Sig was openly tender to Alphonse and Edward, but anytime Izumi caught herself displaying affection without her mask of Teacher stamped authority, she quickly put herself to rights and gave anyone watching a threatening not-a-word glare. Ed and Al still caught the warm looks she gave them when she thought they weren’t paying attention, but neither of them said a word about it – to her or to each other.
Despite the little moments of “weakness” Izumi showed, Edward and Alphonse rarely reciprocated the affection in such a manner. It wasn’t that they didn’t return the fond feelings, they just didn’t know how to express themselves to her without being sent outside for starting the carpet on fire (who knew vacuums could be so troublesome?) or sent inside for trying to cut the grass using alchemy (Izumi was right: alchemy should not be used for everything).
Eventually, though, their kind feelings toward Izumi showed through in a rather startling way. A way that left Edward close to fuming and Alphonse in tears.
It happened in the evening. Mason had scored a date with the local florist so he had taken her out for a fancy meal. That left Sig, Izumi, Edward, and Alphonse sitting around the table together at dinner. It had been a long day for the two boys, and for once they were arguing with each other like culture dictated was normal for two siblings.
“Stop poking me,” while still sitting, Ed tried to move his chair away from Alphonse.
Al gave him a pouting glare. “I will if you stop stealing my food. You have your own.”
“You already said you were full,” Ed reached over to grab Al’s bread roll.
Alphonse snatched it back, “That doesn’t mean you can take it.”
“Well, if you aren’t going to finish then who else is going to eat the rest of your dinner?” Edward reasoned.
“That doesn’t matter, it’s still mine!”
“But you don’t want it.”
“Yes I do, just not right now.” Under his breath, he murmured,
“Why do you always have to take everything that’s mine?” He raised his voice so Ed would hear. “Just because we’re brothers doesn’t mean we’re the same person. You can’t expect to eat everything for both of us. I need to eat too.”
Ignoring the valid complaint, Ed made another swipe at his brother’s plate. “Come on, Al, I’m hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” Alphonse scooted his plate out of Ed’s reach.
“I already had seconds.”
“And thirds,” Alphonse grumbled.
Indignantly, Ed crossed his arms. “Are you calling me fat?”
Alphonse drew out a falsely sweet smile and calmly replied, “No, but maybe you should try to be less obvious in your efforts to grow, Edward.”
“DID YOU JUST CALL ME SHORT?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“That’s enough, both of you,” Izumi snapped. The bickering stopped immediately.
Edward glowered at the table and grumbled, twirling his fork in one hand. He didn’t feel the need to apologize, but ever the sweet hearted child with an oversensitive guilt complex, Alphonse did.
Shocked silence absorbed the sound from every corner of the room. After a second, Edward turned to stare at Alphonse who shrank down in his chair at the attention as he realized his mistake.
Simultaneously, Edward and Alphonse turned their attention to Izumi, both of them sure she was going to murder Al for insinuating that she was old enough to be their mother. Even Sig was watching his wife with an expectantly tense and worried expression.
Izumi’s expression morphed from stunned to impassive. She didn’t say a word.
The silence shifted from deafening to crushing. Scared and apologetic, Al stuttered, “I– I’m sorry. It just slipped out. I’m sorry.” His lips moved in an effort to continue, but no sound emerged. Al’s gaze dropped to his lap.
Edward gauged Izumi’s expression and his own brother’s predicament, trying to figure out how to safely dispel the awkwardly unnerving tension that filled the room. He glanced at Sig for help, but he was too focused on deciphering Izumi’s expression to notice. Ed took the initiative to get Alphonse out of potential danger, although he was upset with Al himself so he might not be doing his brother a favor at all.
Grabbing Al’s shaking hand, Edward tugged him off his chair. “Uh…let’s go through our physical workout one more time before bed.”
They left the room quietly but not without haste. Edward led Alphonse outside and slammed the front door behind him. He was frustrated with Al and frustrated Izumi and frustrated with himself. Alphonse sat on the front porch steps and curled into himself as Edward exclaimed, “She’s not our mom, Al. No one can ever replace Mom.”
“I know,” Alphonse sniffed, trying to sound angry at Edward for yelling at him. “That’s not what I meant when I said– I’m sorry, okay? It just slipped out.” He attempted to sound tough like someone who wasn’t still hurting and traumatized about watching the most important person in his life slowly die in front of him. For all his efforts, all Alphonse could do was try to hide his face in his arms as he started to cry.
Ed froze, all his emotions evaporating and leaving him behind with a heavy, cold ball of guilt in his stomach. Had he done this to his little brother? Had he made Alphonse cry?
Slowly, hesitantly, Edward sat on the step next to Alphonse. Ashamed, he muttered, “I didn’t mean to yell. Sorry.”
Alphonse cried for a while longer without lifting his head, but at length he rested his head on his arms and observed Ed. His brother’s head hung shamefully and one finger traced perfectly round circles in the dust while he waited for Al to calm down.
Gradually Edward became aware that Al was watching him.“Are you okay?” he asked tentatively. Ed had never been very good at verbally comforting people.
Alphonse nodded somberly. “I just forget, sometimes, that she’s not here anymore.”
Edward gave Al a reassuring smile. “We’ll change that soon.”
Alphonse paused before nodding emphatically.
Then, with a groan, Edward mimicked Al’s posture and mumbled into his arms, “What’re we going to do now? Teacher’s going to kill us!”
The boys left quickly, anxious to get out before Izumi decided to display some form of emotion. Concerned by his wife’s behavior, Sig placed a hand over hers.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
Izumi sat still, but her eyes trailed along the path the two Elric children took to escape her presence. In a soft whisper she reverently repeated Alphonse, “Sorry, Mom.” Staring at the door they had exited, Izumi bit her lip and smiled.
Neither family was complete – two boys missing their mother, two parents missing their child. Even living in the same household was not enough for them to create a family, even a haphazard one. What it took was the little moments where affection overruled reason and Izumi showed the young Elric brothers that they could be loved by more sets of parents then one. In this way, Edward and Alphonse pieced together a family with Izumi and Sig Curtis thereby securing for themselves a home where they would forever be loved.