Just playing around with old files…
Al knew his brother.
But sometimes, watching him scratch out something that might be considered a report if you squinted and turned your head and wondered how he managed to make even walking to the train station sound like a chore; watching him twitch in barely restrained rage as the colonel just looked at him, and then inevitably blow up and start screeching at the top of his lungs due to one comment that was just that little bit too casual; watching him cackle over a triumph or crow over some small win; watching him seethe at everything and howl in laughter over everything else… sometimes Al wondered if Ed knew the elder Elric brother.
It was impossible for Al not to know Ed.
But sometimes, watching him pretend to sleep while his automail remained all too still and his shoulders hunched all too boneless; watching him hide himself away in a collection of books and not come up for air until he'd been called at least three times and most probably slapped over the head to wake up; watching him look out train windows with that strange look in his eyes; watching him gaze back at him, quiet and apologetic and small and… sometimes Al wondered if his brother knew Ed.
He knew they were the same person, and that at one time they had been completely intertwined to the point that Al wouldn't have ever needed to mentally separate them. But these days he did, without even thinking about it.
There was Ed, who was relentless and cocky and although clever was so far from smart that it hurt to think about. Ed with the fiery golden eyes and the manic grin and flailing arms and lungs strong enough to scream at a smart-arse-arrogant-cold-hearted-bastard-of-a-megalomaniac-colonel from across the compound. Ed, the Fullmetal Alchemist, the people's Alchemist, the boy strong enough to transmute the world and who would almost definitely save it one day. Ed, who would craft the philosopher's stone to prove a point, restore his brother's body and then his own limbs, and then march into the smug-bastard-of-a-son-of-a-bitch-colonel's office, throw his finger in the man's face and crow that he did it even with the stupid missions and leash and mwuahahaha.
And then there was Al's brother, who was driven and scared and so brilliant that his automatic realisations often took others days to follow. Al's brother, with the dulled expression and tired eyes and scarred body and aching limbs that shouldn't hurt when they weren't there. Al's brother, who was furious with and terrified of himself and what he'd done and knew he would do. Al's brother, who would craft the philosopher's stone and restore his brother's body and then look up into Fuhrer Mustang's face, salute him with his metal arm and bark like the dog he was.
Ed, who despised what he had to do to restore his brother, and Al's Brother, who thought he deserved much worse for what he had done.
Ed was fifteen and struggling to prove he was old enough to be the Fullmetal Alchemist. Al's Brother was old and too tired of life to play anymore.
Today, Al was watching his brother sleep. The train was new, but it had a steady rocking motion that had lulled Ed to relax, and then collapse, resting on his metal arm and snoring softly.
Al knew them both. He had known his brother long before there had been any need to define the difference.
He had known his brother when they were learning alchemy. Had known that Ed fully intended to try and bring back their mother, and that was why he was relearning alchemy from the ground up. He had known his brother. Had known that if Al said 'no' it would cause him to flinch. Had known that if Al said 'we can't do this' it would cause him to pause. Had known that if Al said 'I don't want to', then Ed would have stopped and stopped fighting.
But Al hadn't. He had been nervous and cautious and said 'but', but he had never once said 'no'.
He had never tried to stop him. When Al's brother got nervous or quiet or silently thought 'maybe', Al had suggested they go do something or try another experiment. He was always urging. He was always silently begging, silently waiting and hoping Ed would do it.
Even that fatal night, when Ed had carefully drawn the circle and Ed had stood up and Ed had looked at him, Al had known his brother. Had known anything beyond 'are you sure' and 'but maybe' would have stopped him then.
So Ed had just given him a determined look and said it would be alright.
Al had known his brother all those years. Had known that a single 'no' would have stopped him.
Al could have stopped his brother at any time.
He supposed They knew that. He supposed They knew that when They dragged him down and only took Ed's leg. Ed listened to his brother; Ed counted on his brother to tell him he was being stupid and foolish and what he was doing was wrong, wrong, wrong and no we aren't doing this, Brother! But he hadn't. And he paid the price.
But Al's brother had toppled a suit of armour and snatched a handful of his own blood and begged and pleaded and offered up his arms and other leg and anything else They wanted if They would just give him a chance and all the blame.
And They did. They gave him his brother's soul and all the blame, all the guilt for entering the realm of the gods and killing his mother again and killing his brother and only losing a couple of stupid limbs in return.
Because Al hadn't said 'no'.
Because Al had wanted his mother back.
Because Al had kept urging him on whenever he was reluctant.
Because Al made sure that Ed kept fighting and pushing and trying to bring their mother back.
Edward Elric had lost an arm, a leg, and any self-worth he had ever had in one night, because his little brother didn't say no.
And now, Al still knew his brother. Still knew his brother had absolutely no intention of getting his limbs back except by side chance or fluke. Still knew his brother would keep working for a military he hated because it was what he 'deserved'.
Al watched as his brother got beaten and shot at and stabbed and used. Used for his skill, for his strength, for his perseverance, and lately even for his growing looks. Al would never forgive the colonel for handing Ed to that pretty girl with the giggling laugh and bold hands. It had only been one night, but it was too much.
Sometimes, Al wondered if there was some way to foil Ed's attempts on the stone, because he was scared what would happen once his brother had it. He was scared what his brother would do once Al was human and whole and fine again.
He knew his brother, and his brother would probably destroy the stone without using it ever again. He wasn't sure about Ed, but he was almost certain that either way, he would never have four flesh limbs again.
He was scared, because although Ed had fire, and Ed could probably find a new cause to commit to and cackle over (probably alternating between aiding and destroying any hope Roy Mustang had for promotion, most likely), Al's brother only had the search for the philosopher's stone. Al's brother didn't exist for anything but guilt and research.
On the seat across from him, his brother jerked, his eyes wide and breath caught as he woke without realising it. Al looked down at him worriedly, but his brother just stared back wildly for a long moment, searching over him in quick appraisal before apparently finding himself content and prepared to go back to sleep.
Al knew his brother. He knew he was getting tired of having to fight with Ed.
Ed was stronger than his brother. Angrier and more pointed and happier. Ed would eventually win the war, and Al's brother would start to slip away.
Sometimes Al thought that was a good thing. When he saw his brother pretending to sleep or curled around his left leg or sitting alone with his eyes in a far off place, he thought it would be good to say goodbye to his brother.
Most of the time, it scared him. Ed was wild and reckless and just what a little brother should be without the respect. He yelled and cursed and declared he was resigning from the military, screw the philosopher's stone and screw his brother; he liked metal better than people any day. He was clever but so stupid. A genius, but without the concentration to be smart. He threw books and hit Al and argued with the colonel and everyone else.
Al didn't want a little brother.
Al wanted his big brother. The one that called Winry a girl like it was an insult and holed away in libraries with his nose in a book. The one that yelled at him but would still curl up with him at night and talk about everything and nothing. The one that yelled at the colonel, and stared after him with a loudly silent gape of absolute disbelief. The one that discussed the highest level of alchemy like it was child's play (which it had been) but couldn't figure out the workings of the human mind without resorting to psychology that even he found ridiculous. The one that sat with him at three in the morning, snapping once again that he was not going to transmute rhinoceroses into unicorns because not only is that the dumbest thing he'd ever heard but where was Al going to get a rhinoceros in the first place?
But his big brother was gone, transmuted into a too-young state alchemist and a world weary old man.
He just hoped they could hold on to both long enough for him to save his brother before Ed forged the stone.
He looked around at his brother again, surprised to see him still awake and looking at him. "Brother?"
He was quiet a moment, and if Al had an expression he would have been shocked. He could see his big brother in those eyes.
"I'm hungry," he said finally.
Maybe not his brother. "You're always hungry."
"Aw, shuddup. Do you have food for me or not?"
He just gazed down at him for a long moment, then reached into his chest plate and eventually withdrew a greasy bag of buns, passing them over. They had been squashed when Al was smuggling them out of his brother's notice to get them on the train, but Ed took them without comment and immediately started in on the first one his hand touched.
His big brother was gone as Ed began mumbling about sweet delights and how he should have more and how absolutely fantastic they were and ahh, Al treated him so good.
"Sorry this happened to you, big brother," he said quietly, but when Ed looked up, he had a mouthful of bread and his eyes were large in curiosity. He hadn't heard him.
"Sorry they're squished," he said quickly, and Ed grinned.
"S'how I like 'em. Brings out the flavour," he said brightly, and went back to cramming as many into his mouth as he could manage.
Al wanted to sigh, but held back the sound because he couldn't pass it off as a breath when he didn't have any. He had seen him. He was still there.
Al still knew his big brother.
Don't mind me…