Story number 5! Wow, I have really come a long way (in my opinion). This is my second Edward/Alphonse fanfiction, and it's brotherly love, nothing more. I'm really proud of this one, 'cause I think I did better at capturing the brothers' emotions and their feelings, but I'll let you judge that. This is based off of Brotherhood/manga (whichever) and it's post series, so if you haven't finished the series, DO NOT read this, cause it gives things away. I don't own anything, Hiromu Arakawa is the genius who created this beautiful series, and all rights go to her.
Alphonse was stretched out in the soft, Resembool grass, enjoying the feel of the warm green shoots as they brushed against his bare feet and hands. He was only a few minute's walk from the Rockbell's home, but he felt like he was in his own world. His eyes were open, looking up into a vast blueness that was the sky, puffy white clouds floating by overhead. The Rockbell's dog, Den, lay beside him, the old animal's head resting on Al's stomach, and he could hear him faintly snoring. He smiled, brushing his hand over the dog's head, then raised it up straight as to where it was as if he was reaching for the sky.
His body was still thin from years of being inside The Gate, but with each day, he was gaining weight and strength. He was able to walk without the crutch a lot of the time now, only needing it if he exerted himself, which was more often than his big brother would have liked. Edward worried about him, though he tired not to show it, and Alphonse knew he had every reason to; he was still so weak in some ways and he didn't even know if he ever really would be as healthy as he once was. His body had suffered extreme malnutrition and dehydration, only surviving off of the nutrients Edward took in. His bones had become fragile over time, easily broken, as he'd been told by the doctors, and he needed a large intake of calcium and vitamins. Potassium, needed for his still-weak heart, was easy to come by: Edward pretty much force fed him tomatoes, bananas, and any other fruit and vegetable that held the nutrient.
The main problem for him now, though, was the atrophy. His muscles had become pretty much nonexistent over the last five years, and after the energy rush he'd had the first hour after his body had been restored, Al had ended up collapsing, his legs falling out from under him. Luckily Edward had been right beside him acting as a crutch (as Alphonse had already been too weak to walk by himself and Edward had supported most of his weight for him) and before Al realized what had happened, Ed was already down beside him, eyes wide and anxious as he asked what had happened.
"I think my legs gave out," Al had said. At first slightly bewildered, understanding had then taken over; he knew his body was too weak to carry any weight at that time.
Edward had grimaced, his eyes darkening slightly with guilt. Al knew his brother had already realized his would happen, but had still been hoping it wouldn't. That was Ed for you.
Before Alphonse could say or do anything else, like try to clumsily make it back to his feet, which would have been pointless as he would have fallen right back down, Edward turned so his back was to him, crouching down. "What are ya waiting for?" Ed had asked, trying to sound cheerful, but Al had heard the catch in his voice. Smiling, Al reached out with stick-thin arms and had wrapped them around his brother's neck. Ed reached back and caught him by the back of his thighs, which were the size of what his leg would normally have been, and, gripping them with hands that were now both made of flesh, he had lifted Alphonse up in a piggyback ride.
"You're so…light," Ed has stated, voice soft and amazed and sad and so happy all at the same time.
Instead of answering, Al had buried his face in Edward's shoulder, smiling at the fact that Ed actually could carry him.
That had been months ago, back when Father was defeated and Amestris saved, and Al had come such a long way since then. He'd spent over two months in the hospital, almost three, arms riddled with IV needles, a feeding tube inserted in his stomach, and most of the time he was there he found himself catching up on sleep. Though Alphonse tried to stay awake, he realized his body needed these precious hours of peace and physical boosting, even though all he wanted to do was be with Ed. The sleep was nice, he had to admit. Actually, it was wonderful, and since he couldn't eat anything solid at first, one of his first joys back in his body was being able to sleep. But still… Al wasn't quite as happy to be able to sleep as he'd thought he would, because it meant there was a chance that all of this, being back in his body, being alive, being with Edward, was all another of his dreams.
It seemed Ed felt similar, because he insisted on sharing a hospital room with Alphonse and having his bed as close to him as possible. After his wounds had been treated, Edward had refused any sort of help concerning his underdeveloped arm, focusing all his attention on Al's recovering body. Apparently, Al wasn't the only one who needed reassurance; Edward was constantly touching his hands and face, tracing his eyes and nose and lips, and Al loved every minute of it because he could actually feel Brother's touch. Even during Alphonse's first week at the hospital, the week his body had been so wracked with fever and chills, Ed had stayed beside him, always pushing his sweat-dampened hair away from his face, murmering soothing words that he'd be fine, and Al had found that to be the greatest comfort he needed.
Nightmares, though, were something he could have done without. Edward had suffered from nightmares and demons from The Gate for years, since they'd first attempted to bring their mother back to life, but Al had never experienced the hellish dreams of the place where his body and soul had been ripped apart; now both boys did. Luckily, his first night back in his body had been complete slumber, sleep without dreaming, just blackness.
Alphonse couldn't say the same about the rest of his time in the hospital.
The first time he'd had a nightmare, it had been of the moment when he had been pulled away from Edward and into The Gate, his body being torn away from life itself. Al had woken up screaming, several of the needles ripping out of his skin. Ed must have had been asleep, but the next thing Alphonse was aware of was Edward holding his shoulders, telling him it was alright, that it was just a dream. Even as the last visions of The Gate and Truth slipped from his consciousness, Al had felt the white hot sensation of being split in half, his body in one place, his soul in the other. Staring wildly up at Ed's terrified face, Al had burst into painful tears, shoulders miserably shaking as he lifted trembling arms to cover his face. Edward had caught his breath, his hands gripping Alphonse's shoulders a little more tightly, before pulling him forward into his chest, slightly cradling the younger boy as he cried, coughed, gasped for breath.
As he cried, Al had realized he had switched places with Ed; years ago, when the horrors of their sins were still fresh on Edward's mind and body and he'd woken from nightmares, it had been Alphonse who would calm him down, assure him that he was still there and he wasn't going to leave him. However, he'd never told Edward it would be okay, because, hidden deep in a place he'd prayed his brother couldn't see, he'd had his fears and worries that it wouldn't be okay.
And there he was, crying his soul out as Edward told him the one thing he'd never been able to say to Ed and truly mean: "It's okay," Ed had murmered in a surprisingly soothing, if not shaky voice, his hands catching in Al's still-long hair. "It's okay now. I've got you."
After that night, the nightmares had still come, not every night, but often enough. Alphonse finally stopped screaming himself awake, but even when he woke, covered in sweat and trying not to break down, Edward had always been there, holding him tight. It didn't matter how Edward gave him comfort; whether it was by holding his whole body or just his hand, Al always fell back into a dreamless sleep.
"I owe you," Edward had said once, his tone joking, but Al had heard the sincerity in his older brother's words. "You were always there for me. Now it's my turn to be there for you."
The nightmares were almost completely gone by the time they finally allowed Al to eat a real meal, one that consisted of chicken and green beans, potatoes, and a small piece of pie. And while Al had barely been able to take two bites of anything before his stomach was painfully full and he was on the verge of being sick, it had been the best thing he had ever eaten, because it was actual food.
Plus, of course, the fact that Ed had ordered it especially because he knew Alphonse liked all of those foods.
That wasn't the only reason he reason he remembered that day so well, though. Once the nurse had stepped out of the room and he was sure Edward wasn't paying close attention now that he had finished eating, Al had lifted up the knife that was brought along with his food and had begun trying to cut off a small piece of chicken, not because he was hungry, but because he wanted to see if he still could do it.
Hearing his brother's distressed call, Al's hand had jerked and a sharp pain had blossomed across the inside of his left hand. Surprised at the intensity of the pain, Al had dropped the knife, then looked down at his hand and had felt his breath catch in his throat: bright, crimson blood had been flowing out over his fingers.
"Oh crap, Al!" Edward was there in the blink of an eye, a white napkin in his hand as he had placed it to the slash across Al's palm. Alphonse had winced slightly at the sting and had tried to pull his hand back, but Ed had held onto him firmly. "Are you an idiot?" he'd spat out, grabbing another napkin and placing it over the now red-stained cloth on Al's hand. Edward's voice had been high and filled with panic. "Why the hell did you have a knife?"
"Uh, they gave me one." Al had replied, still staring at his hand in amazement.
"But why were you trying to cut anything? You haven't gotten back your dexterity yet!"
"I know, I just…I just wanted to try."
Edward had looked at Alphonse then, noticing the way his little brother still seemed to be entranced by his bleeding hand. "Al?"
"You know what's funny? I forgot I could bleed."
Ed's expression had turned unbearably guilty then, his eyes filling with a ache too deep to ever truly heal, and Alphonse had felt his heart clench painfully at the sight. Ed had looked remorsefully down at their hands, his holding the napkin to Al's bleeding hand, his fingers on his brother's fragile wrist, Al's blood spattered along his palm and knuckles. Quietly, voice shaking, he'd said, "That's not funny. You wouldn't have forgotten if it hadn't been for me."
Against Ed's objections, Al had carefully peeled the napkins away, looking down at the cut. It wasn't deep, just had bled a lot at first, and now it was already beginning to clot. He had looked down at his blood-smeared hand, then at Edward's, and had reached out and took hold of Ed's right hand, ignoring the burn of raw flesh as he'd smiled. "I wouldn't have remembered if it hadn't been for you either."
On the day after the doctors took out the feeding tube and all the IVs save one, Alphonse had noticed Edward was caught very deep in thought. It was something to do with him, he'd realized with nervousness, when he'd noticed the way Ed seemed to be examining him. He'd glance up at his brother, who was resting on his right side in his bed, his recently restored arm propping his head up. As Al had looked back down into the book he'd been skimming through, Edward had stated, quite randomly, "You need a haircut."
"Really, Brother?" Al had asked, smiling up at Ed. Of course he needed a haircut: his blonde hair, only slightly lighter than Edward's, had been down to his waist and was so brittle it was unreal. Much of it had already broken off, but most of it remained, including his long bangs that, at first, had covered his right eye. Ed had fixed that, though, by clipping them back with a small fastener. When he'd first done it and had seen Al's face full on for the first time in years, his eyes had softened, even as he'd smirked slightly, like he couldn't believe he was actually seeing his little brother's face.
At Al's question, Ed, who knew he was being sarcastic, had simply nodded. "Long hair's my thing."
"Are you serious?" Alphonse had asked, feeling a grin spread across his face.
"Hell yeah." Edward stood then and had walked over to Al, looking down into his face. He had lifted his little brother's lank hair, which he kept loose, and when he'd pulled his fingers away, strands of golden hair hung to them. "It's not strong and it's falling out. Maybe we should just shave your head."
Ed had laughed, tousling his brother's hair, saying, "Kidding, kidding." His gaze had become thoughtful then, and Alphonse waited for him to speak.
Edward had lifted another piece of Al's hair, holding it up gently to examine, his thumb sliding over the honey colored strands. A strange little smile had played across his face. "I miss you with short hair. It's just…more you."
Al had figured that was the real reason Ed wanted him to cut his hair. It was also one of the reasons he himself wanted it short again, but it was also because it felt odd having the weight of so much hair. Still, he liked that, for at least a little while, he had looked more like Brother.
The next day, Ed had called a nurse in to cut off Al's dead hair. Edward was the one who explained how it should look, and while Alphonse was a tiny bit annoyed he couldn't make a decision as simple as his haircut for himself, he felt even more amused and happy that Ed had been so focused on him.
After the damaged hair had been cut and the remaining was about to be washed, Edward had suddenly asked if he could do it. The nurse had looked a little surprised, but Ed wasn't asking for her permission; he was asking Al if it was alright.
And as an answer, Al had grinned brightly and nodded his head.
After the nurse left, Ed had wetted Al's hair in the wash basin, then squirted a small amount of shampoo onto his palm. He'd looked unsurely down at Alphonse, who was watching him with warm eyes, and had said, "I've never done this."
Al had laughed. "No, you haven't."
With that, Ed began rubbing his fingers through Al's residual hair. It had caught Al off guard at how good it felt to have fingers catching in his hair, warm shampoo suds foaming up, Ed's fingernails gently scratching Al's scalp. He had sighed.
Immediately, Ed had stopped. "You okay?"
"Yeah. It just…feels good, is all."
Although Al's eyes had been closed, he'd sensed Ed's smile. "Alright then."
Once Ed had finished washing his hair and had towel-dried it, he'd stuck a mirror up in front of Al's face, and Alphonse had realized, for the first time, how he really hadn't changed that much after all. If he looked past the thinness, he could notice the way every one of his facial features were the same; his cheekbones had become more evident now and his face held no traces of baby fat whatsoever, but his smile and eyes were the same.
And now, so was his hair. His hair was only slightly longer than I had been at age ten, but he looked pretty much the same boy.
Once he had finished his evaluation, he'd realized Ed was making one of his own. He'd given Al a very tender smile, rushing his fingers through his younger brother's slightly damp hair. "Perfect."
It seemed like an eternity before the doctors finally allowed Al to try walking. Besides eating real food, walking was what he'd wanted the most, but it didn't go quite as he had expected. Al had known that even though he'd had to use Ed for support, he had been able to walk for a little while after the defeat of Father. The doctors told him it wasn't something he should expect, and he had tried not to, but he really hoped he would at least be strong enough to stand up.
The day he was allowed to try, Ed, a nurse, and the main doctor were in the room. Ed had beside Alphonse, helping him sit up, which Al was almost finally able to do on his own. Al leaned against his brother as Ed helped him stand, the doctor and nurse watching anxiously. Ed, for his part, had looked like he caught between excitement and unease as he watched Al.
"Don't rush," he'd said. "We have plenty of time."
Taking in his words, Al had nodded, and then before he could even prepare himself, Ed was helping him stand.
The first thing he had been aware of was the jarring cold of the white linoleum floor on his bare feet. He'd inhaled sharply, but shook his head when Ed tried to make him sit back down. He had only been standing for a few seconds when his legs had started trembling, but Alphonse had forced himself to keeping standing, to stay strong. He had begged his legs to hold him up, for him, but mostly for Brother.
His legs, however, had had a mind of their own, and before he'd been standing fifteen seconds, his legs had given out and he'd nearly hit the floor. Edward's arms were around him waist and back, holding him up, and Al had heard Ed's harsh breathing. His legs had still been shaking, even though they supported no weight, and as he had stared down at the floor, a thought had come to him: This is impossible.
"Good job!" Ed's voice pulled him back from his thoughts, and when he'd looked up at Ed, he saw pride in his big brother's eyes, along with the previous fear he'd most likely given him by collapsing. "Al, that was really good for you're first time in a month."
"Brother…" Al had mumbled softly, expressing his doubts with his eyes, praying Ed could understand, but at the same time, ashamed he could think anything like that when it was Edward who had undergone automail surgery at age eleven and had recovered in one year.
Ed, though, had seemed to realize his fear and wasn't disappointed in the least. He had smiled confidently, eyes bright and warm and filled with loyalty. "You'll get there. I did, didn't I? You will too. And I'll be with you the whole time."
The doctor has started explaining something to him and Ed then, about not pushing himself and taking things slow, and while Al had heard every word, he was solely focused on that first step he couldn't wait to take.
And he would, because Brother was with him.
The next few weeks had been very similar to the time Alphonse had spent trying to get used to moving in the armor, but this time, he was back in his body and like a baby trying to learn how to walk. After much requesting and assurance that everything would be fine with him around, Ed had convinced the doctor that he should be the only one helping Al walk, something Al was grateful for; he didn't like the way most of the nurses were so overly helpful. Edward, though, could push him, not too harshly, but enough that Alphonse would make himself stay standing for another ten seconds, then twenty. And by the time Al was able to fully stand for five minutes, Ed had treated it like it was the most amazing feat he'd ever seen.
Still, Alphonse had wanted to take those first steps, because only then would he finally be able to believe he could walk.
On the day he took his first step, Alphonse had managed to do it by himself, despite Edward's arguing. Al had known he could walk fairly well if he leaned against his brother, but he knew it was time to try it by himself. Shakily, he had lifted his right foot and placed it back on the floor with a loud clop. His legs had been trembling terribly, but he'd focused all his energy and willpower on taking another step, all of his attention on his left foot, on lifting it up and placing it back on the ground.
He'd barely lifted his other foot when his right leg gave under his weight and he'd sunk to the floor.
Edward had been there instantly, kneeling beside him, hands on his shoulders. "Al, you okay?" he'd asked.
As an answer, Alphonse had started crying softly.
"Hey, you did good," Ed had reassured gently, placing his hand softly on Al's head. "Why are you crying?"
"Because I did it," Al had replied, smiling up at Ed through his tears.
When Edward had realized that Alphonse was crying tears of joy, he'd laughed and pulled him into a loose hug, mumbling quietly, "Yeah, you did."
After that day, walking became a surprisingly easy task. Soon, Alphonse was able to walk up and down the halls of the hospitals, only slightly slower than he normally would have been, and with the aid of a crutch. When Al had noticed Ed slowing down for him, he'd told him not to worry about it and that he would catch up.
Edward had given him funny look, somewhere between exasperation and affection. "If I do that then we won't be together anymore."
Al, catching his breath at his brother's words, had smiled in understanding. It was natural Ed wanted to be by his side, because he wanted the exact same thing.
One thing Al hadn't thought about very much was puberty. He'd assumed his body had gone through it, but once he was back to normal, he wasn't sure if it should feel any different or not. Still, it came as a surprise to both brothers when it was obvious he was becoming a man.
They had been visited by Colonel Mustang and Lieutenant Hawkeye the day it happened. Both military personnel had been amazed with Al, especially Mustang, as he had never seen his true body before. He'd walked in a shook his hand, treating him with respect and looking proud. Hawkeye had hugged him, which had resulted in a blushing Al, something Edward would normally have laughed at, but he hadn't; he still was getting used to seeing this reaction in his brother. The four had talked for awhile, and when the man and woman left, Ed had sighed.
"What's wrong, Brother?"
Al had watched as Edward grew quiet and thoughtful, waiting for him to elaborate.
"We're broke, you know that?" Ed had finally said.
"We don't have any money."
"But you're a State Alchemist." As soon as he'd uttered the sentence, Al had regretted it. Although Ed had never said anything about losing his ability to perform alchemy, Alphonse knew it bothered him, and he was afraid Edward would begin to feel depressed.
Instead, he'd smirked softly. "I'm not an alchemist anymore."
Chagrined, Al had looked at his hands. "Sorry."
And idea had come to Alphonse then. "I could join the military."
Edward had been standing up, stretching his back and arm muscles, but he made a complete about-face and had asked, voice incredulous, "What?"
"I could become a State Alchemist. I know the money's for research, but we could use it and be alright. I can take the exam, and that way, you don't-"
"No way." Edward had stated harshly. His face, Al had admitted, was the angriest he had seen it in a while, and since it was directed at him, it made it even worse. "Absolutely not."
"I said no, dammit!"
Both boys had frozen then. Alphonse, suddenly terrified that he'd somehow hurt Edward and had no clue how to fix it, had felt his eyes widen just as Ed's did, light gold staring into darker gold. Edward's mouth was slightly open, like he realized just how hard and angry he'd sounded, but it was mostly because he had realized just how much he was scaring Al. Sighing harshly, Edward had looked away, jamming his hands in his pockets.
"Brother, I…sorry," Al had mumbled, unable to look up as Edward turned to face him.
"Why…why are you sorry?" Ed had asked, surprised.
"Because I hurt you."
Al was looking at his hands, still pale and bony, when he'd heard a strangled laugh come from Edward's direction.
"Idiot," his brother had said, and when Al looked up, he had seen Ed smiling sadly at him, head cocked to the side. "You didn't hurt me."
"But I thought that you would be mad I wanted to become a State Alchemist."
"That's the thing: you don't want to."
"I already told you a long time ago, one of us as a dog of the military is enough. And now that I'm not one anymore, I won't ever let you become one."
"Because," Ed had stated, like it was obvious, "I can't let anything happen to you."
Alphonse had caught his breath, his eyes suddenly burning as Ed smiled. "Brother…"
"We'll find a way to get by," he'd said, walking toward Al. When he reached him, he placed his right hand on his head and smiled. "So don't worry about stuff like that."
"Then why did you bring it up?" Al had replied amusedly, reaching up to hold Ed's hand.
Brother had shrugged. "Just wondering if we're gonna mooch off of Granny and Winry for the rest of out lives."
Alphonse had suddenly felt a little playful. "Speaking of Winry, did you tell her yet?"
It was worth it; Ed's face had turned a bright red and his eyes had gone all wide and childlike as he looked down speechlessly at Al.
"Aw, come on, Brother. I'm not an idiot."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, really," Ed had replied, frowning.
"Not true." Al had grinned up At Ed then. "You like her. A lot."
Ed's mouth had dropped and Al laughed at his brother's expression, the way his blushing was more pronounced now. "I do not! She's my mechanic. And my friend!"
"And you've got a crush on her," Alphonse had managed to say through his laughter.
Edward had continued to mutter denials, and as he'd done so, Al had realized just how much he had missed these petty arguments he had with his brother. He simply smiled at Ed's rambling, knowing his big brother was just trying to convince himself that he had no romantic feeling toward Winry, but everyone knew by now he did. Except, of course, Winry.
It had taken a moment for Al to realize Ed was no longer blushing and babbling, but that he was looking down at Al, a dangerous smirk on his lips, eyes narrowed slightly. Oh boy.
"And what about you, little brother?"
"What about me?" Alphonse had asked, suddenly uncomfortable.
"You know, that puny little bean sprout that was always clinging to you: May."
Despite himself, Al had blushed lightly. "What about her?"
Ed gave him a leer, then said, "You kinda got a thing for her, don't you?"
"Don't be silly, Brother. She's a little kid, and she's nice and all, and…" Al had left off,
suddenly realizing he was about to call her pretty, which would have resulted in him putting his foot in his mouth.
"…And?" Edward had jeered, leaning down until he was eye level with Al. "You got a little crush."
"Do not!" Al had denied, suddenly wondering if this was how Ed had felt when he'd taunted him. He felt nervous and sweaty and hot, his face burning. "Brother, I do not!"
Alphonse had suddenly stopped, hands flying to his throat. What was that? A strange, squeaky tone had taken over the word "not," causing it to sound high and slightly deep at the same time, but mostly shrill. Al had blinked several times, trying to understand what had happened.
Ed had grinned, still wicked in every way, his eyes wide. "Oh gosh Al, you squeaked!"
"I…did, didn't I?"
"Oh yes, you squeaked. And you know what that means right?"
Nervous, Al had been afraid to say anything, but his curiosity got the better of him. "What?"
"Wait, what? I thought my body already went through that!"
"It might have, but you're voice is still really high and it's starting to change. God, you sounded hilarious!"
"W-whatever," Al had muttered, blushing darkly.
Ed was still laughing, eyes tearing up. He'd wiped then quickly, then had continued to massacre Alphonse. "First the bean girl, now this…"
"Edward, I do not like her like that," Al had replied, voice dropping slightly in tone, hands balled into fists; he wasn't really angry, just a little annoyed and a lot embarrassed.
"I saw how you looked when she hugged you," Ed had replied, smiling devilishly at him, eyeing Al from the corner of his eye. "Plus the fact you were pretty much naked and all."
"Oh yeah, you totally liked it," Ed had said, leaning over Al, causing him to have to back up against the bed.
"D-did not," Al had muttered weakly, scooting back even farther, trying to get away from Ed.
"Come on, you're a guy, you're supposed to like girls. But, I gotta know…why her?"
A genius idea had suddenly come to Alphonse, and he felt himself grin, a mirror of Ed's own expression. "Well at least I can get girls who are shorter than me."
At first, Ed had seemed shocked, but it was quickly replaced by the glassy look he got when someone called him short.
"WHO THE HELL ARE YOU CALLING SHORT, YOU SCRAWNY LITTLE BRAT?"
Although Al was laughing, he hadn't been able to deny the slight hurt he'd felt when Ed had called him that. Still, he'd covered it with more laughter, even as Ed pushed up on the bed, causing Al to move back away from his wrath…
And right off the edge of the bed. With a sharp intake of breath, Al had felt himself slip off, hands grasping for anything. That anything turned out to be Ed. Alphonse had latched onto his brother's left arm, pulling him over the bed and onto the floor right along with him.
"What the hell, Al?" Ed had muttered angrily, raising himself up off the pillow he'd landed on.
But…pillows didn't move. Confused, Ed had looked down into the face of his little brother and realized, sharply, that he'd landed on Al.
He'd pulled himself off of Alphonse immediately, shifting his weight so he was leaning over him. "Al, hey, you okay?"
When Al had hit the floor, it was like a jarring, aching pain had filled his entire body, traveling up his back and head, into his chest, up through his elbows and into his arms. He kept his eyes shut tight, and before he could even try to focus on the pain, another pain had hit him from the front, one that knocked all the air out of his lungs.
Alphonse had become acutely aware that Ed was talking to him, but the pain in his back and shoulders was horrible and took up almost all of his attention. Still, he had realized the worried, frantic tone in which Edward was calling for him.
"Al! Come on, open your eyes already!"
As Alphonse's eyes creaked open, the first thing he had seen was Edward's face, pulled tight with worry and fear. He had tried to tell him that he was fine, just a little sore and to ask him to get off of his stomach, but as he'd parted his lips, the only thing that had exited them was a painful whimper.
It was scary the way Edward's eyes had widened, genuine fear setting in. "Oh, God…"
Somehow, Al was able to force a smile. "I'm…okay, Brother."
"I just…hurt my shoulders, it all." It had been slightly hard to breath and talk, but he'd forced himself to get the words out. He had shifted, trying to sit up, and as he moved, a sharp, burning hurt hit him from behind in his right shoulder and he'd cried out in pain.
"Oh God, Al." Edward had had Alphonse in his arms so quickly that Al hadn't even seen him move. He had felt himself being lifted up, Ed's arms holding him so gently, and he had felt his big brother's hands shaking. Ed had carefully laid him down in the bed, positioning Al so as to where his weight was placed on his good shoulder. Alphonse had realized, as he'd begun to relax against the sheets, that most of the pain was beginning to ebb away except for the pain in his shoulder and the slight stinging in the back of his head.
When Al had opened his eyes, he was looking straight at Edward's broken face, resting inches from his on the mattress. Ed's eyes had been wide and suspiciously bright, his teeth biting him bottom lip harshly. His hand had been gently rubbing Al's head, fingers trembling.
And Alphonse had suddenly felt a horrible guilt for falling off the bed and making Ed that terrified.
"Sorry, Brother. I'm sorry…"
"Hush, stupid," Ed had replied, voice breaking. "It was my fault. I knew…I knew you weren't anywhere near up to roughhousing, but I started it anyway." Ed had looked away then, wiping an arm across his eyes quickly before turning back to Al. Still, Al had been able to see the tracks the tears had left as Edward had wiped them away.
"I should have been more careful," Al had said, his breathing coming normally now. He'd reached back and latched onto Ed's hand tightly.
"Are…you hurt?" Ed had asked, voice anxious and afraid.
"Nothing life threatening. Just my shoulder, and my head a little." Al had smiled softly, moving his hand to Ed's face, cupping his cheek. "I'm really okay."
Ed has sighed in relief, leaning up to rest his forehead against Al's. "You sure?"
"You don't think you broke anything?"
"If I had broken something, I'd be screaming your ear off."
Ed had laughed then, but his eyes were still wet, and he had laced his fingers through Al's. "Sorry."
The brothers were quiet for a while, Ed letting Al rest until he felt better. He had kept his hand on Al's head, playing with his now-short hair. It had caught him off guard when Alphonse said, voice amused and curious, "Puberty, huh?"
Ed had laughed softly. "Exactly."
"Do we get stupider the older we get?"
"Oh yes, little brother. I'm a fine example."
He had been rewarded with an exasperated laugh from Al. When he had opened his eyes, Al was watching him oddly, expression caught between hurt and anxiety. "What?" Ed had asked.
"I'm not really a brat, am I? I know I'm scrawny and all…"
"Oh, Al," Ed had said, sighing gently, suddenly regretting his words. "You aren't a brat; you never could be. And you aren't scrawny."
"No way. You've gained almost twenty pounds."
"I have?" Alphonse had asked, eyes bright, grinning.
Ed had simply laughed, ruffling Al's hair.
When Al thought back, his time in the hospital was actually pretty short and filled with so many new memories that he shared with Brother. He was outside in Resembool again, no longer in the Central hospital reliving his recovery. His eyes were closed now as the warm sun filtered in through his eyelids, and he felt a smile spread across his face. Den was still sound asleep on him, and Al faintly wondered if he'd been asleep as well.
Alphonse sat up, looking around until he saw Edward and Winry walking toward him. Winry carried a big basket with what Al figured was food, and when she waved at him, he waved back.
"We thought a picnic would be nice," she said as she sat down on his right. Den was awake now and had moved from Al to his owner, and Alphonse watched them warmly as the dog reached up and licked the girl on the cheek, just like he was giving her a kiss.
"'We?'" Ed asked, plopping down onto the ground to Al's left, spreading his legs out far and propping his arms up behind him. "I'd say you pretty much drug me out here." He looked over at Al then, then noticed the object that was missing from his little brother's side. "Where's your crutch?"
Al smiled proudly. "I didn't need it to get here."
Ed looked surprised, then gave him trademark grin. "Good."
The three teenagers ate together that afternoon, laughing and talking about nothing and everything, though it was Edward and Winry who supplied most of the conversation; Alphonse was happy just to listen to them because, for this moment, they weren't bickering.
Al looked out over the hills of his home, the place where he'd been born and raised, had learned what love and loss were, had lost his innocence but somehow still held onto it. It was where his and Ed's mother had died, where they had tried to bring her back, where his soul had been ripped away from his body, where Edward had given his own right arm, just to save his little brother. Al looked to his left at Ed as his brother listened to Winry, or, in a better sense, pretended to listen to her.
Although sometimes Edward would slink away into a world where Alphonse couldn't follow, where he kept his demons and guilt and pain, he wasn't there at that moment. No, Al could tell he was reliving the moment when he'd told Brother he'd been able to walk without the crutch. His eyes were soft, his lips curled up, a look of pride on his face.
Al looked down at his hand, the left one, the one he had cut with the knife in the hospital months ago. It had left a faint scar, and although he knew it bothered Ed, Al was proud of it; even though he had tried to do something that was hard and sometimes seemed impossible, he'd finally been able to use his hands again. That was what healing was, wasn't it: getting better and growing stronger, being able to do things you once thought you couldn't.
When he looked up, Ed was looking at him, a crooked smile on his face, his hand slightly outstretched; his right hand, the one he'd used to save Al's life, the one he'd given up along with his entire arm, the one Alphonse had been able to give back to him.
Smiling, Alphonse reached over and firmly took hold of his brother's hand. His hand was still slightly bony and pale, but it was growing stronger every day.
Just like Ed's.
For a moment, as they stared down at their hands, Winry's words coming as if from far away, they both realized that even though they were completely different people with different personalities, their hands, for the moment, looked like they belonged to the same person.