Title: When Fishing For A Whale…
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Alphonse and Edward.
Setting: Shortly after Ed's commissioning as a State Alchemist.
Summary: Al finds something curious in Ed's suitcase.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt word "Naked" at Fan Flashworks. I was not thrilled with that prompt, but in the middle of a bad day, an idea for squishy Elric brotherly love sprang forth spontaneously.
Alphonse Elric was bored.
It had been more than half an hour since Edward went to fetch some dinner from the kitchen of the inn. During that time, Al thought he had memorized every detail of the shabby room where they were staying. If he could have closed the eyes he didn't physically have, he was sure he would have been able to envision every crack in the tired paint, every hanging thread on the worn curtains.
This was kind of annoying. Al didn't like to resort to such a listless study of his surroundings until at least three o'clock in the morning. How was he going to spend his dull unsleeping hours now, when he had already wasted his quota of staring around the room?
And still, Brother hadn't returned.
Something to read would be nice, but there were no books in sight. Al couldn't remember seeing any bookshelf to borrow from in the common room downstairs, either. But then, most travelers would not be spending any leisure time there. Located in a town that was merely a brief stop between more popular destinations, this inn was the kind of place where people stayed only as long as they had to.
Al's gaze slid toward Ed's suitcase on the bed. Much as both brothers loved books, Ed himself scarcely had time to read on missions; once his work was done, he was lucky just to get enough sleep. As for Al, he declined to pack books, knowing it was impractical to lug reading material across the country with them. Instead, he relied on whatever was available in the places they stopped at. Sometimes there were interesting and informative books about the region, but at other times, he was less lucky.
…However, Al knew that Ed did stash a book in his suitcase on occasion, if he was particularly interested but had no time to finish it. Now and then, he would pull out such a volume to read on the train. It was invariably some obscure alchemic text: yet another source of research for him to pore over in his quest to restore Al's body.
In an effort to be a helpful sounding board to compare notes with, Al did his own share of such studying, although he couldn't always keep up with his brother's leaps of genius. Equations were not really his first choice for relaxing reading in his inordinate amounts of downtime, but… well, at the moment, anything was better than continuing to stare at the same empty nail-hole in the wall.
Steel clattered as Al moved toward the bed. Leather fingers reached out to unfasten the clasps of the suitcase, and he opened it.
He really didn't see inside the suitcase all that often. It wasn't that Ed was private about the contents; it was simply that, having no physical needs of his own, Al had nothing to keep within it himself. For the most part, his glimpses inside were caught offhandedly over Ed's shoulder when the elder brother was digging through it. There never appeared to be much more to see than poorly-folded articles of clothing, anyway… and sometimes the paper-wrapped remains of the last sandwich Ed had picked up. (Which was usually the very thing he asked Al to hand him, during rest stops in their travels. Honestly, it was a little alarming that Ed would still eat some of the things he'd stashed away for days.)
Fortunately, in this instance, there was no stale food. The top layer was merely the usual jumble of clothes—and not many of them. Ed carried little in the way of spare garments, because most of what he regularly wore, he could keep clean and in good repair with alchemy. At least he was more attentive about that than he was about putting them neatly away.
Patiently Al began to lift the clothes out and set them on the bed, resolved to fold them properly before he put them back in.
Underneath the careless wads of fabric, there was the miscellany Ed judged important enough to carry with him. An envelope of official military papers. The small tool kit and oil can Winry had given Ed, for the automail maintenance he too often neglected. A dog-eared notebook, half-full of alchemic equations and notations—scribbled at first in the messy scrawl Ed achieved with his left hand after the transmutation, and later, in the smaller and more clipped letters his automail hand learned to produce.
Lastly, in a bottom corner of the suitcase, Al discovered a paper-wrapped parcel. Judging by its visible give when his fingers closed around it, the contents were something soft. More clothes, he guessed—but he wondered what clothes Brother had seen fit to pack with so much greater care.
Curiosity overcame him. With just a little awkwardness, his big fingers managed to untie the string around the parcel, and he folded back the layers of plain brown paper.
True to his prediction, the odd package contained clothing. A button-down shirt, trousers, socks and underwear, even a pair of shoes wrapped separately and tucked between the garments… but none of these items belonged to Ed. They were at least a size too small for him now, and far from the more eye-catching style he had adopted since the brothers left Resembool.
Suddenly Alphonse realized just what he was looking at, and deep inside him, he felt the ethereal fluttering of a startled wonder.
These things were his own, from before the transmutation.
For all this time, reverently sealed within the paper wrappings, Brother had been carrying a full change of Al's old clothes. They were once his favorite and most comfortable garments… but they had long since been rendered irrelevant and useless, ever since his small mortal body was traded for a hulking shell of bare steel.
Al's fingers clenched tight upon the package Ed had so lovingly and inexplicably borne across the miles. Mingled with a gentle confusion, he felt the phantom pressure within his soul that came only when he wanted to cry.
The door opened at that moment, and Ed's voice preceded him into the room, immediately launching into a breezy apology.
"Sorry I took so long. The innkeeper and I had a little misunderstanding about the meaning of 'room and board'. I ended up having to make a couple of alchemic repairs in exchange for—"
Ed abruptly halted in the act of turning from the door he had closed. As he saw Al standing with the open parcel of clothing, his face fell.
"Brother…" Al whispered, his voice tiny and quivering beneath the metal.
Al meant to ask why Ed had these things. The words wouldn't come, but that didn't seem to matter; Ed understood the question anyway, even without being able to read it in Al's impassive faceplate. He sighed, and with exaggerated care, he set down the bowl of unpalatable-looking gruel he had brought in with him.
His shadow-filled eyes began to wander everywhere in the room, except to where Al stood.
"I don't know if you ever realized this," he began in a reluctant mutter. "But—that night… your clothes were left behind, Al. And I just…" He squirmed and pinkened. "I've always wanted to be ready for when we get your body back. If… you know. If it comes back naked."
Some deep-down part of Al wanted to giggle at Ed's embarrassed expression, and the sweet simplicity of the answer. However, the rest of him was much too full with the ache of a love that felt too big for even his huge armor husk to contain.
"Oh, Ed," he said softly, taking a step forward, with the precious package still cradled in his grasp. "Thank you, Brother. Even for just thinking about things like that. But… you don't have to keep this up for me. Even if we did get my body back without any clothes, I'm sure anyone who might be with us then would understand. In the meantime, all of this is just extra weight you don't need to carry around. And besides, if it takes us time to find the answer, what if my body has outgrown these clothes somehow before we get it back?"
"Then I'll make adjustments!" Ed retorted sharply. To Al's surprise, he snatched the bundle from the younger sibling's hands, drawing it close to his chest in an almost possessively tight grip. His breath huffed out… and then he slowly turned his gaze upward, with a tiny smile forming on his lips.
"It's… not just about being physically prepared, anyway." He shook his head faintly. "You remember that old saying Pinako always used—'When you're fishing for a whale, take along the sauce'? …Well, I guess it's sort of like that. Just being ready for what could be, after we get your body back… it makes me feel more confident that we will succeed." His lips twisted and his eyes rolled sideways, pulling a face. "I know it sounds kind of dumb. But it helps."
Alphonse did chuckle then. Maybe it was only because he couldn't sniffle instead; but even in that moment, maybe laughter was better.
"I don't think it's dumb at all," he replied warmly, and folded his big steel arms around Edward in a hug.
2016 Jordanna Morgan