It was the hum of insects in the heavy summer air that came to him first, a low buzzing that drifted in gradually with consciousness.
The other sounds filtered through little by little: the periodic call of birds someplace nearby; the crackle of a fire; his brother's voice, almost too low to hear, murmuring the words to a song that he remembered from childhood.
Pain came after, a slow realization of sensation that resolved itself into a steady throb in his side, and Ed shifted experimentally against it, wincing as it flitted through the rest of him. Swallowing against the thick, cottony feel of his mouth, the boy opened his eyes to peer blearily at the world around him and stared blankly for a moment, greeted with a sight completely unfamiliar.
"Al?" the boy asked—or tried to, at least. The word came out a hoarse croak, no meaning behind it, and the cough that followed was weak and raspy.
But it was enough—because Alphonse was turning toward the sound, bronze eyes widening in the fraction of a second before they softened with concern. "You're awake," he said, and there was relief and a bit of surprise behind the words. "Really, brother—I was starting to worry."
The indelicate snort that Ed offered in reply illustrated exactly what he thought about that, however, and the boy moved without hesitation to shove himself into a sitting position—only to fall back, gasping, as what had seemed a minor pain lanced through him with searing heat. "Fuck," he panted—but the word was strangled and his throat still parched, and it brought a new fit of coughing, harsh and dry.
And then there were hands, steadying and warm, and Alphonse was beside him.
"Stop trying to move, you moron," the younger boy suggested—and Edward may have taken offense to it, had not a cup pressed to his lips circumvented any response that was immediately forthcoming.
He finished the water in three long gulps, getting as much on his shirt as down his throat, and settled back with a small grateful noise when Al took the empty container away.
"You're a mess," the younger boy announced, and reached absently to begin blotting the liquid from his brother's newly-drenched clothing. "What would you do without me?"
"Manage." Suspicious golden eyes met that tender gaze. "This isn't still about us sharing missions, is it?"
The sort of smile that declared Alphonse more than halfway to winning a fight crept into place. "It will be until I break through that stubborn head of yours."
"Al," the smaller boy began, tone warning. "We've been through this a hundred times. It's my job. There's no reason for you to—"
"-be in danger, I know." The bronze gaze turned considering, pointed stare fixed on the boy that lay pillowed on a bed of thick, dry grass. "But you'd have been lying injured in the wilderness if I hadn't been along this time."
"I'm still lying injured in the wilderness," Ed snapped irritably.
"With water," the younger boy pointed out. "And a fire."
No response to that came readily, and so Edward simply glared in reply, managing to look not threatening so much as sulky. "It's cheating," he declared at last, "To pick a fight while I ache."
"Oh, good," Alphonse answered lightly. "I'll save it for later, then." Pressing a quick kiss to the smaller boy's cheek, he rose to move the few short steps to the place where the campfire flickered comfortably. "Dinner's almost done," he added, almost as an afterthought. "So don't doze off again, brother."
"Mm," Ed replied noncommittally, settling down into the makeshift bed that he could only assume had been the younger boy's attempt to make him more comfortable.
And really, Edward decided absently, he'd done a good job. The grass was soft—dry and shivery against his skin, not at all the sharp edges that he recalled hiking through the day before. Transmuted, perhaps, though the thought that his little brother had changed the type of grass but not thought to make anything more complicated struck the boy as both incredibly amusing and somehow fitting.
It wasn't until the smaller boy became aware of the whir of insects once more that he realized he must be drifting off to sleep—but his brother was humming again softly in the background, and a blanket of contentment had fallen across Edward's chest, thick and heavy.
Ten minutes later, Alphonse had to wake him for dinner.