Warnings for lack of subtlety, hurt/comfort, Ed/Al gen, TWT (or AU, if you prefer), broken ribs, and physics.
The First Law of Thermodynamics
Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed.
Ed has heard, more times than he can recall, that the basic principle of alchemy is that of equivalent trade. To get something, you must give up something of equal value. Matter and energy conservation. Ed knows these things, they’ve been drilled into him. He dreams in chemical formulas and complicated chalk drawings.
He thinks that the problem is that, in nature, equivalent trade is meaningless. Energy is conserved, but useful energy- energy that does work- dissipates into the environment. Energy is lost to heat, to light and sound. In physics, that science abandoned as mysticism a few decades ago, they’d always accounted for friction when doing their equations.
Ed doesn’t know why they never thought to apply this to alchemy. Energy in must be greater than energy out; you always end up losing. That’s why you can’t constantly do transmutation. Why, when you try to make one human body, two must be destroyed.
“Niisan?” Al’s voice slides inside Ed’s haze. “Are you doing alright?”
Ed glances up, eyes half-closed. He’s lying on the couch, almost dozing, and Al hovers above him like some bizarre nurse maid. Ed is bleeding, which is part of why his thoughts are shifting to the morbid, though that’s far from the only reason. “I’m fine, Al.”
“Are you sure? The bandages need changed soon. You got so hurt.... I can’t believe you didn’t think to block with your right arm.” Al lowers his face to Ed’s, doing a good impression of a glare, though he’s too concerned for it to work correctly. “How dumb can you get! And now three of your ribs are broken.”
Ed shrugs, awkwardly. It was a stupid mistake. They happen, but they shouldn’t, not to him. He’s too tired, right now, to be really pissed off at himself, but he will be. If he died, what would happen to Al? “It won’t happen again, ne?” He shifts his head to one side, and lays his cheek on the pillow.
Al makes an deep sound that is his approximation of a snort. “Yeah, I believe that. You’re so reckless, Niisan! This was just an average mugger, too. You must have been really spacing out.”
He’d been fixing a mosaic table that he had accidentally shattered, by bringing down his arm too quickly. He hadn’t realized the fragility. “I was distracted.” Mosaics required a lot of concentration, and he’d had to pay back his debt to the cafe owner. “He snuck up on me, while I was busy....” And the guy’d been dealt with, already. Ed was never a good person to fight, but injured and angry he took on all of the more dangerous qualities of a feral cat.
“This sounds like an interesting story. And you will eventually tell me, but first, your bandages need changed. They’re getting pink.” Al leaves, and Ed can hear him in the hallway, looking around for the spare medical supplies.
He glances at the wall; the top, near the ceiling, is water-stained. He thinks about painting it white again, but not seriously. It seems way too domestic, and besides, he’d need to get a ladder. Ed blinks, then winces. He doesn’t let himself follow that thoughtline any further.
He turns his head to the back of the coach, lifting his braid off the bloody towels beneath him. He notices, with slight surprise, that the coach back was damp. “Al! Get some water and soap, too! The couch is getting bloody, it’s going through the towels, too.” He feels a curl of pain above his stomach, and ignores it.
“I should have changed the wrappings earlier, I knew it! Why’d you distract me!” Al’s voice is loud but muffled. Ed doesn’t bother to answer, and closes his eyes. The painkillers were wearing off; he wasn’t allowed opiates because they might interfere with his breathing. Ed hates rib damage.
“Here it is.” Al set down the bandages and soapy water on the floor. “I’ll help you sit up, okay?” Ed grunted assent, and pushes himself up off the couch with his metal arm. He can lift straight with that one, since it’s stronger, and that puts much less pressure on the torso.
Al switches the towels for clean ones, and sponges the coach to try to get the blood out. He hurries, since he knows his brother’s position is uncomfortable, but it has to be done. They only have one couch, and it had been given to them by Scieszka when she had been clearing space for her books. They liked it. “Almost done.” Ed jerks his head in assent, eyes squinted. “All right. Done.”
“Should I stay like this so you can use both hands?” His voice is tight. The strain must be worse than it looks.
Al considers, and nods. “Yes. It will only take a few minutes, Niisan.” He strips the pink strips off, revealing the gagged gash of a large, dull knife. It cut through skin and muscles, almost nicked a lung, and crushes one rib. The other two just cracked from pressure. Al can be almost clinical, but not quite, so he takes a damp rag and covers the wound. He moves it gently, but can tell by his brother’s slightly hitches breathing that it’s getting inside. Al dabs antiseptic on the wound, and that pain is too superficial for Ed to even notice.
“Now to wrap you up again, ne?” He finishes the job, tucking the ends in at the top. It is neatly done; Al gets better and better at this the more he has to do it.
Ed lets himself fall back, hitting the coach and clean towels with a soft thump. The painkillers he got after he’d gone to the military hospital had worn off completely, but he knows he isn’t allowed more, so he doesn’t complain about it. Al doesn’t need to hear him complain to see. “You should try to go to sleep....”
“Can’t.” He doesn’t say why, because admitting pain is embarrassing. He gives another reason, one that’s almost as true. “I can’t stop thinking about those lectures Sensei used to give us on natural laws. You remember?”
“Yes.” Al remembers that Ed had hated those lessons, and the cold immutability of the laws. Knowing something and believing are two different things, especially for Ed. “You’re trying to distract me.”
Ed places his left hand on his stomach; feels his breath beneath it. “A little. Al, I can’t sleep. What can I do about it?” Al sighs, but shrugs in agreement. Ed thinks that he won this battle suspiciously easily, but he goes with it. “Can you hand me the book on the table?”
“The Various Theories of Elemental Recombination.... Heavy reading, Niisan.” He rises, passing the book over.
Ed rolls his eyes, then smiles. “Yeah, yeah.....” He opens it to a piece of torn paper with scribbled notes on it, and begins to read.
Al walks to the kitchen, and decides to make some soup for his brother to eat. Ed would probably handle real food, but soup always seems like the food for sickness, so he gets out what he needs.
Ed thinks it’s silly, how fussy Al is about exactly what ingredients should go in. Al insists on them buying the best vegetables, the best noodles, and to Ed, even though they have money to spare, it’s a waste. He doesn’t care how it tastes, and it’s not like taste is particularly applicable to Al.
Al takes this as another sign of his brother’s occasional stupidity. What you put in always affects how the dish turns out. Great food isn’t created by magic. Al shakes his head; it’s not important, really.
“Chicken soup okay, Niisan?” Al calls back to the living room. He hears laughter and an assent, so he puts on the broth to simmer.