Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Alphonse and Edward.
Setting: Shortly after the boys' human transmutation.
Summary: Alphonse learns how to live with the sounds of his armor.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt word "Metal" at Fan Flashworks.
In some respects, having a metal body eliminated a lot of small distractions.
Alphonse had never actually noticed how often people needed to scratch, yawn, cough, or just move around to get comfortable—until he no longer did. When he watched Edward claw at his itching bandages, or saw Winry rise from her cramped workspace to stretch and unkink her muscles, only then did he realize the odd wonder of no longer being afflicted by such things. He still thought he could remember how those minor irritations of the flesh felt, but nothing of the sort ever intruded on his consciousness now.
On the other hand, he soon discovered a constant quirk of his new form that threatened to drive him mad.
His armor was noisy. With the slightest movement, hinges would creak, and steel plates would slide and bump against each other. Just reaching out to pick something up produced a cacophony of scraping and rattling metal. He didn't have time to think of it in the beginning, when he was worried about Ed's survival; but later, when his brother was resting and he could pay attention to himself, it wasn't long before the noise began to aggravate him terribly. He couldn't make it stop, so in frustration and despair, he simply tried to avoid moving as much as possible.
At first it didn't occur to him that the suit was ill-conditioned, having been unused and untended for probably more years than he had lived. It was Winry who noticed that. He was embarrassed to think his incessant metal-sounds had annoyed her too, but she didn't say so. The second day, she merely took him aside and showed him how to oil his joints. Needing to be oiled like a machine was a fresh humiliation, but it did quiet the noise and let him move much more easily, for which he was thankful.
Still, while the oil might have helped to make the scraping and creaking easier for those around him to bear… he was the one stuck inside the armor. He continued to hear it with every move, and it was only compounded by the echoing qualities within his hollowness.
It made him feel bad to obsess over something so stupid, as his brother lay suffering the unthinkable pain of two lost limbs. Ed had announced his plan to have automail already—and if he thought he could get used to the lifelong pain and difficulty that entailed, surely Al could get used to the sounds of his own movements.
He had to. Because he had to focus every ounce of his being on helping Brother.
Because Ed's missing arm was his fault.
Ed had sacrificed that arm just to keep Al alive, by putting his soul inside that armor. Instead of getting upset about the trivial drawbacks of his new shell, he should be grateful that it stood between him and death. He should be grateful for the terrible price Ed paid for it… and for the fact that their father had seen fit to keep such a peculiar relic in his study to begin with. If Hohenheim hadn't been so fond of anachronistic objects, Al couldn't imagine where—or what—he might now be.
As it was, he still had two legs to walk, and two hands to serve, and sight and hearing with which to watch over Ed. It was enough.
Those thoughts made it all easier to endure. Yet even so, while he did slowly accept and start to grow used to his metal-sounds, he still worried about it for another reason: he worried that it would disturb Ed's rest. It was already often enough that Ed would thrash violently awake in the grip of nightmares. He didn't need to be roused by clattering steel as well.
However, a night came when Al's views on that were changed.
When Ed began to stir restlessly and make faint sounds in his sleep, Al knew what was coming. It brought a familiar pang somewhere inside the armor's empty space. He had seen this many times by now, and he still hated it as much as he had the first time.
Moving slowly to stay as quiet as possible, he crept over to his brother's bedside. A part of him thought he should have just gone ahead and awakened Ed, cutting short whatever terrors were playing out behind his eyelids; but like each time before, he couldn't quite bring himself to do it. He only hovered in fretful indecision, as Ed's distress ran its course.
Ed's soft noises grew sharper in pitch. His sweat-dampened body arched against the mattress, and his surviving hand jerked free of the tangled blankets, reaching out and upward. A muffled cry that sounded like No was followed much more clearly by Al's name… and then he shuddered and sagged, as his eyes blearily fluttered open.
Very gently, mindful of his new strength, Al caught Ed's hand that trembled on top of the covers. "It's okay, Brother. It was just a bad dream."
In pain and heavily medicated, it took Ed a moment to recognize Al's voice through the metallic resonance of the helmet, and the touch of huge leather fingers twined around his own. Yet when he did, the vague trace of lingering panic in his gaze swiftly faded. A touch of color heated his pale cheeks, and he dipped his head where it lay on the pillow, tucking his chin beneath the edge of the blanket until his wan, embarrassed little smile was only half-visible.
"Sorry," he whispered, as if he was the one who feared disrupting the night's quiet. "I'm okay."
"Try to go back to sleep. You need rest, so your body can heal." After a moment's hesitation, Al reached out—wincing internally at the jarring symphony of steel friction his movements produced. In spite of it, he began to stroke Ed's hair the same way he would pet a cat. He did his best to keep his touch light, forced to measure the pressure of his hand by sight alone.
He was rewarded with a tiny sigh of appreciation. Ed closed his eyes, and to all appearances, proceeded to drift off again. Al kept petting those blond locks for only a few moments before he halted, and began to withdraw as slowly as possible… but then a golden eye opened and peered up at him, almost disapprovingly.
"Why'd you stop?"
Surprised, Al tilted his helmet, the movement alone producing a slight clunk. "Because I… I don't want to bother you with the noise my armor makes."
"Kinda like hearing it." Drugged eyelids drooped heavily, but Ed possessively tugged closer the gauntlet that was still gripped in his hand. "If I can't hear you breathing now… least I still have that."
Somewhere inside Al, he felt the tightness that was his futile urge to shed tears.
Tenderly he put forth his hand, and resumed stroking his brother's hair. He continued for a long time, even after he could see that Edward had slipped back into a much quieter, more peaceful sleep.
After that night, Alphonse never thought of his armor's sounds in quite the same way again.
© 2016 Jordanna Morgan