A.N. I don't know WHERE this came from. Seriously, no clue. I told myself when I first joined this site that I would NOT venture into this kind of territory. My only saving grace is that the one "romantic" scene is far tamer than many, many others I've read on this site, and so remains safely in the realm of T. And by T, I mean for mature readers that are age fourteen and above. (Like I expect you to listen…).

Nevertheless, this fic is still very much Al-centric! Anyone who's here purely for EdWin will have to wade through his musings to get to it. Heehee! For propriety's sake, here are your warnings. Blatant EdWin, sexual situations (kissing, touching, etc.) and, strangest of all, a bit of voyeurism on Al's part. But I repeat that this is NOT explicit, and Al is NOT a pervert in my story! He's just...curious.

Counting Blessings

The first time Ed hesitated to eat in front of him after he was in armor, Al didn't think twice about scolding him.

"Just because I can go without food doesn't mean you can, Brother!"

"I know, I know! Al, I know I'm being stupid, alright? But I feel like I'm...gloating or something. Like I'm lording this over you when you can't even..."

"Have you ever considered that you have every right to gloat?"

"Al!"

"I'm serious, Brother. What makes you think I don't want to see you enjoy eating? I may not get hungry, but I remember how satisfying it was to have good food after a long day. How am I supposed to keep remembering if you won't even take a bite in front of me?"

"I...I don't know. I guess I figured you'd resent it. Or something. After I've taken all this away from you, it doesn't seem fair that I should still get to enjoy all these things."

"Brother...do you remember that thing Mom used to tell us about counting our blessings? How whenever something bad happened, all we had to do was remember what we still had and we would feel better?"

"Yeah...?"

"Do that now. In case you haven't worked it out, I'm glad that you're still alive. I'm glad you didn't end up in the same state as me. Seeing you just...just living makes me feel better about our whole situation. Now, are you really going to take that blessing away from me?"

"...no?"

"Good. From now on, Brother, I want you to enjoy the life you still have. Since I can't eat, you stuff your mouth with as much good food you can, and you tell me just how good it is. Loudly. With enthusiasm. I want you to live as much as you can. The more you experience, the more I'll have to look forward to when I get my body back. This way, at least, I can live through you."

"It still doesn't seem fair."

"You're not counting the blessings!"

"Right, right. Blessings...um, well..."

"Well?"

"Well...this soup is good. Damn good, actually!"

"Now you're talking!"

And that was how it went. At the time Al truly had no idea just how thoroughly Ed would take the saying to heart, becoming even louder and more boisterous than ever. Every meal was either the best thing he had ever tasted or simply Crap-On-A-Plate. Beds had only two modes—plush and luxurious or hard as a fucking board. Really, it was astonishing what lengths Ed went to in order to describe things to his armored brother, and he only got more articulate as the years went on. Al vividly remembered a trek through an arid region where, to his eternal embarrassment, Ed had mournfully described the temperature as "hotter than two chimeras mating in a boiler room".

Not that Al minded. He had made this bed of needles, and he was only too happy to lie in it. If half of what Ed said was true about the world around them, then Al had a great many things to look forward to when he got his body back. Warm, tasty, delicious food that would leave him sated for days on end. Soft, velvety, cushiony beds that were like floating on a cloud. And more. The rain, the snow, the sun. Grass and trees and flowers. The smoggy air of the city versus the clean, windswept air of Resembool. Shaking someone's hand, patting a child's head, hugging his brother. All these things would be his when he got his body back, and Ed never once failed to remind him of that.

But there was still one thing that his brother refused to talk to him about. Ever. And of all the things they had shared over the years, Al couldn't help but be drawn to this one thing that remained stubbornly beyond his comprehension despite all his attempts to pin down what it felt like, what it tasted like...

Although maybe that was just negligence on Al's part. It wasn't like he had ever walked up to Ed and asked pointblank, "Brother, what's it like to kiss a girl?" Al already had an idea of how a question like that would be received. With a blank stare, perhaps some sputtering, after which Ed would swiftly deny ever entertaining even the slightest desire to participate in such activities. This would be followed by a stern Older Brother Look and something about how Al was far too young to be considering this.

But Al did think about it. Often. For this wasn't just about missing something, it was about wanting. It was one of those strange, inexplicable things that Al had never had a chance to experience before being bound to the armor. And (in the dark of the night, his loneliest hours) one of those things Al feared he would never, ever, ever have in his lifetime.

It wasn't like Ed was entirely ignorant on the subject. He looked at girls, sometimes. Al had politely declined to remark on the way Ed's eyes shifted at a curtain of long hair swishing over delicate shoulders, or the way his head turned at the sound of bright, lovely, feminine laughter. Al noticed the same hair and laughter, but he liked to think that he was a lot more subtle about the noticing. He doubted any of those pretty girls would enjoy being leered at by what they presumed to be an adult man in a suit of armor. But Ed was—relatively—safe. At the very least, he was shorter than them and less likely to creep them out if they caught him staring.

The strange thing was how his brother never once turned to him with a knowing grin at those times, never told Al quite how pretty those girls were or how nice their voices sounded. Once the girls passed them by, Ed would snap his attention forward again with a determined look. Not guilt. And that was what puzzled Al the most. If Ed didn't feel guilty about wanting something Al couldn't have, then what was holding him back from sharing this? Was there something Al was missing about the whole idea of attraction? Something intimate and personal that you didn't even share with your brother who knew everything else about you?

That was enough to make Al keep his distance while he cautiously hunt for further clues, further connections. And that was when he noticed the one thing all those girls that Ed looked at had in common.

Long blonde hair worn loose over bare shoulders.

Like Winry.

Like Winry.

Brother likes Winry.

In the back of his mind, Al had always known that, but this was the first time he had seen those first shoots of desire develop into something more. The epiphany left him unbearably excited and gleeful for nearly a week, and then Al went right back to being curious. What was it like to like someone in that way? What did it take to move from simple like to wanting to do something about it? To wanting to...Al kept his mind squarely in the realms of kissing and away from that other thing that kissing sometimes led to. His body had been prepubescent when he lost it, and in no way capable of doing that.

But kissing. That was something he could safely imagine. Sort of. But, as with the food, Al didn't just want to imagine. He wanted to know what he was missing. In detail. Detail which Ed seemed very reluctant to give him. And that just brought him right back to his original question of why his brother refused to share this with him.

It couldn't be that he thought Al was too young. They were only a year apart. It couldn't be that he thought Al wouldn't understand. They had read the same biology books, and Al at least had a basic grasp of the theory behind the kissing. Men and women kissed all the time, every day, for many different reasons that would, presumably, all lead to the same place some weeks or months or years down the line.

Marriage and children. Two more things Al thought about. Often.

But first, the kissing. Like any teenage boy, he found that aspect far more interesting.

It could be because it was Winry. Maybe if Ed had been noticing girls in general he wouldn't have been so loathe to discuss the topic, but because it was Winry...

Did Ed think he would be jealous? Even in Al's head the notion was ridiculous. Not that Winry wasn't pretty, because she was. Very much so. But when Al tried to imagine kissing her, the vision wouldn't stick in his mind. He had no doubt it would be enjoyable, but there was something fundamentally not right about the feeling it gave him. He simply didn't want it badly enough.

Not that he was in a position to judge who he was and was not attracted to. Al didn't have a pulse to beat faster in her presence, breath to catch in his throat, blood to flush his cheeks. On the other hand, maybe that was why he was so very sure of his own feelings. Without body signals and hormones to mix things up, his head was crystal clear and perfectly capable of making the call on whom he wanted to get close to. Al could love—as much as one could be said to love with mind and soul alone—but as long as he was in armor, lust would remain one big question mark to him.

Unfortunately, lust seemed to be an essential part to the kissing. That, and a body. And a girl. All three of which Ed had.

What did it feel like...what did it taste like...

In the end, there were only two ways to find out. Ask Ed directly. Or...

There's a name for people like you, Al's conscience hissed accusingly as he completed the array on the wall between Ed's room and the Rockbell's only remaining guest room. What was that word again? Oh, yes! Voyeur!

He was not! He was just...

A peeping tom! A pervert! A sick, sick person!

But all he wanted to do was...

Spy on Brother and Winry while they're doing God-knows-what! Your best friend and your brother! SICK!

...it was official, Al thought glumly. He was a very, very bad little brother.

That didn't stop him from transmuting a tiny peephole in the wall that gave him a perfect view of Ed's room. Or rather, the bed in Ed's room. And all the while consoling himself that he wasn't quite as evil as his black-and-white subconscious made him out to be. It wasn't like he wanted to watch everything! Just the kissing. If things looked like they were...progressing...then Al would prudently block the hole and give them their privacy. In fact, Al never planned to mention whatever he did or didn't see tonight to anyone.

He was just so curious.

Al crouched down to check the room beyond the tiny hole. Ed was in bed, but not asleep yet, and he didn't seem to have noticed the transmutation. He lay on his back gazing up at the ceiling with his automail arm resting on his forehead, his other arm pillowed under his head. The blanket shifted when he moved one of his legs, and a nearly inaudible sigh reached Al through the wall.

There was no sign that he expected company tonight. Al wasn't quite sure what to make of that. But then, he only had his own suspicions to go on, nothing concrete. Al had been watching his brother and the mechanic very carefully on their most recent visits home, looking for any sign that Ed had come clean with his feelings or that Winry felt the same way. But they had been just as annoyed with each other as ever during the day, and Al had almost convinced himself that he was blowing things out of proportion.

Until the night he had caught Winry sneaking into Ed's room. She had had an excuse ready when they ran into each other in the hallway, something about getting water from the kitchen. Al had accepted it at the time and thought nothing of it. It was only when he had caught her again the next night, twice, that he began to have his doubts. Winry must have been very thirsty to need that much water during the night.

On the third night, Al hadn't stopped her, watching as Winry stuck her head out her bedroom door and scanned the area several times before tiptoeing down the hall...

...and into Ed's room. Which she hadn't emerged from until dawn.

And Ed had never said a word about it.

Months had passed since then. Tonight, Al was hoping for a repeat of whatever had occurred. Why else would Ed let Winry stay in his room all night unless they were...doing stuff? That night may have very well been the start of something between them. Or, Al thought in mild chagrin, the continuation of something he had never taken the time to notice before.

That being said, surely Winry would at least want a kiss before they left Resembool tomorrow morning...?

I'm such a bad person, Al thought balefully. Just look at him. He has no clue what I'm doing, he'd probably be disgusted if he knew...

Footsteps in the hallway! Al pulled away from the peephole long enough to listen to the slow, muffled steps pass by his room and halt just outside Ed's. When he looked again, he saw Ed glancing in the direction of the door. "Al?"

Al listened intently as the door opened and shut again quickly. Right away, the lock slid home, and Ed sat up with a breathless noise.

"Winry..."

No answer. Al strained to see Winry, but she refused to oblige him and stayed just out of sight. He returned his attention to Ed, but he could only see a vague outline of his brother's face in the gloom, puzzled and frowning a little. These days he frequently went to bed in only boxers, and his exposed automail winked brightly in the darkness as if inviting Al in on this secret of secrets.

Ed sighed a bit and, to Al's shock, lifted the edge of the blanket in blatant invitation. Winry climbed in next to him without even a hint of uncertainty, and Al wished very badly that he could blush when her sleeping shirt rode up a little and revealed a pair of white panties. Oh, he was a very bad person indeed. And from the way this was going he should probably be plugging the hole right now and finding some tedious, mind-numbing task that would keep his naughty mind occupied until morning. Like counting every blade of grass in Resembool. Or rememorizing the table of elements. Anything to help him forget the sight of those—admittedly, cute—panties...

But nothing unseemly took place. Ed merely scooted over to let Winry settle in beside him and tossed the blanket over them both. There wasn't much room for two people in that narrow bed, and Winry ended up half on top of him with her head tucked under his chin and her hand splayed on his chest. Ed's flesh arm looped around her waist until he could rest his hand lightly on her back, a gesture that Al was positive his brother never would have dared to make in the light of day. But here, in the dark of the night, they cuddled up to each other like a pair of doves.

Like a husband and wife embracing in the sanctity of their own bed. No light. No witnesses. No judgment. Just...this.

And suddenly Al felt more discomfited and rotten than ever. Ed didn't talk about this because there was far more to it than just the kissing, or even that other thing. Even now just lying in each other's arms like that, relaxed and open and utterly silent, they were close in a way that spoke of far more than hormones and infatuation. They were being intimate without being intimate.

Neither Ed nor Winry moved from their respective positions for some time. Al found himself very glad to have a body that could remain absolutely still for hours on end. He didn't need to worry about cramped muscles or breathing too loudly or anything else that might have given him away. Even if getting caught in the act and pounded into the ground was exactly what peeping toms like him deserved. But he didn't want to look away yet. Seeing them together like this was peaceful in a way that Al would have never dreamed possible.

Though it seemed like a lot longer, Al estimated only half an hour had passed when the two motionless figures abruptly separated. Ed started a little when Winry bolted upright, then again when she seized his automail wrist and held it an inch from her eye, squinting at it. "Winry—"

"I forgot a screw!" Winry hissed in vexation. "I can't believe I—ugh, I'll be right back."

"Wha—hey, hold on!" Ed said hastily, tightening his arm around her waist to keep her in bed. "It's just one screw, it can wait until morning."

Winry twisted around and planted her feet on the floor, fighting to unwind Ed's arm from around her waist. "I might forget it in the morning! Remember what happened to you last time I did that? I'll just be a minute."

"Damn it, Winry, I was about to fall asleep!"

"Will you let me go?"

"No!"

Winry yelped when Ed clasped his arms around her and hauled her back into bed, manhandling her so aggressively that the blanket got kicked off the mattress and went fluttering to the floor. He slung a leg over her hip to pin her in place, and his knee caught the edge of Winry's shirt, bringing those panties right back into view. Al quickly averted his eyes and focused on their faces instead, now less than an inch apart and both scowling.

"Just stay here, alright?" Ed muttered, sounding far more tired than Al would have expected. "I don't care about the damn screw, I just want to sleep."

Winry stilled in her struggles for a moment. "But your automail is more important! And you can sleep just fine without me—"

"That doesn't mean I want to!"

Winry's protests subsided. Ed took advantage of the reprieve to get them both settled down side by side, facing each other, and Al was treated to an entirely too pleasant view of the back of Winry's body, curves and all. Her hair completely swathed her side of the pillow and spilled over the mattress, catching the faint starlight in a way that could inspire poets. All he could see of Ed was his automail hand draped around her, a precaution to keep her from trying to leave.

And in spite of how very sweet the picture was, Al still felt a twinge of discontent. How was it possible for his brother and Winry to attain this level of closeness in private and still not feel secure enough to make the same overtures in the company of their friends and family? What were they waiting for? What were they afraid of?

Is it my fault, in some way? Al thought in dismay. Why can't my own brother confide in me? Doesn't he know I'd be happy for him? I mean, once I got over the snickering, I would DEFINITELY be happy!

"You'd think we'd be used to it," Winry murmured with a trace of resentment.

"What?"

She waved her hand. "This. Being apart. We've only done this, what, three times? And that's three times in a year. But whenever you and Al leave, it takes me weeks to get used to sleeping alone again. It feels weird not to wake up cold because you've been hogging all the covers."

Ed snorted. "So just steal 'em back. I know what you mean, though. I never thought for a second I'd miss your snoring, but—"

"I do not!"

"—and I wouldn't mind so much if only you weren't so nasally, like a whistle right by my ear—ow! Damn it, Winry!"

"Be grateful I don't have my wrench!"

"That doesn't give you an excuse to use your fist!"

Al shook his head hopelessly when more whispered words and punches were swapped, thinking that some things just never changed. But where during the day such vehement exchanges would end with both of them stomping off in opposite directions, there was no such distance between them now. And, as he had noted earlier, no witnesses. Al felt the first thrill of warning when Ed grabbed a fistful of Winry's shirt and yanked her right up against him. Winry tangled her fingers in his loose hair, and then...

Oh...my...

Al honestly had no clue kissing could be so violent. Although, maybe exuberant was the word he was looking for. There was nothing gentle or practiced in the way Ed and Winry's mouths smacked together. It was messy and inelegant and loud, since there seemed to be an awful lot of sucking and biting going on. More than once they had to pause when a clump of long hair caught between their lips or automail accidentally pinched soft skin, but they must have been doing something right because they didn't stop even when they were both panting for air.

Al might have been embarrassed...if only he wasn't so fascinated. It was astounding how absorbed they were in the action itself, eyes squeezed shut, practically devouring each other's mouths. All kinds of adjectives wormed their way into Al's head as he watched them at it, seeking definition in every little motion. Soft, chapped, warm lips...cold, rigid, sharp teeth...wet, slick, supple tongue...

In his head, it all sounded rather gross.

But when Ed cupped the nape of Winry's neck, sifting her hair through his fingers, Al couldn't help but mimic the motion, imagining, feeling the strands. Steel fingers closed around Winry's arm, and Ed guided her down on her back until he was above her, knees braced on either side of her body. The mechanic didn't seem to mind this one bit, too busy tracing the contours of his chest with her fingertips. Al wanted to shiver when her hands skimmed around his sides and up his back where she lightly scraped her nails down Ed's spine, like a cat with her favorite scratching post. What would that feel like in addition to everything else?

Evidently, it was very pleasing to Ed. He broke the kiss with a wordless growl and transferred his ministrations to her neck with single-minded fervor. Winry tipped her head back and cast her eyes to the ceiling as sweat beaded at her temples, biting her lip in a way that made Al squirm even in his current, bodyless state.

I think they're going to want some privacy soon, Al thought faintly, making no move to plug the hole whatsoever. Okay, Alphonse, now would be the time to look away...

One of Winry's legs bent slightly, hooking around Ed's waist, pulling him closer...

Anytime now! There's a REALLY interesting alchemy book on the table just over there...

...and Ed let his hand wander down to grip her bare thigh, easing her legs apart, aligning their hips...and there were the panties again...

Seriously, look away before you're scarred for life!

...and he thrusted, earning a gasp from Winry that was quickly followed by mutual moans. Al jerked his eyes away from the hole and covered it with both hands, mortified. He only had himself to blame, and he supposed he should be grateful they both had their clothes on when they did that, but still! He was going to have to count a whole lot of blades of grass before he got that out of his head!

Though the wall, he heard his brother spit a vicious curse. "Damn it—hold on—we've got to stop—"

"Y-Yeah," Winry said shakily, still breathing hard. "Yeah...we really should."

Some movement ensued, and Al dared one last peek. Stop? Why? If they both enjoyed what they were doing so much, when why...?

Ed had rolled away from Winry and now sat upright, resting his head on his knee as he caught his breath. Winry rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, still very flushed. But her other hand was clutching her shirt just below her belly even as Ed cursed again and squashed his legs together. Al couldn't help but wonder what they were both feeling at that moment. Not from their hearts, but from their bodies. He wondered about this urge, this instinct that overtook them so completely and effortlessly, making them want like this. It had looked exhilarating at first, but now...

Al bowed his head with a sinking feeling. He couldn't speak for Winry, but he was pretty sure he knew what had brought that look of frustrated resignation to Ed's face. Consequences. Knowing his brother, Ed would refuse to even risk one time on the off chance that he would burden Winry with a child. A family was infinitely harder to leave behind than a friend—even if that friend happened to be your lover.

But it pained them. That much was obvious. And it pained Al to know that he was partly to blame.

"I should go back to my room," Winry said quietly, regretfully.

"No," Ed rasped without raising his head. "Just stay here. Please."

After several long seconds, Winry sat up as well, and Al feared she had decided to leave his brother alone after all. But she only retrieved the blanket from the floor and draped it over them. Ed put up no resistance when Winry tugged him back down beside her, and now it was his head tucked firmly under her chin. Winry toyed with the ends of his hair a bit as the drowsy silence from before once again descended, peaceful and comforting.

Al waited until they were both safely asleep before he dared to move. The harsh clanking of his armor seemed unbearably loud in the stillness after spending so long in one place. And, not for the first time, he hated this façade of a body. Hated it. Cold, unfeeling, intimidating, a layer of ice between him and the rest of the world. No lips to kiss with, no skin to keep another warm at night, hands too large and unwieldy to provide either comfort or pleasure. And, of course, no body meant no children. No family, no marriage, nothing...

"Thank you, Brother," Al breathed in overwhelming gratitude. "You too, Winry."

This, Al had learned long ago. Knowing what he was missing was the only way to make sure he wouldn't give up on getting his body back. And he missed out on an awful lot. Half the time his dreams of being whole again seemed to be just that. Dreams. A fantasy, a mirage in the desert. That, more than anything, scared Al. He never wanted to come to the point where the things he was missing became mediocre in his eyes. The day that happened would be the day when he simply didn't care to reclaim his true body and all the blessings it would bring.

But, once again, Ed had knocked him over the head and reminded him of precisely what he was missing. And what had once been a vague curiosity and a distant daydream suddenly became a yearning. Oh, Al didn't want exactly what Ed had. He didn't think he could stand the headaches those wrenches would bring. All Al wanted was a chance to experience those things for himself, hoped for it, ached for it.

Someday, Al vowed, he would get his body back, along with all the blessings it would bring. And someday, Ed would be free to focus his every waking moment on his love instead of his brother. And no matter how bleak the future seemed, how little hope they had, Al was determined to reach that distant someday when he would meet the one girl he would want to spend all his lonely nights with. He looked forward to it in the same way he looked forward to food and sleep, to the sun and the rain and the wind, to marriage and children of his own...

...and kissing. Al thought he was looking forward to that particular blessing a little too much.


A.N. I guess you could call this an experiment to see if I'm even capable of writing the romantic stuff. I tend to favor a more subtle approach, scenes that are more suggestive than explicit, and I hope I managed to stay somewhere in the middle here. I really had to focus on getting into Al's head so I could properly keep him as close to IC as possible. Can't speak for Ed and Winry, though. Terribly OOC!

I did not make up the boiler room line, by the way. It's a line from the second Fullmetal game, Curse of the Crimson Elixir. Never played it, I've only seen clips on YouTube, and I dubiously name it as one of Ed's most colorful canon lines to date.