Two boys, roughly his same age, had thrown some ice-cold liquid all over him as they'd passed. His blood felt like it had frozen in his veins, and it only took him about two seconds to put the pieces together.
"Welcome to school, loser!" One of them laughed obnoxiously. "Don't'cha know? We're the 'Welcoming Committee!'"
In light of all the things he'd been through that day, it wasn't surprising when Ed's fist practically moved on its own. Still, it might've occurred to him before his damn-good right hook slammed into the taller boy's face that fighting on his first day of military-suspension was a bad idea.
When Al had arrived at school that day to be faced with the sight of his big brother, dressed to the nines in an identical maroon uniform, a grimace marring his face as he complained loudly about Jackass bosses and unfair punishments, his first thought had not been a friendly one.
Oh god, Al had thought as the bottom of his stomach dropped out, what had the idiot done this time?
Ed was a handful, that much had been established. He was bossy, arrogant, loud-mouthed, short tempered and rebellious. Some mornings, all Al wanted to do was pull the blankets up above his head and ignore his older brother and all of the troubles that followed him around.
But then, half an hour later, when Al wouldn't emerge from his cocoon of pillows and Ed began to worry (panic) Al would remember. Dropping whatever he was holding, Ed would rush into the room, shake Al's shoulder and ask in that frantic heart-breaking voice what was wrong. And Al would remember. Gate, how had he forgotten?
Ed's rough exterior was only skin deep but the real Edward (the one that broke down in the rain when a little girl died, the one that transmuted flowers for their mother, the one that smiled that blinding smile and held him when the nightmares got too bad. The one that held the title of Hero of the People and, more importantly, older brother) was who he was, was the very essence of who Edward Elric was.
Al loved Ed, rough exterior and all (yes, even those days that made him want to smack his brother over the head). He was his big brother, he was Ed, and he was all Al had left although that title had become less true as time wore on and more people came into their life, Al would never stop referring to Ed as such. They weren't brothers. They were a team. And no one (no one) could get away with harming either of them without facing the other's fists.
So when Al had walked by Ed's classroom to collect the idiot and direct him to his next class only to see a group of about ten seniors jumping into a fight and tackling his brother to the ground, his reaction had been completely instinctual.
And then, an hour later, when he was seated before his Headmaster (Mr Waters) and his disapproving stare the words 'he's my brother' seemed to be a perfect explanation as to why he had participated in a fight. In Al's head, the words completely justified what he had done. His principle seemed to disagree.
"That was no fight," Mr. Waters hissed, "That was a massacre. That group is in the hospital,, Mr. Alphonse. One of them nearly died. Are you happy with yourself? I thought you were one of our top students! Responsible, intelligent and mature, you were the model student and now you pull a stunt like this! I am so disappointed in you!"
"I know. I'm sorry, sir," Al said softly, his eyes downcast.
"Hey!" Ed shouted, jumping to his brother's defense, "Leave Al out of this! This was my screw-up!"
"Yes, I am not denying that this all originated from you, Mr
" Mr Waters glanced down at his papers, "Edward, but your brother still has to take some credibility. He joined the fight therefore he is also held responsible."
"It did not originate from my brother, sir," This time, Al was the one to jump to the other Elric's defense, "The other boys started it!"
"Oh, really? Do explain."
"They slushied him, sir."
"They slushy all of the new students, Alphonse, and yet not one report of violence has ever been against filed against them before."
"No. No excuses. Mr Edward started a fight ther-"
"Brother doesn't understand," Al felt as though he was begging, trying desperately to plead with his principle to just try and understand the million piece puzzle that somehow fit together to make Ed. "Please, sir, he comes from the military! These kinds of things are second nature to him. If someone slushied a fellow military officer they'd be
"Beaten up? Crucified? Fed to the lions?" Ed supplied.
"Y-Yeah," Al shot Ed a half grateful, half bewildered look, "so you really can't blame him-"
"Oh, can't I?" Mr. Waters narrowed his eyes and straightened his stance. Alphonse may have been one of his best students, but collectively, the Elrics were beginning to grind on his nerves, "Watch me."
"Explain to me again how you managed to get given a black eye by a highschooler."
"Oh, shut up, bastard," Ed growled, ripping another piece off of his burger with his teeth, "There was about twelve of them."
"Well, you don't say!" Roy mocked, "Twelve? That must have been hard. How old were they? Thirteen? Gate, are you alright?"
"Shut up, Jerk."
"So what happened? Did they call you short? Honestly, Fullmetal, you need to understand that that's not an insult, it's a fact."
"I said, shut up," Ed hissed, "Its none of your business."
"Oh?" Roy leaned back in his plastic chair, his 'Colonel smirk' in place, completely out of place in a take away shop, "I believe it becomes my business when I have to take time out of my busy schedule to negate with your headmaster to stop you from getting expelled. How long did you last in that place?"
70 minutes but I told you, it wasn't my fault, they star hey! Stop laughing!"
Roy couldn't stop; he was slouched in his chair, clutching the greasy table edge for support as he shook with laughter. "You're hopeless, Fullmetal," he rasped, "What are we going to do with you?"
"Not send me back to school?"
"No," the laughter died down to a throaty chuckle, "No way. This is way to entertaining. And besides," he shot the shorter man a cocky grin, "You still haven't learnt your lesson yet."
"You still aren't over that?" Ed whined. "Come on old man, don't be cruel."
"No way, shrimp."
Biting down the sudden explosion of rage at the name, Ed choked out an angry, "Please?" When his superior failed to reply he lowered his voice even further, anger still lacing the tone, "Come on, don't make me beg. Have some mercy!"
"Mercy? Where's the fun in that?"
"Have some humanity!"
"Nope," Mustang grinned, popping the 'p' with lips.
Finishing off the last of his burger, Ed sighed heavily and said, "Look, I'm still pissed at you-"
"And after that stunt you pulled a few days ago, I'm pissed at you."
"-but," Ed continued, completely ignoring the interruption, "I am grateful. You managed to talk to that principle guy and get Al let off of the hook and I have to respect you for that."
Is that a thank you, Fullmetal?"
Ed coughed awkwardly into his sleeve. "Err, yeah. I suppose so."
"That's definitely a-"
"Hang on!" Ed suddenly shouted, Mustang's earlier words coming back to him. He frowned deeply and pointed an accusing finger at his boss. "What do you mean 'that stunt I pulled?' You were in on it too! If it wasn't for you and Hughes, none of this would have happened!"
"Huh?" Roy scratched his chin distractedly, "No
no, I don't remember that."
"You did! And that alcohol you-"
"Alcohol? I distinctly remember there being no alcohol."
"So you admit you were there?" Ed said as Roy's eyes darted nervously to the door.
"Well, it was nice talking to you," Roy said quickly, leaping to his feet and starting towards the front of the little take away store they had bought lunch from. "But I really need to get back to HQ. Paperwork to sign, Generals to meet, Hawkeye to avoid, you know, grown up stuff." He paused, his hand hovering over the door's handle. "No, I suppose you wouldn't know. Would you?" Roy grinned impishly. "Oh, and nice uniform, Fullmetal."
Al was used to being stared at. After human transmutation, people had stared at him because of the armor. After he had gotten his body back, people had stared at him because he was seen with either a group of military officers or with temperamental Ed. At school he was stared at because he was popular.
Growing up, Ed often commented on Al's personality. He had said (and still often did) Al had a certain charisma about him, one that people were instantly drawn to. Al had always smiled, thanked him and continued on with whatever he was doing, never really believing a word of it. But after coming to school, he had discovered that the other students had seemed to be drawn to him.
'Your smart,' Ed said nonchalantly when Al told him about his sudden fame at his school. 'Much smarted than any of those brats, so you get perfect grades. Add that with your personality thing-'
'Its called charisma,' Al had corrected.
'Whatever,' Ed continued. 'It doesn't matter. But add your brains, your personaliy, charisma thingy, your good judge of character and all of your Elric genes, no wonder the kids are falling all over you.' After that, Ed had paused and shot him a knowing grin. 'And I shouldn't forget your good looks.'
'Don't play dumb with me,' Ed had said coyly. 'I see the way Winry looks at you when you're training!'
It unnerved Al at first, but after a while he, like every over time, learnt to ignore the looks and the fact that most people knew who he was ('Its freaky,' Al had complained to his brother. 'Do you know I have fangirls?').
But this this was something different. Instead of admiration, his classmates stared at him with fear and anticipation, as though they expected him to suddenly snap and attack the person closest. People took wide steps around and he found himself completely alone in a crowded hallway.
And even though he hated the admiration, he mourned its loss. Perhaps his stardom would return, perhaps one day he would be able to walk down the hall and watch people part because they generally liked him.
But those days were gone and Al was diluted himself if he thought they weren't.
Because before (before he lashed out, before he protected his only family member, before he had thrown all of this weight and skill into a group of school yard bullies) the school was ignorant. Al was another genius, another friend, another face among the sea of hundreds. But now now, everyone knew just what he could do. They saw what he was capable of.
And that scared Al.
Walking down those halls, all eyes upon his retreating back, Al suddenly understood his brother's fear of teenagers.
It wasn't because he didn't understand them and didn't know how to act in a social situation (ok, it was, but it was something else as well). It was because they were worlds apart. Because humans (ordinary humans, ones that didn't know the entire periodic table off by heart when they were four) were such frighteningly fragile creatures that a single wrong move could break them. A single unplanned sentence about the horrors they had faced, could scare them, could scar them.
The students could see what Al could do and they were scared.
And now, so was Al.