Title: Stopgaps
Word Count: 1230
Rating: G
Author's Notes: I own nothing; I am a long-time Textual Poacher. This is a companion piece to my earlier fic Temporary Measures, retelling the same scene from Ed's point of view (although this one is shorter . . . I mean, slightly less wordy *g*); it was written as a gift for my friend Jordanna Morgan, whom I owe for five years of excellent friendship as well as for my introduction to FMA.

Edward Elric sometimes feels like he's spent most of his life on trains.

He's certainly spent most of the last few years on them: trains to Central, to East City, to the far-flung corners of Amestris he and Al have scoured in search of the Stone.

In the latest of those they met an alchemist, a would-be warlord maddened with her own power and spoiling for a confrontation. The woman had mastered a technique for transmuting the local coal to diamonds – and (Ed found out the hard way) into razor-sharp blades, harder than steel, one of which slipped into the joint of his automail during the fight.

Ed shifts his damaged arm and gets a twinge of pain for his trouble. The blow left him with his elbow frozen, his fingers clenched into a tight fist, the whole arm awkward and clumsy. Luckily he was still able to transmute, closing the circle by driving his fist into the palm of his left hand; not his most elegant alchemy, but good enough to win with. Ed supposes that's all that matters.

But the lingering pain and clumsiness of a near-motionless arm means there's no hope of him fixing the automail himself, even if he had the skill – he doesn't even dare risk a stopgap transmutation to get his fist unclenched, not without potentially ruining the arm completely. Which is why they're on this train, trundling across the countryside towards Winry.

Who is probably going to murder him.

Thoughts of Winry usually bring at least a little glow of happiness to go with his dread of the wrench, but not this time – this time he's just aching and discontent. He didn't sleep last night; he couldn't position his arm in a way that didn't send a spike of pain through his shoulder, or make himself relax enough to sleep in spite of the ache.

Normally he'd make up for that by dozing on the train, letting the noise and the motion carry him off, but today even that doesn't help: the rhythm is grating instead of soothing, every jostle of the car adding to the tension in his shoulders and back. The hours drag out into a long, tiring drone of misery, as he stares out the window at nothing and tries – fiercely and futilely – to will his disobedient fingers into relaxing.

It's funny: he's spent so much of his life fighting one battle or another that clenching his fists is second nature to him – and really, someone who spends his life being called a human weapon could put a permanent fist to decent use. If it wasn't for the constant buzz of pain it's currently causing, he actually wouldn't mind it all that much.

That probably says something – about him, about his anger, about the life they're living – but he's too tired and too hurt and metaphors aren't really his strong point anyway, so he doesn't bother trying to chase down what, exactly, it says. He just lets the thought rattle around in his brain, alongside the hurt and the exhaustion and the frustration at his stupid malfunctioning limb.

"Brother." He's pulled out of the fog by Al tapping his upper arm. "Is it hurting you?"

Oh, great. He hadn't realized his black mood and his discomfort were that obvious.

Ed wills himself to relax, rubbing the back of his neck with his working hand and forcing himself into nonchalance. "Nah, I'm all right. Just thinking . . . Winry's gonna kill me when we get to Resembool."

Which, after all, is sort of true even if it's not exactly the truth – but Al doesn't buy it. His soul-fire eyes narrow to slits and he takes on the stern, disapproving tone he uses when he's trying to get Ed to drink his milk. "Brother, you're really not a very good liar."

Ed swears he can remember a time – possibly when Alphonse was still only crawling – when he could successfully lie to his brother, but those days are apparently long gone. He drops the act, letting his shoulders slump and gripping the cold automail of his right wrist. "It's not that bad."

Al doesn't buy that one, either – his silences are just as eloquent as anything he ever says – but, thankfully, the lecture Ed is bracing for doesn't come. Instead Al gestures at him, moving to rise from his place.

"Here. Scoot over, put your feet up on the seat."

Something in the tone of his voice brokers no arguments, and so Ed obeys, propping his boots against the wall under the train car window. He can't help wincing as the movement tweaks his aching back, and he hates himself a little for that. He's the Fullmetal Alchemist, for crying out loud, something this small shouldn't phase him – shouldn't hurt him enough to make it obvious, enough to make Al worry about him.

Al settles into the spot next to him and his gauntlets come to rest on Ed's shoulders, thumbs exerting a little gentle pressure on the tightly-corded muscles beneath them. Ed hisses as the touch sends a twinge through his back, but he doesn't pull away.

Whatever else he knows, he knows Al would never hurt him.

Ed sighs and closes his eyes as Al begins gently massaging the tense, painful mess that the injury has made of his upper back and shoulders. Al's worry for him is tangible in the touch, and even as he relishes the contact, Ed feels a stab of guilt. Al shouldn't have to worry over Edward's pain, or his anger, or the toll their frequently-unfair life takes on him.

But in more than a dozen years of brotherhood, Ed still hasn't mastered the art of hiding any of those things from Alphonse; and, he muses as the tension begins to drain out of his back, he isn't sure he'd want to.

As much as their situation is his fault – always, first and foremost, agonizingly and indisputably his fault – and as unfair as it is that his brother should be carrying this burden with him, Ed can't help being stupidly, selfishly grateful that he is.

Because there are days he suspects that having Al here to help him is all that's keeping him alive.

The minutes roll on with the sound of wheels, the swaying of the train car; Al matches the rhythm as he kneads Ed's shoulders. After what seems like a long time, Ed leans back against his brother, smiling faintly and murmuring his thanks. His fist is still tightly clenched, and some of those knots in his shoulders still hurt – but it's the most relaxed he's been since the fight, possibly even before that.

He opens his eyes and watches the countryside sweep past them.

Somewhere out there is a Philosopher's Stone, and he is going to find it – no matter how many near-misses and injuries it takes, no matter how long he has to spend fighting his own battles and everyone else's. He's going to repay his brother for helping him, for staying with him. Al's hands, his eyes, his crooked grin; Ed will get them back if he has to scour the earth and batter down the gates of Hell itself to do it . . .


For the moment, though, he's between battles; so for the moment, he's content to lean back against the hollow bulk of Al's armor, listening to the noise of the train and looking forward to unclenching his fist.