"I never knew the nights were this long. Before this, I always spent my nights talking with brother about alchemy, about our future...and once we got tired from all the talking, we'd fall asleep and dream of happy things. One night seemed so short then. Now one night feels so... so awfully long." Alphonse Elric, chapter 43
~ -:- ~
Edward Elric loves to sleep.
After all, spending every day traveling, researching, chasing leads and getting into various kinds of trouble can get a bit tiring. And he once heard that getting a good night's rest helps you grow, so what he misses from his issues with milk he makes up for in sleeping hours. (In his reasoning, anyway.) He doesn't care anymore where he tucks in for the night; he'll sleep on anything from couches to cold, hard ground, with only a tuft of grass for his pillow. Arms beneath his head, tucked by his chest or sprawled every which-way, mouth slightly open in a gentle snore, shirt rumpled upwards just enough to expose a bit of skin...he treasures every minute of unconscious bliss.
But there is one day out of the whole year when he refuses to let his eyes close. Instead he sits with the hollow suit of armor beside him, the shell with the gentle voice of his little brother inside, and keeps vigil all through the night.
Alphonse rarely says anything, but Ed knows. He knows his brother longs to taste cake and ice cream again, to wrestle and play with the other boys in soft, grassy fields, to know again the simple happiness of receiving ordinary presents, real presents...not just another can of oil for the armor's old hinges.
Truth can be a terrible thing; even more so when it is mixed with subtle deceit. There isn't a day when a ghostly thread of guilt doesn't creep through the cold of his automail and whisper to him: he can't taste, can't smell, can't feel...can't cry, can't smile, can't sleep...because of you. Your fault, your mistakes, your sin. He can't. He can't.
Then, like the glint of sunlight reflecting off the firm, silvery surface of Winry's handiwork, the hope and determination within him outshine the dark whispers:
But someday he will. He will.
So Edward celebrates both their hope and his brother's birthday in the best way he can: to sit next to him, count the stars with him, talk with him, be with him...so for at least one night, Alphonse won't have to spend the long, wakeful hours alone.
And every year, the conversation eventually repeats itself. Alphonse will hesitate before venturing,
"Ed? You don't have to stay up all night, you know. Take a two-hour nap, at least..."
"Don't give me that," comes the hot retort. "No one should have to be up all alone on their birthday night; least of all you, Al. So don't even start."
"Come on. It's been a long day and I know you're exhausted."
"Are too. You just yawned."
"...No, I didn't."
An exasperated sigh follows. "Why? Why do you always do this? There's nothing wrong with meeting your own, basic needs; it's okay. Why do you deprive yourself like this every year?"
Hard obstinacy tinges Edward's voice as one by one, he counts the reasons on his gloved fingers. "Because it's your birthday, you're more than worth it, and making you happy makes me happy, and I want to stay up with you. It's as simple as that. And besides," he sometimes adds, moonlight and distant bittersweetness in his eyes as he turns his face to the sky, "if it was me stuck in that tin can...I know you'd do the same."
It is then that the two points of light slowly brighten within the armor, glowing warmly in an unseen smile. A few seconds of sacred quietness pass between them as they gaze together at the ocean of stars, and then the young voice murmurs,
And Edward will simply smile back and say,
"Happy birthnight, Al."