The sandwich was everything Ed had hoped it would be – thick slices of spicy mutton with tomatoes and onions and a layer of mayonnaise, all on a toasted roll. “I’m so hungry,” he said to Al, drooling. He’d ordered a side of country fries, and Ed was reaching for the vinegar bottle when a pair of hands planted themselves on the table. Ignoring the hands, Ed grabbed the vinegar, screwing the lid off and shaking it over the fries.
Setting down the bottle, Ed picked up half of his sandwich, asking, just before he took a bite, “Who wants to know?” Oh, it tasted so good. Not quite as good as the old hag’s mutton sandwiches, but there was always something about her cooking – and the tomatoes and onions she grew in the garden out back of the house.
“Brother!” Al scolded.
Ed chewed hard to clear his mouth, grabbing his orange drink and sucking some of the liquid up through the straw. Glancing up through his bangs, he saw the uniform, his eyes traveling up. Mentally, he sighed. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
His bushy moustache was nearly as impressive as Major Armstrong’s, though his was light brown rather than yellow. “Major General Hakuro heard you were in town and wanted to meet with you.” He gestured for Ed to get up.
Stubbornly, he picked up his sandwich, taking another big bite. “‘kay,” he said around the mass of bread and meat in his mouth. “When I get done here.”
“Brother,” Al groaned.
The lieutenant looked between the brothers. Ed ignored the look, picking up a few fries and stuffing them in his mouth. “You know you’re making a Major General wait,” the lieutenant said.
“I’m hungry,” Ed said stubbornly.
Frowning deeply, the lieutenant snapped, “You can bring your food with you!”
“Brother, we should go,” Al said, pushing his chair back.
With a groan, Ed called the waiter back over, asking for him to bag up the fries. “I’ll take the sandwich,” he grumbled, and handed Al his glass to carry. Biting another hunk of sandwich, he rummaged in his pocket for the fee, giving the waiter extra for a tip, and followed the lieutenant to a waiting car. Al took up most of the back seat but Ed didn’t complain about it this time. His mouth was full of sandwich. Still, his mind whirled – why the hell did the Major General of New Optain want to see him? And how did the man know who he was? Well, of course, he was the Fullmetal Alchemist, but he and Al hadn’t really been saying anything about that while they were here in town, had they?
He frowned, chewing through another bite of bread and meat. There had been that bookstore, with its section on alchemy. Damn it. Those books he’d bought – he’d used his military account. That’d alert anyone where – and who – he was. Fuck. No way was he getting out of whatever this bigwig wanted, even if they’d been getting ready to catch the train out of New Optain. Mentally sighing, Ed slumped back in the seat, powering his way through the sandwich and reaching for his bag of fries. They were soggy with vinegar and layered with salt, and Ed licked his flesh fingers clean afterward.
“Brother,” Al sighed.
“I forgot to get a napkin,” Ed grumbled, taking his glass from his brother and slurping noisily. The lieutenant’s eyes caught Ed’s in the rear view mirror and darted away. His shoulders tensed and Ed smirked around his straw, finishing off what was left of his drink. He considered burping but could feel Al staring at him and decided to keep that to himself. At least for now.
The drive to the military headquarters for New Optain almost took a half hour from the café near the train station. If it had been any longer, Ed knew he would’ve drifted off. As it was, he leaned his head against the window, his eyes glazed over with the sights of yet another city and how much it looked like East City and Central City. Limestone and brownstone buildings, all of them resembling each other. The houses in the residential districts at least had some definition; big yards versus smaller yards versus flowers versus thick grass and trees versus fenced in yards, maybe with kids or a dog or a cat behind the gate.
The car stopped, jerking Ed out of his doze, and the lieutenant rolled his window down, speaking to the soldier in the guard’s building. The soldier tapped on Ed’s window, and he rolled it down, fishing in his pocket at the same time for his watch. He held it out, letting the soldier get a good look at it. The soldier saluted but even Ed could see he was confused – maybe he wasn’t quite as notorious as he’d thought? Or worse, Al couldn’t be seen as easily, and Al was the one everyone actually remembered.
“Oh, hell, no,” he muttered under his breath as the lieutenant shifted the car into gear and guided it through the gate.
“I beg your pardon, Major Elric?”
Folding his arms, Ed muttered, “Nothing.” He sank deeper into his seat, biting his lower lip. Okay, so Al was definitely more noticeable, but he was past everyone mistaking his little brother for him, wasn’t he? Ed wanted to say ‘yes’, but he wasn’t sure he could even be truthful to himself about it. Stupid height. Pushing himself up in his seat, he knew he’d never reach Al’s height – at least while he was still in the armor.
“What are you doing, Brother?” Al said, as low as he could, considering his voice reverberated around inside the metal.
“Nothing!” Ed pretended to look at the window, spotting troops marching in order. The idea that he’d escaped that particular torture because of his alchemic prowess didn’t go by without some mental gloating.
After the lieutenant parked the car, he led them into the largest building. It wasn’t as big as the HQ in Central City, not that Ed really cared. He slouched after the lieutenant, hands shoved in his pockets. He and Al got some weird looks, but they finally got to a big anteroom, where a table of military clerks worked. A few of them glanced up, and goggled. Ed ignored them, even though he wanted to make a face. Assholes.
The lieutenant stepped away from them to speak to one of the clerks, whose eyes jerked from him over to Ed and back again. Ed sighed, wondering just how long this was going to take. Next to him, Al remained motionless. Letting himself imagine what it would be like, once he’d gotten Al’s body back, Ed’s mind drifted until he heard his name. “Yes?”
“If you’ll come with me,” the lieutenant said, and beckoned them toward the pair of wooden doors closed on an office. He opened one of the doors.
Well, maybe now they’d get to know just what the hell was going on. Ed straightened his shoulders and walked through the entrance, seeing a big man sitting behind a desk. The major general seemed vaguely familiar, but Ed couldn’t place him until he turned slightly, and he caught sight of a malformed ear. Oh, that major general.
“Major Edward Elric,” he said, and nodded at a pair of chairs directly in front of his desk.
“Major General Hakuro.” Ed took one of the chairs, hoping the other would hold Al’s weight. Steel was heavy. The chair groaned, but didn’t make any suspicious popping sounds, so Ed relaxed a little bit. “The lieutenant said you wanted to talk to me.”
“I do.” Pushing back out of his chair, Hakuro came around the desk. He scrubbed his chin with his fingers. “Would you stand up, Major?”
Frowning, Ed obeyed, his feet apart and his arm tensing. He fisted both his hands, staring up at the major general. His jaw flexed. “What’s this about, Major General?”
“It’s about something I need,” Hakuro said slowly, “and I think you’re the person who’s best suited to help me.”
“I report to Colonel Mustang, out of East City.” Ed folded his arms.
“And, as a member of the military, you are required to follow orders when given them.”
His eyebrow rose slowly. “Is this an order, Major General?” Next to him, Al’s armor rattled as he tilted his head to look at his brother first, then Hakuro.
“Consider it,” Hakuro hesitated. “Assisting with a local problem. I am aware you do that, Major Elric.”
Ed grunted, scrubbing the back of his head. “Sometimes,” he admitted. “What’s that got to do with you calling us in here?” The lieutenant came alive again, falling out of his parade rest to offer a manila folder to Ed. He accepted it warily, glancing at Al. “What’s this?”
“Everything you need to know about this assignment,” Hakuro said. “You can review that information at that desk.” He indicated a small table pressed against the wall, out of the way, though still within the main office.
Slapping the folder against his flesh hand, Ed sighed. “All right.” He made his way to the table, sitting down. Al leaned over his shoulder as there wasn’t really enough room for both of them to sit. Ed squashed the thought that if Al had been in his human body – that was counterproductive to reviewing the file. Flipping the cover open, Ed studied the photograph stapled to the inside. It showed an old guy, probably at least as old as Mustang, with a greying moustache and beard. Picking up the first page of the report, Ed began reading, holding it so Al could see, too.
It didn’t take long before Al whispered over his shoulder, “Brother.”
Ed’s hands tightened on the piece of paper, making it shake and crumple. The words blurred for a second until he blinked a couple of times. “Damn it.” The rest of the pages were just as bad, telling of missing children who’d last been seen in the company of Nicholas Cloyes. The man claimed to be a teacher, though Ed didn’t see anything in the way of a teaching certificate in the file, and that he wanted to teach children to be self-sufficient in preparation for the coming days. He seemed like a preacher more than anything. There was a transcript of one of his talks, wherein he mentioned the coming of something called the ‘Promised Day’ numerous times. Ed rolled his eyes at that, but a word managed to snag his attention.
“Brother,” Al repeated, and Ed nodded, the corners of his mouth turning up. A mention of carmot in Cloyes’ text made him pay closer attention to that paragraph. It was a code word alchemists used in regard to the Philosopher’s Stone. If this Cloyes guy had any information on the Stone, Ed knew he wanted to talk to the man.
Turning in his chair, Ed wasn’t surprised to find the lieutenant watching him. “Okay,” he said, getting up. “I want to talk to Cloyes.”
Major General Hakuro nodded. “There are a few provisions, though. You can’t go to him as the Fullmetal Alchemist. And,” his eyes raked over Al’s armor, “you can’t go with him.”
“What?” Ed bared his teeth. “Al goes everywhere with me!”
Hakuro raised a hand, as if that would give him the power to stop Ed’s argument. “Any adult who tries to approach Cloyes gets turned away.”
“Al’s not an - ” Ed started to say.
“It’s okay,” Al said, interrupting him. “No, it is.” His helmet tilted toward Ed with a squeal of metal on metal. “I mean, if he thinks I’m an adult, you might not be able to talk with him, right?”
“This is correct,” Hakuro said. “You are our best bet for finding out what Cloyes is doing, Major Elric. You, and you alone.”
Ed kind of liked the sound of it. Smiling, he said, “Yeah, okay. I’ll do it.”
Hakuro smiled back. “Thank you, Major Elric. I know you’ll be a great help to me on this.”
X X X
“Sir?” Fuery leaned back in his chair, peering toward Roy’s desk. “You have a call.”
“Mm?” Roy glanced up from the paperwork he was trying to decipher – Hughes’s codes could be as intricate as an alchemist’s, and had to be passed along carefully, since he was in Central City and there was no need of him to make a report to East City.
“It’s from Major General Hakuro’s office,” Fuery said, tapping the headset he wore that allowed him to use both hands to work while on the telephone.
“Hakuro?” The last time they’d spoken was when Fullmetal had stopped the terrorists on the train Hakuro and his family had been traveling on. When had that been, a year ago? Roy shook his head mentally, realizing he was wasting time. “Patch it through, Fuery.”
The telephone on his desk rang and Roy collected the receiver from the cradle. “Colonel Mustang speaking.”
“Colonel.” Hakuro’s voice crackled through the lines. “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
Roy cocked his eyebrow at that. “What sort of bad news?”
“One of your men is currently in the local military hospital.”
There was only one ‘man’ who might be in the New Optain area, and Roy felt his gut tighten at that knowledge. “Major Elric?”
“Yes. He was assisting me with a local problem, and,” Hakuro hesitated.
“Is he still alive?” Out of the corner of his eye, Roy saw Havoc start and turn his way. “Damn it, answer me!”
“He is alive.” It seemed like Hakuro was choosing his words carefully. “But I have taken the precaution of contacting his immediate family. They’re on their way here.”
Family? But Edward was an orphan – oh, that old woman and her granddaughter. Roy’s stomach knotted even tighter. “Thank you,” he got out. “Where is Fullmetal now?”
“In surgery,” Hakuro said.
Ice ran through Roy’s veins. “His brother?” The question seemed to come from far away.
“At the hospital, waiting for news.”
Of course, Alphonse wouldn’t be anywhere else. Roy freshened his grip on the receiver. “Thank you, Major General, for your call.” Without waiting for a response, he carefully placed the receiver back in its cradle, staring at it for a few seconds.
Roy wasn’t sure which of his team spoke. It didn’t really matter. “I need to speak to General Grumman to clear a trip to New Optain,” he said. “Now!”
X X X
The words rumbled through Roy’s mind in time with the clatter of the train wheels on the track. Why the hell hadn’t Edward contacted him prior to taking Hakuro’s assignment? Oh, because he could be a pig-headed idiot, right. Roy recrossed his legs, wishing fruitlessly there was a faster way to travel than by train.
New Optain was directly north of East City by train, but it would still take a couple of days to arrive. Thirty-six hours, more or less. Roy knew that Edward’s family, the Rockbells – he’d refreshed his memory on their names by reviewing Edward’s personnel file while Hawkeye was making his train reservations – would be on a train for nearly four days to get to New Optain. Hopefully, by then, Edward would be able to travel, though Roy wasn’t sure if he was trying to fool himself or not.
He’d tried to contact the Rockbells and offer his condolences, as well as assurances he wasn’t sure he had the right to say, not without additional information, but when he tried to reach them, he was told by the operator of the small town that “Pinako and Winry left this morning in a rush!” Roy could imagine how they’d felt, hearing that news, even if he couldn’t place their faces. The idea they were all heading to New Optain for the same reason; that they’d meet again over the broken body of Edward Elric, didn’t give him any sense of completion, more a feeling of dread.
Surgery. He folded his arms, staring out the window at the passing scenery. What did that mean, specifically? Roy knew he should’ve gotten more details, but his mind had gone blank, and he’d asked about Alphonse, rather than questioning why Edward might – did – need surgery. Now, with thirty-six hours of travel time to even reach the city, there was too much time to think. Or brood, more like, Roy could almost hear Maes’s voice in his head.
“You could at least review these files.” Hawkeye’s voice broke into his thoughts. She tapped the leather briefcase at her knee.
Roy blinked at her. He’d almost forgotten she’d come with him, remembering when she’d had Havoc request a car to take them to their apartments to pick up some clothing. He’d chafed at her practicality, almost telling her it was a waste of time, but knowing Hawkeye was right in the long run. “I can’t,” he told her, finally breaking his own silence.
“It will distract you, sir.” Her no-nonsense tone made Roy consider it for a few seconds and he reached for the briefcase. “I know you’re worried,” Hawkeye went on lowly, “but you cannot do anything until we arrive in New Optain.”
With a grim cant to his mouth, Roy agreed, but promised himself he’d call Hakuro’s office again at the next whistlestop. He was Edward’s superior officer, and he needed more information, especially if he was going to have to explain to an old woman and Edward’s childhood friend why he’d needed to undergo surgery.
Sighing, Roy pulled a file out, opening it. He hesitated, studying the pages in front of him, then turned to Hawkeye. “How?”
Her lips tilted fractionally. “I had Falman and Fuery compile these while we were collecting our clothing. All the information on current events in New Optain for the past six months. It’s not much,” she said, “but it might give you something to go on.”
“Have I mentioned lately how indispensable you are to me, First Lieutenant Hawkeye?” Roy asked.
As usual, Hawkeye didn’t rise to the compliment. “Not recently, sir,” she said, “but if you give me the next file in the stack, I’ll help you look for anything unusual that Edward might’ve become involved in.”
Roy opened the New Optain Courier, dated late February, and began reading. The articles were what he expected – mentions of skirmishes in Briggs, of a trade embargo with Creta, of local events of births and deaths and anniversaries. He began taking actual notes of things that seemed to be of actual import, even articles that were only a few lines long. Next to him, Hawkeye did the same thing, and when she insisted they stop and get something to eat from the dining car, Roy was sure to carry all the notes and files with him.
“What did you find out?” he asked after they’d ordered.
“So far, very little.” Hawkeye sipped at her tea, frowning slightly. “There are mentions of Briggs and Creta, as well as Ishbal, but nothing distinct enough to be a threat toward the Elric brothers.”
“Same here,” Roy grunted, folding his arms on the table top. He’d tried contacting Hakuro after Grumman had cleared his travel plans, but the major general had already left his office. His adjutant said Hakuro was going to the hospital to check on Edward. Roy guessed it was possible; Hakuro might feel some sort of guilt for assigning Edward to a mission that put him in the hospital.
“You’re grinding your teeth, sir,” Hawkeye said in observance.
No wonder his jaw ached. “I wonder if Hughes might know anything,” he muttered, swiping a hand over his face. Maes always knew the most trivial things – Falman was good at that, too, but Maes worked in Intelligence and had greater access to records than Falman. “Next whistlestop, I’ll call him,” he promised.
Without any censure, Hawkeye said, “You know you’ll wake him.”
The windows outside showed an expanse of fields, painted in various shades of dark blues and greys when Roy peered through the glass. “Damn. If I call him at work, we’ll have to go through proper channels.” They had a way of communicating in code, but Roy would just rather talk than have to formulate his thoughts and phrase his words in such a way that a casual listener wouldn’t know why he was so damned worried. What had Hakuro told Edward to get him to go along with this mission, anyway? And why the hell hadn’t he been contacted directly for approval, considering he was Edward’s superior officer?
“Drink your tea, sir, and try to stop thinking about it,” Hawkeye said, pushing his mug a little closer to him with her fingertips.
Roy snorted. “Do you expect that to actually happen?” He did pick up the mug, tasting the tea. It had a mellow flavor, without a bitter bite. Much better than the swill they brewed at the office.
“No, but the other distraction has worked so far.” Raising her mug, Hawkeye hid her smirk behind the rim of it. It still made her eyes twinkle.
“We should get some rest,” Roy grumped as the waiter brought them their sandwiches and soup – all that could be had at this late hour.
“After we eat,” Hawkeye said, nodding at his meal.
Roy dutifully took a bite of the sandwich, knowing Hawkeye was right – and knowing that neither of them would sleep until complete exhaustion claimed them. Not until he knew what had happened to Edward.
X X X
Hospitals were either very quiet or very noisy. Roy hated them, either way. He strode through the halls, Hawkeye close at his heels, their boots clicking on the linoleum floors. The walls, a shade of pale green, had probably been painted that color before the turn of the century, and somehow, someone decided the bilious color appropriate, and they’d stayed that way. The flooring was grey, not that he was really paying attention, it was just something he noticed, damn it, while trying to find his way to Edward Elric’s room.
The ice that had been forming in his stomach since that phone call from Hakuro had formed a giant glacier inside his body. Roy could barely swallow from it. He needed to see Edward, make sure he was all right, and then –
“Colonel Mustang?” Alphonse’s voice rang through the corridors, stopping Roy in mid-step.
“Alphonse.” Roy never expected himself to be so relieved to see a suit of armor. Turning, he dodged a nurse who bustled past him in his attempt to reach the younger Elric brother. He knew what the first words out of his mouth should be, but what he actually asked was, “What happened?”
Of course, there was no flicker of emotion across that almost featureless helmet, but Roy could imagine some hint of something. He steeled himself to it, tilting his head back slightly to meet the red glow of Alphonse’s eyes.
“Brother was hurt,” Alphonse said.
“I am aware of that,” Roy said, trying to keep from snapping at the boy. Trying to remind himself that, despite the size of the armor, Alphonse was just that – a boy.
“Alphonse, what can you tell us?” Hawkeye asked, and her calm voice washed over Roy, almost like a healing balm.
“Brother’s been unconscious since he got out of surgery,” Alphonse said, wringing his hands together. “The surgeon said he was badly injured, and it’s best if they keep him in a medically-induced coma to let his body heal.” His words quavered and tripped over themselves as he spoke.
“Badly injured how?” Hawkeye asked, laying her hand on Alphonse’s forearm.
“He was beaten.” Those words stopped all conscious thought in Roy’s head, filling it with white noise. He realized vaguely that Hawkeye’s touch – impossible for Alphonse to feel – had somehow calmed the boy down. Forcing his attention back to the young man in front of him, Roy relied on his training to both keep his composure and his focus on the matter at hand. “It was a mission,” Alphonse said, like a sigh, “Major General Hakuro asked Brother to infiltrate the people surrounding Nicholas Cloyes.”
“Who?” Roy blurted out, his mind in gear again.
Next to him, Hawkeye nodded. “I saw mention of him in the newspaper articles.”
Beginning to pace, Alphonse said, “Brother was unconscious when we found him. I can’t tell you what he found out – if he found out anything!” His hands kept clenching and loosening. “And Granny and Winry are coming and I know they’ll want to know what happened to Brother, too.”
“Everything will be all right, Alphonse,” Hawkeye said, trying to calm him, but he kept striding back and forth across the hallway.
Alphonse stopped abruptly, lifting his hands as if to stare into the palms of them. Roy caught sight of something then, his stomach curdling farther at the realization what he’d thought was a smudge on the plates sewn to the gloves had to be blood. “You don’t know that,” he said finally.
Hawkeye answered firmly, “No, but you must keep your hopes up. This is Edward. He’s survived much worse.”
“Yeah,” Alphonse said. He didn’t sound convinced, though, and that made the ice in Roy’s stomach turn jagged.
“Where is Edward?” He almost didn’t recognize his own voice for a second. How could he sound so calm, anyway? Because he had to, Roy reminded himself.
“This way,” Alphonse said, and led them through the corridors to a hallway lined with a bench on one side and windows on the other. Alphonse stopped outside one of the windows, staring through the glass. Roy hesitated next to him, spotting a thatch of yellow hair on a pillow.
He swallowed, appalled at how small Edward seemed. Without his normal bristling animation, Fullmetal appeared childlike, a waif. Thrusting his hands into his pockets to hide their trembling, Roy asked, “Where’re his arm and leg?”
“Granny told the doctor to remove them when she called. They were sparking feedback, and Brother was in a lot of pain.” Alphonse said, sounding distant, but his rattling plate mail spoke louder than his words. “Brother didn’t need to use his energy to keep them powered when they were hurting him.”
Roy agreed with that assessment, studying Edward through the glass. A nurse stood next to his bed, checking his vitals. Bruises and swelling marred Edward’s face, and a cast on his leg let Roy know it had been broken in whatever had happened. As Edward had been in surgery, it was obvious there was damage hidden under the blanket. Roy took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds to steady his nerves. “What is his doctor’s name, Alphonse? Is he on duty now?”
“Dr. Payne,” Alphonse said, “Melissa Payne.” He didn’t even look over to give the information to Roy.
“I’ll see if she is available,” Hawkeye said, and Roy heard the soft click of her boots as she marched away. A part of him wished he’d said that, but another part of him wanted to stand at this window, staring in. How had this happened? There really was only one way to find out at this time. As long as Edward was unconscious, and Alphonse was unable to provide any information, Roy knew one person could tell him how this tragedy had come about.
Shaking his head, Roy thought that Edward shouldn’t be in that bed. He should be – damn it, he should be running around with his little brother. Shouting at the wind. Getting his first kiss from a girl. But that wasn’t in the cards for the Elric brothers, not since they’d decided to bring their mother back from the dead. He’d taken advantage of the broken boys with the flaming eyes when he’d found them, and now they were trapped in the military. Even if it was the best chance to reach a solution regarding their bodies, Roy had known it was only a matter of time before something like this happened – that Edward would become a human weapon; that he, in turn, would become a target for someone’s hatred.
He’d played his own part in this matter, even if it had been Hakuro who’d pointed Edward at this Nicholas Cloyes. Roy knew the sight of Edward, laid up like this, would haunt his thoughts and dreams for longer than he wanted. Mentally, he slammed a door on that idea. It did no good for Edward right now. A cynical part of him pointed out that this was better than having to write a letter to the Rockbells about Edward’s death in service to his country. Saying Edward had died following orders...no, Roy wasn’t going to even consider that. Edward was getting medical care, and was healing. He wouldn’t be writing that letter.
“Sir?” Hawkeye’s voice snared his attention and Roy turned to face her. He could see the tightness around her eyes that warned him there was bad news. “Dr. Payne is in surgery right now. A note has been left for her, but the nurse was unable to tell me when Dr. Payne would be available.”
Roy nodded. “All right, Lieutenant. Thank you.” He began walking toward the row of pay phones he’d seen earlier. “I’m going to get some information,” he said over his shoulder. “I will return. If Dr. Payne comes while I’m gone, I’m sure you know the questions to ask, Lieutenant.”
“Where are you going, sir?”
“To speak to Major General Hakuro,” he said. “And Lieutenant, we may be here for a few days. If you could arrange for rooms for us, I would appreciate it.”
“Alphonse, don’t give up hope,” Roy added, before turning the corner of the hospital corridor.
X X X
Major General Hakuro’s office was bigger than Roy’s in East City, and he had two more men under his immediate command in his office line up. Roy waved off the offer of tea or coffee from Hakuro’s adjutant, First Lieutenant Dominique. “I’m sure you know why I’m here, Major General.”
“Major Elric,” Hakuro said. Sitting behind his desk, he embodied the term ‘calm’, his hands folded together, uniform neatly pressed, hair still perfectly coifed. The top of his desk wasn’t cluttered with files, and his men all seemed to be working steadily. A small frame sat above the desk blotter and between a lamp and a pen holder. Roy imagined it was a photo of Hakuro’s family, as he couldn’t see what was actually in the frame. Dominique set a fresh cup of steaming liquid – tea – on the corner of the desk near Hakuro’s elbow. The smell of it made Roy’s stomach curdle.
“Yes, sir.” Roy remained standing for a few seconds, hands tucked in his pockets. He could feel the fabric of his static gloves beneath his fingers. “Major Edward Elric. My subordinate.” He popped the pronoun with some deliberation.
“Yes.” Hakuro’s mouth tightened infinitesimally. “Please sit, Colonel Mustang, and let me explain why Major Elric was necessary for a mission under my command in New Optain.” He spoke to Lieutenant Dominique, requesting a file. It took only the time to cross the room to a table pressed against the wall before Dominique handed Roy a manila folder. “The dossier on Nicholas Cloyes,” he said. “Please take the time to review it.”
Roy cracked the file, seeing a photograph of a man with greying hair. His dark eyes stared at the camera, the intensity of his gaze unnerving. Cloyes was dressed impeccably; his hair and beard nicely trimmed. His lips were thick but not fleshy. Roy took out the first page of paper, skimming it. He reread a word – carmot – and knew why Edward would’ve wanted to take this assignment, and to hell with the idea of contacting his actual superior officer to get clearance. The notations on missing children cinched up Roy’s understanding of Edward’s motives. He raised his gaze from the folder to meet Hakuro’s eyes.
“Cloyes surrounds himself with children,” Hakuro said, “and on the surface, appears to be concerned about their schooling and training, particularly the welfare of orphans.” And Amestris, as they both knew, had plenty of orphans. “However, if you read the transcript,” he gestured at the file, “you can see that his fanaticism is…peculiar and troublesome. And some of the children within his group go missing.”
And that would’ve gotten Edward’s attention, too. Despite his bratty, selfish exterior, Edward did care about other people, and kids being led away by a wayward adult would definitely be something he’d want to check into. The fact that Cloyes might have information about the Philosopher’s Stone would just be an additional plum to pick.
“So, what happened? Why did the mission go sour?” Roy closed the file, adjusting his position in the chair. Leaning forward slightly could be considered a threat. He took advantage of that. “Why wasn’t I notified that my subordinate was being used in a New Optain mission?”
Hakuro glanced down at the desktop for a split second. “Because I didn’t consider Cloyes to be that much of a threat. Especially to a State Alchemist. I wasn’t aware he was in any real danger because your subordinate has an annoying habit of not checking in.” The skin around his eyes tightened. “I don’t know what he found out, or why he wound up in the hospital. If I hadn’t had some men of my own trying to keep an eye on him – not exactly the easiest thing to do – he might not be alive right now.”
Roy wasn’t surprised to find out that Edward had paid no attention to military protocol. Fullmetal did like to twist rules to his own advantage – and look where that got him this time. The image flashed on the inside of his eyes, of the boy in the hospital, bandages wrapped around his body. Roy blotted it out.
Hakuro was still speaking. “He did make one report.” Pulling another file from a stack on his desk, he passed it to Roy. “It’s rather sparse. He said he didn’t have a lot of time to write anything down, and less to speak to his contact.” He met Roy’s eyes. “Major Elric comes off as being rather brash and impatient,” he said.
“It’s not an act,” Roy muttered, not quite under his breath, as he accepted the second file and opened it. Edward’s slanted print sprawled across a page. Roy frowned slightly. “May I borrow this file?”
“I’ve had a copy made for my records,” Hakuro said. “Still, I’d like to have it back when you’re finished with it.”
“Of course.” Roy got to his feet. “Thank you for your time, Major General,” he said, offering a salute that Hawkeye would be proud of. He turned on his heel when Hakuro dismissed him and headed for the door. Somehow, he thought that Edward might’ve included a message in his report, one that Hakuro didn’t have the ability to read – but Alphonse Elric would.
As he laid his hand on the doorknob, Hakuro spoke up. “Oh, and Colonel, please let me know when the Major wakens. I would like to speak to him about Cloyes,” He said.
“Yes, sir. I’ll contact you when he regains consciousness.”
After the cab dropped him off at the hospital, Roy strode through the halls. The nurses moved out of his way automatically, not even seeming to actually notice him. Roy barely realized himself that he’d made his way to Edward’s room without having to stop and ask for directions until he spotted Alphonse, sitting on the bench with Hawkeye beside him. She, at least, noticed him, rising to her feet. Alphonse turned his head as she moved but Roy waved at him to keep him seated.
“I spoke to Major General Hakuro,” he said without preamble. “He gave me this to look at. It’s a report from your brother, Alphonse.” Passing it to Alphonse, Roy asked, “Have you seen it before?”
“No, sir,” Alphonse said, opening the file. “Major General Hakuro didn’t speak to me after Brother went on his mission, except when I contacted him for information!”
“Edward didn’t keep in touch with you directly?” Hawkeye’s curiosity was something Roy approved of – it meant he didn’t have to ask the question himself.
“No, he said I stood out too much.” If a steel helmet could pout, Alphonse’s would be doing that right now. “If I’d gone with him!”
There really wasn’t anything to say that might make Alphonse feel any better, or if there was, Roy couldn’t come up with it. “I thought Edward might’ve written something in code for you in there. This is his original report. Major General Hakuro let me borrow it.”
“Oh!” Alphonse opened the file then, scanning over the contents.
Roy didn’t exactly sigh, but the tension in his shoulders eased slightly at Alphonse’s dedication to the report. It would keep him from thinking about what might have beens, at least while he was busy trying to decode his brother’s writing. That didn’t stop Roy from thinking them, though, and he moved to stand in front of the window again.
Hawkeye joined him. “I spoke to Dr. Payne. She is very competent,” she said, before Roy could question her. “She said that Edward was brought in with internal bleeding, hence the surgery. His lower leg was broken, his ribs were fractured. He suffered a concussion. Dr. Payne also said that Edward is unconscious because he refused to take his medication, and his blood pressure became excessively high. She prescribed a drip with morphine and other medications to keep Edward asleep.”
“I told Dr. Payne that was okay,” Alphonse said, proving that his hearing was better than Roy had expected, and that he wasn’t as distracted by the report as Roy had hoped. “Brother needed to rest,” he went on, “and since he wouldn’t.” He sighed.
“You did what you thought was best, Alphonse,” Hawkeye said, her voice soothing.
Roy added, “You did the right thing, Alphonse.” Edward being a pain in the ass while healthy was one thing, while he was recovering from an attack was something else entirely.
“Yes, sir,” Alphonse mumbled. His head remained bent over the paperwork Roy had given him, and Roy turned back to the window. Edward’s form remained so still, it seemed almost frightening. The greenish-brown bruises patterned his face oddly. Roy didn’t know what the various machines hooked up to Edward might do, having no interest in medicine except what little he’d learned in Ishbal – and even then, that interest had been more selfish than anything. He wanted to be able to patch himself, or anyone under his command, in case they needed it. He tried not to think of anyone who had.
“Dr. Payne said she would be reducing the morphine drip, as Edward is healing well,” Hawkeye said. “He could wake up as early as tomorrow.”
“In time for the Rockbells to arrive,” Roy murmured to himself. If Edward was awake, it might take the pressure off of him talking to the Rockbells. So far, he’d managed to avoid any of the conversations with the family – ‘your family member is wounded or missing in action, or worse, dead’– most commanders hated. In Ishbal, he’d written a few letters, but it wasn’t the same as a face-to-face meeting with the family. Hell, he could barely look at Alphonse right now.
“Do you know what you’re going to say to them, sir?” Hawkeye asked the question he dreaded.
Roy shook his head, his hand coming up to touch the glass, as if he could possibly reach through it, and touch Edward, waking him from the medically induced coma. “I’ll come up with something, Lieutenant,” he said softly, his breath condensing on the glass. For one insane moment, he considered drawing a face in the vapor. He tucked his hands back in his pockets to keep from doing it. Maybe Alphonse would have better luck, able to read something in Edward’s notes. Something he could say to the woman and her granddaughter when they arrived tomorrow. Something that would make sense out of this story. But Roy didn’t really have any hopes for that. Edward was far too secretive to make things easy on anyone. If he had any idea how knotted Roy’s insides were about all of this, he’d probably laugh that evil cackle of his.
No, Edward wouldn’t care, Roy told himself. But there was someone who would. “I need to get in touch with Hughes,” he told Hawkeye, nodding at her as he turned abruptly, heading for the hospital’s telephone banks.
X X X
Someone was crying. Ed could hear the sobs, could almost feel the tears soaking into his shirt. Aw, hell. He looked down, seeing a blond head, not knowing if it was Al’s or Winry’s. They both could be crybabies, even if Al was a boy. He tried to raise his hand, to pat the head pressed against his chest, but his arm wouldn’t move.
What the fuck? What happened to his arms? Busting up his automail would explain one not moving, but what the hell happened to the other?
Ed tried to open his mouth, but no screams came out, barely even a squeak of a sound. He grunted impatiently, trying to get his mouth to work. Maybe whoever was leaning on his chest could tell him what in hell was going on. He squirmed, trying to get the attention of that yellow-haired person, but there was no reaction. Damn it, what was going on? Why was he like this? Who was leaning against him?
Trying to turn his head, Ed caught sight of people, ringed around him. His heart beat faster at the sight of their faces. Their expressions were dark and cold, and their eyes seemed to glow red. Ed swallowed, wanting to yell at them. Wanted to be on his feet so he could actually face them, but the body on his chest weighed him down. His lack of arms wasn’t helping any. Kicking his feet, Ed tried to throw the person off, but he clung like a cat clawing into his shirt.
With a growl, Ed gnashed his teeth, wishing he could just shout. Someone had to be willing to help him? But the people encircling him were marching closer, their feet drawing near, and Ed knew he couldn’t roll, not with that body weighing him down. There wasn’t anywhere he could go, no way to escape, and he braced himself for the pain, trying to relax his body, remembering Teacher’s instructions about going with a blow, rather than trying to fight against it.
“Kill the traitor,” someone said.
Ed winced at the hatred in those words, the way they were picked up by the rest of the people surrounding him. That they were chanted as those feet moved closer to him. He squirmed again, trying to throw off the person on top of him. The weight pressed close, like a stone against his chest, and Ed groaned. He couldn’t get free of the asshole laying on him, and he couldn’t get up to fight. Both arms were useless and he knew these people were going to kill him. Gritting his teeth, he reminded himself he couldn’t die, not while Al still needed him. Damn it, he had to figure out a way to get up!
Straining as hard as he could, Ed managed to curl his torso up. It was all he could do to get that far. Pulse pounding in his ears, breath wheezing between his teeth, Ed fixed a glare at the leader of the crowd. Nicholas Cloyes’s face darkened, and his lips peeled back, showing more teeth than should ever be allowed in someone’s face. “Traitor,” he said, “turn coat!”
Ed shook his head, bangs falling in his eyes. He tried to scream he wasn’t a traitor, that he didn’t deserve to die, but all that came out was a squeak. Fighting to get to his feet, he fell back on his butt. Damn it, he needed his hands! He needed some sort of support to get up, get out of this fucking mess! His lungs burned and his body ached, as if Master Izumi had thrown him around like a rag doll again. If his hands would just work, he could transmute something to keep himself safe.
“Traitors must die,” Cloyes said, looming over Ed. One of his huge feet rose.
Flinching, Ed turned his face away, not wanting to see that foot come down. Something caught his eye, and he focused on it – a bright light, cold and clear. It seemed to beckon him closer, and Ed shifted his weight, ignoring the weight on his chest and the pain slicing into him as he attempted to move. Was it that stupid white light that people claimed to see when they were dying? The hell with that – he wasn’t dying, not now, not while Al was still trapped in armor.
“Nnnng!” The grunt escaped him, and Ed focused hard on that brilliance, his eyes snapping open.
No crowd. No foot. No weight on his chest, just a concerned face peering down at him, one Ed didn’t recognize: a woman, dressed in white, her tightly-knotted hair pulling the skin on her face taut. “Major Elric?” He blinked dry eyes at her, and she went on. “Major Elric, do you remember me? I’m Dr. Payne,” she said. The fog cleared from his brain a little bit and he snorted at her name. She nodded, smiling along with him. “We spoke after your surgery. I’m your surgeon,” she said. Ed frowned, then more of the fog cleared. Dr. Payne nodded again. “Do you remember what happened?”
“H-happened?” Ed blinked again. “I…”
“It’s all right if you can’t remember right now,” Dr. Payne said. “You suffered a concussion, as well as various other injuries. I had to perform emergency surgery on you as were bleeding internally. Your leg is broken, and I’ve removed your automail on the request of Dr. Pinako Rockbell, because it had been damaged as well, and was causing nerve feedback.”
There was a sensation, like a remembered electric shock that left his nerves tingling, then it faded. “Granny?” Ed tried to think when he’d last talked to the old hag and couldn’t remember that, either.
“She is coming here to check on you,” Dr. Payne said, and her mouth twisted up in amusement when Ed groaned. “I thought you might like to have your mechanic available.”
“She’s not a mechanic, she’s a,” Ed bit his tongue.
Dr. Payne picked up the chart from the mattress, making some notes. “Be that as it may, she should be arriving either today or tomorrow, depending on how the trains are running.”
Ed sighed, trying hard not to think that Winry would be coming with her. He didn’t want Winry to see him like thi – oh, hell. “Al!”
“Your brother is fine,” Dr. Payne said, intercepting him as he tried to sit up.
Hissing from the pain of the attempt, Ed settled back on the bed, trying to ignore the throbbing in his gut. Damn it. He remembered now, he’d gotten out of surgery, then kept refusing to take the antibiotics and pain pills. Someone must’ve okayed him being knocked out, and Al was the only answer for that. Ed gritted his teeth, wondering what had happened since he’d been unconscious.
“You have some visitors,” Dr. Payne was saying. “A Colonel Mustang, and First Lieutenant Hawkeye.”
Ed screwed up his face. Damn it, that was even worse than Granny and Winry. Now he’d have to listen to Mustang jaw on about how he’d gotten hurt. Bad enough he’d have to explain it to Al, and the Rockbells. He could almost count on them to be at least a little sympathetic, but the bastard would tease him for getting involved in this, Ed was sure of it.
“Don’t make faces, Major,” Dr. Payne said.
Glancing up, Ed realized she was teasing him, and he dropped his gaze back to the bedding. His nightmare had something to do with his surgery, he was pretty sure of it, and what had happened to him that made him need surgery, but the dream was fading even as he tried to hold onto it. Tightening his fingers on the coverlet, Ed gritted his teeth.
Dr. Payne laid her hand on his shoulder. “Major, you need to relax. If you start working yourself up again, I’ll have to prescribe another morphine drip.”
Morphine? That explained the fuzziness, maybe even the lack of memories, and how dry his mouth felt. He wouldn’t have had anything to drink as long as he’d been asleep. And, if he’d been sleeping, Ed knew he had a stupid catheter installed. He wondered if they’d let him have anything to drink, or if he had to wait until the catheter was removed.
“You should get some rest, Major.” Squeezing his shoulder, Dr. Payne dropped her hand away and hung the chart back up at the end of his bed.
“That’s all I’ve been doing,” Ed growled. How much time had he wasted in this bed? He racked his brains, trying to recall what had happened. The last thing he remembered clearly was -
“You still need to heal. And don’t think the morphine is an idle threat,” Dr. Payne told him. “I could let your brother in to see you, if you’d like,” she went on in a different tone of voice. “Or the Colonel.”
His face twisted at the idea of having to talk to the bastard, but best get it over with. “I’d like to see Al,” he grumbled, “I guess I can talk to the Colonel, too.”
Dr. Payne’s smile was warmer than Ed expected. “I’ll let them know,” she said, and the door swung closed behind her.
Sighing through his nose, Ed tried to find some comfortable position in the bed. He hated the cold atmosphere of a hospital; the way the nurses prowled around, almost as silent as ghosts. The cast on his leg meant he wasn’t going to be able to get out of an enforced rest for a while, at least until he healed. As he rubbed his shoulder, his fingers brushed over the metal port for his automail. Even though his arm wasn’t there, Ed could still feel it, as if flesh nerves ached and twitched. Every little bruise and cut hurt, despite the drugs he was on. He wondered if it was going to rain. The window shade was pulled down, concealing how the sky outside might look. Ed could tell it wasn’t night time; diffuse light surrounded the shade.
“Brother!” Al came through the door in a burst of energy. “I’m so glad you’re awake!”
Ed mustered up a smile at the sight of him. “Hi, Al. Sorry for,” he flapped a hand at himself, “all this.”
“It’s okay, now that you’re awake. Do you feel any better?” Al leaned over the bed, the red pin points in the eye holes of the helmet glowing.
“A little.” Dropping his hand away from his shoulder, Ed frowned at his brother. “Did you okay me getting morphine?”
Al straightened with a clatter of his armor. “It was the only way to get you to rest! The doctor said you weren’t healing, you were making yourself worse.”
“Nng!” Ed showed his teeth.
“You know I’m right, Brother,” Al said, chiding him. “You have to rest to heal and you weren’t doing either.”
The door opened again and Ed hoped it was anyone who’d get him out of this conversation with his little brother – then, on realization who’d come through the opening, his hopes dashed. “You.”
“Ah, Fullmetal,” Mustang drawled. “It’s good to see you awake.”
“I’d be willing to be unconscious again if I didn’t have to see your face,” Ed grumbled.
“Brother! That’s so rude!”
Mustang waved a lazy hand. “Don’t worry about it, Alphonse. I expected something similar from your brother.” He folded his arms. “You did take an assignment without my permission, Edward. We will be discussing that.”
Assignment? Ed tried to remember something about that, but his mind was blank, with a couple of tantalizing images. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll send you a report. You can go back to East City now, and let me rest in peace.”
Jaw tightening, Mustang said, “I’m afraid I need the information about Nicholas Cloyes, Edward. Just as soon as you’re able to provide it, as Major General Hakuro is also waiting for that.”
A memory surfaced, of a file and a military office. The images fragmented when Mustang laid his palm on Ed’s shoulder. He jerked his head up, frowning at the colonel as he removed his hand. “Yeah, well,” he said, recovering his growl. “I’ll get it to you.”
“Brother, do you remember what happened?” Al asked, worry reverberating through the empty armor.
“You don’t remember?” Mustang’s eyes narrowed sharply.
Ed shook a ‘no’, his hand flexing in the blanket.
Mustang turned to Alphonse. “Were you aware of this earlier, Alphonse?”
Al sounded horrified when he answered, “No, sir!”
“It’s not his fault,” Ed snapped. A slow throbbing in his head was building into an ache. “I have a concussion, and I’ve been on drugs. My memory will come back!”
“Yes, but how soon,” Mustang muttered, rubbing his chin.
“Talk to Dr. Payne.” Ed closed his eyes, just for a second, trying to blot out some of the light stabbing into them.
“Brother?” Al’s leather hand rested lightly on the cast of his leg.
“Jus’ my head,” Ed muttered. “Gonna be okay, Al.”
“You should rest, Brother,” Al said, the weight of his hand disappearing.
“Yes,” Mustang’s voice seemed to come from far away.
“Mm.” Ed agreed with them both this time, exhaustion dragging him down into real sleep, this time.
X X X
“He doesn’t remember anything?” Hakuro’s disbelief was conveyed by the telephone lines.
“Not at this time. The doctor said that’s common in injuries of this type, traumatic and also involving a concussion. Edward should regain his memories, hopefully in a short time.” Roy leaned against the side of the call box, his free hand tucked into his pocket. Outside the window, he could see Hawkeye, facing toward the street, her attention focused elsewhere. Toward threats that might come his way.
Hakuro sighed gustily. “Nicholas Cloyes and his child army have vanished.” Somehow, Roy wasn’t surprised by that bit of news. “The train master doesn’t have any records of a large group of people leaving in the past few days, but they are completely absent from the areas where they’ve been panhandling recently.”
“Of course,” Roy murmured. One more thing to discuss with Hughes, when he checked in later.
“Cloyes has very radical ideas,” Hakuro said, and Roy wasn’t sure if he was reminding himself or the persons listening to him. “He could be dangerous to Amestris.”
“Yes,” Roy said, his mind whirling. If he were Cloyes, where would he have gone? How would he have gone? What had happened to the children? A yawning pit opened in his stomach as he thought of all the orphans, and what might have happened to them. At what had happened to Edward. Had Cloyes ordered the attack on Edward? Had something else untoward happened?
“I will have my men follow up on any leads,” Hakuro said, again sound as if he was speaking to someone other than Roy. He wondered if the major general currently had people in his office besides his staff. “Thank you for your time, Colonel Mustang. And thank Major Elric, too.”
The dismissal was as final as the ‘click’ indicating the connection had been broken. Roy stared at the receiver for a few seconds, then replaced it in its cradle. Outside the telephone booth, people walked by, intent on their lives, not knowing, perhaps, how fragile those were. How things could be changed in just an instant. Death came for everyone, as sudden and as swift as a hawk dropping out of the sky.
But for those who survived that blow, things were forever changed.
Opening the door, Roy stepped out of it, the sounds suddenly overwhelming. He took a deep breath. “Lieutenant?”
“Yes, sir?” She turned to face him, and Roy studied her familiar face. If he knew where to look, he could see how the violence in Ishbal had changed her. There was no way to wipe those shadows from her, any more than there was a way to change what had happened to the Elric brothers in their past, nor what Edward had experienced here in New Optain. Even if his memory didn’t return, Edward and Alphonse would remain scarred by Edward’s hospital stay, with what had happened with Nicholas Cloyes.
“Make arrangements for us to return to East City,” he said. “Tomorrow.”
“And the Elric brothers?” Hawkeye asked.
Roy ran a hand over his hair, his bangs falling back into his eyes, despite his attempt to smooth it down. “I’m sure they will be returning to Resembool with the Rockbells.” It would be a safe place for them to recover, he thought, besides, Edward would need his automail repaired. “In fact, to make sure Edward does just that, I’ll assign him medical leave, and request he returns to East City when Dr. Rockbell considers him able to report for duty.”
Hawkeye’s eyebrow twitched. “Do you actually believe he’ll follow that order?”
Tucking his hands into the pockets of his trousers, Roy shrugged. “Whether he will or he won’t, he’ll have to rest somewhere, and without automail, he won’t get very far.”
“No,” Hawkeye agreed, “he won’t.”
Roy allowed himself a tiny smile. “And I doubt Alphonse would agree to carry him on any attempt to run away.”
Dry amusement colored Hawkeye’s voice as she said, “No, he probably wouldn’t.” She waited for a few seconds as Roy studied the street in front of them. “Back to the hospital, sir?”
“Yes,” he said, “I suppose I need to speak to the Rockbells as well, if they’ve arrived.” Turning, he began the walk back to the hospital, relishing, even for a few seconds, the warm air on his skin. He really didn’t like hospitals.
X X X
Spotting Al, Winry and the old hag coming through the door to his hospital room, Ed realized just how much he dreaded this conversation. It was going to be a hell of a lot worse than the one he’d had with the bastard, he just knew it.
“What happened to you?!” Winry’s shrill voice cut right into his ears, making Ed wince.
“Nothing!” he snapped. Geeze, why had Dr. Payne let Winry in his room, anyway? Damn it, why didn’t he tell her to keep Winry out? Why didn’t Al keep her out? Oh, right, his brother could be a traitor!
“You’re all,” Winry flapped a hand at him, her eyes narrowing and her jaw tensing.
“Broken,” Pinako said dryly.
“Yeah!” Winry nodded at her grandmother’s assessment.
“I’m fine,” Ed grumbled. “Or will be. Just as soon as this cast comes off.”
“And your automail is repaired,” Pinako said.
Ed groaned. “That won’t take too long, will it?”
Pinako tapped the knee of his cast. “Depends. We’ve got a lot of time to work on your automail. It takes at least six weeks to heal from a broken leg, then there’s the rehabilitation.”
“Nng!” Teeth gritted, Ed tried not to think how much time he was going to be wasting on healing. Damn it. He had to be smarter next time he was in a situation like this last one, and not get so badly hurt. Al was waiting for him to figure out a way to get their bodies back, and that sure as hell wasn’t going to happen while he was laid up like this. “I’ll be on my feet before you know it,” he snapped.
“Brother, you should heal up properly,” Al said, proving himself even more the traitor.
“And you’ll be doing that at home,” Mustang said, breezing into the room.
Great, things were just getting worse. “I don’t have a home!” Ed growled at him.
“In Resembool, then,” Mustang said, waving him off. “Dr. Rockbell, I am assigning Edward medical leave, and putting him into your care.” The old hag nodded with a grunt, and Ed rolled his eyes. Stupid bastard! “And, Edward, once she releases you for duty, you’ll report to me in East City for your next assignment – and not take any side trips.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it!”
“I’m sure you do,” Mustang said, and Pinako let out a cackle that let Ed know they were communicating on a totally different level. “Dr. Rockbell, if I might speak to you for a few minutes?” He tilted his head toward the hall, and they walked out through the door.
Ed let out a sigh at them going, then jerked as Winry rounded on him again. “What happened to you? Why are you such a mess?”
“None of your business!” Ed told her. He wasn’t about to say he didn’t remember – and Al wouldn’t. He glared at Winry, ignoring how worried she looked, even though she stuffed her fists on her hips and frowned. There was no reason for Winry to be upset. Ed knew he was going to be fine, and he’d get Al’s body back, and everything would be right again. But from the way Winry stared at him, he knew he had to say something more, something to get her off his back. “Military business,” he said, relenting just a little. “I was just following orders.”
Winry took a deep breath, and slumped down into the chair next to his bed. “Okay, Ed,” she said, folding her arms tightly.
Yeah, Ed told himself, that worked. Even if he couldn’t remember them anymore.
“It’s okay, Winry,” Al said, bending over her. “Brother’s healing really well!”
Yeah. He was, and would get out of here, soon. Back to Resembool, and the smell of sheep, and nothing to do but recuperate. How boring was that.
The light from the window shone for a second on Winry’s hair, and something flashed in Ed’s memory – a girl, with wide blue eyes and wavy hair, one who could’ve been Winry, except for the way her mouth twisted up, so harsh, and the stick she raised, aiming for him.
And then it was gone in a flare of red.
“Brother?” Al was leaning over him now, concern in his voice.
“Ed, are you okay? You blanked out!” Winry said, standing at the foot of his bed, craning so she could meet his eyes.
“Yeah, fine,” he said, adding, “just thinking how dull it’s going to be, going back to Resembool.”
“Oh!” Winry stamped her foot. “You – you brat! I ought to tell Granny to just leave you here in the hospital!”
“Winry! Brother!” Al looked from one of them to the other, patting the air in an attempt to calm Winry down. She looked ready to go off on both of them now.
Ed showed her his teeth, prepared to let her rail as long as she wanted. In the mean time, he’d keep that fragment of his memory to himself. It wouldn’t help anything, to tell anybody something like that. Not now. Not until he figured out just whose orders he’d been following all this time.
Mentally shaking off that grim thought, Ed snapped off something at Winry, insuring she’d rattle on for a while longer. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad, going back to the country for a little while. At least one thing was certain there: in Resembool, he’d be able to get the best mutton sandwiches.
X X X