Author's Note: I've heard people waxing eloquent about how homosexuality is misunderstood and under-represented. But if you ask me, this is the kind of love that is misunderstood and ignored. As such, I'm not expecting most people who read this to accept or even understand what I'm trying to say with this story. If you do, then that's awesome. If you don't, then I'm really sorry. But this is, has always been, and will always be the way I view the Elric brothers.
If you must know, my intent is never to offend somebody on purpose with what I write. But if I do, I'll have to agree with Brad Stine: "I have no obligation to not offend you if I'm speaking the truth. The truth is supposed to offend you; that's how you know you don't got it." XD
Whatever there is of me resides in my body. To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally.
- The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Don't listen to them
'Cause what do they know?
We need each other
To have, to hold
They'll see in time, I know
We'll show them together!
- "You'll Be in My Heart" by Phil Collins
For NewMoonFlicker, who was there for me in my darkest hour
When he thought back on it later, Edward could remember the exact moment when his relationship with his brother took a turn for the worst. He'd gotten home early that day, and had started chopping carrots by the time Alphonse let himself into the apartment after a long day at the library. "Hey, Al!" Edward called out, scraping the carrots into the pot of boiling water. "How'd it go?"
When the only response he got was the thump of Alphonse's shoes in the corner, Edward set down his knife and poked his head into the hall. "Al?"
Alphonse was fidgeting with the clasps on his book bag, but he looked up swiftly at his brother. Before he looked away again, Edward clearly saw his unsettled expression, and his insides clenched with worry. "Hey...you okay?" He stepped into the hall, reaching out a hand to place it on his shoulder.
But Alphonse quickly ducked away from him, clutching his bag before him like it was a shield. "No...just...I need to be alone for a while." His voice was high-pitched and desperate, but Edward let him rush down the hall to their bedroom. He frowned, then shrugged it off and returned to his stew.
Edward had expected to get an explanation for Alphonse's strange behavior, but when they sat down to supper Alphonse seemed back to normal again, so he didn't mention it. Though somewhat subdued at first, Alphonse soon became as cheerful as he always was, so Edward pushed that incident to the back of his mind.
Yet as the days dragged on into weeks, he realized that their relationship was steadily deteriorating. They had always been close, even before they lost their entire family and had to rely on each other for everything. Even after they had defeated all their enemies and retrieved Alphonse's body, they had remained as close as ever. The whole reason Alphonse was studying to become a State Alchemist was so that they could still be together.
But now...Alphonse wanted to spend more and more time by himself. What little time Edward had after work seemed filled with studies that barely allowed time to talk at all. Sometimes Alphonse even went out to eat by himself, only leaving a short note behind so Edward wouldn't panic. And when they were both in the house, Alphonse would shy away from him, as though he couldn't stand sitting next to him.
Like any brothers, they occasionally bickered or argued, but they always went back to being best friends as soon as their anger died down. Now, however, they spoke to each other in terse, curt sentences at the best of times, and raised their voices much more than they used to. Whenever Alphonse came into the room, Edward could feel his body unintentionally tensing up, just waiting for one of them to blow up and another fight to start.
When this had carried on for almost two months, Edward finally broke down and admitted that he needed help. On his lunch break, he swiftly walked to the phone booth on the corner and dialed Winry's number.
"Rockbell Automail, how may I help you?"
"Hey Winry, it's me."
As he had predicted, an explosion immediately erupted in his ear. "Ed? Okay, what have you done now? You told me when they promoted you that you'd be getting more desk work, and you still messed up your arm?"
Edward gritted his teeth; he didn't have the patience to play around this time. "This isn't about automail, okay?" he shouted back. "It's about Al!"
She instantly calmed down. "Al? What do you mean?"
Briefly, Edward explained the rift that had opened between the two of them, finishing with, "He doesn't even let me touch him anymore, Winry. I keep on trying to think of what I could've done to make him like this, 'cause it's got to be my fault somehow, but I just can't-"
"Don't beat yourself up like that," she interrupted him, her voice so soft and understanding it was hard to believe she was the same girl who had shouted at him earlier. "Maybe that's not what it is at all. Remember that time when Al thought you'd created his memories? You thought it was because of something you'd done, but that wasn't what was bothering him at all."
Wearily, Edward leaned against the glass wall of the booth and let out a sigh. "What do I do, Winry? He's like a totally different person now. I thought at first maybe he was just going through a phase or something, like he didn't get all moody and stuff before 'cause he was armor and couldn't be a normal teenager, but..." He squeezed his eyes shut and admitted softly, "I miss him."
"It does sound strange," Winry agreed thoughtfully. "I mean, he was always...touchy, you know? When we were kids, and you guys would come over to play, he'd hug Granny even when she was irritated at all the noise we were making. Even when he was a suit of armor, he liked petting Den even though he couldn't feel it. And after he got his body back...well, I don't think I've ever hugged someone so much in my life."
Edward chuckled halfheartedly along with her. It was true; Alphonse had always liked to receive a pat on the head or a friendly jab in the ribs. The years in an unfeeling suit of armor had made him even fonder of touch once they got his body back; Edward could still remember those first few nights in the hospital. Edward would take his hand and gently squeeze it, but when he took his hand away Alphonse would timidly say, Could...Could you do that again? Edward had gotten used to the way Alphonse always reached out to him when they were together, and he realized now that he missed that almost more than anything else.
"So maybe..." Winry continued slowly, "that's why. When Al touches somebody, it's like he's saying 'I love you.' So maybe it's because you never touch, 'cause it's like you're saying you don't..."
"But he never lets me touch him!" Edward protested. "If he wanted it, he'd let me at least pat him on the shoulder or something, right?"
"Just try it." He could hear the determined expression that must be plastered over her face. "Touch him, whether he wants it or not, and maybe things will start looking up."
"Ed." She cut across him with finality. "He's your brother, isn't he? Don't you think it would be worth anything to get things back to the way they were?"
A wry smile lifted the corners of his mouth as he heard his own sentiments echoed back at him. "Yeah," he said, feeling more cheerful than he had in weeks. "I didn't let human transmutation stand in my way, so I won't let this either."
When Edward got back home that evening, all the lights were off, so he assumed Alphonse was still at the library. Letting out a deep breath, Edward relaxed and dropped his briefcase onto the dilapidated sofa in their small living room. It was one thing to decide he was going to try to breach the gap, but quite another to face the brother who had become a stranger and try to fix things. He was grateful for some time to prepare himself before Alphonse came home.
Stretching and yawning loudly to relieve some stress, Edward headed for the bathroom. He pushed open the door and flicked the light on, then started when he saw Alphonse was in there. "Sorry," he said automatically, starting to back out again, but then he stopped.
Alphonse sat on the floor next to the bathtub, his legs sprawled out limply before him, his hands resting in his lap. His hair was down, straggling across his face and hiding it from view. Tentatively, Edward stepped back inside the bathroom and looked down at his brother's face. It looked weary and old, his grey eyes gazing blankly at the soap dish, which had fallen into the drain.
No response. Edward stepped closer, taking in his deadened expression. If he hadn't been able to see Alphonse's hair fluttering with his breath, he might have really started to worry. "Al..." Without even thinking about it, he reached out to put a hand on his brother's shoulder.
But as soon as Alphonse caught sight of the automail hand approaching, he suddenly surged to his feet with as much energy as he had previously lacked. "No...d-don't..."
But Edward gritted his teeth and grabbed Alphonse's arm anyway. "Talk to me, Al. What's going-"
Alphonse struggled with all his might, as though afraid Edward would hurt him. "No – let go of me! Let go!"
Edward had a hard time keeping hold of him, but he managed to wrap his arms around him despite his struggles. Alphonse fought to break free, and they crashed through the open doorway into the wall opposite. Edward winced; that had been his right shoulder, so there would probably be a dent in the wall now. "What's...wrong with you?" he gasped. Alphonse was fighting like a madman. "It's just me, Al! Just me..." He stroked his thumb back and forth along Alphonse's arm.
Suddenly, all the fight left Alphonse and they slid to the floor. Edward renewed his grip on his brother's shoulders so he couldn't get away, but after a moment he realized Alphonse was crying. Great, heaving sobs shook his whole body, and he clutched his own shirt as though it was the only thing that could protect him.
"Shhh, it's okay," Edward murmured in his ear. He didn't understand what was going on, but he shifted the dead weight in his arms to a more comfortable position and leaned against the wall to wait it out. "It's okay...I've got you...you're fine..." He murmured these meaningless words of comfort and rubbed Alphonse's arm.
When he moved his left hand to brush away the trailing strands of Alphonse's hair from his mouth, the sobs escalated until Alphonse hardly seemed able to draw breath. Edward kept running his hands through Alphonse's long hair, letting his fingertips gently scrape against his scalp, and slowly the sobs lessened in force and quantity.
When they had receded to nothing but a few scattered shuddering breaths, Edward hoisted him up a little higher and asked softly, "Now, what was that all about?"
Alphonse opened his puffy, bloodshot eyes and met Edward's for a moment before he looked away again. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Forget it."
He made to get up, but Edward tightened his grip and held him firmly against his own chest. "Oh no you don't! You've been acting weird for a long time, and I'm kind of expecting some answers now."
With a defeated sigh, Alphonse slumped in his brother's arms again and scrubbed his hands over his face. "Sorry," he repeated. "It was all because of something someone said, but...I guess it kind of got out of hand."
"I'll say. Now tell me everything."
Alphonse stared at the ceiling, refusing to look Edward in the eye. "See, there was this guy...from around here...and one day, he just kind of out of the blue came up to me and asked me if I was gay."
Edward stared at him, hoping this was some kind of weird joke. "What?"
Alphonse turned his face away. "He said, 'You're always touching your brother; what if it got out that a State Alchemist applicant was a...' Well, something not very nice." He blushed, but hurried on. "And I know he was just trying to be mean, but...I couldn't help wondering...if maybe I was...and so I thought maybe..." He covered his face with his hands, and Edward could feel his shoulders trembling again. "I mean, you're my brother, and that's just so...sick. But if...if it was true...if I really...then I thought if I just...d-distanced myself, then..."
Only when his jaw began to ache did Edward realize he had been clenching it harder and harder. With difficulty, he unclenched it enough to growl murderously, "Who the hell-"
"What? Why not?"
Alphonse pulled his hands back down and looked steadily back at Edward. "Because if you knew who it was, you'd kill him, and I don't think assault with murderous intent would look very good on your record, Colonel."
Grimacing at him, Edward let out a sigh and tipped his head back against the wall, searching for the words to say. Alphonse kept sniffling, but he was much calmer than he had been. So this was what had been eating at him all these weeks. This was why he never let Edward touch him, why he never wanted to sit next to him, why he never seemed able to stand being in the same room with him. And the lack of these things that assured him of his brother's love had slowly sapped away his peace of mind, until...
"Alphonse Elric." Edward bent down and pressed his forehead against Alphonse's, closing his eyes and still holding him firmly. "I love you." He could feel Alphonse's heart beating furiously against his own, and the warmth of their breath mingled between them.
"And only an idiot would think I meant it like that," he continued. "But even if they do think that, it doesn't matter. You know the truth, and I know the truth, and when it's just us...that's the only thing that makes any difference. If you want to avoid me when we're out and about, that's fine, but...don't hold yourself back like this. Don't you understand how much I love you?" Edward turned his head so that his cheek rested against Alphonse's smooth forehead, and he raised his left hand to gently rub the top of Alphonse's head.
And for the first time in two months, Alphonse wrapped his arms around Edward's chest and held him as tightly as he could.