A small tribute to two characters that I love immensely.
A suit of armor isn't built for stealth.
Neither was the floor of this inn, for that matter. Al tried to walk as lightly as possible, but every time his foot touched the ground, the wooden floorboards groaned like a ghoul. In the dead of night, the noise seemed thunderously loud.
I'm going to wake him, Al thought.
Yet despite the floorboards and the equally squeaky door, Ed was still asleep when Al crept into the bedroom. He lay on his side, his face more peaceful than it ever was in wakefulness. Al sat down next to the bed, wincing internally as the floor creaked in response. He'd spent the past few nights in another room, huddled in a corner with just him and his thoughts, but tonight he'd been overtaken by the urge to see his brother.
Gently he placed a large hand on the blanket where it covered Ed's shoulder. Al had always wanted to know what it felt like in that area, where auto-mail met living flesh. Even after two years in a body of metal, it was still disorienting, being able to see that he was touching something but not feeling any sensation. It made everything seem less real.
Ed stirred. "Al?" he mumbled.
Al withdrew his hand. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"What are you doing here?"
"Hey, don't hide from me." His eyelids fluttered as he struggled to open them. "Tell me what's wrong."
"I . . . didn't feel like being alone, I guess. The nights seem to be getting longer."
"Well, we're approaching winter, so the nights are getting longer. But I know what you meant. I wish I could stay up every night to keep you company."
"No, you don't, brother. Staying awake all the time is a nightmare. I wouldn't wish it on anybody."
It lasted only an instant, but Al noticed the pain that flashed across Ed's face. He realized he'd said too much and made himself a burden. Complaining about his situation was only going to make his brother miserable along with him.
He was about to apologize, but Ed spoke first. "Hang on just a little longer, Al. Once we get your body back, you can sleep and dream about kittens for a month straight if you want."
A bitter response was instantly thought up, lodging itself somewhere within Al's armored shell. He resolved not to say it aloud - he'd already said enough troublesome things tonight - but it was overwhelming him with fear. It was strange how he couldn't feel warmth or pain, yet he could feel this thought would certainly explode inside him if he didn't bring it out.
"This feels completely hopeless," he cried. "How in the world are we ever going to restore our bodies? We've been wandering around the country for a year and we still don't have a clue."
Ed was silent at first. Finally he admitted, "I don't know how yet, but we will figure it out. I bet this is one of those mysteries where we have to beg and scrape to get our first clue, but then once we get it, everything else will fall into place. But even if it's not that easy, we'll still work it out somehow."
"What if it's not just difficult? What if it turns out to be impossible?"
"Then we'll find a way to make it possible."
"You can't rewrite the laws of alchemy just by being stubborn. We thought we could resurrect Mom and look where that got us. Now we think we can recover what we lost that night, and who knows where that will take us? We're running down a hopeless road, brother. I can feel it."
He was startled by what happened next. Ed sat up, grabbed him by the shoulders, and pulled him down so that their faces were level, all in the blink of an eye. "It doesn't matter," Ed growled, "if this road is hopeless. It's the only one we got. If you give up now, then what's left for you? Are you prepared for a lifetime in that suit of armor, unable to feel a thing? This is why we burned down our house, Al - to make sure we had nothing to go back to!"
Any protests that Al could've made retreated into the recesses of his mind. He held still, waiting and watching as Ed's glare gradually morphed into a look of confusion, and then eventually into one of concern. He let go of Al and leaned back, seeming to shrink into his bed. "Are you okay, Al? I didn't mean to snap at you; it's just that the soft words didn't seem to be getting through to you."
"You're right, though," Al murmured. "We can't give up. This is the path we've committed ourselves to. If we have to tear the world apart along the way, then we'll do it, because there's nowhere else for us to go."
"You know, you still sound like you're giving up, just in the opposite direction now. I wish you could feel like we chose this path, even if it is hard. Nobody is really forcing us to get our bodies back, after all."
Al gazed out the window. The moon was bright, but it was nothing compared to the sun. "I know. I think I'll feel that way again when morning comes." He looked back at Ed, whose eyes, despite the earlier outburst, were still clouded with drowsiness. "Please go back to sleep. I'm sorry to wake you up with this . . . event. It's pretty unlike me, isn't it?"
"It's understandable. I'd be going insane too if I had to sit through this darkness alone every night, with no way to rest my mind. But even so . . ." He pulled the blanket over himself and shut his eyes. "I still wish I could keep you company at night. Try to stay sane for a little longer, okay? We'll get your body back soon." His voice softened, almost faded. "I just hope you know . . . that I really would tear the world apart for you. I hope you know . . . you're the only one alive that I'd do that for."
"Brother," Al protested. "This isn't just about me, remember? We're trying to restore your body too."
Ed didn't reply. He was already fast asleep.
Al started to leave, but as soon as he took a step, the floorboards creaked loudly beneath him. He muttered a curse and glanced at Ed to make sure he was still asleep. (He was.) Al supposed he could risk the noise and still go - Ed hadn't awoken when Al had first entered the room, after all. But somehow he found himself unwilling to move.
He listened to his brother's soft breathing and realized he didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay where he was the whole night.
"Well, Ed," he said quietly as he sat down again. "I just hope you know that you're the only one who could promise those things and make me believe you. I hope you know that you're the only one I'd follow to the end of the world."