My Brother's Keeper

(A Fullmetal Alchemist Fic)

Alphonse Elric once thought he knew the truth of the world. Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. This is Alchemy's First Law of Equivalent Exchange.

In their arrogance he and Brother had thought their mother's life was worth two drops of blood. They'd miscalculated, and learned far too late that life is not nearly so cheap.

Brother had once told the fraud Cornello he possessed a sinner's body. He'd violated Alchemy's most sacred taboo. Human transmutation demanded more than he had to offer; a leg for their mother, an arm for his brother. This is Brother's payment for playing God. He is an automail.

Al has made himself God as well. He's paid the price with his entire body. Is he not also to blame? Is Alphonse Elric not a sinner?

No, never in Brother's eyes.

Only Brother is allowed to sin. Only Brother is allowed to be called a dog of the military. Only Brother is allowed to defile their mother's grave. Only Brother is allowed to kill.

Alphonse is Brother's responsibility. All that happens to him is Brother's fault. This is why Brother must take the brunt of the blame. Brother must keep Al safe. Al is all Brother has left in the world. Brother believes in innocence and he needs to believe Al still possesses it. Brother needs to know Al is not as broken as he is. Brother needs to know Al has no malice in his heart; that he will never become like them, like the military, like the homunculi, like Scar. Brother wants to protect Al from what he is becoming: something desperate, and wild, and not quite sane.

Brother has been called a genius, but sometimes Al doesn't think his Brother is very smart.

Brother believes that he is Hell and Al is Heaven. He is the sinner and Al is the saint. These are roles, which must never be reversed. Brother is a scientist. He doesn't believe in God, he shouldn't allow the philosophies of a dead religion to influence him.

Al wonders if he gave up Heaven to dwell in his Brother's Hell a long time ago and Brother simply didn't notice.

Every sin, every failure burns in the consciousness of their minds. Alphonse knows his Brother's crimes are his as well – every sin is dually shared and dually remembered. If Brother is Hell, Alphonse is too. Together, they are dually damned.

The promise of Heaven died the day their mother did.

Strangely, morbidly, Alphonse wonders if shared sin equals shared torment. Are their Hells equivalents? Or is one torture greater than the other?

Brother still has his senses. He is still human; he's just missing some parts. All Al has is his soul entrapped in a suit of armor. He cannot smell. He cannot taste. He can only see, and hear. Touch is limited and distant. Metallic. Cold. Brother's touch is soft and warm. Al wonders if he can still be called human.

Al struggles daily to remember what it is like to feel.

Brother doesn't know what it's like to wonder if his very existence is a lie. He cannot understand the paralyzing fear accompanied with the gnawing question: What if there never was an Alphonse Elric? What if he is nothing more than a disfigured child's creation? What if Brother made his soul?

But that is nonsense. Alphonse knows that now.

Brother does not fear he truly died the day they tried to bring back Mom. Brother knows he is not the echo of a dead boy. Al is not so certain.

Brother cannot know how it feels to have children look upon him in fear and hide behind their mothers. To them Alphonse is a monster.

Brother thinks himself a monster. He hides behind scratchy gloves and a stifling coat even when Winry prances around him in little more than her underclothes. Brother doesn't want anyone to see the machinery. He is ashamed of it. If only Al could hide his shame as easily as Brother could. Maybe than Winry would look at him like she looks at Brother when she thinks no one is watching.

Alphonse, too, feels that same unworthiness, the condemnation built and reinforced by never-ending failure. Failure to restore the balance, failure to save those he cared about, and accomplishments forged through death alone.

Brother didn't feel Martel die inside of him. A startled gasp, a moment of frantic breaths, a heart that quickly stopped beating – blood, her blood, soaking him. He can still hear her life pouring from him, scarlet rivers traveling down his body and staining the ground below. Warm, he imagines the blood was warm. No, not warm, Brother is warm – Martel's blood was hot, scalding, burning, anything but the feeling of forgotten comfort and tender embraces. He can still recall the Fuhrer's blade through his neck; Martel's cruel termination as personal as if it were his own.

Brother doesn't have the power of the Philosopher's Stone embedded into every fiber of his being. He can't feel the weight of tens of thousands of souls crushing him, begging for release.

And yet… Al's anguish is nothing next to what his Brother has endured.

Since the night of their mother's failed resurrection, Brother has known nothing but pain. Even death cannot bring peace to his frantic eyes. Alphonse needs to save him. He will use the power of the Stone to heal Brother's body and restore his soul, even if he must trade his own existence to do so.

Brother wanted to save him. He gave his life for Al's. Al's life isn't worth nearly so much. Brother has always protected him, now it's Al's turn to return the favor.

After all, despite the Elder's protests, Alphonse Elric will always be his Brother's keeper.