Nighttimes were always lonely for Alphonse Elric. As the rest of the world quieted down, and prepared to rest, his armor body did not allow him the same pleasure. Without the need of sleep, an immense space of time stretched before Alphonse. Some nights he would finish or start some research for him and his brother. Whenever he did this, Edward would wake up and see how hard he'd work, and get a curious expression on his face. It was part gratitude, and part regret that Al had had to work so hard. But Al didn't mind working. It was one of his favorite nighttime activities. It gave his brain something to do. For sometimes, in the silence, his brain would start thinking, and eventually the thought spiraled on each other and made Al think about things he would rather not think about. He started wondering what his life would have been life if he and Ed hadn't tried to resurrect their mother. Sometimes he even found himself longing for that missed life, that missed chance to be somewhat normal. He found himself longing for a life where he had his body, and Edward still had all of his limbs. In this other life, there wouldn't be any corrupt military after them, ready to chew his brother up and spit him out in a split second. There wouldn't be the constant panic they lived with that Al's armor would reject his soul, or that Ed's mostly flesh body would be destroyed. In this life they lived happily in Resembool with Winry and Granny Pinako. If they had never tried to transmute their mother maybe they could have found the long lost comforts of home. They would have never left on this crazy, suicidal journey.
When Al thought like this, a little voice always offered up more conflicting thoughts. But what about all the people you've helped?
Their journey had benefitted some people. Like the people of the Youswell coal mines. Edward had really helped fish them out of despairing poverty. And their teacher, Izumi Curtis, seemed to find some comfort in the two of them. Al thought that she looked at him and Ed like her own children after she had lost her own. Scheska now had a steady job with the military thanks to them. They and Winry had helped Paninya find a good road in life when they visited Rush Valley. They had even helped (well, Winry had) deliver a baby there.
But what about all the lives we've destroyed? Al countered the voice.
People had died and been ruined during their selfish quest. They had tried to help in Liore when they unseated their false prophet. But all they had really done was open up an opportunity for the military to turn it into another bloody mess for their own agenda. And Lieutenant Colonel, no, Major General Hughes had actually been killed by the homunculi while trying to help Ed and Al. They had ripped a great person from the world, and had destroyed his family. They'd also led the military straight to the Devil's Nest, where a group of people who weren't necessarily bad had sought refuge. Führer President King Bradley had killed them all. They'd even helped ruin the affairs of Xing! They'd led one of its princes to being possessed by the homunculi. Trying to help him, his friend had lost their arm. They'd gotten Colonel Mustang's group involved with them, and now all their lives and careers were on the line.
His little voice nagged him again. Roy would have found that way by himself anyway.
The voice had a point. Could one decision on their part change so much about the world?
The homunculi would still be planning to destroy the entire country and its people. Mustang would still have his ambitions. Maybe they would have even been roped into this whole affair anyway. Roy Mustang had gone looking for them. But would Ed have accepted the offer to join the military if Al's life hadn't hung on his decision. Would he have accepted the offer if he'd had a human body? Maybe Hughes would have found the secret anyway; he was too deeply involved with Roy and his ambitions not to take that road eventually.
And what able all the people you've met?
It was true. The Elrics had met a lot of people on this journey. A lot of people that they had begun to love like family. People they ached for, people the bled for, people they fought for. Weren't people like that always worth meeting at any price?
But did any of this really matter? Was there any way that they would choose the other route to live instead of the one they were on? Alphonse felt sure that they would have made the same decision over and over again; they would never have foreseen this consequence. This thinking only served to make Al mad at himself anyway. What good would thinking about the what-if's do? They couldn't go back and change their choice; they had to do their best with what had happened.
At night, whenever he started to venture down this road of thought, he would desperately search for something else to occupy his mind. Another activity he liked was watching Ed sleep.
Although it might sound creepy, Ed was his brother, and Al liked to observe his sleeping habits during the nights. Ed slept a lot; they'd just realized that he was probably sleeping for him too. So Al never ever disturbed Edward while he slept. Ed was sleeping for him, he ate for him too, just more things to add to the list of things Ed did for him. Despite his constant movement while awake, Ed was a surprisingly still, sound sleeper. Sometimes Al wished Ed would be a little more expressive while he slept, Al couldn't tell if his older brother was having a nightmare until he woke up panting and scared. He wanted to help Ed, just a little, even if it was as insignificant as waking him from nightmares. But most of the time Ed was a peaceful sleeper. When he slept it was the only time Al ever saw his brother actually relax. Al wished that he could sleep as well. It would be nice to escape his thoughts for a couple hours. But he didn't get mad about this; he really got mad at his situation. He knew it confused many people, Edward included. Ed blamed himself for what had happened to Al, but Al knew that it was both of their faults. Both of them had been ripped apart by the gate for both of them had attempted the greatest, indelible sin. And he knew that even if it had been Ed in the armor and Al with the automail that Ed would still think that Al had the worse deal. He would berate himself for allowing Al to have the fragile, breakable, easily destroyed body. It was no use, again, this was what had happened, they would have to march forward with what they had.
He sighed aloud; thoughts like these were really trying.
"Al?" Ed asked sleepily, sitting up slightly in the bed.
Oh, I must have been making more sounds than I thought I was, Al realized. "It's okay, brother, just go back to sleep," Al assured him.
Ed frowned and blinked sleepily. "I'm sorry, Al," he said.
Al would have rolled his eyes, but as it was he couldn't, so he sighed. "Brother, I woke you up. I'm really sorry; just go to back to sleep, okay?"
Ed shook his head. "I'm sorry you have to stay awake, Al. I wish-"
"-that we could switch places? That we had never tried to bring mom back? Trust me, brother, I've had lots of time to think about all that, and I think they way it worked out was the best possible way so don't regret it all, let's just keep going forward."
"You're going to have to explain that to me in more detail," Ed said.
"Later," said Al firmly. "Get some sleep…for both of us," he added when Ed opened his mouth to object.
"Alright," Ed agreed, but Al knew he only agreed because he hoped this sleep would go towards Al's body.
Ed settled back into the bed, and Al stayed still and silent until he was sure Ed had fallen asleep. There were still a few more hours left in another long night for Alphonse, but as he watched his older brother sleep he couldn't feel regretful at all. Al treasured Ed as much as Ed treasured Al. They needed each other, and were going to go forward together.
Yeah, sort of rambly, but I hope you didn't mind. Reviews? Pretty please?