Mom had always cut their hair for them, before — but when she got sick — when her hands started to shake — she couldn't do it any more. So she taught Al how to cut Ed's hair, and Ed how to cut Al's; she watched them that first time, demonstrating how to hold the scissors and comb the hair down so everything could be cut evenly.
It was like a little part of their mother every time they cut each other's hair after that. They sat down on the last day of every month and trimmed the long ends the same way Mom had, and they told each other stories to keep themselves entertained while they sat still.
"Winly told me you wouldn't let her cut your hair," Pinako observed as she unwound the bandages around Ed's leg stump.
Those days, Edward's moods swung badly, sliding between mania and depression and back. Today, his gaze lowered, and his fingers fisted in the sheets of the bed. "Yeah," he muttered, his eyes dull. His shaggy hair brushed the back of his neck.
"Why?" Pinako kept her tone mild. "Did you want to let your hair grow out?" It seemed unlike him; he had always liked his hair short, and Al had always liked his hair shorter — although he didn't have any, now. Pinako shook her head slightly at the foolishness of these children. She could only hope the consequences could be reversed, and they would not be cursed with these deformities their entire lives.
Edward's jaw flexed. "Al's the only person who can cut my hair," he answered, frowning. "He's the only person who can do it right."
But what he didn't say — what they both knew — was that Alphonse couldn't cut Edward's hair, not yet. He fumbled baskets and crushed apples in his large hands; he sometimes caught one foot behind his armor leg and crashed to the ground for no reason at all. He had no sense of his own strength or of coordination. It would take time for his mind, such as it was, to adjust to his size.
Pinako nodded. "I understand," she said softly, examining the scabbed, clotted end of Edward's stump. It would heal, but that, too, would take time. "Alphonse will appreciate that you're waiting for him to do so."
Edward grunted, but said nothing.
Al waited to say something until Ed's hair brushed his shoulders. "Niisan, your hair is so long now," he said, so they wouldn't have to talk about the other thing.
Ed grinned at him, although his face was pale; his fingers clutched the newly installed ring of metal over his right collarbone, shaking a little. "Well, I'm waiting until you want to cut it," he said.
Al pulled up short at that, and looked at his hands — the big hands that were still hard to make work quite right. He looked back up at his big brother, who was trying to not hurt so Al wouldn't worry about him.
"I think it looks nice long," he offered hopefully. "Maybe ..." he got to his feet, clanking loudly — he was just now getting used to always making noise when he moved — and went to the dresser, where Winly had left a hair tie the night before. "Let me tie it back, niisan."
He thought he tugged the hair a little too hard as he pulled it through the hair tie twice, but Ed didn't complain. And when Al was done, Ed's hair was in a tiny ponytail at the nape of his neck.
"Tomorrow," Al promised, "I'll brush it, and then I'll pull it back again so Winly and Grandmother Pinako don't have to push it away. It will be a little faster, then, maybe."
Ed's sigh was deep and heavy, and he twisted to look up at his younger brother with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Thanks, Al."
He fell asleep with Al sitting on the bed next to him.
It was kind of pathetic, Ed thought, that he liked having his hair brushed so much. But every day before the next plate was put in, before the next nerve was teased out of his shoulder or leg and wrapped in metal to be connected to his automail limbs, it was comforting to let Al run a brush through his hair and talk about everything and nothing, remembering the huge fish they caught while sensei gave them survival training or discussing the nuances of some alchemical array.
"And then," Al laughed, his voice echoing in his metal suit, "You fell on Winly, and she was so mad because you'd made her dress muddy. Remember, niisan? She threw a wrench at you."
"She still throws wrenches at me," Ed said wryly, rubbing his forehead, and Al let out a sound that was like a breath — a sound that Ed had learned to interpret as a smile. "Hey, Al."
"Yes?" Al asked, lifting the brush all the way to Ed's hairline and running it through his hair down to the ends just past his shoulders.
"What if I just let my hair grow out? You know, until I could braid it. Like Mom used to braid her hair." Ed held his breath, his shoulder tense, his nerves raw, and he wondered if Al would see through it.
Al was silent for a moment, but the brush never stilled on his head. "I think that would look nice," he said, but there was a note of wariness in his voice. He paused. "But you shouldn't braid it just because Mom did."
Ed let out a little bark of laughter. "No, no, I just want to. It'd be nice to look a little different."
Al laughed, too, more quietly. "Then that's okay," he said. "Besides ..." he trailed off, and his sigh was a happy sigh. "I like to brush your hair, niisan. Do you like it when I brush your hair?"
Ed smiled. "Yeah," he said. "I like it a lot."
Winly often wondered how Al moved in his armor — it wasn't mechanical, which meant the answer was metaphysical. But Ed either couldn't or wouldn't explain it, so instead she watched him a lot — it was fascinating, in a way, how the armor pieces all fit together and moved so smoothly.
Then, the day the automail was finally going to be put on Ed's body, she saw Al braiding Ed's hair.
He had no nerves, she thought — it would be hard to know how much pressure to apply, to not rip Ed's hair right out of his head. She stared at the thick fingers moving so intricately, and she thought that it was just as amazing and perfect as the finest automail.
It didn't take him long, and he tied off the braid carefully and let it rest down Ed's back.
"Thanks, Al," Ed said, his voice full of warmth in a way that Winly very rarely ever heard.
"It looks very nice, niisan," Al said, patting Ed's hair once, and stepping around to sit next to Ed on the bed.
Ed smiled, and he slid his arm around the back of Al's large torso. "It's perfect," he said authoritatively, closing his eyes.
Winly's lips parted a bit, and she moved away from the door.
At the end of every month, Ed would undo his braid at the end of the night, and Al would wet a comb and pull it through his hair until it was all wet and straight so he could cut it evenly.
"I'll make it up to you, Al," Ed would promise, flexing his metal arm, "Inch for inch, if I have to shave you bald a hundred times."
Al would laugh at that. "I know, niisan," he would say, and keep cutting his hair. "I know. Oh, niisan! Do you remember the time ..."
And Ed would sit still while his brother trimmed his hair, his shoulders shaking as he laughed with his brother.