Title: Temporary Measures
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist (2003 animeverse)
Characters: Edward and Alphonse Elric
Word Count: 1254
Summary: Ed hurts. Al does what he can to help.
Disclaimer/Author's Note: I own nothing; I am a long-time Textual Poacher. I'm hazarding a guess here that Al's gloves are of something more akin to boiled leather than glove leather, since they're clearly stiff enough to hold a pen or a piece of chalk.
Ed's right hand lies in his lap, partly hidden by his sleeve, clenched into a fist so tight it's painful just to look at it. His shoulders are hunched, a mess of tension visible even under the rumpled fabric of his coat, and that same tension runs up into his neck and jaw, tightening the small muscles around his eyes. His gaze is turned out of the train window, but it's clear enough that he isn't making an effort to focus on the passing scenery, and he's been silent since they boarded the train three hours ago.
Al watches him from the opposite seat, full of concern at that hunched posture and that unfocused gaze and, more than anything, at that unsettling quiet.
Their last assignment led to an all-out battle with a rogue alchemist (and another dead end in their search for the Stone, but Al does his best not to dwell on dead ends). It was nothing they haven't done before, not even as difficult as some of the skirmishes they've had – but the woman they were fighting got in a lucky blow.
Al doesn't want to think about what might have happened if that blow had been any luckier, if the wicked point of that blade had hit his brother in the neck or in the heart. Bad enough that it slipped between plates of steel and severed some connection within the automail, leaving Ed's right elbow locked up and his fingers clenched into that too-tight fist. Somehow they managed to win the fight even so, and Ed hasn't said a word about the injury since it happened, beyond remarking that he'll need Winry to repair it – but he doesn't have to.
Al may not have his own body at present, may sometimes have trouble remembering exactly what having a body felt like, but it hasn't robbed him of the ability to read other people's body language. In fact if anything it's made him better at it – given him a knack born of quiet observation and carefully-disguised longing. Al's good at reading people, is even better at reading his brother . . .
And Al knows pain when he sees it.
"Brother . . ." Al shifts a little, taps the leather fingertips of his gauntlet gingerly against Ed's upper arm, "Is it hurting you?"
"Huh?" Ed turns from the window, and Al can trace the exact moment when his elder brother wills his shoulders to relax, can anticipate the deceptively casual smile and the forced lightness in the reply before they even arrive.
"Nah, I'm all right." Ed rubs the back of his neck with his left hand, his grin growing self-deprecating, his eyes hooded. "Just thinking . . . Winry's gonna kill me when we get to Resembool."
In that moment Al wants nothing more than to grab his brother's shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattle.
Al is the younger of them, sure, and maybe he is a little more naive than Ed, but he isn't stupid. He knows his brother better than anyone; knows when he's hurting, knows when he's lying.
And knows when he's lying about hurting, which is somehow more aggravating than the other two put together – because it's yet another example of Ed's pigheaded insistence on carrying more than his share of their mutual burden.
"Brother," Al says, doing his best to convey with his voice alone the impression of a stern, eyes-narrowed-in-disapproval expression, "You're really not a very good liar."
Edward blinks once, twice (Al can't help wondering if his brother will ever stop being startled when Al calls him on his falsehoods) and then he abruptly drops the façade. His left hand moves to grasp his automail wrist, and his shoulders slump just a bit. "It's not that bad."
Which is another lie, or at least half of one, but Al lets this one slide. He's always found it hard to stay frustrated at his brother for long – especially when Ed looks this miserable. And it's not as if badgering him will do anything to drive that shadow of tension and pain away.
"Here. Scoot over, put your feet up on the seat."
Ed quirks an eyebrow at that, but it's a mark of how much pain he's in that he does as Al says without questioning. Al stands and moves seats, clanking a little as he fits himself into the space at his brother's side and turns the upper part of his armor sideways to face Ed's back.
Al imagines it would be an awkward way to sit, if he had his own body – but without muscles to strain or a spine to twist, it's not much different from any other position, and it makes it easier to lay his gauntlets on Ed's shoulders, gently pressing the thumbs of the hardened leather gloves into the muscles there.
It took Al a long time to learn how to gauge pressure without a real sense of touch, how to judge the difference between holding something and crushing it; it's a complicated process of guesswork and observation, and even after several years of practice he still has to be careful.
But this is Ed. He's used to being careful with Ed.
His brother hisses at the contact, the lid under his right eye twitching. But he doesn't pull away, and after a moment's hesitation Al continues gently kneading the tightly-knotted muscles between his brother's shoulderblades and spine, like he's seen Pinako do after adjusting Ed's automail.
Ed closes his eyes, sighing quietly and leaning back into the touch. Once in a while he flinches a little when Al hits an especially tender spot, and Al feels his frustration building once again – not at Ed, this time, but the all-too-familiar frustration of the burden they carry, the life they find themselves living.
It isn't fair, Al thinks. It isn't fair that their search should put them in harm's way time and time again. It isn't fair that his brother should be the one to be damaged when the same blow might just as easily have struck between the plates of his armor, doing no permanent harm. It isn't fair that Ed should be in pain while Al is invulnerable to it.
It isn't fair that there should be so little Al can do to make it better.
The minutes pass, silent except for the sounds of the train; tireless leather hands keep at the work, easing out the knots caused by the cramped position in which Ed has been forced to hold his arm. After a while some of the tension gradually begins to drain out of Edward's expression, his shoulders and neck relaxing until finally he leans his head back against his brother's chestplate with a faint smile. "Thanks, Al." He mumbles, eyes finally focusing on the scenery outside – the familiar hills and valleys that mean Resembool's not too much further now.
"You're welcome, Brother." He lets his gauntlets rest lightly on Ed's shoulders, wishing yet again that he could feel the touch himself.
Ed is clearly still in pain from the malfunctioning automail (and Al wishes, oh how he wishes, that there was some way he could take that pain away), but he's also just as clearly taken some comfort from the touch.
And – until they can get to Winry's, until they have another lead on the Philosopher's Stone, until they are both restored to their whole and proper bodies – until then, Al supposes a little comfort will have to be enough.