Title: Night Light
Author: Jordanna Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Characters: Edward and Alphonse.
Setting: The bookending scenes are post-CoS, but the bulk of the story is a post-transmutation flashback.
Summary: He wasn’t afraid of the dark. He simply loved the light.
Disclaimer: They belong to the genius of Hiromu Arakawa. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Skybright Daye tagged the letter I in my alphabet fic meme with the prompt of Ed, Al, and iridescent. That word always reminds me of the beautiful stained glass my father worked with when I was very young—and that’s the inspiration for this story.
Much to Edward’s surprise, the hands of the clock had found their way around to three o’clock in the morning.
Ed set aside the book that was propped on his chest, and sat up on the edge of the bed, absently rubbing his left thigh. Recent cold and rainy weather left an ache in the junctures of his automail, but he had been lying still for so long that he now felt a bit of pins-and-needles numbness as well. He hadn’t looked up from his book since he came back from dinner.
With a thoughtful sigh, he glanced toward the hotel room’s other bed. There, an arm’s length from him, his brother Alphonse lay sprawled on top of the covers—sound asleep.
Once again, Ed permitted himself to simply indulge in that sight, his heart brimming with jumbled feelings of gratitude and contentment and an odd, vague ruefulness. Al’s face was turned toward him, mouth half-open, chest rising and falling with soft, steady breaths. His own book had fallen to one side, and lay tucked underneath his arm. He looked as peaceful as the child he still outwardly appeared to be, as if his soul was not years older than his body; as if he hadn’t seen and remembered so many terrible things.
Somehow, Al never seemed to waste a moment of his sleep on nightmares. He had too much lost time to make up for, after all.
Prying his eyes at last from that comforting tableau, Ed stretched wearily. He gave his pillow a few brisk slaps to knock it back into shape, and laid down on his left side. Steel fingers reached up to the lamp on the nightstand between the beds, and he shut it out with a faint click.
The room was not given over to darkness. This hotel was quaintly cheap enough to wear its name in large electric letters that ran down the side of the building, and the light of that sign spilled through the threadbare curtains. The narrow beds, tired wallpaper, and cigarette-burned carpet were all splashed with a pale pink-red hue.
Ed briefly studied the palm of his automail hand, the dull sheen of metal reflecting that morbid illumination. As his gaze shifted past his fingers to rest upon Al, a melancholy smile crossed his lips. Perhaps the scarlet glow that filled the room should have reminded him of Laboratory Five, of Philosopher’s Stones and human blood and souls torn from their flesh… but it didn’t.
The occasion it recalled to him instead was gently bittersweet—one of his earlier and more fondly cherished memories from their long struggle.
Seven Years Earlier…
As usual, Ed came up thrashing under tangled bedsheets, and was almost instantly aware of a pain that made him regret the violent awakening.
Metal scraped harshly beside him, and something fell upon his bare shoulder, turning him stone-rigid with fear. For an instant, his mind still saw and felt the touch of myriad inky, grasping fingers… but then he went suddenly limp with relief as he recognized that large, gentle hand, the leather palm resting tentatively against his skin.
Al was still uncertain in judging the strength of the armor. He didn’t yet trust himself enough to close his grip any more tightly.
Ed’s chest heaved with panting breaths. His heart was pounding, and he could feel the dampness of cold sweat—and he hurt. He hurt so much that he felt sick. Almost a week after his automail ports were surgically connected to his shoulder and thigh, his nerves still rebelled ferociously against their coupling with the mechanisms.
The nightmares didn’t help… and neither did the guilt he felt when he furtively glanced up at the faint, red-tinged gleam of Al’s gaze.
His disorientation began to pass, and as his eyes adjusted to the moonlight filtering through the window, the shadows in the bedroom seemed to settle around him. Awkwardly he twisted his arm upward, to clasp his hand over the gauntlet resting on his shoulder. It was a token gesture, because Al couldn’t feel it, and Ed wasn’t even sure he could see it in the dark.
“M’okay.” He sat up and curled into a ball, pressing his forehead against the solitary knee he hugged to his chest with his one arm. His breaths still rasped tight and ragged between his teeth, giving the lie to his assertion.
Neither the darkness nor the armor’s lack of expression were enough to stifle Al’s palpable disapproval. “You didn’t take your painkillers before bed, did you?”
Ed squirmed and made a muffled noise of discontent, and Al let out a sigh.
“Brother, I know you hate taking the pills because they make you sleepy… and you hate sleeping because of your nightmares. But you need to sleep, so your body can heal.”
Feeling a pang of hurt that was much more than physical, Ed raised his chin, but he didn’t quite meet Al’s gaze.
“Bad dreams aren’t the only reason I don’t like having to sleep.”
The sound he heard beside him then was a soft metallic clinking, the slightest friction of steel on steel, as a quiver of emotion passed through the armor. Al briefly gripped Ed’s shoulder again, a little more firmly this time; but he gave no reply before turning to the nightstand.
A bottle of pills rattled, and Ed felt leather knuckles bump against his own closed fist. “Here.”
Resignedly, Ed held out his hand for the two pills that were tilted into his palm. He put them on his tongue with a grimace, and swallowed them with a gulp of water from the glass Al lifted to his lips.
“Thanks, Al.” Ed fidgeted with chagrin as his brother fussily proceeded to fluff his pillow. “But you… you don’t have to do this. Sitting here all night playing nursemaid.”
Surprisingly, Al’s tone of voice was almost a chuckle. “Where else would I be? Everyone else is asleep too, you know.”
“Really, Brother. I’m okay.” Another light squeeze of Ed’s shoulder. “You’re the one who’s hurting. All I want is for you to get better.”
A lump caught in Ed’s throat as Al gently laid him back and tucked him in. His brother never would acknowledge that between the two of them, Ed was the luckier one—for the very reason that he could feel pain.
Having assured himself that Ed’s needs were met, Al rose from the bedside with a clatter of armor, and thumped over to a chair by the window. The moonlight was stronger there, and Ed saw him pick up a book as he sat down.
“You’ve been reading without a light?” Ed asked with a frown.
“Aunt Pinako said there shouldn’t be any distractions to bother you when you’re resting. I can see alright.” Al’s helmet bobbed in a gesture of wry ruefulness. “It’s not like I’m going to ruin my eyes, anyway…”
Ed stifled a guilty, aggrieved whimper. As he glanced away, his helplessly wandering gaze took in the deeper shadows on his side of the room.
His conclusion that he disliked the dark was reaffirmed. He never really had cared for it, but since the transmutation, he had found it even less appealing. He was a creature of solid facts and definitions, constantly testing limits, proving theories, seeking certainty in every answer—and darkness was uncertainty incarnate. It obscured his environment, left him guessing about what was really happening around him. It concealed the truth.
Not that there wasn’t a more visceral reaction just now, as well: a childish impulse that was perhaps excusable, given all he had been through. He knew perfectly well that those… those things were not lurking in the blackness, writhing under the bed, waiting for a chance to seize him in their tentacle-like grasp and tear what was left of his body apart—but…
“I wouldn’t mind it,” Ed murmured faintly. “I mean—the light.”
Al looked up from his book, helmet tilted thoughtfully; but he said nothing.
Within a short time, the painkillers had put Ed to sleep, and this time he slept dreamlessly until morning. Another day unfolded, a weary ordeal of pain and boredom and maddening helplessness, punctuated by all the unpleasant necessities of medical care. So early in the long journey of recovery, it seemed as if there would never be an end to it.
And his only reward for getting through the day was to face the night once again.
It didn’t help that Al was obscenely cheerful at bedtime. He bustled around the room, shelving the books Ed had carelessly jettisoned over the side of the bed, gathering Ed’s clothes for the laundry—all the while exuding a ridiculous brightness from within the walking metal nightmare that was his armor. Ed watched him with a rankling feeling of suspicious annoyance.
“Just what are you so happy about?” the elder brother asked moodily, when Al came at last to kneel beside the bed—to make him take his pills, no doubt.
Al unconcernedly proceeded to rummage through the bottom drawer of the nightstand. “Oh, just something I found today, while Aunt Pinako and Winry were busy checking your ports.”
Ed winced, remembering what the last something was that Al had found. “Al, please tell me it isn’t a cat. You know Pinako… said…”
He trailed off dumbly as Al found what he was looking for, and came up with an object cradled delicately in both hands.
It was a nightlight: a little lamp no bigger than a candle, its short pillar base equipped with a miniature light bulb. The bulb was screened by an elegant, fan-shaped flare of stained glass in shades of iridescent pink, swirled with misty sheens of violet and green and yellow.
“Don’t blame me for the color,” Al said as he set it on the nightstand, a smile plainly audible in his voice. “I think it used to be Winry’s.”
Struck speechless, Ed watched as his brother plugged the light into the electrical outlet next to the bed. Then Al switched off the regular lamp, and the bedroom was filled with a soft, rosy glow.
Finally, Al crossed the room to the window, to his chair and his book—and he brought them both over to the bedside.
“There,” he proclaimed in a tone of innocent satisfaction, as he settled onto the chair with the book in his hands. “You were right, Brother. This light is a lot better to read by… if it’s alright with you.”
He understood it all—and he had the grace to pretend otherwise.
And if the light betrayed the hint of dampness that glistened on Ed’s cheeks, Al pretended not to notice that, either.
From then on, Ed’s nights were almost never dark.
Even after they left Resembool, Al always arranged it so very artfully. If it wasn’t a campfire in the wilderness, or a fireplace in the home of some kindly person who gave them lodgings, it was a candle for Al to read by, or even a hotel lamp over which Ed’s coat was thrown with a strategic carelessness. He made it such an easy habit that neither of them ever needed to say a word about it. Light did benefit them both, after all; only psychologically in Ed’s case, but materially for Al. His penchant for nocturnal reading was certainly more than a mere excuse for a nightlight.
Of course, it was still necessary at times to be without a light, such as when they shared a room with someone who expected Al to sleep. But Ed really didn’t mind that. Not as long as Al was near him, and he could hear the soft creak of metal now and then.
He wasn’t afraid of the dark. He simply loved the light.
But then he was torn away from Al, and in the place where he found himself, even the midday seemed dark… and their father politely refrained from comment through those first few months, when Ed spent each lonely night curled up on the rug beside the hearth, often waking nervously to ensure that the embers of the fire still glowed.
It got better in time, but not much better—until Alphonse was by his side once more.
On the opposite bed, Al stirred and stretched in his sleep, shifting onto his side. His pale skin was warmed by the red glow that came through the window. Unconsciously he hugged his book to his chest, his lips gently curving upward in response to some pleasant dream.
Breathing out a peaceful sigh, Ed closed his eyes at last… and smiled as well.
His brother was all the light he had ever really needed.
© 2010 Jordanna Morgan