.... is such as to be so difficult to attempt that many have failed....
He runs out of ink halfway through the page, and with a quiet sigh dips his finger in the inkwell, hoping, and sets down his pen when his finger comes away still white. Al clasps his fingers together and pops the tired knuckles, then crosses his arms behind his back and stretches them to the ceiling. He won't ever, he thinks, really get used to writing, to the cramps and the pains; he'd hated it even as a child, when his mother first put a pen in his hand and guided his fingers over the page, and explained to him when they were finished that those funny strokes and lines spelled out his name: Alphonse. There is something magical about it, he thinks, something that falls away whenever he tries to replicate it without her help.
There is twine on the table, next to his hand. He picks it up, cuts off a bit and wraps it around the stack of papers, then shuffles them into neatness and slides them under piles of books. There is something neat about that which he likes, seeing his writings situated at an angle, buried underneath the books he read as a child, a teen, and now as an adult: it makes them seem like the final chapters, perhaps, to those books, a more personal one.
He'd set the tea to boil on the stove early this morning, but he'd forgotten about it and it chills his finger when he dips it in to test the temperature. Pursing his lips, Al turns the stove on again and takes out the tea bag so it won't be too strong. When steam begins to rise from the pot, he takes it off the stove, pours himself a cup, and sits at the table to read the newspaper and smoke a cigar. A suicide in the village a few miles over takes the headline; he flips to the marriage announcements, the birth announcements and then the military deaths. This village lost five last week, but now there are none. He recognizes a few names from his professorship at Central University, though ? two he'd had as freshmen, and then one he'd mentored through his undergraduate and graduate studies. He had two children. Al's finger twitch on the paper, wanting to write something down, and finally he takes out a scrap of paper from his pocket and jots down the beginnings of a consolation note to the wife ? a terrible heartless thing to write, he thinks, but it's better than nothing? ?Dear Katja, I heard the news and am terribly sorry about Frederick.....'
Footsteps on the stairs make him tip his cup a little, and Al hastily bears it back up before he can spill tea all over the table. He looks over his shoulder and sees Ed coming into the kitchen, moving slowly, one arm crossed over his head to shield his eyes from the light. Al reaches over, dims it, and moves the remains of his breakfast out of the way so Ed can sit down, spread out his arms. "Did you just wake up?" Al asks, putting his tea cup over his mouth, and at Ed's grunt brings it back down. "You slept badly."
"Nightmare." Ed reaches over him for the bacon that's left out, sticks a piece in his mouth and says around it, absently, "Not a bad one."
That's true; it has been months since Ed woke from a nightmare screaming, sweat soaking the sheets and slicking Al's body as he held his brother and whispered the same things their mother did, It's all right, it's not your fault, everything's fine now. Al hands Ed the pepper. "I'm glad," he says mildly.
Ed doesn't look at him as he says, "Me, too," and picks around his plate, eating a little of everything but all of nothing.
.... that there was nothing else to be done, and so the research was left unfinished and burned....
Al receives letters from two more families that day, from wives and mothers and sisters who think he should know that his students have died. He sits in front of the fire, curls in on himself as he writes replies with a cramping hand. Ed sits beside him, half-dozing, sprawled out like a cat before the heat.
The pencil breaks half-way through the page. Al lets it fall to the floor and stares at what he has written: I'm so sorry, this is a terrible loss, he was truly a genius, a wonderful student, this war is terrible terrible terrible?
"You write too hard," says Ed.
Al looks up, putting his hand over his paper; but Ed is still lying in front of the fire, one thigh pressed to Al's back with his head pillowed on his arms. His eyes are closed, but they slit a little when he says, "You always have."
"What do you mean?" Al picks up the pencil and digs into it with his nails, trying to sharpen the point.
"Mother always told you to write lighter," and Ed is up and curled around his shoulders, one hand reaching to wrap around Al's; it guides Al's hand to the paper, and when Al clenches his fingers, Ed pries them open, gently, like Al is seven and not twenty-seven. "You always broke your pencils. Here. Relax your hand."
Ed's breath stirs his hair, warms the back of his neck. Al shifts uncomfortably as goosebumps are raised and relaxes his fingers, letting Ed move them along in light scribbles. Ed huffs against him.
Ed is so thin, Al thinks; ribs jut against the small of his back and his fingers are tight, knucklebones pronounced, veins high and prominent. He reaches behind himself and threads his free hand through Ed's hair, sifting through it down to his shoulders, and Ed breathes out a little, tickling his neck again. His fingers are still guiding Al's, and when he lets go Al looks down at what they have written. October 3. Al runs his hand over the words, then rubs, and they disappear as smudges into the paper.
He turns around, facing Ed, and touches his hand to Ed's face. The bones here are prominent, too; Ed is all angles. Al traces the worry-line in his forehead, then skates his fingers down Ed's nose to the scar cutting across the bridge, stretching to either eye. There are more scars that he will touch later, but for now he rubs this one, gently, and is glad that it has long healed over.
"Al," says Ed, and I know, I know, answers Al. He grasps Ed's chin and tilts it towards him, and their mouths meet with a soft sound, brushing at first then opening under each other. Al delves into the wet heat of Ed's mouth and traces his hand down Ed's back, to the scars near his shoulder, to the ones on his back, which he knows are mirrored on his brother's chest. He spreads his legs and Ed pushes himself onto his lap, and they fold around each other, sucking and dipping and breaking apart before diving back for more.
These scars are for me, Al thinks dimly, as he does every time he touches his brother's body; and when Ed touches him, he knows that Ed is thinking the same thing ? this body, I created it. Al's body is smooth and perfect, while their trials and hardships are etched in hard skin on Ed's. He would write of this, if he could, but he has found no way to capture it aside from this, from running his hands through Ed's hair, from kissing his mouth, from going on his knees and wrapping Ed's legs around his shoulders and chasing away his nightmares.
"Al," says Ed. Al swallows it, as he has swallowed all of Ed's cries, absorbing them into his flesh so that he hears them in his dreams and his waking hours.
.... in the end Edward Elric, as we all are wont to be, was merely human and should be viewed through the lens of our common humanity, our shared collective soul....
Al flips through the pages, all the hundreds of them, as Ed lies next to him, head burrowed into Al's hip and arm outstretched to the window. Half his body is dark and formless in the shadows and half is covered in silver light. Al strokes his arm, half dark, half silver, and stills his fingers on the pages.
"Brother," he whispers into the shadows of Ed's face, "I don't forget you."
Ed mumbles something against his lips, eye twitching. He isn't awake; he sleeps like a log. Al smooths his hair and rests his cheek against Ed's. There is something very good about all this, he thinks sometimes, that here he and Ed are at the edge of the world, living like this while the outside world marches on steadily. Their lives have always been frozen, in some form or another; Al figures that he really wouldn't know how to live any other way.
"Your book is biting my arm," says Ed, muffled by Al's shoulder. As Al slides it under the bed, he yawns and asks, "What are you always writing about, anyway?"
"I don't know," Al says, looking down at his ink-stained fingers. "Maybe I'm trying to not be left behind completely."
Ed tilts his head, shifting his hair through Al's fingers. His expression is very intense, predator-like, before his face softens into a smile. "Alphonse." He touches Al's lips, pushing his finger between them and then sliding it away, touching it to his own lips.
"I love you," Al says, cutting him off. "I love you." He grabs Ed's shoulders, pulls him forward. I am trying to not be left behind, he thinks. But I don't care about the world.
Ed falls asleep quickly, heavy in his arms, but Al stays awake. Outside the window he can see a gold ribbon, one he put up when his first student was killed. It is the color of Edward's eyes and waves in the wind, never unmoving.