Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Alphonse, Edward.
Setting: Early in the Elric brothers' travels.
Summary: The first time Al experiences damage to his armor.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt word "Crack" at Fan Flashworks. It may be considered something of a companion piece to my story "Stronger".
It was strange that it didn't hurt.
Under dim yellow lamplight, Alphonse Elric sat on the floor and studied his right vambrace. His gaze slowly wandered back and forth across the two-inch-long crack that bisected an ugly dent in his forearm. He wasn't sure if the fissure penetrated clear through the steel, or if it was just on the surface, but the look of it was oddly unsettling either way.
His body was damaged. Even if it was only minor, that felt like it was supposed to mean something. Were he flesh and blood, the injury would at the very least be a painful, bleeding gash; but instead, he was made of metal, and felt nothing. The crack in his armor was something remote and detached, as if he was looking at nothing more than a scuff on the hotel room's dresser. That in itself felt wrong somehow—because after all, the crack was on a part of him. It was a wound to his own physical shell, even if he was absolutely numb to it.
He ought to feel something. If not pain, maybe at least a little fear in the realization that he wasn't invincible. That if it was subjected to enough force, even his powerful steel could be damaged or destroyed.
But he simply didn't feel anything at all.
Maybe he was just a little too shocked for a reaction right now. After all, it was the first time the armor had suffered any damage since it became his body. He and Edward had become rather lost upon their arrival in this town, and while looking for the hotel, they stumbled upon a group of teenaged bullies threatening a younger boy. Of course, they had to do something about that, resulting in the scuffle in which Al took a blow to the arm from a metal pipe.
The boy who struck him was the one who had looked scared. First, at Al's menacing appearance—and then much more after, when he realized he had actually done visible damage to his target. He was older than Al, but still just a kid, and he never really meant for things to go that far. Al hoped the boy would take the experience to heart, and change his ways.
Still… he couldn't forget the expression on the kid's face.
He rubbed the crack with his leather fingers, but it couldn't be wiped away.
Worse things could happen in the future, on this journey he had chosen to take with his brother. The next person who tried to hit him might not be merely a guilty and frightened teenager. How was he supposed to deal with someone if they truly meant to hurt him? Did he even have it in him to hurt them back in self-defense?
A sigh reverberated within his armor. There wasn't much use making himself crazy with thoughts like that just yet. Besides, right now, he had a more pressing problem: how exactly to fix his damaged vambrace.
He didn't want to let Ed see it. Brother would probably just make a bigger fuss over it than was warranted. Yet he wasn't sure what he could do for it himself, because he was afraid to try alchemy on his own armor. Transmuting ordinary steel was elementary, but his steel had a soul fused to it—and that was decidedly not ordinary. He wasn't sure if it could be treated normally without messing him up somehow.
The bathroom door opened at that moment, and Edward emerged from the shower, his blond locks unbound and dripping-damp. His shorts and tank top revealed a few bruises, and he was almost imperceptibly favoring his non-metal right leg. A few of the bullies had scored minor hits to him, too—until he neatly put an end to the whole matter with his alchemy. Although they suffered no worse when he briefly rolled them up in the pavement of the street, they had quite justifiably fled in terror after he admonished and released them.
"That exercise made me hungry. What do you say we go downstairs and—" Ed halted. It was painfully obvious that he had noticed the quick, guilty way Al lowered his arm, tucking it close to his side. "Al, what's wrong?"
"N-nothing!" Al yelped. "If it's all the same to you, I'll just stay here and polish my armor. I mean, I don't need to eat, so…"
His hasty excuses trailed off with an approximation of a gulp—when Ed frowned, strode forward, and seized the wrist of the arm he was trying not to look like he was hiding.
"Oh, Al," Ed breathed softly, lifting Al's arm to see the damage wrought upon the steel. Golden eyes flicked upward to meet Al's own eyeless gaze, brimming with too many emotions to identify: distress and anger and sadness were only the most obvious ones. "Why didn't you tell me you were hurt?"
"I'm not hurt," Al murmured awkwardly, attempting to pull the arm out of Ed's grip. "I can't even feel it, you know. It was just… stupid that I let it happen." That wasn't really the point, but he thought it would do for the moment. He was only fumbling around for words now, anyway.
To his surprise, his arm was not freed by what he thought was a fairly firm tug. Ed's grasp must have been tight. Unwilling to risk harm to Ed by yanking any harder with his own nerveless strength, he grudgingly relaxed his forearm instead.
Only then did Brother release the arm, his living fingers almost caressing as they gently slid away. For a moment, he closed his eyes in silence, breathing deeply as if in concentration. Then he clapped his hands together. His automail hand clasped underneath Al's vambrace to steady it, while his left hand splayed over the damage.
Blue light rippled across the steel—and Al barely suppressed a yelp as the damaged area seemed to liquefy, reshaping itself under Ed's fingers. As familiar as the sight of a transmutation was, it was nonetheless startling to see it performed on his own person. He almost thought he could even feel it: a strange, gentle pull that wasn't quite a physical sensation.
Was that possibly… his soul flowing within the metal?
It took only a few seconds for the crack to seal itself, and the accompanying dent to smooth out. When the light faded, Al's vambrace gleamed, once again as flawless as it had been on the day they first set out from Resembool.
Al stared for a moment. Then he looked up at Ed, quivering with a jumble of love and surprise and wonder.
"That was…" Leather fingers slid hesitantly over the place where the crack once was, even though he couldn't feel the restored smoothness of the plating. He was not quite sure how to phrase what he wanted to ask. "I mean, you can do that just like my armor is… normal?"
The smile that crossed Ed's lips then was faint, and pale, and incredibly painful.
"Not exactly. It's a lot more complicated, because…" He swallowed and looked away. "But I know how to do it. After all, I was the one who put you in there in the first place."
Then, it was a part of those things Brother never wanted to talk about. A part of the knowledge, the power that had been added to him, on that one awful night… yet somehow only felt like something else had been taken away.
Without a word, Al reached out and pulled Ed against his chestplate, giving him the tightest hug he dared.
Although Ed made a small noise of surprise, he remained still in the embrace. He might even have put his arms around Al's bulky middle in turn, but the younger Elric couldn't feel it—nor see it from his position, with his lap full of Brother. Either way, it was enough that Ed simply allowed Al to hold him.
When the armored boy reluctantly loosened his hold, and Ed pulled away, there was a suspicion of glossiness in those amber eyes.
"…So don't just go trying to hide it when you get hurt, dummy," Ed admonished his little brother, with a faint sniffle that belied his attempt to sound stern. "You have to take care of yourself. You may not feel it, but… but I…"
But I feel it.
Al's soul ached. He wanted to grab Ed and hug him again; but instead, he settled for gently squeezing Ed's shoulders.
"The same goes for you, Brother. Even more than for me, because you can hurt for real… but the only hurt I can feel now is yours."
Ed's eyes quickly became all shiny again—but before the moment could grow any more awkwardly emotional, Al rose to his feet with a clatter.
"Hey, you said you were hungry, didn't you? Let's go downstairs and find you some dinner."
The elder brother blinked and smiled. "…Sure."
As Ed moved to finish dressing, Al watched him, with a pleasantly glowy feeling somewhere under his chestplate. He realized he now had the answer to the earlier thoughts that had troubled him.
Between the two of them, physically, Ed was the more vulnerable one now—but that would still never stop him from trying to protect Al, just as he had all their lives. That meant Al would have to do everything he could to protect Ed in turn. If nothing else, the armor made him capable of that as he had never been before. He owed it to Ed to make the most of his strength, even if it meant learning to do things he hadn't thought he could do.
When the fighting got real, maybe it would always be hard for him to raise his hand against another, even if they tried to harm him. Maybe he never would have the heart to fight back in his own defense.
But he could fight for Brother… and that was enough.
2016 Jordanna Morgan