At the dinner table I’m too concerned at first with eating, with drinking, with savoring these sensations I’ve lacked for five years, that I don’t immediately notice you watching me.
WARNINGS: Incest, angst
Notes: Companion piece to Gone from Al's PoV. I recommend you read that first, but it really isn't required to understand this one. Also, this is something like two and a half times as long. My Al muse was talkative. Enjoy.
Feeling is more glorious than I ever expected: your human hand bare, callused and battle-weathered, brushing away my happy, overwhelmed tears (ignoring the tears falling freely from your own eyes); your cornsilk hair against my cheek as you bury your face in the join of neck and shoulder, breaths hot and hitching; the rough slide of your red coat as you walk, carrying me to safety.
Scent is not as overwhelming, but it is pervasive. Where the coolness of your automail is evident even through your clothing, strange and new, the scent of you is the same. I couldn’t remember it, but smelling the sun in your hair and the dust of travel on your clothing and the sweat on your skin, and under that the unidentifiable tang of Brother brings it all back: years of sparring with you and against you, of playful wrestling matches before any formal training, of tackling hugs and the rough affection of young boys.
Senses are heady.
At the dinner table I’m too concerned at first with eating, with drinking, with savoring these sensations I’ve lacked for five years, that I don’t immediately notice you watching me. Your gaze is a physical presence, a weight, a pressure in the air, growing slowly until I look up and meet your eyes. There’s a feeling in them I don’t quite recognize, that doesn’t quite match the expression on your face, the smiling quirk of your lips that’s just a little sad, a little proud, but mostly overjoyed.
Your eyes are dark, shadowed not by a lack of light so much as by the size of your pupils, blown wide, wider than they should be with the room as well-lit as it is. I’ve had a long time to watch you, Brother, catalogue your reactions and expressions and the telltale hints to whatever emotions you feel but don’t want to show. What else could I do when I couldn’t touch you, couldn’t feel you?
And suddenly I want to: touch you. I want more than just my eyes to verify that you’re here, that I’m here.
I get up, leaving my simple meal half-finished, and walk around the small table with still-unsteady steps. You turn your chair to face me, and I stop in between your knees. I reach out to cup your cheek and your eyelids flutter shut. I brush my thumb against your cheekbone, against your lips, dry and chapped and worry-bitten. Your eyes open half-way to watch me.
I rest my free hand on your shoulder, grip the folds of your jacket in my hand, feel the unforgiving steel of your automail hard and solid against the pressure of my knuckles. I move my other hand over your face, memorizing it like a blind man, by touch: the bridge of your nose, the sweep of your eyebrows, the soft skin of your eyelids, slightly oily, the brush of your hair against your forehead and cheeks, the stubborn jut of your chin. I trace my fingers down, over the column of your neck, feeling your Adam’s apple, more developed now than when we were children, the strong cords of muscle on the sides of your throat.
You watch me, silent, gaze burning.
There is a rushing in my veins, hot and spicy and electric, and it takes me this long to place the foreign sensation: desire. I always thought, when I was in the armor and sexuality was a concept I didn’t—quite—understand, that you were beautiful. I can’t help but kiss you—you who has been my world since my birth, it seems, who has given more than just an arm for me (though an arm is more than enough), and who would have kept giving, if it was for me, if it was necessary for my happiness.
You’re stiff in my arms, surprised, even shocked, and hesitating. Your mouth is slightly open, but I don’t take advantage of it, have no need to do so, not when I belatedly recognize the unfamiliar in your eyes as desire equal to mine. I wait, and you shudder, breathe my name against my lips in one desperate whimper, and you relax all at once, an uncharacteristic surrender.
But that’s okay, because I’m surrendering to you as well.
I wake alone in bed, naked but clean. I panic; I can’t help it. You’re supposed to be here, especially after what we shared.
I quickly try to rationalize—you’re in the bathroom, you had to get a glass of water—but your spot is cold—you’re reading by the firelight in a different room, unwilling to wake me. Your frequent insomnia is nothing new to me, so I take a deep breath and shuffle out of bed. The floor is cold against my bare feet, making me cringe, but I don’t bother looking for slippers, simply wrap the bedsheet around me and go looking for you.
I find something else.
An empty house, and a note:
I’ll call when I can.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so betrayed.
I live in a state of vague panic and not-worry (I’m not worrying, I’m not, I’m not, I know how well you (can’t) take care of yourself) for a week, seven days that would been excruciating had I let myself think, had I let myself do anything more than go through the motions.
(You had wanted it, you had, I didn’t force anything on you, you wanted me as much as I wanted you, I felt it in the way you ran your palm down the center of my back, feeling each bump of my spine, in the way you planted small worshipful kisses everywhere you could reach, in the way you held my hips steady, firm and determined but never hard enough to hurt. What if I was wrong?)
“Hey Al, it’s—”
The rush of relief I feel at the sound of your voice is dizzying, and I have to sit down or I’ll fall. Anger—rage, pure and blinding—follows quick on its heels. My voice lashes through the phone like a whip: “Brother, where are you? It’s been almost a week! How could you leave like that? I woke up and you were gone! There was just a note! A note! I’ll call when I can. Brother, how could you?”
As quickly as it ignited, my fury burns out like a flare, leaving me empty, a suit of armor all over again, a shell with nothing inside. “Brother, how could you?”
Your silence is damning, and I haven’t even the strength to cry.
I do, later. When the stillness of the house settles into my bones and hollows them out like a bird’s. It doesn’t help. Tears never do.
Our next few conversations are stilted. You never tell me why you left, no matter how many times I ask, or wheedle, or cajole, or outright beg. Perhaps I did do something wrong that night, kissing you, but the only thing I regret is that I didn’t wake soon enough to stop you leaving.
“You should get a girlfriend.”
Your voice is tinny from the distance between us. I can never read emotion in your tone—you rarely allow yourself the luxury of it when speaking to me these days. The good conversations, I can hear fondness when I tell you an anecdote from my day. The bad ones are short and I hear nothing but words.
I think this will be a bad one.
I don’t understand any of this: why you left, why you won’t come back. If you had said no that night I would have stopped; if you say no now, I will never touch you again. I just want you here. I just want to see you.
How is it I’m jealous of a suit of armor?
In the silence between us your words echo strangely. You should get a girlfriend. I savor the sound. It’s all I have left of you. And I’m so scared that if I upset you one of these days, one of these awkward conversations, I won’t even have that.
And so I say, slowly, “All right, Brother.”
If I give you this, will you be happy?
I only want you to be happy.
Perhaps this is only Equivalent Exchange. Perhaps you were the cost of my body after all.
I meet her at the library. Not the State Alchemists’ library—I can’t get into that anymore, not with you gone, Brother, but the regular library. I’m looking at a book for gardening, because I have to do something and Mother liked to garden, and when the cats rip it up I can replant it. Gardens are easy to fix.
“Is that Beginner’s Guide to Gardening?”
I look up. My first thought is that she’s plain: brown hair pulled up into a low pony tail, shorter than I am, average size edging into chubby. She’s wearing a black knee-length skirt and an off-white blouse. But there is something lovely about her delicate pixie features, and her eyes are a clear, incredible blue, dark around the edge and with a touch of grey around the pupil. (These days, eyes are some of the first things I notice about people. Your fault, Brother, for having such beautiful eyes.)
Of course I am reading the book she wants. We make small talk, and she’s funny—the laugh startles me, because I can’t remember when I last laughed. It feels good. It feels, for a moment, like it’s not a chore to have a human body.
I ask her out for coffee, tempt her with the gardening book. She’s smiling when she says yes.
You never tell me your phone number. You know all of mine—I make sure, whenever you call, to give you the numbers of all the places I could possibly, conceivably be—but still I worry that I miss calls, especially with such a long gap between them. At first I asked—about a lot of things, about where you are and why you left and when you’re coming home—but I don’t anymore. You never answer anyway.
I didn’t plan it, falling in love.
I didn’t the last time, either.
A year is a long time. I tell you, “She’s really nice. I think you’d like her.”
I want you to say, I wouldn’t. She took you away from me.
You say nothing.
I never had you, did I?
And because I love her—I do, in the way brokenhearted people love, desperately, fearfully, with all the scraps of my soul I could wrest away from you—I say, “I like her. I think I love her. It’s been almost a year since we started dating, Brother, and I think…I think she’s the one.”
You speak, now, and I can’t tell if the slight choking of your voice is only static over the line. “Good for you, Al.”
You don’t say you’re happy for me. I’m not sure if I expected you to.
The wedding, I know, is beautiful. I know it in the abstract, because I helped plan it, tried devious ways to put off planning it and laughed with my fiancée when she reeled me back in. But when I am standing there before the altar—she’s not particularly religious, but she wanted a church wedding, because she likes churches, thinks they’re amazing, a tribute to what human hands can accomplish, and I obliged her—and she is walking down the aisle, all I see is her. She is wearing white, and she is exquisite.
You are somewhere, sitting in the pews, watching. I know this in the abstract, because I sent you an invitation and you replied (late), but I can’t feel your eyes. I think, later, when I have time to think about someone who is not my wife, that it was probably for the better.
There is something off in your expression when you answer my question, an intonation in your voice or a twist to your smile, and I almost don’t believe you.
I ask, “Are you happy?”
You answer, “Yes.”
But I am out of practice at reading your expressions. If it is a lie, I think you want me to believe it.
So I do.