Hot Chocolate

It had been a long while since they'd last had a real fight.

Oh, of course they bickered—his brother was much too stubbornly lazy to make it through a day without Alphonse having to prod him into helping out around the house—but something of this scale hadn't surfaced in quite some time.

He'd won, of course; so far as he could recall, his brother had never bested him at either verbal sparring or physical, and today had been no exception. And so when the insults, traded at first casually and then with more heat, had given way to blows, it didn't really surprise him that it was Edward who ended up in a heap on the floor, cursing and flailing because Al had dared to point out the fact that his restored body had a height advantage of a few inches.

What—had—surprised him was the sound of the door slamming shut as Ed stalked his way from the house. His brother had never been one to go off on his own after their disagreements; for as long as Alphonse could remember, it had been him to seek a physical distance while he waited for them both to calm down.

Really, he supposed, already more exasperated than angry, it just went to show that his brother's temper was as unpredictable as it was explosive.

It was some two hours later, settled at the low desk near the foot of the stairs with an open book and several sheaves of paper spread out before him, that the thought occurred.

It had drifted in gradually at first, taking hold despite the fact that the majority of his concentration was fixed upon the open text and his own notes. But what began as a nagging sensation, tickling the back of his mind, blossomed into full-fledged realization as he reached absently to rub at the bruise beginning to darken on his jaw—the only decent hit that his brother had managed.

It had been their first fight since he'd had his body back.

There had been nothing important about it. No one had been in danger, nothing at risk of being ruined. It had begun, in fact, as a squabble over whose turn it was to wash the dishes—his brother's, of course, Alphonse's mind insisted even now.

And his jaw was bruised.

Suddenly, Alphonse was stricken by a wave of delight so intense that it left his book forgotten, left all but the dull ache that flared to life under careful fingertips utterly unimportant.

Because the worst thing in their lives at the moment was unwashed dishes, and his face—hurt—where Ed had gotten in a lucky blow.

Mouth splitting open in a helpless grin, Alphonse shook his head—at himself, and at his brother, and at their ridiculous little spat. As he rose to find his way into the kitchen, the boy was humming; he couldn't quite seem to help himself, and as there was no one around to see, he reasoned, there was nothing at all the matter with acting every bit as deliriously happy as he was.

The feel of hands on his shoulders woke him, one metal and one flesh, and it was the chill in human fingers that told him how cold the night had grown while he slept. He stirred, sleepy, half-turned in the chair to glance up at his brother's face.

Because it—was—Edward, of course; he'd been expecting his brother's return since just after sunset, since he'd measured spoonfuls of hot chocolate into a mug and taken the care to make it with water instead of milk. The mug, he realized, was still on the counter, and by the chill in the air, it was long after sunset.

Carefully setting aside the book that had fallen into his lap as he drifted off waiting for Ed's return, Alphonse leaned against the back of the chair so that he could meet his brother's eyes upside down. "There's hot chocolate on the counter," he offered, with a soft smile. "Though it's probably gotten cold."

Mild surprise touched those gold eyes, lighting up an expression that was otherwise subdued; he'd caught his brother, it seemed, in a thoughtful mood.

"...thanks," Ed acknowledged after a moment. And then: "I'll heat it up after I do the dishes."

It was the closest his brother would offer to an apology, but really it was all that was needed. As long as the intention was understood, the words weren't necessary.

Ed had already removed his hands from the younger boy's shoulders and was heading toward the counter by the time Alphonse's voice reached him. "Don't worry about it, brother. They're already finished." Unfolding his legs from beneath him, Al winced as the distant numbness that had settled on them began to give way to pins and needles. "But it's your turn next time."

There was a brief pause and a mumbled response, then the muffled sound of hands connecting; a moment later, Edward circled around in front of him to settle in a chair opposite, hands cupping a mug of steaming hot chocolate. He paused with it halfway to his lips, expression flickering momentarily to one that managed both suspicion and horror. "If there's milk in this..."

Alphonse laughed, and was reminded again how different the sound was, now that it didn't echo within him. "Of course not, brother."

And just like that, the fight was laid aside—not forgotten, but suddenly quite unimportant. In the comfortable silence that followed, Ed blew cautiously on the drink before taking a sip while Al rubbed absently at first one calf and then the other, attempting to work feeling back into them. Really, he ought to know better than to cross his legs sitting in this chair; it never failed.

"My jaw hurts," he remarked after a moment, conversationally. It had occurred to him, not long after he'd settled with his book, that he ought to mention the fact when his brother returned.

A flicker of guilt was replaced almost immediately with indignation, and Ed drew himself up higher in the chair. "Yeah, well, I've got a bruise down my whole—side-, you bastard, so don't you—dare—"

"Thank you." It was spoken quietly—so quietly, in fact, that it really had no business silencing his brother's tirade so easily, but Edward's words slowed to a stop all the same, left him staring at Al over a half-finished mug of hot chocolate, eyes wide and startled in the moment before he laughed it off and grinned self-consciously.

"Hey, I said I'd get it right eventually, didn't I? It's not like—"

But whatever he'd been about to say was neatly severed as Alphonse closed the distance between them, removing the hot chocolate gently from his hands and nudging his brother aside so that he could settle beside him in the chair. It was a tight fit, but neither boy particularly minded; there was enough space for Al to rest his head on Edward's shoulder, and it wasn't so crowded that it was a difficult maneuver to reach out and twine his fingers with those on his brother's left hand. Most of the chill from the night air was gone, washed away by the heat of the hot chocolate.

"Al." His brother's voice was touched and content, if a bit surprised; he felt it when Ed pressed in closer, when the hand caught in his own gave an answering squeeze. And not for the first time, it occurred to Alphonse that perhaps his brother understood more than he occasionally gave him credit for, understood exactly how precious these moments were, with the feel of warm skin and the slow, steady rise and fall of relaxed breathing beside him. Because certainly, he'd spent five long years without his own body, spent them aching for human contact and for warmth—but it wasn't until after he'd been returned to his rightful form that he realized how long it had been since Edward had allowed anyone close enough to provide him with the same.

"Finish your hot chocolate, brother," he said by way of response, tone mild and reproving. "Or it'll get cold again."