When night falls, the people of Amestris sleep. They snuggle under warm covers, punch a pillow into shape and let themselves drift off into slumber, drift even deeper down to dream.
Alphonse Elric does not sleep. Nor does he dream.
Instead, he sits and watches over Ed while his brother sprawls in his bed and snores. Ed is almost as noisy asleep as he is awake; he is a restless sleeper, and besides the enthusiastic snoring Al often hears the squeak of hinged automail joints whenever his brother moves around to get more comfortable.
Then Ed's dreams begin, and Al listens and watches.
Sometimes (a lot of times) Ed has nightmares, and Al hugs his knees and listens in pained silence while his brother calls for him in his sleep. It's worse on the nights when he he begs their mother for forgiveness, tears leaking out from beneath closed eyelids, and when that happens Al feels more hollow than he already is and wishes he could cry too. He doesn't wake Ed from his nightmares, though; it wouldn't stop them and his brother would look on them as a weakness. So instead Al whispers his brother's name when he is called and adds his own apologies when Ed speaks to their mother.
Sometimes Ed talks to Hohenheim. Al doesn't share Ed's resentment of their father, so he usually lets the mumbled tirades wash over him and senses the hurt behind the anger, and the love that hides behind the hurt. He can barely remember Hohenheim himself; only golden hair in the lamplight, shiny glasses that he liked to pull at and sad amber eyes. While Ed sleepily chastises their father Al wonders where he is and hopes they can meet someday.
Fortunately tonight Ed isn't talking to either parent, and Al is glad; tonight will probably be nightmare-free.
Ed mumbles something incoherent and shifts onto his back, kicking the covers down around his feet. His shirt rides up, exposing taut stomach muscles.
His tummy's out again, Al thinks. Brother never learns. There are a few tiny creaks when he rises, and Al tiptoes over to Ed's bed as quietly as his metal feet allow. He gently eases Ed's shirt down and tugs the covers back over his brother's sleeping form. Ed's hair is unbound and spilling over his shoulders, and Al reaches down and touches a golden lock.
"Al," Ed murmurs.
Al yanks his hand back, thinking he woke up his brother with his ministrations. But Ed's eyes are still shut as he rolls over onto his side and burrows under the blanket.
"...Get your body back," Ed whispers. "...won't stop 'til you're back to normal." He buries his face in the pillow and his voice is muffled as he continues, "I promise."
"I know," Al whispers back while he eases himself back down on the floor. "We'll get your body back too."
"Okay..." Ed's voice is thick with sleep. "You first, though... "
"Okay." Al figures there's no point in arguing with him - it's hard enough arguing with Ed when he's awake. He watches Ed's chest rise and fall, and listens while his brother's breathing slows to the even rhythm of deep sleep.
A few hours later Ed is dreaming again, but there is a smile on his face this time. "You're back," he breathes. "Al."
Al likes this dream. He scoots over and leans against the side of Ed's bed.
Ed reaches toward an imaginary face. "Al, is it you?"
"It's me, brother," he answers softly, careful to stay out of reach of Ed's questing hand. He'll have this dream too, Al decides, even though he can't sleep.
He wants it to come true just as much as his brother does.