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After the Storm Passes

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When Al woke, he woke to the soft rush of rain against the window and distantly, voices indistinct through the walls. Morning now or late evening. The sky was dark, black with rain, and the window rattled in its casing as the storm drove against it. His mouth was dry, his lips cracked; absently he licked them.

He stilled. Beneath his hands, the sheets were warm and tousled where he'd pulled at them in sleep. His toes were cold, sticking out from beneath the blanket. They were long now, his toes, and pale. He curled them. His heart fluttered.

Not a dream.

He closed his mouth. His teeth clicked together; they caught his tongue. He tasted: saliva, sticky in his sleep-dried mouth. Blood.

In the darkness of that small room he felt his face with thin hands. Bones, sharp and thick beneath the skin, so cool to the touch. His fingers shook, weak. He pressed them together, pressed them hard against his cheeks, hard so his knuckles ached. Not a dream. Not a dream. He covered his eyes.

Those distant voices neared; they cut through the pounding of the rain.

Edward's roar rose, suddenly close: "Oi! Little girl! Where do you think you're—"

The door swung open and May shot through in a flurry of pink cloth and long, dark braids. Al dropped his hands. She stood there at the threshold, oblivious to Ed's threats, and then she said, "Mister Alphonse!" and threw herself upon him. The breath rushed out of him. For a girl so small, May was strong, and he'd known that when he was armor, he had, but he felt it now. He felt—

Her arms around his chest were tight, so tight; his ribs ached. They ached.

"Mister Alphonse," said May, "Mister Alphonse. I'm so— I'm so pleased you're—"

Her face was wet against his throat, wet and hot and sticky now, and at his back her hands knotted in his nightshirt. She smelled very strongly of baked apples and faintly of cinnamon and something else he had yet to relearn.

Very carefully he lifted his hand and rested it in the place between her shoulders, which trembled beneath his touch. The silk of her jacket was smooth, slick on his fingers and warm, too, with the heat of her skin.

"Hello, May," he said. The light rasp in his throat, the nearness of his voice, the flatness of it: it startled him still.

May tightened her arms around him, then pulled away. Her eyes were red, but her mouth was set; her hand at his back was steady. His heart fluttered again, uneven in his chest.

"I'm so pleased you're safe, Mister Alphonse," said May.

"Me, too," said Al. "I mean. I'm really happy you're safe, too."

May smiled: her eyes crinkled, her cheeks rounded, her teeth flashed. Under his hand, her back was warm, the silk bunching between his fingers. She leaned forward.

"And," said May, her face reddening, "I'm really, really happy you got your original body back, Mister Alphonse!"

He flushed and felt it, the heat in his face, the disorienting heaviness in his head. His tongue was too thick in his mouth. Even in the dark, May's eyes were bright.

The door rocked against the wall and May jumped, falling back against his legs. Al's back twinged when he twisted.

"Oi!" roared Ed. "Get off my brother, pipsqueak! What, are you trying to kill him? And call off your stupid cat!"

He shoved his fist out at them. Xiao Mei gnawed at his wrist, blood red between her teeth. May frowned at them both. Her nose wrinkled.

"Xiao Mei," she said, "you shouldn't eat that! You'll get sick."

Ed convulsed, stricken with rage and incoherent with it.

"Hey, hey," said Al, "big brother, be careful—"

In the thin light which spilled in from the hall, the metal at Ed's shoulder gleamed.

"Big brother," said Al.

Ed lowered his arm, Xiao Mei still dangling from his hand. He had that sort of look on his face, that I'm gonna say this once and if you make me say it again I'm gonna punch you in the mouth look. Ed threw his shoulders back, both of them: one flesh, one automail.

"Don't," said Ed. He stabbed his finger at Al. "Don't be sad."

"Big brother," said Al again.

"Don't," said Ed, like he could change it all on his own.

Al tightened his hands in the sheets. The thinness of his own wrists— His arms ached with it, too weak even for this.

May rested her hand over his. Her fingers, her palm, all of it so small. Strong, too.

"Please, Mister Alphonse," she said.

He looked down to her hand on his, his fingers beneath hers, the fullness of her fingers against the stark bones in his hand. He looked to Ed.

"But big brother," he said. "Ed," he said, "your arm— Your leg—"

"Don't be sad," said Ed, fierce, "because I'm not."

Here came Xiao Mei, snuffling at the edges of the bed. May smoothed her fingers down Al's hand. His head ached, too heavy and too light, dizzy. It wasn't fair, he wanted to say, it wasn't fair that only he got his body back, and even if big brother wasn't sad, that didn't, that didn't make it—

But his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and he coughed instead.

A hand settled on his brow. Ed smiled down at him. "Hey, little brother," he said. "Now that you've got that body back, you have to take care of it. You got that?"

May, too, smiled at him. "You should drink some water, Mister Alphonse," she said. "You've been sleeping for a very long time."

"Yeah," said Ed, "and hurry up! Everybody's been waiting to see you again."

"Big brother is so impatient," said Al and Ed punched his shoulder, not hard. It stung anyway.

"Come on!" said Ed. "And put on some pants before you get out of bed, too." He sneered. "There's a lady in here. You wouldn't want her to see—"

"Oh!" said May. "You would dare impugn Mister Alphonse's honor? Mister Alphonse would n-never—" She covered her face and turned away, her cheeks showing red between her fingers.

Ed cackled; his tongue flashed between his teeth.

"You shouldn't say such rude things, brother," said Al. He felt the flush creeping up his neck again; he felt it hot in his face.

Ed shrugged it off. He dropped his hand back down on Al's head, the weight of the automail lightened by the gentleness of his touch.

The bed shifted: May slipped down to gather Xiao Mei in her arms. Her face was pink still, but her small shoulders even, and when she looked up to Al, she met his eyes. She smiled shyly at him.

"Don't be sad," said Ed again.

The rain pattered against the window, gentler now, the storm passing. Ed's hand was warm and so, too, was May's smile. Al's eyes itched. He was tired. He was tired.

"Okay," said Al.