His patience had almost reached its limit when the door opened and Al came back into the room, a tray of food clutched in his hands. The two boys were quietly awkward as seats were taken and food was swallowed. When the last of the stew had been slurped up, Al put the dirty dishes on the floor. Ed stared at the armor, his curiosity flaring, but his fear failing. After a few minutes of twitching and averted glances, Al broke the silence.

"She went back to sleep, huh?"

Ed smiled and lightly caressed the golden tresses in his lap. His fingers faltered when he realized Al couldn't feel them anymore and he shoved his hand under the covers. "Yeah. She should really get in her own bed. Her neck's going to get sore sleeping like that."

Al let out a soft laugh and Ed was reminded of warm nights at home with the lamps turned down low, when it was just the two of them and a pile of musty books. "You should have seen where I found her last night. She had wrench marks in her cheek for the better part of an hour after I woke her up."

Ed laughed in response and nudged her shoulder. "Winry, Winry…"

"What?" Both boys laughed again at her grumpy tone.

"You need to go get in bed."

"Yeah, you're going to have marks on your face again." Al threw in for good measure.

Both boys snickered as she slid from the bed. A glimpse of her panties caused Ed to turn red and Al turned his snickering to his brother. "M'okay. Goodnight guys."

They erupted into full fledged laughter as she stumbled into the door, hitting her head, kicked it, fumbled the door open, and shut it behind her. A heavy silence fell over the room again as the laughter died down. Ed was acutely aware of how little he'd been alone with Al since the failed transmutation. He almost wished Winry would come back, or that Granny would come in and yell at him to go to sleep. He felt a little ashamed as Al broke the silence again with the shake of a box.

"Want to play some checkers?"

"Sure." Ed felt the shaky start of a routine as the pieces were placed on the board.

"Black or white?"

"Black."

"Brother, you always play black."

"So?"

"Nothing."

They played quietly, Ed steadily losing. To his humiliation, a bathroom break was called after the first game and Al had to help again. By the second game Ed was yawning regularly, but determined to win. Ed glared at Al every time the armor dared to laugh and they both ended up chuckling together. Ed did his best to keep his eyes wide open, but as the third game was being lost, he began nodding; leaning back against the pillows. He felt Al gently take a piece out of his hand and woke up just enough to argue.

"I don't have to sleep, yet, Al."

"I know you don't Brother, but its okay if you do." Ed cringed at the pacifying tone, one that was sure to both make him angry and guilty if he could just wake up enough to respond.

"Un, don't wanna. No be lonely…" Ed faded out; the world gone as sleep finally overwhelmed him.

His dreams were turbulent, full of weird sounds and images. He saw his mother, blaming herself for ever giving birth to a failure of a son. He saw Winry, crying in a pool of blood. The worst of all, though, was when he saw Al in a bed, limbs missing and upon looking down, his hands were the gauntlets. He woke up crying once or twice, wracked with guilt and sobs. Each frenzied awakening causing him to renew his promise, to swear it to every star in the sky, to every drop of blood in his father's study. Until there were no more nightmares, just exhausted darkness and he was able to rest.

Sunshine on his eyelids awoke him in the morning. Ed thought he was dreaming again as Winry glowed in the light, leaning over him. "Ready Ed?"

He grinned at Al and nodded.

14/12/07 Author's note: Thank you everyone for reading this story and encouraging me to keep going with the series.