S J Smith
Disclaimer: I'm writing fanfic, therefore, I'm not, okay?
Summary: Al always knows when something's wrong with his brother.
Warnings: N/A; if you've read up through chapter 63 of the manga.
Seasonal Prompt: Winter: "Water Now is Turned to Stone" for the LJ community, "4purposes".
A.N.: Part of the Distant Sun series, which starts with "Similiarites" and continues with "Clandestine."
Alphonse Elric knew his brother. Ed could be surly, snappish and downright rude but rarely was he cold the way he was now. A perpetual frown marred his face, even when he slept; his mouth was always drawn into a thin line. His eyes were distant and bitter, like a stagnant pond frozen for the winter.
Edward stomped into their room one evening, flinging his jacket towards the coat rack, seeming not to notice when it slid down the wall into a heap on the floor. He kicked his boots off so they thumped into a wall and still managed to make more noise than when he'd been shod, crossing the room to his bed and falling, face first, onto it.
"Brother," Alphonse began, from where he sat with a stack of books and a dinner he'd picked up for Ed, now long cold, from when the café had been open, "Brother, what's wrong?"
As if just realizing Al was in the room, Ed turned slowly to face him. Al caught sight of something on Ed's face before it shuttered tight. "Nothing."
Alphonse leaned his greaves on the table, the books resting between his arms. "Brother, whatever it is, you can tell me." He kept his voice steady and pitched low, hoping it would break through to Ed and whatever self-imposed punishment he was putting himself through. "I'm tired of you walking around like you're going to explode. I hate that expression on your face, like something terrible has happened and you're afraid to tell me. You aren't as good with secrets as you like to think, Ed, not when they hurt you."
Edward frowned, seemingly distracted by something in the corner of their room. "It isn't your problem, Al."
Fists slamming onto the table, Alphonse made the books and tray of food jump. Edward shot him a wide eyed glance as Al snapped, "It is too, Ed! When you're like this, I don't know what to do to fix it. I just see that you're hurting and it makes me hurt, too."
Swallowing noisily, Ed refused to look at him. "Al, leave it alone."
He got his crackling voice under control. "Please, Brother."
Ed jerked around, his eyes blazing. "I mean it, Al! Leave it alone. It isn't your problem!"
"It is too my problem!" Alphonse rose to his feet, hands planted on the table. "Brother, you're not sleeping. You're acting strange. If something happens out there," he stabbed a finger at the window, "and you aren't paying attention, you could get hurt." Al made a sound like a sigh, his helmet lowering. "Brother, I don't want you doing something stupid to atone for whatever it is that's bothering you." He caught a glimpse of Edward's head lifting sharply at that, heard the strangled gasp. "I told you, Ed, you aren't as good with secrets as you think you are."
Ed laughed, a sharp, humorless sound, shaking his head. His gaze softened a little bit as he lifted it to meet Alphonse's then, just as quickly, the shutters were back in place. Still, he sounded almost reasonable as he spoke. "Yeah, I know." The corner caught his attention again. "But there are some things that really are one person's burden to bear." He glanced back, his expression pleading. "I'm sorry, Al. Maybe I can tell you someday." Flopping back onto the bed, Ed covered his eyes with his arm and Alphonse knew he'd get nothing more out of his brother right now.
That didn't mean he wouldn't keep trying and if he had to, he'd get some help from outside sources. Alphonse was not going to let Ed continue to beat himself up over whatever this was. It just took some time and dedication to figure out what was bothering his brother.
Shifting the books aside, Al caught sight of something he'd almost forgotten about. "Brother," he said, earning a grunted response from Edward. "Brother, a letter came from Winry today."
It seemed as if the room coalesced when her name was mentioned, that Ed stared at him, even though the arm didn't move from his eyes. There was a strange, bitter alertness to Edward, one in keeping with the person he'd become these past few weeks. "Yeah?" he said, his voice cracking even on that single syllable. "What does she have to say?"
"Not much," Alphonse admitted, picking up the envelope and pulling the single sheet of paper from it. "She's learning a lot from Mr. Garfiel," Al caught Ed's shudder at the mention of the man's name. "And she says that Granny expects us all home for New Year's."
Ed grumbled softly at that, a long standing protest about dropping everything to return to Rezembool when it wasn't necessary. Al ignored him. "Winry says that she saw Ran Fan in Rush Valley, looking for a mechanic."
That brittle stillness returned to Edward, a static watchfulness that would've made the back of Alphonse's neck prickle, had he the flesh necessary for such a thing. "Did she."
Something clicked into place like a missing piece of a puzzle and Alphonse asked softly, "Brother, did something happen with Ran Fan?" Edward rolled away from Alphonse, presenting his brother with his stiffened back.
It was answer enough.