"For the last time, I DON'T want dinner, I DON'T want to call Winry, and I DON'T want a stupid cat to trample all over my notes! Damn it, Al, can't you see I'm trying to work here?!"

Al said nothing. The calico kitten in his arms meowed and pawed at the air in front of Edward, but Alphonse didn't even twitch a finger.

Ed blew out a slow breath, anger gradually deflating, and ran his flesh hand through golden forelocks. He knew it was just Al being Al, just his brother trying to help and take care of him and interrupting and being fucking annoying

Wait, he was trying to calm down, not rile himself up. Yeah. Deep breath, Ed.

"Listen, Al," he gritted out slowly, "I know we haven't gone anywhere lately, I know I've been cooped up in here for a while, and I know you're pissed that we haven't gone to see anyone, but stop whining and listen up for a sec, okay? I think I've got something – here, take a look at this."

The boy pulled up a book and pointed to a paragraph in the middle of the page.

"If you take Gaunt's freelance energy principle and apply it to a disjunction array, there's an increased rate of demarcation of components - which is the normal, conventional method of disintegration, of course – but, if you use this same principle for integration instead, then Pernello's Conflict is in effect with the particles, and they assemble themselves, withbarely any guidance to speak of," he explained excitedly, one arm waving about as he got caught up in his own enthusiasm. "Al, do you know what this could mean? I might have just found a way to…to…"

The suit of armor stood up stiffly, metal plates creaking and the kitten clutched snugly to his chest. Edward faded to silence as he felt a sudden, inexplicable sense of foreboding.

His little brother's stare had never seemed so cold.

"Al? What's wrong?"

Alphonse's voice was tight and brittle.

"You are."

Ed's eyes widened for a scant moment, and he felt his hands tremble before he hastily moved them under the table to press painfully against his legs. He tried to see into Al's helmet, as if that way he could somehow see into his little brother's soul, the immaterial substance that somehow mobilized the lifeless metal structure - but then their eye contact was broken, and the armor looked away and strode to the door.

He panicked and blurted out, "Wait…!"

Al stopped walking, but didn't look back.

"Al," he tried, fumbling over the tightness lodged in his throat and words that refused to come out, "Al, I…what are you- why -"

"Sometimes, Brother," his brother cut him off, lowly and bitterly, "you make it really hard for anyone to like you."

…Ed didn't say anything when the door slammed shut.

Edward Elric yawned as he woke up to find his cheek pressed as usual against the leafy edge of a textbook, conjuring up interesting grooves and indentations on his face. A little pool of drool wetted the edge of another journal, and he disgustedly scrubbed at it with his sleeve before finally raising his head and opening his eyes fully.

His gaze met with an unruly room, full of journals and books messily splayed in every available space. He sighed a little; when it came down to it, Ed was a very neat and organized person - that is, unless he became so involved in something that he forgot all else.

Which was what happened this time. Again.

Still, he knew where everything was, regardless – at the very least, it was an organized mess, he thought to himself as he stood and picked books off the floor, wiping away dirty fingerprints and straightening folded pages.

And yet, it very rarely got this bad, the boy frowned. How long have I been in here? he wondered. He recalled that at some point Al had rammed the door open, shouting 'Brother' and startling him so much that he nearly fell off his chair. Strangely enough, though, his brother had just as suddenly swept out of the room, and he remembered getting up and shutting the door in irritation, resolutely ignoring the racket Al was making in the other rooms.

When had that been? Everything seemed so hazy… "Hey, Al?"


He scratched his head, tangled locks of hair bunching under his fingers.

"Al?" he stepped into the kitchen, and when he pulled the cupboard door open he was slightly horrified to see that it was absolutely, horridly empty.

There wasn't even a goddamned apple to bite into, for Pete's sake.

"How long has it been?" he muttered bewilderedly.

He raised his voice. "Hey, Al? I'm going to get some grub, all right? For some reason we're all out of food, and I'm starving. I feel like I haven't been out of that room in ages… yeah, and I guess I'll stop over by the Colonel's while I'm at it – jerkwad's probably going ballistic. So don't wait on me."

He made his way to the door just as it opened to reveal his younger brother, who mechanically walked past Ed and sat down listlessly on the sofa.

"There you are, Al," he said in relief, although there was a definite hint of irritation in his voice. "Hey, did you know that there isn't any-"

Something meowed, and Ed looked down at his legs. A calico kitten was rubbing against the sofa, staring after him with a strange glint in its eye as it meowed again.

Ed frowned. "Wait a minute, I know you…" he narrowed his eyes as it clicked in his head. "Damn it, Al, didn't I tell you to get rid of it? I keep telling you we can't keep a cat, and what do you do? You keep the goddamn cat!!"

"…What are you hissing at?" Al asked despondently.

"I'm not -" Ed started to object, but silenced when Al picked up the cat and cradled her in his lap, stroking it gently and seeming oddly vulnerable for a six-foot suit of armor.

"Calm down. You're not helping, you know."

Ed sighed. Al was right, it wasn't worth arguing about. Not right now, anyway. "Fine, I'm sor-"

Al stood up, feline in hand, and wordlessly walked away.

Edward frowned, starting to get seriously pissed. He was trying to apologize, and Alphonse was fucking ignoring him?Oh, hell no. Screw it, Al was going too far with his spiteful little tantrums. Obviously it was time to show his little brother who's the older, wiser Elric here.

And so he followed Al, shooting barbs and yelling out obscenities – anything to get under his brother's skin (well, armor, technically) – all to no effect.

Al paused next to a door, and Ed recognized it to be the door to his study.

"Hey," he let out loudly, alarmed, "we said rooms are off-limits! You can't make a mess in my room, there are important things in there!"

His brother didn't answer. After a slight hesitation which seemed almost hopeful, Al opened the door.

Ed gaped. His room, which he could have sworn he'd just cleaned and organized, was once again a total mess. "What the crap? I just cleaned all that up!"

"Still the same…" Al whispered softly, and for once Ed didn't even begin to have a clue as to what his brother was thinking. "And…and he's still not-" he made a strange, choked sound and abruptly turned on his heels, leaving Edward standing there, confused.

Really confused.

"Alphonse?" he called back after his brother, not particularly surprised anymore when he didn't receive an answer. Face pulled into a contemplative expression, he sat down on the ground (a rare corner free of strewn-about books) and tried to make heads or tails of the situation.

Fact #1: for some reason, Al was angry with him. Ed fuzzily seemed to recall having an argument of some sort a while back, but he didn't remember what happened afterwards. Besides of which, it really wasn't like Al to hold a grudge for so long. Did he really make him that mad? Despite the general opinion, Al did get angry, though rarely. And when he did, it was Armageddon for all those involved...

Fact #2: some strange shit was going on. His room was a mess, despite the fact that he clearly remembered cleaning it up and putting his things away. Unless someone was pulling his leg, something very odd was happening. Even stranger, he could have sworn that everything was the way it had been before he'd gotten up to take care of it – the very same books were scattered across the floor, the shades were half-drawn, the same stacks of journals littered his table, and the pen he'd used was still in between the pages of Eberti's Laws, even though he had taken it out because he didn't need to recall that passage anymore. It was like he'd never touched the room since messing it up in the first place. Also, and perhaps most troubling, was that there was a disturbing lack offood in the house. Ed could admit that he could lose himself and forget all about eating, but he never starved himself on purpose. In fact, he made a point of filling the fridge whenever he got the chance. Why the kitchen was empty was completely beyond him.

Fact #3: Ed didn't like facts 1 and 2.

He tried to think things over again, get things to make sense.

No food in the house. Room a mess, as if he'd never touched it. The calico. Alphonse, angry at him.

He frowned. Was Al mad at him? Replaying the scene in his head, Edward realized his brother had acted strangely. Extremely strangely. And if he really thought about it, the conversation didn't really include him at all. For all he knew, Al had been talking to the damn cat.

Yet why would that be? All right, so Al could get pretty pissy when he was mad. But ignoring him for so long, and not even being obvious about it – that wasn't Alphonse at all.

It was almost like….like...

…Like Ed didn't exist

"There you go."

Ed jumped, startled, then shifted into a fighting stance as he searched the room for the voice's owner. "Who's there?"

"Most people are much quicker about it, but you certainly took your time. Are you really the prodigy they say you are? They must be more careless with their compliments these days. Or perhaps simply too easily impressed."

Who the hell was this guy? "Whoever you are, show yourself!" he snapped, surveying the room with a sharp glare.

The deep voice sounded amused. "If you'd but make the effort to turn around, I'm sure you would be satisfied, Edward Elric."

Ed turned around in a whirl, then blinked.

Someone was sitting at his window.

A/N: It's been a while, so I thought I'd post this up. It isn't high priority or anything, but I've been working on it for a while and thought I might as well show you guys what I've been up to. Tell me what you think.

No worries, AoS is still ongoing... plot bunny hit me yesterday, and if it wasn't for those damn tests I'd be writing right now...

(makes fist) Curse you, higher education...!