A Brother's Burden

Illness

When Ed and Mustang left the house Ed had to fight the urge to hide behind something. The night before had been a long war with himself. Several times he had left the guest room of Roy's house, fully planning on returning to Alphonse and apologizing for his actions. Each time though he made it to the door before something halted him. He just couldn't go back, Al hated him right now and Edward had no inclination to go crawling back to him. He loved his brother more than life itself, but if Alphonse was going to hate him; Ed would respect that decision and keep his distance.

Granted that line of thinking did not explain his urge to hide behind Mustang as they sauntered down the street to HQ. His muscles were tense and his eyes had the habit of darting left and right each time they turned a corner. His heart would skip a beat every time some piece of metal or other caught the sunlight, each time thinking it was the metal of Alphonse's armor.

None such thing happened though, rather he only earned himself some askance glances from the famous Colonel Bastard. Ed was pathetically grateful though that he said nothing as they walked down the streets of Central. As they continued Edward tried not to think about how he'd react if he saw Hohenheim or Alphonse, tried not to picture if he'd act upset or apologetic for running away. Despite that though he could not block out such thoughts and so by the time they were walking up the steps of the Command Center, Edward had a thin sheen of sweat gathered from shear stress.

The stress he was under must have been fairly apparent because as they walked up the steps Mustang put a hand on his shoulder. Whether to offer comfort or support should Ed collapse, he knew not. When they walked through the doors the receptionist clerk looked up at them, recognition dawning on their face. The lady looked first to the Colonel, then to Edward, then to the hand on Ed's shoulder. Edward looked up at Mustang to see the man scowling darkly; the receptionist wisely turned their head back to some suddenly very interesting documents.

Roy let his hand fall off Ed's shoulder and a small pang ran through his chest. Ed frowned slightly at the feeling of loss. He brushed it off quickly and followed his commander as he made to the elevator. "You realize the receptionist is going to talk," Ed said carefully as the elevator doors slid closed on the two of them. Mustang leaned back against the wall and let the scowl deepen on his face, "I don't care," he stated almost petulantly.

Edward smirked up at the man for his tone of voice, but didn't say anything. It was only at that moment he realized how backwards they were right at the moment. With him smirking like the Colonel Bastard himself, and Mustang scowling like he was Ed confronted with a short joke or milk. That only made Ed smirk broaden which made it worse. It was probably the stress getting to him but somewhere between the 3rd and 4th floor he had to fight off waves of giggles that threatened to break his cool exterior.

If Mustang noticed any of his inward struggles he didn't show it or say anything. When they reached the 7th floor the elevator stopped and the doors slid open. Mustang strode out followed quickly by Edward, who had to lengthen his stride in order to keep up with the man. They reached Mustang's front office where the rest of the team was already working.

Havoc, Breda, Feury, Falman, and Hawkeye all looked up as one to greet Roy with a loud chorus of "Good morning sir!" Edward had followed almost on Mustang's heels and now stood behind the man, making it so that none of the team could see him.

Mustang cleared his throat loudly, making the already looking eyes look at him again. "Listen up!" The Colonel said firmly. "For the time being the Fullmetal alchemist, Edward Elric, will be here on a regular basis. Should his brother Alphonse or his father Hohenheim come in search of him you are to tell them that he hasn't been seen. Am I understood?"

Edward had to give Mustang credit for coming up with the cover story. He hadn't even thought of Al coming here to look for him… Still, it grinded on his nerves when the Colonel called Hohenheim his father.

The team for their part looked completely baffled. Havoc and Breda exchanged looks while Feury scratched his head in confusion. It was only Hawkeye, who was standing in one corner of the room with a gun in her free hand, that saluted smartly and said "Yes sir!"

At last Havoc looked to Mustang and said, "I guess we can do that, Boss. But where is Chief anyway?"

"Right here," Edward said hesitantly, stepping out from behind Mustang; but also not moving too far away. There was a small gasp from Feury as the team took in Ed's haggard appearance. He knew he looked like a mess, with his hair in a messing braid, dark circles under his eyes, and the rumpled clothes. He ducked his head in embarrassment, his cheeks turning warm. These things had never bothered him before yesterday but suddenly the smallest of things became important to him.

Edward felt Roy put his hand on his shoulder again and though Ed didn't look up to check, he was almost certain Roy was sending a warning scowl to the team. "Anyway," Mustang said at length. "We'll be in my office for the time being should anyone require us." As Roy led Ed to the inner office, Edward was stopped by Havoc who had grabbed a hold of his coat sleeve.

"If Boss tries to load you up on too much of his paperwork feel free to call for Hawkeye." Havoc said in a confidential whisper. "She'll set him in his place in a hurry."

Edward smiled at Havoc and nodded before proceeding into the office, not seeing the worried frowns on the team's face. Nor the look of fierceness on Hawkeye's face as she polished her gun.


Roy covertly observed his subordinate as he moved about the morning work. They had given him the simple job of going through documents on Roy's desk (Which Hawkeye was not happy with) and determining which were in desperate need of Roy's signature, and which could wait… well, until a later date. Edward had been working diligently on the couch he usually sat in; his back against the armrest with his knees pulled up to his chest, his work propped on his thighs as he read them. Roy had been very much disconcerted by the unusual quiet that filled the room. It ate at his nerves and made him wonder how Fullmetal could be so calm about such a loud silence.

The clock neared noon when Edward got up from the couch and carried his stack of papers over to Roy's desk, already awash in reports. "These three need your signature by noon," Edward reported quietly, his voice barely above a whisper. "Then this stack is needed by the end of the day, the rest can wait until next week at the latest."

Roy groaned as he looked at the papers, "I'd thank you," he said. "But at this point I wouldn't really mean it." Edward gave a small smile at that but Roy couldn't bring himself to leave it as that. "Tell you what," Mustang said. "Let me get these three documents signed and we can go out and get something to eat. You barely had any pancakes this morning so you must be starved."

Fullmetal opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by Roy's phone going off. Roy gave the kid an apologetic look before picking the phone up and saying "Mustang speaking."

"Sir," it was the receptionist speaking. "I'm sorry to report but Alphonse Elric and another man are coming directly to your office without a guest pass. E.T.A; thirty seconds, I-"

Roy slammed the phone onto the receiver with a loud oath. Edward's eyes widened and then grew to the size of dinner plates when Roy told him his brother was coming. "Crap," Edward said, looking around rapidly for a place to hide.

Roy stood up and came around to the other side of his desk. "Get under the desk and stay under until I give say otherwise, got it?"

"Yes, sir," Edward replied. Hurriedly going around the side of the desk and crawling under. Roy shook his head at Edward's polite tone of voice, it was still disconcerting to hear such politeness from him. Edward wasn't under the desk for two seconds before the door to his office burst open to reveal a giant suit of armor followed by a blond haired man who could only be Hohenheim in the flesh.

"Colonel!" Alphonse cried out upon seeing Roy standing in front of his desk, trying to look nonchalant. "You must help us! Brother's gone missing!"

Roy raised an eyebrow, an action he judged was safe enough to do. "Fullmetal has gone missing? How long, he could just be out getting a bite to eat; or researching in the library."

Alphonse shook his head hurriedly. "He's been gone all night, sir. I checked the library and he never said he was going to go out to eat."

Roy frowned. Alphonse never mentioned the fight between him and Edward. "Well where did you last see him?"

Here Alphonse looked down at the ground, somehow looking abashed. "Well you see… Brother and I got in a fight and I said some things I didn't mean… I hurt him so he ran, sir. Now I can't find him!"

Roy leaned back against the desk and folded his arms across his chest. "Alphonse, let me tell you this honestly. Fullmetal… Edward, he's a smart kid. I'm sure he knows you didn't really mean it. Just give him some time and he'll come around I'm sure." Roy wondered if Edward was hearing any of this. He expected the boy to come out of hiding already and tell Alphonse that he was sorry to run away, but still no such thing happened.

"If I may cut in," said the blond haired man beside Alphonse. Ah yes, Roy thought to himself, here was probably why Edward didn't come out. "Sir, you do not entirely understand how dire it is we find my son, Alphonse's brother, as soon as possible."

"Then maybe you would be so kind as to enlighten me," Roy said, one hand sliding towards the pocket that contained his spark gloves.

Hohenheim saw the move and raised both hands defensively. "Easy, I don't mean any trouble. I just need to find my boy."

He's not 'your boy' anymore, Roy thought.

"-Edward's very ill."

Roy's thoughts snapped back to the present at those words, he hadn't really been listening to anything Hohenheim said until that point.

"What do you mean?"

"It's his alchemy, it's been poisoned."

Roy arched a very quizzical eyebrow at this. "Poisoned? How can one poison alchemy?"

"Lab 5," Alphonse said, "Red water, bad food."

"Trisha's sickness, human transmutation," Hohenheim added woefully.

Roy held up one hand to stall both of them. "You mean Edward's alchemy is poisoned because of lab five, red water, bad food, and the sickness his mother died of? Why did this not happen sooner?"

"It'd have happened later had Edward not been exposed to the red water and lab five. Because he's been through so much it's speeded up the process. Using alchemy makes it worse," said Hohenheim

"Does Edward know about this?" Roy asked despite knowing that if the boy didn't already he sure did now.

"He does but he won't listen," Alphonse said quietly.

"Worse yet he and Alphonse got in a large row before he ran off. Emotional strain is just going to make it worse on Edward."

"What are the symptoms?" Roy asked, buying time while he decided whether he should reveal his stowaway.

"Coughing, weariness, panic attacks, fever, headache, lack of appetite, vomiting, and memory loss," Hohenheim said in a matter of fact tone. "In that order."

"Well then I guess it is important we find Fullmetal A.S.A.P. Besides, his report is two weeks late," Roy said, his mind turning over the information. "I'll send out a search team and try to find him. No promises though since it has yet to be a full 24 hours. I'll make a note to have him transferred to a hospital should he be found, okay?"

"Thank you, sir," said Alphonse, bowing.

"Sure thing Alphonse," Roy said, nodding his head in acknowledgement of the boy's gratitude. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to make a few phone calls and then I must get to a meeting. If you'll both kindly excuse me."

"Of course, sir. Thank you for all your help, we'll be leaving now," Alphonse said, bowing again as he backed out of the room. Hohenheim had a suspicious look on his face and looked like he wasn't going to leave willingly. Thankfully Alphonse grabbed the man by the arm and literally dragged him out of the room.

When Roy was absolutely sure they were gone he ordered Edward out from under the desk. Edward crawled out from under and stood briefly, his knees wobbling. A look of fear was plastered to his young face as his whole body trembling like a leaf on the wind. Then his legs gave out and he collapsed into Roy's office chair. He held up one arm before his face, gazing at his hand as if it was foreign to him. Roy's heart went out to the boy who must be feeling lost at the moment.

Roy took a seat on the couch and looked at Edward who had lowered his arm and was now staring vacantly at the wall. Roy knew the look well; it was the look of someone who had just been given their death sentences. He had seen it in the faces of prisoners, and patients who contracted horrible diseases that the doctors could not cure. The latter scenario was sort of what the boy was going through now actually.

"Do you know what you're going to do about it?" Roy asked quietly.

Edward looked at Roy and he was shocked by how calm Edward looked, his gaze firm and direct. "Nothing," he said quietly.

Roy's heart nearly stopped in his chest. He had never heard Edward's voice so full of empty hopelessness. Never had it been so full of resignation, despair… indifference. It was almost as if he didn't care what happened to him. "You can't possibly mean that," Roy said. "I mean, I can understand your shocked and the situation seems hopeless but there has to be a cure for even this."

"You don't understand," Edward said, his eyes still glazed over. "This is the punishment for my crimes. Dying is how I can finally make amends for all the wrong I've done, all the people I've hurt…"

"You never did anything wrong though," Roy argued. "And everyone hurts someone at one point in their lives! Besides, how are you going to fulfill your promise to Alphonse if you're dead!"

Ed smiled a smile that sent shivers down Roy's spine. "That's the beauty of it, don't you see. Al finally has the resources he needs to get his body back." Edward put his automail arm to his chest. "My body and soul in exchange for Alphonse's body, what could be better?"

"Fullmetal, do you really think Alphonse would take his body back if he knew how he was going to get it?"

"Not at first no," Edward said with a slight frown. "I'd have to wait until Alphonse accepts the inevitable. Then he'd have to allow me to do it…" Ed's voice trailed off, lost in thought.

"And can you confront him now? Why did you not go to him?"

Ed shook his head in confusion, "I don't know. I don't want to see Al right now I guess. I'm not mad, I know he's not mad. Right now though I just don't want him to see me nor I him. Not until I'm close to gone at least, I want to see him before I start forgetting…"

"Edward Elric! You will listen to me this instant!" Roy barked; loud enough to snap Ed out of whatever trance he was in. The boy looked to him and Roy glared long and hard before speaking. "Your life is not something to be thrown away like yesterday's trash. Your crimes are nonexistent, you acted poorly in a situation that resulted in a mistake; you did not commit so heinous a crime that you should die. Alphonse will not take his body at the price of your own. I do not know any rule that states you should give your life up like this. Or your will to fight for it."

"Equivalent Exchange, that's the first law of alchemy. It states that something cannot be taken without giving something of equal worth first," Ed said in a dead voice.

"The world does not center on the law, no matter what you think Edward! Equivalent exchange does not work for everything in the world! People do things not for their own benefit but for others. This is rare, true, but it is out there."

"But-"

"What am I gaining right now from arguing with you?" Roy asked, cutting across any of Ed's protests. "I'm sitting here, wasting my time on you when your obviously suicidal. I wouldn't be receiving anything for this argument. It'd not be my fault should you die. Yet here I still sit, dealing with you. Why is that?"

"I don't know, sir," Edward said softly. Roy stood up and walked over to stand over Ed, making him turn his eye upwards to look at him. Roy set his hands on the boy's shoulders and looked him right in the eye before he spoke.

"I'm here because I care about what happens to you, Ed. I don't want to see you dying from sickness nor sacrifice. And I'm going to promise you now that I'll do whatever you need to get well again so you and your brother can get your bodies back to normal."

Had Edward been in his right mind he'd have scoffed at Roy's mushy speech. Had said something about old age making mushy brains. Sadly, though Edward was scarred from both his fight with Alphonse, his personal demons, and now the knowledge of a disease eating away at him from the inside out. So rather than make a sarcastic remark Ed nodded his head, tears pricking in his eyes.

Thankfully for Roy, Edward didn't start crying then and there. Roy wasn't sure he could deal with a crying child just yet. Roy moved back from Edward and the boy stood up on still trembling, but firmer legs. "Are you going to find Alphonse and your father?" Roy asked.

"No need," Edward said, having moved to look out the window. "They're right down there standing outside the building."

Roy came to stand by Edward at the window, the sun glaring off the window pane effectively blocking them from sight. Down below he could make out the figures of Alphonse and Hohenheim, looking up at the building from the ground. Not seeing but somehow still managing to look directly at them.

"Will you go to them?" Roy asked, echoing his earlier question.

"No," Edward said with a tone of finality. "They can't help me now, and I cannot help them." There were definitely tears in his eyes now. "Al and I… I think we're going down separate paths. He wants to be with that bastard and I just can't bring myself to do so. Alphonse and Hohenheim can do their own search, they don't need me anymore. And I can do my own search, I don't need them."

"You can't mean that," Roy said softly.

"No, I don't mean that," Edward admitted. "What I mean is… I just can't anymore. It's better if they don't know anything of where I am… Just in case I can't fix it."

"You will," Roy assured him.

"I may not,"

"Then we will," Roy said, placing one hand on Edward's shoulder.

And down below Alphonse said to his father. "I don't think Edward will be coming home." Hohenheim did not miss how Alphonse called Edward by his name and not as Brother.

"How could he leave you like that though?" Hohenheim asked, not fully understanding this brother telepathy the two seemed to have.

"Because I have a father now and Edward no longer feels needed. He's gone off because of his guilt. Edward never did like being a burden."

"Weren't you two going to find a way to get your bodies back though? Together?"

Alphonse laughed lightly, positive to the very end. "We were but then again… I don't think it was ever Edward's intention to get his limbs back. He takes any blow dealt to him as punishment for what we did to mom. No, now that he knows you're here for me he doesn't need to find the stone with me anymore."

"So will we stop searching for him? Rather focus on getting your body back?"

"Of course not, we'll always be searching for him. For now, though we should turn our attention to finding a cure for Edward, as well as a way to get our bodies back. Then we can worry about finding Ed himself. He believes he has to distance himself from us now. He probably thinks he doesn't belong anymore."

Alphonse looked up at the HQ, the sun glinting off his armor in the noonday sky. "I won't give up on Edward, even if he's given up on himself," the boy said firmly. The armor gave off the impression of steely determination, a trait normally left to Edward; Hohenheim had to wonder what must go through that kid's head half the time.

"We'll fix this," Hohenheim said, "I promise."


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