I don't like it when people call Niisan short.

It's not just because he hates it, although he does. The quickest way to get him into a flaming temper is to make some kind of crack about his youth, or his height, or his size.

Sometimes I think that he can hear the word "short" over the noise of a large crowd, through walls, and in his sleep. Even if it wasn't directed at him, that will get him up and raging around, looking for the culprit, and guess who has to hold him back?

"You should have been more gentle with him, Niisan," I say, watching him walk in front of me.

Niisan growls and glares at me over his shoulder. "He called me SHORT," he says, as though I hadn't been right there and heard it. "He said that I was short enough that I'd need a stepladder to see over the top of the bar! Right in front of the entire crowd!"

"Still," I murmur, "I don't think you really needed to break his kneecaps."

And it's not just because people always mistake me for him, although they do. I think it's because of Niisan's name; they hear "Fullmetal" and they go looking for the nearest metal thing, and since Niisan always covers up his arm and his leg when he can, that would be me.

I don't really like the attention, and it gets embarrassing having to explain that it's not me who's the nationally infamous alchemist, it's my brother, and that I'm actually a year younger than him even though I'm so much taller. Not to mention, he hates when people don't give him the respect he's earned.

Like this time. "Well, what did you expect," Niisan says, "It was the quickest way to get him down on the floor. What was I supposed to do after he called me a little kid? He's lucky I didn't break his whole damn leg off."

Niisan turns completely around, now, walking backwards while looking at me. He has to look up at me to meet my eyes.

"You still didn't have to transmute his clothes into nettles," I reproach him. Niisan turns a little red, but he still doesn't look terribly contrite.

And it's not just because it means he hasn't grown very much since back then. In the three years since that night, he's only grown a few inches. It scares me, sometimes, to think that what we did that night might have done some kind of permanent damage to him; that he'll have to spend his entire life looking the same as when he was eleven.

I think it relieves him, though, that he's stayed the same. He knows that since that night, nothing has changed for me, and won't until we find away to get my body back. I think he wouldn't want to rub my face in the fact that he can still go on in a body that's mostly normal, that grows and changes, and I can't.

Of course, I think he's stupid to think that, but he's my brother and I love him anyway.

"He called me a girl," Niisan snarls, and he stops walking entirely as he waves his arms wildly up and down. "Al! You heard what he said! He said that I'd have to be some kind of girly-boy to look so pretty and weak and that he bet I'd lose in an arm-wrestling contest to his baby cousin!"

"You lost to Alicia last week," I point out to him, and he sputters.

"I let her win," he said, "because she's Alicia, and because Gracia would have had my spleen if I made her cry. But Al! Do I look like a girl?"

I pretend to look him up and down, just to tease him. Before he can get really mad, I allow, "Not if you don't have your coat on."

"Hah!" He scowls and kicks at a rock in the ground. "And that idiot imagined that riding around in a topless convertible would make him cool—"

"Not since you sunk it in the river," I say, and he smirks at me.

And it's not even just that I'm so much bigger than him, now, when I used to be so small, because the two of us have gotten used to that. He treated me just the same, once he got over his not-quite-meeting-my-eyes habit, and it wasn't long before it didn't even occur to me that I used to look up at him, not down.

Memories from before that night are always a little hazy, nowadays, though it scares me to admit that, too. I trust Niisan to remember them for me, and he makes sure that I have good memories of the time after, too.

He always makes sure that no matter how busy he is with missions, or how hard we work searching for the Philosopher's Stone, that there's always time to take out in a park or out shopping. Just acting like normal people, enjoying the fact that we're both still alive, and if people stare at us when we go out among strangers, it's worth it just to be with him.

Unless, of course, somebody starts to talk about his size.

"He said it was past my bedtime," Niisan reminds me, "and that I should go away and not come back until I'm old enough to have a set of balls. He said that, Al! Was I supposed to let him just get away with that?"

"Setting his hair on fire was excessive," I tell him. "You really need to work on your temper."

"I put it out almost right away!" Niisan protests.

"And the cracked ribs..." I remind him.

"He's lucky they weren't broken," Niisan points out quickly. "I really wanted to kick his lungs out through his chest, but I held back. Besides, he took a swing at me. It was self-defense!"

"Of course." I want to grin at him, but I can't. He understands anyway, though. "And what part of self-defense was it to write 'BIG FAT NINNY' across his forehead in permanent ink?"

For a moment, Niisan grows serious. He steps closer to me, staring intently into my face, and I feel a moment of awkwardness, because I was there, so I already know. "He called you a freak, Al," Niisan says. "He deserved everything he got."

No; the reason I don't like it when people call Niisan short isn't because he's sensitive about it, or because I'm so much taller, or because they mistake me for him, or even that in all this time he hasn't grown. But when they talk about his height, it always takes me right back to that night, when I woke up in a smoke-filled basement and saw what my brother had done.

Even though I can't really remember what it was like to be smaller than him, I still remember the shock that went through me, looking down on him, when he looked so small, so young. When he was bleeding his life out on the floor, with ashes and blood and grime and that expression smeared over his face, telling me in a strained voice that he had sacrificed his arm up to the shoulder in order to save me.

When I realized, for the first time in my life, that my big brother wasn't perfect, wasn't always right, wasn't indestructible. When I realized that by sitting back and passively and keeping my mouth shut, letting Niisan make all the decisions, bear all the burdens, I had nearly killed him. I knew all this in an instant, but all I could think in that moment—the worst in my life—was 'He's so small.'

I carried him to help, next door. He fit in my hands. With one leg, one arm gone, his entire body fit into my hands. It's funny, but we don't really think about how much space our limbs take up, both physically and psychologically, until they're gone. But I can never forget how light he felt in my arms.

"All the same," Niisan says, breaking into my thoughts, "I didn't really expect that of you, Al."

"Oh? What?" I try and make my voice innocent, but like I said, Niisan knows anyway. He laughs, the satisfied and slightly manic laugh he gets when he's particularly pleased.

"The way you picked him up and shoved him completely into the ceiling," he says, and he's grinning like a loon. "I honestly thought that place's ceilings were tougher than that—but then, maybe he just had an especially hard head?"

I'm really glad armor can't blush. I start walking again, knowing he'll catch up in just a bit. "Well, what was I supposed to do, Niisan?" I say over my shoulder, hearing him still chuckling. "He called you short."