Al's birthday always came in the grey drag of winter, after the snows melted into slush but before spring touched the country with its living warmth. Usually they brightened the cheerless weather with a party; sparkling presents and sugery cake and romping around the house with his brother and his friends. But there had been no parties since Mother died.

Ed's birthday had passed a little over a month ago, while they were still with Sensei; somehow, she found out and surprised him with a present and a cupcake with a candle on it; she disguised it as a going-home party, and made sure to give one to Al too, but nobody was fooled.

Now, alone in their house, grey day fades into dull night; the wind hums outside the house, and a loose shingle bangs the roof. There are no parties, not even a candle to cut the gloom; they spent all their carefully-hoarded money in the marketplace today, and everything is piled on the floor in the next room.

He can't sleep.

Then a shifting rustle breaks the silence, and over on the other side of the room his brother raises his head. "Hey," Ed whispers. "Al, are you still awake?"

"Mm." It seems redundant to say yes. After a moment, the blankets rustle again, and Ed gets up, padding across the creaking wooden floors to settle down on the blankets next to Al. Al still doesn't say anything, but reaches out to take his brother's hand and hold it tight.

Ed rests his hand on Al's head, and for a while he doesn't say anything else. Al closes his eyes, and tries to imagine that it's just like things used to be, that he and his brother have crawled into bed together to whisper in the dark, and Mother is in the kitchen baking the cake for his birthday tomorrow.

The shingle bangs. Al opens his eyes. Ed's hand is combing through his hair. "Hey, Al," he says hesitantly, a whisper in the dimness.

"What is it?" Al wishes his voice didn't sound so weak.

"I'm sorry, but... I didn't get you a present... even though you got one for me..."

"That's all right." It's not as if Ed has any resources he doesn't, after all. He tugs on Ed's hand, and after a moment's resistance Ed turns and wriggles down under the blankets with him. It's warmer this way, at least, and Al turns over until he can press his face against his brother's chest.

"It'll be okay," Ed assures him, voice fierce and determined and strong. "Tomorrow we'll bring back Mother. It'll be the best birthday present ever."

"Yeah," Al whispers agreement, although he isn't so sure. He tangles his fingers in Ed's shirt, and closes his eyes. Like this, wrapped up safe in his brother's arms, the lonely sound of the wind is almost soothing.

He doesn't want anything for his birthday, he thinks. He just doesn't want to lose what he has left.