"I'm going to head back to the house and help Granny with dinner," Winry stated as she stood, gently patting her backside as to remove any loose grass. She lifted the basket she had brought with her, then turned to the brothers and smiled. "It shouldn't be too much longer 'till it's ready."
"But I'm not hungry," Ed whined, and Al felt himself smile. It amazed him how like a little kid Edward still was, even though he held no trace of innocence any longer; still, the way he would stick his tongue out when Winry wasn't looking or complain when he was bored always reminded Alphonse just how much his brother still needed to mature.
"Trust me, you will be soon," Winry said, a teasing scowl on her face as she looked down at him. "I don't see how, though, after all those sandwiches. How many did you eat, ten?"
"Five, thank you very much," Ed replied, frowning at her. "Anyway," he continued, "Granny was getting ready to cook when we left. Why that early?"
"What we're cooking takes a few hours to make really good," she said, smiling lightly.
At that, Al noticed the way Edward seemed to perk up, smiling hopefully. "Stew?" he asked, sounding oddly childlike. Al rolled his eyes affectionately.
Winry smirked. "Yup. Granny said she'd start while we were gone."
Alphonse wondered how long they had been sitting in the field, but wasn't exactly sure; he'd been out there by himself for at least half and hour, and when Ed and Winry came, they'd spent most of the afternoon napping off and on, telling stories, and, concerning the eldest two, arguing about automail maintenance. Al remembered sighing at they'd quarreled, scratching Den behind the ear; at least the peace had lasted for a little while.
The sun hadn't quite begun to set yet, but Alphonse could tell it must be getting close to somewhere around six, close to dinner time.
Winry was beginning to walk away now, slinging the basket as she walked, Den at her heels. She looked back over her shoulder, smiling warmly at the boys. "I had fun today," she said, blue eyes looking darker from a distance, but still just a beautiful. "We should do this again soon."
Alphonse smiled at her, saying, "Same here." He looked over at Ed, who was giving her a soft nod, a gentle smirk on his face. Al grinned at his brother.
Ed, realizing he was being stared at, turned to face his little brother, no longer smiling. His cheeks were slightly pink. "What?"
Al shook his head, grinning softly. "Nothing."
Edward huffed, then flopped down on his back, arms stretched out wide as he closed his eyes. Al watched him, thinking that now would be an amazing time to tease him about his feelings for Winry, but something told him not to; this wasn't the time and, as he'd realized in the hospital, Ed was extremely sensitive to the subject. He didn't want to hurt Brother's pride.
Alphonse looked out over the fields, catching a glimpse of the sun behind an orangy-colored cloud. Sunset was getting closer. He watched as more clouds floated across the sky, colored pink and yellow and orange and, in some places, a pale purple.
Things like this were something he'd missed the most about being home: seeing something so beautiful, so amazing.
Alphonse laid back next to Ed, propping one hand up behind his head, the other resting gently on his stomach. He pressed his fingers against his midsection and felt himself sigh; he could still feel his ribs, even after all these months of gaining weight.
Edward heard him sigh; he was still on his back, but was now looking over at Al with light concern. "What's wrong?"
Al jerked his hand from his stomach, smiling sheepishly at his brother. "Oh, nothing." He closed his eyes, praying Ed wouldn't pry, and turned his face back to the sky.
A determined grumble came from Edward and Al heard him sit up, moving closer toward him. He kept his eyes closed, trying to look relaxed, even as he felt Ed leaning over him.
His eyes jerked open, though, when Ed grabbed the edge of his T-shirt and pulled it up to his chest, the afternoon air warmly kissing his bare skin. "B-brother?" he sputtered out, trying to sit up, but Ed gently placed a hand on his exposed stomach and pushed him back down. He looked up at Ed in confusion, noticing the expression on his brother's face, a cross between satisfaction and shame. Edward's mouth was quirked at a contrite angle. "Hey…Ed?" Alphonse asked quietly.
Ed's fingers gently prodded one of Al's still slightly protruding ribs, then moved to another one. He sighed. "Don't tell me 'nothing'," he said, frowning slightly down at Al. "I know it bothers you that they're still so noticeable."
"It's gotten better though, right?" Al asked as Ed traced another of his ribs, his brother's fingers tingling against his sensitive skin. After five years in trapped cold steel armor, Alphonse was still not quite familiar with the ability to feel and the sensation touch brought, but he sighed contently; Al was enjoying the way his skin seemed to buzz as Ed's hand grazed over his stomach and lower chest.
Ed laughed shakily. "So much," he said, staring down at Alphonse's abdomen. "At first it was like you were a skeleton."
"I guess I still am in some ways." Al sucked in slightly, making the bones even more evident, and Edward took a harsh intake of breath. He lifted his hand, trying to draw it away from his younger brother's bare skin, but Al grabbed it, pulling it back.
"Sorry," Ed murmered ashamedly, his eyes darkening as he rested his hand on Al's stomach. "I-"
"Brother," Al said softly as Ed looked down at him, eyebrows knitted. He was biting the inside of his lip, Al noticed, and he smiled encouragingly at his brother. "Watch."
Ed looked confused when Alphonse began to stretch out and was about to ask what he was doing, but Al quickly shook his head, smiling softly. Lifting Ed's hand off of his stomach and placing it in his brother's lap, Al reached back with both hands and lifted his shirt up as much as he could. He pulled the white cotton shirt up to his neck and tucked it under his chin, then looked back at Edward. Edward appeared unsure, and as he began quietly, "Al, what-", Alphonse softly shushed him.
Without giving Ed a warning, Al sucked in as much as he could.
He heard Edward's breathing catch painfully and saw the look of dismay on his face as his brother stared down at his body. Stretching out a little more, Al leaned up slightly and glanced down at himself.
The first thing he noticed was that he could see each of his front ribs perfectly. They hadn't been this noticeable since those first few days and weeks after his body had been restored, and over the last few months their sticking out had reduced greatly. But as Alphonse stared down at his body, it was like nothing had changed; his ribs were tight against his skin, poking against it severely. Al had a very strong feeling all of his ribs were visible to Ed, and as he leaned up, he could feel his clavicle brush his chin in an unnatural way, could feel how his shoulder blades seemed to scrape against his back muscles. He looked down at his stomach, painfully aware of the fact that it was sunken in slightly, then his gaze traveled down to the protruding hip bones that angled over the waistband of his pants.
Staring down at himself, Alphonse realized why it made Edward so uncomfortable, because it made him feel the exact same way. It was like looking at a starved animal, only this time it wasn't a cat or a dog, it was him. And it scared him.
He managed to laugh shakily, trying to take in the realization that it would be a while before he was no longer rail thin. He let his body relax until it looked almost normal, hip bones only slightly sticking out, ribs still visible, flat stomach slightly sunk in even now. Alphonse felt his hands shake slightly and he tried to ball them up, but he only managed to make one fist, because Ed was holding onto the other. Al looked up at his brother, smiling weakly, because if he didn't he wouldn't be able to handle this new knowledge.
Ed seemed like he felt the same. His eyes were bright and he looked like he wanted nothing more than to just break down and cry, but he managed a ghost of a smile. He gripped Al's hand tighter in his. "That was …unexpected," he said quietly, voice thick.
Al nodded, pulling his shirt back down as he sat up. His hand flew to the back of his head, a nervous gesture he'd retained even in the armor and still possessed now. He gave a weak laugh, then said, "Yeah. I…just needed to try an accept it, I guess."
Ed nodded, moving so as he was right beside his brother. His hand landed on Alphonse's head, resting there comfortingly; his other reached toward Al's and Al brushed his fingers against Edward's, then held onto it. "Me too. I…I just didn't expect you to do that."
"Did it scare you?"
Edward sighed softly. "Yes."
Al felt something swell up inside him at Edward's words, because he knew he was telling the truth. He held his hand a little tighter, deciding he should be truthful as well. "It scared me too," he said softly, burying his face in Brother's shoulder. He felt Ed tremble slightly, and then he was resting his head against Al's, momentarily bumping their foreheads together, then resting his weight against Alphonse comfortingly.
They sat like that a while, neither talking. Al opened his eyes after a few moments, gazing out at the sky, feeling a sense of warmth that didn't come from the spring afternoon; he sensed Edward contently looking out as well. Smiling, Al closed his eyes.
"You know," Ed said quietly after a few minutes, but the tone he used immediately put Al on edge, "I just realized something."
"What?" Al asked, slightly nervous.
He felt Ed looking at him and could hear a grin in his voice. "I can tickle you now."
Alphonse pulled away instantly, arms, as if by instinct or maybe just from memory, crossing over his stomach. "Brother, don't you dare. I'm too old for that."
Ed was smirking now, eyes alive and vivid as he got on his knees, slightly crawling toward Al, a strange, catlike quality about him. "Aw, c'mon," he said, grin sinfully evil. "I haven't gotten to tickle you since you were ten."
"And you're not doing it now," Al stated, moving back, away from Ed as he continued to descend upon him. Unfortunately, Al's hand slipped out from under him on the grass and his back hit the ground, one arm to his side, the other trapped underneath him.
As soon as he'd gotten his arm out from under him and was trying to sit up, hands slammed down on his shoulders, pinning him to the ground. Al looked up into Edward's face as he towered over him, then felt his brother's legs angling his so he wouldn't be able to move.
"If I recall correctly," Ed said, making sure there would be no way for Alphonse to escape, "your stomach and sides were really ticklish."
Al, slightly dreading but looking forward to what was about to come just a little bit, said, "Ed, don't you dare!"
And Alphonse was suddenly laughing as Ed's fingered mercilessly attacked his side, sending him into fits of hilarity. "Brother!" he managed between one bout of giggles, "s-stop it!" Instead, Ed simply moved to his other side, his fingers moving right between his ribs, and Alphonse couldn't get anymore words out. After much wiggling, Al was able to get his arms free and he swung them around, one hand managing to latch onto Ed's shoulder and the other catching hold of his brother's long ponytail as he tried to pry the older boy away; Edward didn't seem fazed. Al's body, pinned by Ed's weight, tried to curl in on itself, but Edward wasn't having that; before Alphonse could move anymore, Ed attacked his stomach, his fingers sliding under the younger brother's shirt as they tickled the soft skin, And Al's laughter rang out even louder.
Al managed to squeeze his eyes open slightly and when he did, he saw Ed, no longer grinning wickedly, but laughing full out at Al's reactions. Edward's eyes were bright and alive and his mouth was curled in an amused smile, but Alphonse also managed to see a look his brother, under other circumstances, would have had difficulty achieving: pure, untainted joy. He looked so happy, and it was all because he could actually tickle Al again.
Al's last thought before he again dissolved into laughter was that Edward wasn't the only one who had missed this.
"Brother, c'mon!" Alphonse begged, eyes watering as he finally managed to turn onto his side and curl into a ball. But Ed moved right along with his body; his brother flopped down over next to him and slid his fingers over Al's side again, and Al giggled, trying to pull back.
By the time Edward had had enough, Al was trying to catch his breath, his shirt pulled up over his stomach; it reminded him of Ed's habit when he slept. Still laughing lightly, he looked across at Ed, who now lay on his side beside him, his brother's smile wide and warm and happy and affectionate as he stared back at Alphonse. Ed's ponytail was loose, pieces of hair hanging down from it; Al was proud to notice his thrashing hands had managed some damage after all. Bright green strands of grass were in Ed's hair, and Al had a feeling he looked quite similar.
"Did you enjoy that?" Al asked breathlessly, only slightly teasing.
Edward's smile widened a little more as he watched Aphonsel with tenderness, eyes like melted gold. "Extremely."
Al smiled back, face flushed, and he suddenly realized that maybe he had needed this tickling moment, and who better to give it to him than his brother.
"I'm gonna get you back, you know," Alphonse said, curling up closer to Ed, lifting his hand into a fist.
Ed laughed gently, a grin on his face as he bumped his fist against Al's. "I bet."
"You can count on it."