Al gets sick.
Bodies are strange.
See, Al didn’t have a body for five years. It’s an odd thing, not having a body. The armor didn’t count as one, not really, not where it matters.
Al’s attempted to explain it to Ed countless times, before and after he got his real body back. He says things like, “It’s like being trapped in water, and you can’t breathe, except you don’t feel yourself not breathing even when you think about breathing.” He tries, “When you fall really hard and for a split second you don’t feel the pain and everything’s dizzy, you just lie there not moving, it’s like that, except you can think perfectly clearly.” He explains, “It felt kind of like being in a closet that’s locked shut, with everything all dark, but you can’t feel the floor underneath you or the wood against your back and you can see just fine anyway.”
Ed's never understood. Al doesn’t blame him. Not feeling was the only thing Al could feel, in a funny kind of way, but that’s something his brother will never have to know. Ed has spent way too much time putting burdens on his shoulders he refused to let Al carry, even though Al hadn’t feel exhaustion or weight. At least this one, tiny thing is a weight Ed won’t be able to take from Al.
Anyway, bodies are strange.
When you don’t feel things for five years, feeling them again is a little overwhelming. After the whole Promised Day thing, Al still had his list of foods to try (still does, in fact), but he couldn’t eat anything more than unflavored oatmeal and water for a while. He’s gotten a little better with foods, but things spiced just a bit too much still send him into shock.
Unfortunately for him, that still includes cinnamon, so apple pie is off the table for now.
Sunlight, blankets, skin-on-skin, his own hair on his neck. Little things. They’re good - they’re so good. Al kind of hopes he never loses the wonder of it all. The first time he’d held a kitten (Riza had snuck it into the hospital for him, and he swears up and down that that woman is a goddess), he’d cried, and the tears on his face had been just as much of a sensory overload as the kitten’s soft fur.
There’s a little bit of a drawback to this whole feeling thing, though, and that’s the whole ‘pain’ part of it. Good stuff feels really good, but bad stuff feels really, really bad.
He’d been sheltered by shock for the first few hours of having a body. His nerves had still been firing up, connecting, relearning how to be real.
But then he’d been lying in a hospital bed, revelling at how strange bedsheets felt, when they’d put a needle into his arm and he’d screamed.
He doesn’t really feel fifteen, though he’s not really sure how people are supposed to feel at fifteen. But Al’s a smart kid. He knows they’ve been through some pretty messed up stuff, and he knows trauma does weird things to peoples’ heads. So he knows he’s not really like most other fifteen year olds.
But that’s okay, because most fifteen year olds aren’t really like him. Al has done a lot of cool things and met a lot of really cool people. He’s met monsters who were actually people, and he’s met people who really were monsters. He’s met fuhrers and princes and princesses (and as soon as he was well enough, he was going east to see Mei again, and the smile that crosses his face at that thought is certainly a good feeling), he’s met scary generals and scarier teachers and weird alchemists and good soldiers and the sweetest little girl and her dog, and the kindest father ever. He’s met his own father, too, because, well, yes he technically already knew Hohenheim, but it is a little different when you find out your dad was actually centuries old and made of half a country’s worth of souls.
Plus, Al helped save Amestris.
That’s pretty awesome.
Al doesn’t have a baseline for things. The doctors try and give him one, try and coach him through it, and he likes to think he’s getting better. But still, he knows things are skewed for him. Stubbing a toe feels like dying, and he’d laid in bed for half a day the first time it’d happened. Ed had worried by his bedside the entire time, and it’d been kind of funny - an odd sort of role reversal, where Al was in pain and Ed had been stuck, useless, by the bedside.
He also cries when he has lemonade, the sweet sour cold an explosion of pure delight in his mouth, so.
(Is this why Winry is always crying?)
Al’s new to the whole body control thing, but he's not blind and he's certainly not dumb. He knows Jean’s legs and Mustang’s eyes didn’t just make a miraculous recovery. Al knows Marcoh feels a lot of guilt for what he did, and that some people work through that guilt in different ways.
He doesn’t blame Jean, Mustang, or Marcoh for their choices. Al knows he'd never make those choices himself, but he gets it. He gets it more than Ed does, maybe, so when Ed had seethed, Al had merely reached out to grab his brother’s hand, the warmth a novelty that will never get old, a warmth that can almost chase away the heaviness in his chest.
Going home to Resembool on his own two legs (plus a cane, but shh) had felt like paradise. His limbs still wobbled and burned, and there’d been a heaviness in his chest he didn’t remember feeling earlier, but he wasn’t worried. He’s still finding and cataloging new feelings (his tongue in his mouth, his eyelids blinking, he’d stood still for thirty minutes and just felt his stomach growl once), and besides, this had been the most physical exercise he’d had since getting his body back. Turns out trains are really uncomfortable.
And then he heard Winry, and put any thoughts about that weight out of his mind.
Sometimes Al dreams of being locked in the armor again. He dreams of being trapped in the white void again. He wakes up crying, but that’s okay, because he can feel the tears, and that means he’s alive.
They’re also a distraction from the weight pressing into his lungs, that just keeps getting worse and worse. He doesn’t remember this from before the armor, but he also knows he feels everything more strongly than he did, so. It doesn’t matter, anyway, because the pain is worth everything else.
Al sleeps a lot.
Ed and Winry tease him for it. Pinako says he’s just catching up on years of lost sleep, but he notices her worried glances.
Pinako has always worried too much, though.
Milk tastes nasty. Milk tastes the way a bruise feels, throbbing and sour, lingering far too long in his mouth. But he will be damned if he lets Ed know how much Al hates it now.
It’s taking him longer to recover than the doctors expected, but they also say that this shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Al’s situation is unique - there’s no precedent. They tell him to take things at his own pace, to eat healthy and exercise. They tell him that the clean air of Resembool and the family around him are the best things for him now.
Food still tastes as good as it did in the beginning, but it doesn’t feel great in his stomach. He’d read once, somewhere, that digestion was actually super painful, and the body just had ways of making it not hurt. Al figures it’s just his over-simulation thing and doesn’t say anything, because he has a body, this is what his brother sold his life to the military for, sacrificed his arm for, what he spent his alchemy on. Al can handle the heaviness in his chest, the way his head aches some days, the sour screaming in his stomach and the way exhaustion seems to come on so fast.
Because Al gets to pet Den, eat Pinako’s stew, hug Winry, gets to feel the warmth of his brother’s hand.
Al gets to cry, and that makes everything worth it.
Maybe Al should be jealous of Ed. Jealous that Al lost everything, and Ed only got an arm and a leg taken from him.
But the thing is, when you have everything taken from you, you clutch desperately to what you still can hold onto. Al had once lost his eyes, his ears, his touch, his taste. He lost his arms and his legs and the little scar he got when he fell down the stairs and he lost the way his hair curled just a little in that unruly way when he woke up after sleeping with wet hair.
Al had once lost all that, but he’d refused to lose his humanity. He’d still been human, no matter what anybody said, and if all that meant was that he could care about people, then he’d damn well care about people. Life was a precious thing, and he’d take care of that, as best he could.
That’s a little off track, but Al still has a tendency to let his thoughts wander. Too many long nights, keeping guard beside his brother’s bed.
His point is, he refuses to let himself be jealous or bitter. If the only way Al could have been human while in the armor was to love, than he’d decided to love. And that had been, and still is, so easy. Ed is so human, so strong, his smiles are so wide and his alchemy is (was) a tidal wave and he exudes so much life that he always made (makes) Al feel alive just by being near him.
The whole alchemy thing, though? That, Al feels a little bad about. He wouldn’t have minded suffering through the armor a little while longer till they found a better solution. (He always lets his mind helpfully leave out the part where he may not have survived that long. He’s allowed that luxury.)
One day, Al can’t get out of bed.
Ed, who seems to have an actual allergy to the phone, starts calling people. Knox and Marcoh are there as soon as they can be. Izumi and Sig aren’t far behind.
Knox says it’s unsurprising, given that Al’s immune system must be shot. Marcoh says that Al’s body had spent five years in the most clean, pure environment possible, of course he’d get sick in the real world, especially as weak as he is. Knox says that this whole thing is unprecedented, and that of course they’ll start treating him, but they have to be very careful, as they aren’t sure what exactly is wrong with Al, and they don’t really know how his body will react to stronger medication.
Izumi and Sig don’t say anything at all. Which isn’t surprising for Sig, but is discomfiting from Izumi. Al had expected a lecture about how he clearly isn’t keeping his body in shape like she’d taught him, but all he gets is her sitting by his bedside, her warm hand on his shoulder.
It’s nice. Really nice, actually. It reminds him of mom, and his eyes drift closed.
Al doesn’t remember being in the white void, next to the Gate.
Well, he remembers being there when they’d tried to bring mom back, and he remembers going there in his armored body those times, but he doesn’t remember the five years.
So he doesn’t remember making his body talk, either. He supposes that means it was Truth who did it. Which, well, okay, since Truth is all and all is one and Truth is one and all that, so technically Truth is him, and that means it was technically Al talking through his body, right? But that also means that Al is everybody, and he doesn’t much like that. Kimblee destroying Ishval, Tucker mutilating Nina, Hughes’ dead body crumpling to the ground, all the souls screaming in Father’s hand -
Al wakes with a start, breathing heavily, his chest crying out with the effort.
Immediately, Ed is right there, his sun-bright eyes frantic with worry. Al frowns, because that’s not right, Ed isn’t supposed to worry anymore. That was supposed to be over. Al grabs Ed’s hand and smiles, because it’s Al and it’s Ed and they’re together, and this is the ending they’d all wanted. Al can feel the tears on his cheeks and he smiles.
Knox asks him how he feels, and Al groans internally, because he’s never been able to explain to anyone how he feels. But he tries. He thinks hard, and he remembers Pride, curling inside his body. Martel had been awkward but bearable, but Pride - he’d felt Pride, kind of. A curling smoke that gripped every facet of his being and controlled him. Gas filled the volume of the container it was in, and that was how Pride had felt, overshadowing him.
That’s kind of what having a body feels like, Al explains. Kind of like there’s something else controlling him, except he can feel everything this time. He explains about how his chest feels like lead and how his head feels like a bruise and his limbs don’t really want to lift anymore.
He feels dread rise in his throat as he explains - not because he’s sick, or because he’s worried for himself. It’s just that Al hates the way Ed looks ill, the worried glint in Marcoh and Knox’s eyes. He hates Winry’s tears, even as he’s still grateful he can feel the hot burn of his own.
Al is grateful, he rushes to add. This hurts, but it doesn’t hurt that bad, things just hurt a little worse for him. He just needs some rest and he’ll be okay.
Ed leaves the room without saying a word, and Al’s hand feels a little cold.
The next time Al wakes up, he can’t control his body. It’s terrifying, and it’s familiar, and it’s terrifyingly familiar. He spends a interminable amount of time struggling to gather himself, and slowly noises start to filter in.
He grasps at them, especially as one registers as Ed’s voice. Ed, arguing, and that’s a more comforting familiar.
Ed is arguing with Marcoh, and Al lets the argument wash over him - Marcoh says he doesn’t have something, that Al wouldn’t want it, and Ed says that this is Al’s life, and it sucks but-
“No!” Al yells, horrified. “You can’t! You can’t use one!” He can’t think around the fear and disgust welling in his throat. “You promised, Ed, you promised we wouldn’t use the Stones, you promised, I have to stay human, I have to keep caring, being human is all I have, please-“
Ed’s face fills his vision, his hands on Al’s, and Al clutches them as best he can.
“I know, I’m sorry, Al, I’m sorry, I wasn’t serious, I’m just scared,” Ed’s golden eyes glitter with tears, and Al knows he’s crying himself. “I love you, Al, I love you so much-“
Al can’t keep his eyes open. He falls asleep again.
After this, Al can’t manage to stay awake long. He vaguely remembers faces and voices - some more common than others. Ed is a constant. Winry and Pinako, Teacher and Sig, Knox and Marcoh, but also he’s pretty sure Armstrong shows up more than once, as do Jerso and Zampano, Mustang and Hawkeye, with Jean, Breda, Falman, and Fuery. Gracia and Elicia, he thinks, come by often. There’s more, too, but he isn’t sure they’re real. He sees Mei often, but in Al’s more lucid moments, Ed says they had to send letters across the desert, and they haven’t heard back yet. Ling ‘visits’ too, as do Scar, Greed, Fu, Olivier, Paninya, Buccaneer, even Nina and Hughes, and Al is pretty sure those aren't quite right.
Al doesn’t feel a lot of good things anymore - he feels a lot like the sour bruise of the flavor of milk in his mouth, except so much worse. It’s like Pride is made of knives and lead, but still creeping through him, pounding his Morse code against Al’s head. Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot.
But Ed is always there, and Al can still feel the warmth of Ed’s hand, and he can still feel the tears on his own face. So it’s okay.
These are the things that matter, after all.
“It’s not fair,” he hears Ed say, sobbing. Ed isn’t supposed to sob. Ed is supposed to clap his hands and turn his arm into a sword and rush at whatever is making him angry. But Ed can’t do that anymore, so maybe that’s why Ed is crying.
“I’m sorry,” Al rasps out, the words like a thousand glass shards. “I’m sorry, brother.”
“No, no, no,” Ed cries. “No, Al, brother, don’t be sorry, please - I love you so much, you know that, right? I love you. You’re so strong, I’m so proud of you. You can make it through this, brother-“
Make it through? Through what? It’s true he’s in pain. But that’s just equivalent exchange, right? He has a body. He saved so many people. This is okay, because he got good back. Al is okay with this.
He isn’t okay with Ed crying, though, so he makes the effort to speak once more. Just the important things. “I’m sorry, Ed,” Al says. “I love you.”
Al smiles, because he can feel his own tears on his face - he can feel Ed’s tears on his face. He smiles because he can feel Ed’s hands in his own.
“It was equivalent,” Truth says, and Al sighs.
“I guess,” Al says, “and I’m not complaining for myself. I got what I wanted. But now brother is going to blame himself, you know? I’ve left him alone. There’s no one to knock any better sense into him.”
Truth’s fuzzy, staticky form shrugs. “It all evens out. It all has to even out.”
“It doesn’t seem like it is,” Al says. “There’s a lot of bad. But I guess there’s a lot of good, too. I just… I wish I could have changed things. Made something different than equivalent exchange. Give more good than I got.”
Truth buzzes. “Hm. A nice thought. But all is one, and one is all, and the scales have to even in the end.” Truth holds out its hand, except it isn’t Truth’s hand. It’s Ed’s, so Al takes it.
The warmth is the last thing he feels.
whenever you want to do something great, something good, something that changes things, a sacrifice is always demanded.
you know that better than anyone.