There were, as always, cakes and candies and assorted sweet things. There was, because Tricia knew her son, no milk to be seen, but three different varieties of fruit juice had been set out in the good china cups, and all of Al's friends - not too many, because he was a quiet boy, but good ones - had cooed appreceatively at the spread. Winry and Ed stood to one side, Winry looking slightly nervous in her habitual way, Ed looking innocent as he devoured a cookie.
Al beamed at Ed as he puffed out all six candles in one single breath. There was clapping and cheering.
Tricia smiled and sat down in the armchair, surreptitiously fanning herself with a book Edward had left lying on the table. She was feeling oddly tired these days, but was doing her best to hide it. Besides, it wasn't hard to gain a little enthusiasm simply from watching her children. She was so proud of them, and they had so much, after all. Tricia felt herself smiling as Al carefully picked up a cup and picked up the pitcher of juice to refill it. It was really too big for his tiny hands, and he had an expression of intense concentration. Tricia let her eyes close for a moment, and there was an aborted scream.
Instantly, she stood up and opened her eyes, scanning the room for the source, but it was easy to identify. Al stood in the middle of the room, staring dismayed a splatter of juice on the floor- juice, shards of glass and china, and a small amount of blood. Instantly she began to spring to his side, but Al, clutching one hand in the other, let out a whimper and fled from the room before she could move.
Ed followed him almost at once, and Tricia allowed herself to relax, and remind the other guests to step away while she went to fetch some towels.
Ed found Al curled up against the side of the house, shivering. "Al," he said softly, reaching out a hand to put on his brother's shoulder.
Al looked up. His nose was red and his eyes a little puffy, but he wasn't crying. "Brother," he said, and seemed unable to find further words.
Ed considered for a moment, then sat down beside him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "It's okay," he said softly. "It's okay."
Al went still for a moment, then shivered again and truned in his arms, beginning to sniffle. "But - I broke it! Her very best cup! And I don't even know how! Mom will be so mad at me!" WIth each anguished exclamation, he tugged at his brother's sleeve and whimpered, seemily oblivious to the shallow cuts the breaking cup had left on his hand. It was hard for Al to be around groups of people, even people he liked, and so Ed wasn't really suprised he'd gotten so upset over something so small.
"It'll be okay," Ed told him, although he wasn't sure how. "It wasn't your fault." Nothing was ever Al's fault, in Ed's mind. Whenever the mischief was joint, he insisted on taking the blame himself, and when Al encountered misfortune through absentmindedness or ignorance, Ed would blame himself for being a poor teacher, or the world at large for daring to touch his brother. "Shhh. Shhh." He was getting blood on his shirt, but it was a red shirt, so it didn't matter.
Al eventaully quited down, and he whispered, "Really?"
"Yeah. Really. I'll make it okay."
Al's smile was like a sunrise, and Ed felt a tightening in his throat.
That night, Al snuck over to Ed's bed and curled up beside him, as they did on occasion, when one or the other of them had a difficult day. His hand was wrapped in white bandages; Ed had washed it and wrapped them inexpertly, and patted the tears away from his brother's face before they had gone back to the party.
"Thanks," Al said after a long moment of silence, his arms wrapped around his brother comfortably.
Ed didn't know what to say to that, so he didn't say anything, and just hugged Al back. He didn't want to say, It's what I had to do. But it was true. Al was his brother, and certian things went along with that, and always always making everything alright for Al was as natural for him as breathing.