to check on him, but he's been sitting at his door for a while now. His mother started out screaming; now she is crying, and Ed's father's voice is too low for Ed to understand what he's saying.
"—can't leave! Is it because—you have another son, you know—irresponsible!"
His father's low murmur rises and cuts off his mother, and Ed presses his ear to the door but still can't quite catch it.
"I know it wasn't my fault. I know you don't blame me.—Ed will—won't understand—going to do?" She's crying again. Ed wants to run out and leap into her arms—he's never heard his mother cry, and it scares him—but he's too frightened to. He doesn't know why. His father is not frightening; his father is never here. But it is Adult Business, and Ed has always been told sternly not to interfere in Adult Business.
Even if his mother is crying in huge gasps, sounding like something is being choked out of her.
"I'm sorry." That's his father. No tears in his voice; there is something hard to it that Ed has never heard before. It scares him even more than his mother's tears. "—bring him back, I would."
"Dead is dead, Hohenhime!"
"—still have Edward."
Yeah, Ed thinks, fisting his hands against the door. You've still got me.
And that is when he knows that his father is leaving. He doesn't know how he knows, and he doesn't even really know what it means—what does it mean, to leave? Will he be coming back? Is he dying? His mother did mention dying, after all, and that is something that Edward does know, because his pet kitten died last month. His mother and he buried it under their little tree; his mother prayed over it.
The next morning Ed sits at the table and pokes at some breakfast Auntie Pinako has left him, and looks up when the door to his parents' bedroom creaks open. His father comes out, face shadowed by a hat and the cuff of his jacket; the only thing Edward can see is his beard.
His father stands still for a second, and Ed stares back at him, fork halfway to his mouth. Then his father turns and walks out the kitchen door. Edward can only see the gray of his coat and the gold of his hair, duller than it usually is.
In a few months Edward will forget the look and feel of his face; even the sound of his voice.
They don't talk about that night, Edward and his mother, or any of the days before or after it. But a little grave appears in their backyard, and a tiny headstone with an angel and flowers all over it. Inside the house, the door to the new room his father was building, with the wonderful baby-blue walls and blankets and toys, is shut and locked.
"Edward, do you miss your brother?"
Ed looks suspiciously at the man sitting across from him. He has a funny outfit on, a black dress, with very white gloves—how does he keep them so clean?—and a big floppy hat. A heavy gold necklace lies around his shoulders and Ed wants to touch it very badly—he wants to know how heavy it is. Gold. His father talked about it all the time.
"I didn't have a brother," he says, moving one of his toys with a finger.
The man smiles. "But you were going to have a brother. You did know that, right?"
"Course I knew." He thought all the toys in that wonderful new room were for him, until his mother told him they weren't for him but for his brother, who would soon be able to come out and play with him. "I'm not stupid."
"No, no, you're not stupid." The man looks off into the distance for a moment, out the window where Ed's mother is hanging the laundry, and his hat flops over with the motion. "How do you feel, it being just you and your mother?"
This is something important, Ed knows, and he must answer carefully—but it's hard to, when he doesn't know what this man wants. Why is he here, with his sparkly gold and his pretty hands with their white-washed gloves? "I like it fine," he says. "I like it being just me and my mom."
"Don't you miss your father? Every young man needs a father, Edward."
He can't stop his lips from moving, this time into a scowl. "I don't. My father was never here, anyways."
"Yes," the man says quietly, "so I hear."
He asks a few more questions—stupid things, like Edward do you like the food your mother makes? and Edward what time do you go to bed? and Do you go to school? (Edward does not; his mother is smart, and teaching him herself.) Finally the man stands and gravely holds out a gloved hand, and when their fingers curl together Edward can see just how very small his hand is. He doesn't like how it looks and jerks his hand back as soon as he can. The man smiles, sweeps back his robes and gives Edward a nod before going to the door.
Right as he is poised to open it, though, he pauses, turns back around. The look he gives Edward reminds him of how Mom looks sometimes: narrow-eyed, something heavy about the lips. "Edward," he says, putting his hands in his pockets. "Are you lonely, my son?"
Ed doesn't remember exactly how he responded. He thinks he shook his head and snorted. The strange man leaves, at any rate. Edward sees him at market, sometimes, but for the most part he leaves him alone. He is someone important, Ed knows—he teaches people about God and how to act right—but he isn't too interested. It's kids' stuff.
Ed isn't lonely, really—how can he be, it's almost always been just him and his mother. But the man makes him remember how excited he was when Mom said he was going to have a playmate soon, a brother. Someone who would like the same things he likes (not like Winry, who wears dresses now and flowers in her hair), who he could show the ropes to. Someone who would look up to him like he looks up to Mom. Someone he could take care of, like Mom takes care of him.
A few years later, some kid in town teaches Ed how to pick locks, and that is how gets into the Holy Grail of his house—his father's study. When the lock clicks and the door opens, Ed just stands there for a bit, holding his breath and expecting to be caught at any moment. When capture and a spanking is not forthcoming, he lets out his breath and runs into the room, shutting the door very quietly behind him.
As rooms go, it's not too incredible. His mother's is prettier, at any rate, and smells better—this room smells like chalk and dust, and Ed pinches his nose distastefully. But—the bookshelves are full, full to overflowing, and there are books stacked in corners and on chairs, and the desk is bursting with papers. He pulls a few out and looks at them. He recognizes his father's writing (don't ask him how—he hasn't seen it in years), and although he can understand the writing, he doesn't understand the weird symbols it surrounds. Circles and crosses, triangles and squares, and funny little letters. He frowns at them, then strikes on a thought and turns them upside down, but that doesn't make it any clearer and he puts them back, disappointed.
Most of the books are like that; he understands the words, but what they really mean he can't fathom. There are a few, though, that are really easy. Especially one that is titled 'The Basics of Alchemy'; and opening that, thumbing through it, Ed finally gets it a little. His father was not a farmer, not a businessman. He was that kind of person that Auntie Pinako talks about sometimes with a weird tone—when she says 'alchemist,' she is talking about Ed's father.
"Alchemy," he says aloud. The book tells him he can make gold—build houses—fix broken things—even, maybe—and it gives the impression that this is a very big maybe—even bring back the dead. Ed smiles.
His mother is shaking her head as they walk down the road to their house, but she's also—and Ed can tell this because her lips keep curving up—trying not to smile. "Alchemy, Edward!" she says, snapping 'The Basics of Alchemy' shut. "Where in the world did you—Never mind. I can't believe you even understand this."
Ed shrugs. "It's not too hard. There's some stuff I still don't get, though."
"Well," she says, "that's because you don't have a teacher. And because you're only eight!"
"Four more months." His mother pats him on the head, then draws him closer to her side. "My little genius. You're so much like your father."
"So, can I keep learning alchemy?" Ed says, hopping over a puddle, hoping to keep the conversation off his father. His father, he figures, can probably do a lot more than make dolls and flowers.
"Of course," she says, pressing his shoulder affectionately. "Besides, I probably couldn't stop you, could I?"
His mother laughs and shakes her head.
"Bring back the dead?" Winry raises her eyebrows. She does this a lot now; since her parents died, she's been studying with Auntie Pinako—studying science, she's told Edward, and that requires skep—ti—cism. "Come on, Ed."
"No, seriously," says Ed, flipping through the book with one hand. "It says right here. 'Scientists have yearned to discover for centuries the secret of human resurrection, but the only discipline almost guaranteed to succeed is alchemy. It is commonly believed that the one who makes the Philosopher's Stone, the ultimate alchemical achievement, will gain immortality, riches, fame—and even bring back the dead to life.'"
Winry snorts and, ducking her head down, says, "That doesn't happen. Dead's dead. They don't come back. Or haven't you noticed?"
"They don't come back now. That's just because no one's really tried." Ed sits up, closing the book, and looks up at the sky. It's a cloudy day, promising rain; winter has come faster than usual this year. "The stuff about the Stone? That's just a smokescreen. People are just too scared to try it on their own. Well, I'm not."
"Please. Don't tell me you think you can make it."
"Probably not," Edward admits, sighing. "I'm not even very good at this stuff. I don't have a teacher—all I have is my father's notes, and I don't get half of them."
Winry leans forward, wrapping her arms around her knees and picking at a bandage on her shin. "Ed," she says. "Do you really think someone can do it? Bring back the dead? Wouldn't it mess everything up?"
"Mess everything up ? I don't see the problem. What's messed up is how we live now. Someday you—" Ed jabs a finger at her—"are going to get old and sick, and you'll die. Or maybe you won't even get that far. My little brother didn't even get to live a day before he died. That's not fair, is it?"
"Well, life isn't fair."
"Well," Ed says, opening the book again and starting on the last chapter, "maybe it should be."
In the summer, Edward's mother makes jam from the berry fields near their house. It's really the only thing she can do anymore; she's become thinner and thinner over the years, and is sometimes in such pain she can't get out of bed. It's Ed who cooks and cleans—as for money, they live off some funds that Father left behind. Life isn't fair, Edward thinks, and it is all his mother can do to even walk with him sometimes.
"What would you have named him?" he asks his mother one day. He is ten, and putting the caps on her jars of jam. There are quite a few jars; Edward picked when she couldn't, and it's such a good year it didn't take much work. The bushes were so full of berries that they fell off, and he could pick them up from the ground.
His mother smiles, the edges of it very sad, and presses her hand to his head. "I don't know," she says. "I was going to ask you, Edward."
"I don't know any baby names."
"Well," she says, sliding him another jar—plum, his favorite. "Your father liked Christopher. But I was thinking of giving him my father's name."
"Really?" Ed props his chin in his hands. "What was your father's name?"
"It's not very fashionable," and her smile turns a bit happier—fond, maybe, since she's thinking of her father. Ed doesn't remember him; he died when Ed was just a baby. "But—I was thinking Alphonse."
"Alphonse," Ed says, testing it out. It feels better to say than he'd thought it would—he especially likes how he can make it go up at the front, AL-phonse. His own name is pretty boring, but—"I like it. I wish you'd named me that."
"Well," says his mother, "you're named after your father's father."
"Great," Ed says, popping the cap on the last jar and slipping it into his mother's jam basket. "Now I hate my name even more."
"Oh, Edward." She reaches out and pulls him to her—he reaches her stomach now—and wraps his arms around her waist. She sways with him gently, her arms warm and soft. "Don't be like that," she says, bending down to kiss the top of his head. "I love your name. It's strong, just like you. My little man of the house."
"I'm not little," says Ed, putting on a scowl.
"You'll grow," she says, patting his cheek. "But even if you stay little forever, I'll always love you no matter what."
They put on lids in silence for a while. It feels good, not speaking; Ed knows that he tires Mom out sometimes, asks too many questions and gets upset when he doesn't like the answers. He's content to sit together and not do anything, really, but she likes to be busy.
"Edward," she says quietly. "What do you think Alphonse would have looked like?"
"Oh." Ed grins, because this is something he's thought about a lot. "That's easy! He would have looked just like you."
His mother dies the next year. Some part of him—his bones, he felt the ache of it in his bones—knew it was coming; she'd been sick ever since losing the baby, and got even sicker after Dad left. One day she was fixing him dinner and combing his hair before he went to bed; the next, she was on the floor, breath hitching with pain, face tight; and then she was dead.
They bury her next to his little brother; next to Alphonse, who never knew Ed or his mother. Auntie Pinako dresses him up in a suit, trims and brushes his hair, and she and Winry hold his hands as the priest performs the service. They hold his hands tight when he tries to move towards the coffin as it is lowered into the ground; they hug him when he screams, one single high-pitched cry. He knows how she must have felt, now. But she, at least, had him; he has no one.
Auntie Pinako asks him if he wants her to spend the night; Edward does not want her to. She cooks him a meal, then she and Winry leave—they have patients to take care of, after all. Ed sits at the table and drags his fork through his mashed potatoes, cutting in grooves and lines and looking out the window at the sunset. The sun, he thinks, never dies. Once upon a time people thought it did; they thought it died and was reborn again the next morning. Truth is, the sun is just immortal.
If there's something out there that's immortal, like the sun, why can't everything be?
The house is so empty. That night, he strains to hear the sounds of his mother's footsteps coming to tuck him in, but instead there is only a deep silence that turns his room cold. After a while, when the cold has seeped into his toes, he throws off the blankets and goes out of his room into the one next door—the locked nursery. He picks the lock; it's too easy. His father should have made it harder. Why aren't things harder to do, if people don't want him doing them?
This room is cold, too, and even though it's filled with things he knows—an old baby blanket tucked carefully into the corners of the crib his father made, toys he played with when he was little, some of his old clothes—it is just as empty, just as dead. Edward pauses by the tiny bookcase and carefully thumbs out a book: 'Mama's Fairytales.' He opens it to the front page, where, when he was young, he etched his name with one of his father's pens. 'Edward Elric.' Below that, in his mother's flowing script, is 'Alphonse Elric.'
What a liar. She wasn't going to ask him what name he wanted, after all.
Ed runs a finger down the picture on the front page, a mother and three children, then snaps the book shut. "At least," he says to that name, to Alphonse, "at least we got a chance, Dad and Mom and me. You didn't even get that, you know?"
He wants to crawl into the crib to sleep, but even he is too big. He curls up by one of its legs, instead, and spreads his baby blanket over his feet. He doesn't sleep—halfway through the night, the wind picks up through the open window and sets the baby mobile to chiming. It keeps him up until morning.
There is a little money stashed away in one of Mom's jam jars. The next morning Edward digs it out and buys himself a ticket, and finds himself a teacher.
"Actually, the sun's not immortal," Izumi tells him. They are lying on one of Dublith's hills, ankles crossed over their knees; counting the constellations, which Edward doesn't known the names of (and which Izumi doesn't have the patience to teach him). "It's just a rock. Think about it, Edward—the sun expends energy as heat, heat that keeps us alive. What do you think happens to that energy?"
"But energy can't be destroyed or created," Ed says, sticking a stalk of grass between his teeth and frowning. "Right?"
"That's right." She looks a little annoyed. "But nothing lasts forever. You expend energy, too—and what happens to you?"
"I die." Edward sits up, moving his chin to his knees. He looked for the moon earlier, but it's covered by a patch of clouds, and neither it nor the clouds will budge. He looks, instead, for Sirius, the brightest star in the sky and his favorite.
Ah—there it is. Glowing bright, as always.
"Yes," Izumi says, reaching over and plucking the grass from his mouth. "The sun is just a rock. A rock that's burning brightly, true, but nothing more than that. It'll take a while, but it will die, too."
"Jeez," Ed mutters. "Doesn't anything last?"
"Ah." Izumi smiles and musses his hair, skritching his scalp with her long fingernails. "Now that, that should be a law. Nothing lasts forever."
"Does it have to be that way?"
"Come now, you silly boy! Don't be so romantic. What would happen if no one ever died? I daresay you wouldn't even be alive right now—this planet would be overrun. Hell, we would have killed each other by now. If my father had lived forever?" Izumi shook her head. "I know I would have killed the annoying bastard."
Ed blinks. "Damn. Me, too."
"What, killed my father?" Izumi raises an eyebrow.
"No. Killed mine." He falls on his back again and lifts up his leg, settling it across his knee. "I'd hate it if he'd stuck around forever."
"See, now?" Edward looks over at her; her smile is a bit softer than usual. She gets like sometimes, Izumi, when she's not hitting him or telling him he's an idiot or freaking out because he's broken something in the kitchen. "That's what makes life beautiful, Edward. Soon, you and I won't be anything—doesn't that make all this—" She waves a hand around—"a little bit more special?"
"I dunno." He yawns. "Don't really care. I just hate it when people die."
"Of course," she says, "it's the simple things like that, Ed, that make us human. Burning our food and playing with children and feeling sad for others." She stands up, brushing grass and mud from her hips, and holds out a hand. "Come on, then. You're about to fall asleep on me, and I hate carrying fat brats like you."
"I'm not fat," he protests, and is cut off midway by another yawn. "Okay, okay."
He tries to make it back to the Curtis' house, he really does; he wants a warm drink and his warm bed, and Mr. Curtis snoring away in the room next to him. That house is never empty. But halfway through the walk, his eyes fall shut; he stumbles and almost falls down. Izumi catches him, though, and Ed hears her grumbling through his sleepy daze as she picks him up, hefts him into her arms. She's thinner than his mother and not as warm; but her hair, when he tangles his hands in it, is soft, and so is her shoulder. She rubs his back as she carries him, and he falls asleep more quickly than he has in months, nestled in the cradle of her arms.
Alchemy is simple. Give something, and you receive. Learn the symbols, the equations, a bit of math, do some calculations—and almost anything is in reach. Maybe even reviving the dead. It's too easy—how can Izumi, how can anyone expect him not to try? If it's so forbidden, if it's so wrong, it should be harder.
But it isn't. Ed marks in the last symbol, then straightens up and surveys his work. It's perfect; even his father, he's sure, would have to say so. He's worked for months on the math, perfected every slight miscalculation, and his theory—well, his theory has always been right. He hopes he's just got the mechanics down.
Izumi asked him once, "What do you think you can give for a soul, Edward?" when he asked about human alchemy.
Easy, Edward thinks. What is a soul but a collection of the body's various mechanics—his blood, then, should be the perfect substitution. It's what keeps every human alive, and half of his is his mother's. What else can he give?
He looks at the array one last time, and can't keep a smile from stretching his lips. "I've got it, Mom," he whispers. "I'm bringing you back." He slides a knife out of his pocket—a butter knife from the kitchen, sharp enough to draw blood—and, holding his hand over the array, slices the knife into his skin.
His blood—her blood—gathers, wavers, falls.
The blue light springs up, whirls around him, faster and more intense than any reaction he's ever had. Edward bites his lip, hopeful—he can see it spinning into a recognizable shape, something vaguely human. He shakes his finger, adding more blood to the array.
That's when the light turns, darkens into a different color—a color not so different from that of his blood. Ed hisses in between his teeth—but it can still work, surely it can, maybe this is just a side effect of human transmutation; then he feels something, a tickle on his leg, and looks down to see—
"You're not supposed to be here," and Edward blinks.
Then he screams.
There is too much information in his brain; it feels like it's compressing, molding into a different shape even. Like it's going to all ooze out his brain. It's too much. It almost cancels out the pain in his leg—but he should be so lucky. Edward lies in the middle of the array and moans, one hand pressed to his forehead, the other to a stump that's oozing blood. He breathes little breaths between his teeth and groans as the information in his brain slowly begins to recede, to be compartmentalized as all information usually is, stored so that he can forget most of it until he needs it again. And as it does that, the pain in his leg begins to fill up his entire being until he is nothing but pain. He is the loss of his leg, that bloody stump.
Something hisses a little ways across from him, and Edward brings up his chin in a daze. His mouth is moving and he is saying something, he doesn't know what.
Another hiss, and the smoke begins to fade away until Edward can see something—a shadowed limb waving. He chokes a little as he tries to sit up, both hands going to his leg. He peers into the smoke, tosses his head to move some of it away.
He will remember, later, that it is very odd that he thought what he did at that moment. For a second, he thinks it is his mother, even though all visual information entering his brain is telling him otherwise. His eyes are telling him he has made a monster. His brain cannot believe it.
For a second, he hopes.
He thinks he destroyed it; he isn't quite sure. Edward slumps against a wall, bleeding, crying, tears scalding his face and dripping down onto his hands, running into his wound. He is moaning things, he doesn't know what. He thinks he must be crying for his mother; maybe his father, too. For Izumi, certainly. For someone to come and fix all this.
Edward remembers when he broke his wrist. The pain is nothing compared to this, but it had been the first break he ever had, the most pain he'd experienced up until then. He had lain on the ground for a long, long time before his mother found him. He remembers what he was thinking only because of the absence of it. His brain had simply shut down.
It's not happening now, and he wishes he had some way to do it. He lets go of his leg to scrabble around on the ground for the knife, for something sharp, anything to stop all of this. His fingers brush over something: a pencil. He lifts it up, and it is trembling wildly in his hand.
He knows he is doing this, jabbing the pencil into his chest over and over and over again until it doesn't even hurt. Some part of him is doing it. Some part is not. The same part that killed the—thing. The same part that is still holding his leg, trying to keep it from bleeding.
That part realizes that stabbing himself with a pencil is not going to accomplish anything. That part is very quickly going away.
Edward drops the pencil, and it rolls away from him with a light clatter before coming to a sticky halt in a pool of blood. He knocks his head back against the wall, shutting his eyes against the tears that are still leaking out.
I am, he thinks dimly, going to die. Just like my mother. Just like my brother.
His brother who never had a chance—Ed remembers the baby blanket, the toys so carefully polished by his mother, some of them handmade, he suspects, by his father. The little book with Alphonse's name in it, in his mother's beautiful handwriting. She wanted that baby so badly, Edward realizes, and he hiccups with more tears. She wanted more than just me.
By myself—I was never enough.
Ed's father collected suits of armor. Edward opens one eye; there is one standing just a little ways away from him. 'What an odd hobby,' Auntie Pinako used to say when she saw it, and would stand there with one hand on her hip, the other holding her pipe. 'Well, he was an odd fellow, your father. Used to say it was as close to human as he could get.'
Edward's fingers twitch.
His mind, like a little jack-in-the-box, opens up, and pages dispassionately through reams of information, books and books of information, before it comes up with the right page. The blood is coming more slowly out of his leg now, and Edward has to try several times before he can move his arm, much less scoot his entire body across the floor to that suit of armor. When he reaches it, he falls against it, knocks it over; its head breaks apart and rolls to a halt a little ways away, but the body rests still under Ed's hand.
What else is a soul? says the page, but a collection of memories? And what, indeed, are memories?
The chalk he used to draw the array is long gone. Edward dips his finger instead into some of his own blood, and touches it to the inside of the suit of armor. He doesn't even recognize the array he draws; he has never seen it. But when he is done drawing, and pulls his back his trembling fingers, he knows what it is.
Memories can be created.
He presses his hand to the array, and this time the light that flares up is pure.
"Edward, look at your brother!" His mother bends down to show him the tiny bundle in her arms, face alight with her smile. Edward presses back against his father's leg, frowning, suspicious of the little moving thing.
"It stinks," he says.
"Edward." His father's knee nudges his back, gently propelling him forward. His mother holds the baby out to him, and his father says, "Say hello to your brother, Edward."
He doesn't quite know what to do; he kisses its forehead. Its skin is soft and warm, and—this close—smells dry and powdery. Ed draws back again, but almost immediately scoots closer to watch as the baby's lids flicker and its lips move.
"He's trying to say hello to you," his mother whispers. "He knows his older brother."
His father presses an arm around his shoulders and speaks into his ear. "That's your brother, Ed. Do you know what that means? It means you have to look out for him, because you're the elder. You have responsibilities now. Your brother is going to look up to you, follow you."
Edward is not very impressed. 'Responsibility' means brushing his teeth and going to bed on time.
"You know what else he's going to do?" This is his mother, smiling her secret smile at him. "He's going to love you, Edward. He's going to be the best friend you ever had."
The baby gurgles at him, spit bubbles gathering in its lips, and Ed wants to reach out and wipe them away. He settles for crossing his arms and saying, "So what's his name? I can't call him It all the time."
"No," says his father, sounding amused. "Actually, we thought you could pick a name."
Ed glances at his mother, who nods. "Me?" he says, and reaches up to tug at his lip. "I dunno...."
"We were stuck," says his mother, "between Alphonse and Christopher." She glances at his father. "Which do you like, Edward?"
Ed shrugs and snorts, looking away. "I don't care!" He looks at his mother out of the corner of his eye; she is straightening, tucking the blanket back over the baby's face. "Well—" he relents—"I don't like Christopher."
"Alphonse, then," says his father, squeezing his shoulders. "Edward and Alphonse Elric. It has a ring to it."
"Brother!" Edward blinks, dazed, and someone shakes him a little, knocking his brain back into order and back into a world of pain. He winces and pulls in on himself, and someone tightens their arms around him.
Mom? he thinks; then he opens his eyes and sees metal all around him, and two eyes glowing at him in the dark.
"Brother, can you hear me? I'm going to get you to Auntie Pinako, okay? Don't worry. I'm not going to let you die!"
He closes his eyes again, lets himself sink into the arms that are lifting him up and cradling him against a metal body. It's cold, hard, unhuman—but it feels surprisingly... familiar. Like the sad, empty little room in his house, with the crib, and his baby blanket, and the book with his brother's name in it.
He licks his lips. "Don't worry, Alphonse," he whispers. "I won't die on you."
"Al?" Ed blinks, stopping in the doorway and shifting his coffee from his automail hand to his real one. He cocks his head, sighs. "What the hell are you doing, leaving the window open? You'll—rust, or something."
Al doesn't move to close it, just scoots a little more into himself. He is too big to fit on the windowsill, really, but Al can make himself compact like no other. Ed wishes sometimes that suitcases utilize the same technology—they're always too big to lug around—
He sips his coffee. "Al, close the window."
"Why?" If Al had a body, Ed guesses that he would be getting a very unfavorable look right now. "I want to look at the stars, brother, even if I can't feel the wind. Is that so bad?"
Ed throws up his hands, forgetting that he has coffee in one, and hops and curses when it splashes on his legs. "OW! Damn! Look what you made me do—aw, seriously, come on, it's freezing in here."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I forgot." With a tinny sigh, Al reaches out and latches the window shut.
The coffee is never going to come out. Ed fights down a matching sigh and sets his coffee mug on the bedside table, then leans against the wall, crossing his ankles over each other. "So, what's up with the hangdog face? You read another of your sad books or something? I keep telling you to stay away from fiction, but—"
"No," says Al, "it's not that."
"Oh." Ed is at a loss. "Well, then what?"
"I dunno." His brother shrugs, metal plates clanking against each other. "I was just—thinking about...." He holds out his hands, then gestures for Ed to come over. When he does—moving a bit suspiciously, eyebrows raised—Al slides his hand under Ed's, comparing. Ed's hand is tiny in his—tiny, and crisscut with thin white scars. "You, I guess."
"Oh?" Ed folds his hand into a fist, smacks the center of Al's hand and grins at him. "Well, it's hard not think about me, I know. Since I'm so wonderful and all."
"I know," Al whispers. "You're right, actually."
"I'm sorry." Al drops his hand and folds it, with his other, in his lap. "It's hard for me, you know? It's hard being in this body—it feels like I'm forgetting how to be a person... then I think... it's okay, as long as we're together. As long as you're here, even if I forget, you won't."
Ed falls silent, tucking one hand under his chin. Then he snorts, hops up onto the windowsill and maneuveres himself until he's in Al's lap, back pressed to his chestplate. He knocks Al's shoulder with his metal hand and says, "You're not going to forget. It's just not gonna happen, okay?"
Al's hands hover around him, hesitating; then they fold around him, pressing their hands together.
"Mom asked me once," Ed says, leaning his head against Al's chest and closing his eyes, "what I thought you would look like. It was so long ago, but I knew... you would have eyes like hers. I told her so, when she asked me."
"I can't believe you remember that."
"Me either," says Ed, squeezing Al's fingers, "since I don't remember a lot from when I was a kid."
"I guess what you said was right, then," says his brother; "old memories just get replaced with new ones, right?"
"Right." Ed smiles and slaps his shoulder again, affectionate. "Besides, anyone who says you're just the sum of your memories is full of it. We're more than that. Otherwise... it would have been easy to bring back Mom, you know?"
"I know," Alphonse whispers. He shifts Ed further into his lap until Ed's head is resting against the crook of his arm. His fingers slide through Ed's hair, gently stroking, scratching his scalp. "I am more than that."
Sometimes Ed forgets. The memories he has created are so strong, of him and Alphonse growing up together. Sometimes he wonders if it's the same for everybody.
Sometimes he wonders if he will one day cease to remember that other life: where he grew up alone, where he created Alphonse out of nothing but energy and his right arm.
Al is motherly; he made him, Ed knows, to be that way, invested that quality into him. But who is to say, really, that a real brother would not have been that way—wouldn't have inherited that quality from his—their—mother?
Who even cares?
Al's fingers are running down his face, now, and settling on his shoulder to massage the automail port, like Mom used to massage his wrist when it ached after the break. He is almost warm, Alphonse. Almost human.
He's almost human. Soon, Edward will make him real.