"God, would you just sit still—"
"—hell no, I know what you're planning with that wrench—"
"—have to examine you!—"
Alfons Heiderich paused on the bottom of the steps, tilting his head to the ruckus coming from Winry's workroom. He tucked the duster into his pockets and wiped his hands, grinned when he heard a crash and a high-pitched howl. A scrabble of footsteps—Ed making a break for the door—sounded, then Winry yelled again, a loud Tarzan-like scream, and Alfons heard another crash; Ed being grabbed by the scruff of his neck and dragged back, no doubt.
The front door opened and Al poked his head in, eyes wide. "Is she murdering him?" he asked, catching sight of Alfons.
Alfons grinned. "Ed seems to think so," he said easily. It'd been a shock at first, coming face-to-face with his twin in this strange world where people could make miracles with their hands—but it'd been six months now. Ed was working hard, but Alfons had a feeling that it would be very many years yet until he could get back home. In those six months, he'd gotten somewhat used to the sights of faces he knew and didn't know: even his own counterpart was becoming familiar in his difference. Al shared his face, yes, but he was very much a different person (which Alfons was glad for).
For one thing, he was meaner to Ed. Al sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Well, whatever she's doing, he probably deserved it."
"Probably." Alfons glanced back towards the workshop; it had quieted down, and that worried him more than the screams. "I'm going to go see, then," he said, hopping down the last step and bouncing to a stop in front of Al. "Are you coming with me?"
"Of course," said Al.
Alfons glanced at him sidelong and smiled. The quiet was worrying Al, too, he knew. He'd learned, after a year or so of living with Ed, that quiet was bad—it meant he was brooding, or hurt, or really pissed; he only got loud over superficial wounds. If he knew this, Al must know it instinctually, must tense up whenever he saw Ed being quiet. "I wonder how she got him in her clutches in the first place," he said, and grabbed the handle. He paused and frowned.
"What is it?" Al stood on his tiptoes and peered over his shoulder.
"Locked." Alfons knocked on the door; no one answered. "Well, well," he muttered. "You're not going to keep us out." He pounded louder, sneaking his other hand down to jimmy with the lock.
"We're busy!" Winry called. "Jeez, stop making so much noise."
"Brother," Al said, "are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Edward snapped; the lock snapped under Alfons's fingers and the door opened, spilling Alfons and Al into the room. They stumbled a few steps forward and caught themselves, brushed themselves off, Alfons trying to keep his dignity intact as he straightened up. Ed blinked at them. "I thought that lock was alchemy-proof," he said.
Alfons dusted his hands off. "It is," he said, smug.
"Brother." Al's low voice was deadly. "Why didn't you tell me something was wrong with your automail?"
Ed sighed and looked to the side, setting his chin in his good hand. Winry was hard at work on his arm; she'd snapped open the cover and was poking around at the bearings and in the wires, ever so often shining a light into it so she could get a better look. "It's not a big deal," he said.
Almost automatically, Winry smacked him with her free hand. "Yes, it is," she said, sliding her mask down around her neck. She pointed her flashlight at Al and Alfons. "This idiot—" She scowled at Ed.—"Managed to dislocate his shoulder."
"Oh." Alfons winced; he'd dislocated his knee when he was a kid, and he could remember the weird pain of it even now. "Well, you can just, ah, s-snap it back into place then, right?" he said, feeling a bit weak at the very thought.
"No." Al's quiet tone made Alfons glance at him. He was rubbing the bridge of his nose again, sighing, mouth tight. "Brother's shoulder isn't real bone," he said; "it's automail. The bone is removed during the early stages of automail surgery—it makes things simpler."
"Because of that," Winry said, sliding her mask back up and maneuvering a wrench into Ed's shoulder, "we can't really snap the ball back into its joint like we could with a normal arm. The automail has to be moved manually and, um, hammered back into place, basically, or it'll move again." She screwed something hard and Ed twitched, making a horrible face. "If you weren't so reckless with your automail, Ed—"
"Yeah, yeah." Ed bared his teeth and tried to twitch away from her, but she was holding him still with her other arm.
"Which means more surgery," Al said. "I thought we were done with all this."
"I see," said Alfons. He really didn't understand the mechanics of automail (much like he didn't understand alchemy, even with all of the diagrams and sketches and books Ed had shoved at him), but he knew that it bothered Ed most of the time, and that the intial surgery to install it must have been hell. Al looked ready to maim someone if he even mentioned it; Ed just looked green around the gills, even if he usually laughed it off. Alfons had learned not to speak of it. "When?"
Winry's drill spun to life, making Al and Ed wince. "Tomorrow morning," she said over the whirr. "So make sure he goes to sleep early tonight, you two."
Al glanced at him. He looked suddenly vulnerable, and it reminded Alfons, as it always did, that Ed and Al had just been little kids when all this had happened. He reached out and slung his arm around Al's shoulder, bringing them comfortably close together as he said, "Of course. Count on us."
After dinner Ed collapsed on their bed, curled into a pillow and seemed content to ignore them both. Dinner had been a strained affair; Winry had taken off his automail, and Al had had to cut his meat for him. Alfons didn't think it was that big a deal, never had, even through all the times Ed had called himself a cripple and a gimp back in Alfons's world; but it bothered Ed, he knew. And Al, though he'd never say anything.
Alfons paused with his shirt halfway over his head and snuck a glance at Al, who was leaning over Ed and murmuring something. He didn't hear Ed's response, but it made Al snap up straight and walk like a wounded cat to the bathroom, where he shut the door. Alfons sighed and peeled the rest of the shirt off, tossing it into the overfilling dirty linen drawer. "Edward," he said, "taking it out on Al isn't going to help, you know."
The line of Ed's back went even tenser. He said nothing, just pulled the pillow tighter around his ears.
"Fine," Alfons muttered, loud enough for Ed to hear. "Be that way, then."
After a few minutes, Al came out with damp hair, clean teeth and a calm expression; he smiled at Alfons when they passed each other. "I left you some hot water if you want it," Al said, sitting on the edge of the bed. Alfons shook his head.
"No thanks. I'm good."
In the bathroom, he reached for their toothbrush and squirted a liberal amount of paste onto it. He lifted it to his teeth, then paused. The bathroom door was open a crack; through it, he could hear the brothers murmuring to each other, the way he'd used to hear his parents talking to each other when they thought him still asleep. Before his father died, of course. Alfons shook the thought away and began to brush a bit harder than he ought to. When he spat out his mouthful into the sink, there was red mixed in with the white foam. Sighing, he wiped his mouth with his hand and stepped back out into the bedroom.
Ed and Al were pressed tightly together, one of Al's arms rubbing Ed's stomach and the other very gently stroking what was left of his shoulder. Alfons hesitated, then slipped into bed with them, on the other side of Ed. Their faces nearly touched; when Al reached over and turned off the light, he could see the dim glow of Edward's eyes, looking at him.
Alfons wanted to say something, but everything he thought of sounded lame. 'You'll be fine'—well, maybe he wouldn't be, and besides, Ed had been through this before. He knew what it entailed. 'Al and I will be there'—yes, yes, what did that mean? That wasn't any support. Al would be there, more like; he was the one who'd been there in the first place. Winry told him he'd stayed huddled against the door of the operating room for the entire six hour operation: ten years old. When Alfons was ten, he was worried about school and grades and giving his parents too much mouth.
"I love you," he said instead, and saw Ed's lips curve. He pressed forward and kissed them, a warm rush filling him as always when Ed's good arm came up and wrapped around his shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Al kissing the back of Ed's neck, fingers still soothing his bad shoulder. Alfons pulled out of the kiss and ran a finger over Ed's lips.
He glanced over Ed's shoulder at Al, who raised his eyebrows. He dropped his hand to the small of Ed's back and began massaging there; still looking at Alfons, he mouthed, 'Touch it.'
Alfons flicked his eyes back to Ed, who was beginning to sigh and shift in pleasure. He lifted a hand, then dropped it, uncertain. He'd never seen Edward without some form of prosthetic covering his arm; without it Ed looked naked and vulnerable, and—small. He swallowed tightly.
"Ed," he said. "Let me touch your arm."
Ed's eyes flew open. He narrowed them at Alfons. "No fucking way," he said, shifting backwards.
"Don't be stupid, brother," Al said.
Ed opened his mouth; Alfons could tell he wanted to say something rude, but he swallowed it. "Why?" he said instead.
"Because." Alfons shrugged and said lamely, "I've never seen it before."
Al pinched his brother; Ed squirmed, rolled his eyes, huffed out an irritated breath. "Fine," he said, as if he were Atlas being made to carry the weight of the world. "Just don't—mess with anything. I don't need it any more broken than it already is."
"I'll be careful." Alfons reached out a hand, hesitated. The thick black metal was intimidating. He drew a finger around the flat plane where the automail arm plugged in, eyes flicking towards Ed when Ed drew in a sharp breath. When Ed didn't move or say anything, he ran his hand up to the shoulder proper, where metal and flesh joined in an angry line of thick, white scars. He leaned down and kissed them, very gently.
Al's hand slid back up Ed's shoulder, and Alfons kissed his fingers, too, slanting a fond smile at his counterpart. Al returned it, cheeks dimpling in a way Alfons's didn't. He felt a rush of fondness for these two brothers, almost fatherly—or maybe brotherly itself. He nuzzled against Ed's jaw and said, "We'd better go to sleep."
Edward's tension was dissolving; he relaxed back into Al, chin lifting up to give Alfons better access. "Mmm."
Alfons kissed him a few more times, thoroughly, enjoying the feel and taste of Edward's mouth. Then he drew back. Ed was already falling asleep, eyes drooping and face going lax; behind him, Al was yawning, too. Alfons crept his fingers up Edward's face into his hair, stroking circles on his scalp, massaging away the tension.
He paused, startled, when Ed grabbed his chin and forced him back down into another kiss. Ed deepened it quickly, shoving him into the bed, their jaws clashing together as Ed's mouth pushed into his. Alfons lifted his arms, wrapped them around Ed's shoulders; he tangled his fingers in Ed's messy braid, pulling off the tie and sorting through the tangles. Ed nipped at his lips, pulling back a little and lifting his eyebrows archly.
"Ahem," said Al, crossing his arms.
Ed grinned and reached for him, too, pulling him into a kiss with one arm. Alfons shifted back into his pile of pillows and watched them; they were more gentle than Ed was with him and he could always see, when they were together, how they must have been all their lives: both of them taking care of each other, each one making sure the other didn't get hurt. One of Al's hand was rubbing Ed's automail shoulder, over and over, slow and gentle.
They parted with a wet sound; Al stroked Ed's cheek, then pulled back and settled onto his side of the bed. "We really should go to sleep," he said, and leaned across the bed to kiss Alfons.
"Mm-hm," Alfons murmured. He tried to make the kiss longer, but Al grinned and pulled away, and kicked at Ed.
"Go to bed, brother."
"I'm trying!" Ed said, indignant, rubbing his knee where Al's foot had connected. "You're the one who—"
"Goodnight, brother." Al pulled the covers over his head, but Alfons could still hear him snickering.
Ed rolled his eyes and dropped back onto bed, settling himself under the covers. Alfons was pleased to notice, when he pressed against Ed, that he wasn't tense anymore; his breathing evened out quickly, eyes fluttering shut, and within a few minutes, he was asleep. Unusual for Ed; he tended to lie awake for hours. Next to him, Al snored lightly.
Alfons crossed his arms behind his head and stared up at the ceiling, counting the water marks. It would be a long night for him, he knew. He had always wondered, when he watched Ed or Al take care of the automail and their faces twist into disgust when it felt like being difficult, what they'd felt that night before the first surgery.
Now he knew, and he wished he didn't. He felt ten years old and small, pressed against a door that wouldn't open for a very long time.
Alfons closed his eyes and reached blindly for Ed's good hand, squeezing it with his. It felt warm and familiar and human. He placed it on his chest and held it, stroking his fingers over the short, ragged nails, light scars and long tendons until he fell asleep.