AN: It seems as if my Fullmetal fics are getting there own little theme here, hmm...This is totally unintentional, of course.
Edward can't stop staring. It's entirely understandable of course, he hasn't seen his little brother in the flesh since he was ten, and now Alphonse is back and whole; even if he is too skinny and Ed needs to start taking care of him immediately.
But it is the middle of the night, not the time to worry about such things, and Ed's taken up Al's old position of watching the other as he sleeps, simply because Al's whole body is there again, and he can't ever take the sight of it for granted.
"Brother," Al says, his eyes still shut, "please stop staring at me. I know you are."
"Sorry," Edward says. There's no need to explain to Al why he's staring, he knows that Al already understands. Ed tries scooting away, but Alphonse grabs his arm. His right arm.
The sensation's a bit overwhelming; Ed hasn't really felt a touch in his right arm for all these years and he can't even comprehend what it must feel like for Al, who has felt nothing, anywhere.
"You know," Al mumbles, opening his eyes, "I never felt your automail."
"You can touch my leg if you want to," Ed offers.
Al pauses. "You didn't try to get it back..." It's not a question.
Ed shakes his head. "You're more important."
"Brother," Al says, reminding Edward that's not what he meant.
"I wanted to keep it," Ed mumbles, averting his eyes from Al's face to his leg. "As...as a reminder." Absentmindedly he trails his fingers across his pant leg, over where the metal meets his flesh. "I didn't try."
Al's other hand joins Ed's moving fingers on his leg. He can feel the contrast in temperature, even through the material of Ed's pants.
Ed tangles his fingers with Al's before he looks up again.
"And besides," Ed says brightly, breaking the silent spell, "Winry would kill me if I lost it."
Al laughs and smiles, and Edwards positively beams at him.
Al laughs harder. "I didn't know people laughing at your jokes made you so happy, Brother."
"No, that was your smile. I...I missed it."
Alphonse grins then, specially for his older brother, and Ed can't help but smile back, even through his embarrassment at saying his feelings aloud. All day he's been trying to act like having his little brother back is just kind of a big deal, not the mind-consuming big deal it really is. Trying to act normal. But now it's the middle of the night, and it's just Al, so...it's okay. Or maybe not. Maybe Al needs Ed to act like this isn't a big deal.
But then Al shivers and breaks Ed out of his thoughts. "Cold?" he asks.
Al nods, and of course he's cold. He's wrapped in an old pair of clothes (just until Ed can get him proper ones) and a blanket, with no real substance on him to keep him warm. Alphonse is all skin and bones with just a few layers of cloth.
Edwards grunts and slides under the blanket next to Al.
Al makes a small sound of surprise before scooting over so Ed has room. He keeps his hold on Edward's arm and hand, though. "You don't have to, Brother. I'll be alright," he assures.
Of course, Ed is having none of that. The space is small, so they end up with their legs tangled together, but even though they're both a bit old for this now, it doesn't really matter. They haven't even touched in years, and Ed has been letting other people get their fill of touching Al all day long and now it's his turn.
Alphonse whimpers quietly and presses closer to Ed. "You're warm," he says. "I'm not...used to feeling things. It's weird."
"I get it," Ed tells him.
"And smelling, that's the really weird thing," Al adds. "I forgot what things smell like. I forgot what you smell like."
"I forgot how you smell too," Ed admits. As if to prove it, he buries his face in Al's too-long hair and breathes.
There's another long stretch of silence before Al speaks again. "I don't remember what it's like to sleep. To dream."
"Just...stop thinking," Ed advises. "Then you'll sleep. Aren't you tired?"
"Yes, but it's odd to think about sleeping being such a strange thing."
"Our lives are strange," Edward says.
Al laughs again, and Ed feels his chest constrict. It may seem a bit absurd, but hearing Al laugh and talk without that ridiculous metal ring in his voice is somewhat of a relief. Al's pure voice isn't something Edward knew he'd missed.
"The second thing I wanted to do once I got my body back was sleep," Alphonse reminds him. "The first was-"
"-eating Winry's pie," Ed finishes. "I'm sorry I can't make one for you."
"That's okay, alchemized pie would probably taste awful anyways." It's supposed to be a teasing slight on Edward's cooking ability, but then Al remembers what Ed just gave up for him and stiffens.
"I'm sorry, Brother," he stammers immediately, "I didn't think-"
Ed laughs softly. "It's alright, Al. I gave it up willingly. Purposefully."
"You don't think you're going to miss it?" Al asks, his voice hesitant and soft, afraid of hurting his older brother. "I mean, you're an alchemist. You've been an alchemist as long as I remember."
"Nah. I've always just been Ed."
"Edward Elric: The Fullmetal Alchemist, the Alchemist of the People," Al says quietly, half-hoping Edward doesn't hear.
"I took up alchemy because it made Mom happy," Ed says. "And then I wanted to use it to bring her back. And then it was for you. To help you. I did it for Mom and for you, and now that's done. I'm done."
Al sighs. Arguing with Ed is pointless, the other is just too frustratingly stubborn. And he can feel the need to sleep eating at him; it's a struggle just to stay awake. But he has to keep talking. He knows if they stop that he'll fall asleep, and if he falls asleep, then, well, he's not really sure what will happen. Really, he only just got back, he's not quite in the mood for taking anymore risks.
"Go to sleep, Al," Ed murmurs gently, as if reading his thoughts.
"But I want to talk," Al objects. Then he yawns and proves Ed's point.
Ed smiles and laughs despite himself.
"What now?" Al asks, jumping on his chance to continue their conversation. He tries to make his voice sound tired and exasperated, but doubts he succeeds. He has a hard time being annoyed with Edward.
"I can't remember the last time I heard you yawn," Ed says, failing to keep the mirth out of his voice.
Al frowns. "That's...that's not really funny, Brother."
"I never thought about missing your yawns. They're cute."
"Cute?" Al repeats, wrinkling his nose. He might be young, but he's enough of a boy to be slightly offended by the word.
"You're my baby brother and you're cute," Ed protests.
"Stop ruining my moment."
Part of Al wants to defend his honor and protest, another part just wants to go to sleep already, but the ever larger part just wants to please his older brother, so he doesn't argue, opting for a soft hum instead.
"I've missed you," Ed admits quietly, unsure if Al's asleep already or not. Somehow that makes being sentimental easier. Especially because that seems kind of silly. They've hardly left each other's sides. But being with Al in all that armor just isn't the same as actually being with his brother. Reasoning it out doesn't make much sense even in his own brain, yet, somehow, it does.
"I've missed you too," Al says just as quietly, none of Edward's hesitation in his voice. Al's always been the more sensitive one, no shame in admitting his feelings.
"I'm not going to leave," Ed promises. "You won't be alone tonight."
Al's whole being clutches up and Ed remembers what he'd said. "I'm scared," Al whispers.
"I'll protect you," Ed swears. "I may have been doing a piss poor job of it these past years, but I'll always take care of you."
"You haven't been doing a bad job, Brother, you got me back."
Ed pulls Al tighter to him, almost painfully so.
All Alphonse has to do it make a noise of discomfort and Edward lets go. Just a bit.
"It means a lot that you say that, even if it's not all true," Ed mumbles, his voice sounding thick, and Al knows that he's doing his damnedest not to cry.
"Will you ever stop feeling guilty and let me take my share of the blame?" Al teases gently. He might be the youngest, but that doesn't mean he unable to take care of his older brother when he has too.
"Are you ever going to realize that it was all my fault?"
"No," Al says stubbornly, and it's such an Ed-like thing to say, the real Edward Elric is almost shocked into silence, a rare occurrence.
"Sleep, Al," he says again, gently. "I'm not going anywhere."
"What if...what if something happens while I sleep?"
"What if I disappear?"
"You can't disappear if I'm holding you," Edward asserts, and it's such a childish notion it shouldn't bring any comfort. But it's been so long since the Elric brothers got to be children that the fact it's a childish notion makes it more comforting than anything else possibly could have.
For the first time in a long while, the demons start edging out of Al's brain, and exhaustion and sleep creep in.
"Goodnight, Brother," he whispers.
"'Night," Edward returns. "Love you, Al," he whispers, so quietly it's hardly audible.
"I love you too, Brother," Al says back before falling asleep.
Ed hadn't known Al could hear him, but he's glad he did, and he succumbs to sleep, certain for the first time he and his brother found their mother collapsed on the ground, that he would wake up and things would be alright.