A Brother's Burden

Plans of Action

The next day Ed woke up in a bed in a strange room. For an instant he felt hot panic course through his veins. Where was he? Where was Al? Then memory came back, quick and painful. Right, Alphonse was with Hohenheim now, and he was alone.

That wasn't entirely true though, after all he had Mustang who was willing to put up with him. I'm here because I care about what happens to you, Ed; that's what Mustang had said to him yesterday. He was still baffled by it, the Colonel had never given a rat's ass about him before and now he said he cared? Was it because he was suddenly labeled a dying man? Was there something so pitiful about his situation that Mustang of all people were willing to help him?

Ed also remembered himself breaking down like a pathetic child. Ed groaned and drew his knees up to his chest, pressing his forehead against his kneecaps. That was forever going to scar his memory, him falling apart in front of Mustang. He'd be lucky if the man ever let him live it down.

Ed pulled his head up when there was a light knock on the closed door to his room. "Coming," he called, climbing out from under the light blanket. Padding across the floor he opened the door to find Mustang there, dressed in casual clothing, holding a plate with scrambled eggs, sausages, and half of an apple.

"You slept in pretty late and I figured you'd be hungry," Mustang said with a shrug to Ed's quizzical look.

Ed responded without thinking about his words, "Thank you, sir. It's very kind of you." Ed took the plate and turned away hurriedly, but not quickly enough to miss the look of concern pass over his commander's face. Ed was perfectly aware he'd been acting odd lately, too polite and quiet for anyone's taste. Truth be told his anger was a guard against people, Al had always been the only company he needed. By being loud and obnoxious he held everyone at arm’s length. Yet there was something no one ever considered. He had been raised by Trisha Elric and grown up with Alphonse Elric, two of the nicest people in the world. There was no way one could grow up like that and not be a nice person. Being angry had taken effort for him at first, then it came naturally. These days though being so angry all the time just took too much energy, it was easier to just boggle everyone's mind by acting the way he was raised.

At least that was Ed's reason for acting polite all of the sudden. Scientifically speaking Ed's mood swing can be connected to his illness chemically altering his brain function. Or if he were to take a psychological approach it could be from the combined trauma of his life plus his fight with Alphonse, followed by receiving news of his approaching end. In the end though it didn't really matter to him, it was just the way he was right now and that was that.

Ed sat on the edge of his bread and began picking at his food, aiming to mix it together so much that Mustang couldn't tell how much he ate. His appetite had been lax recently, he knew he needed to eat since he fed both his own body and Al's in a weird way; but everything he put into his mouth tasted bland. He just couldn't find the will to eat.

Looking up Ed saw Mustang standing uncertainly in the doorway. Ed gestured with his fork to the chair by the desk across from him, "You're welcome to sit down you know," he said.

Mustang did so, nodding his thanks. They were silent for a few minutes, but it wasn't the awkward silence like before. Mustang was watching Ed and Ed was looking at his plate, making an effort to take a bite of food every now and then. At last it was Ed who chose to break the silence, "I was going to go out looking for a hotel in Central today. I'll need to buy some new clothes as well so people don't recognize me."

Ed knew that Mustang knew that when he said 'people' he meant Al. Mustang frowned "Why not just transmute some?" Right after the words left his lips his eyes widened slightly and he slapped a hand to his forehead, "Right sorry."

Ed smiled slightly, "It's okay, sir. I can't do alchemy right now if it makes whatever sickness I'm supposed to have worse. I'll have to get by some other manner."

"You know you don't need to leave as well," Mustang said. "You're welcome here as long as you want."

"I don't want to be a burden, sir," Edward said.

Mustang sighed, "Edward, quit calling me sir already; it's very disturbing coming from you."

"I'm sorry," Edward said sincerely.

Something tickled the back of his throat and Ed squashed the sudden urge to cough. He almost succeeded and instead made it sound like he was clearing his throat before speaking. "Look, si-... Mustang. Thank you for everything you've done for me over the past two days. But I think it's best if I get out of your, and your team's, hair."

"Edward what did I tell you yesterday? I'm not letting you face this matter alone. You are a part of the team whether you wish to be or not, and in the military we take care of our own."

Edward needed to cough really bad at this point and it was getting difficult not to. "Thank you Mustang," he said hoarsely. "If you don't mind I'd like to get changed now."

Mustang stood up and nodded, "Of course," he said. The man's obsidian eyes fell to Edward's plate of food that was still uneaten. "Are you not hungry?" he asked, his eyes echoing his concern. Edward nodded and made Mustang's frown deepen. "Your father said you wouldn't lose your appetite until later though…"

"Mustang, my not eating has nothing to do with my apparent disease. And if you don't mind can you not call Hohenheim my father? That bastard has absolutely no claim to my life."

Mustang looked at Ed in surprise before slowly nodding, "I understand."

"Thank you." With that Mustang left the room, shutting Ed's door behind him. Ed listened to Mustang's retreating footsteps and once he judged the man a safe distance away, Ed began to cough violently. The coughs were hard and fast, tearing at his lungs like miniature bombs located in his chest. It hurt, but he made himself bear it; muffling the sound as best as he could.

When the fit subsided Ed pulled on his black shirt and changed into his black leather pants. He braided his hair quickly and left the room to search out Mustang. Today was Saturday so there was no work to go to unless it was an emergency that required his attention. So it was that Ed found Mustang in the kitchen with his red coat and a transmutation circle. He arrived just in time to see the blue alchemic light as Mustang conducted the transmutation. When it was done Mustang stood, lifting the now white coat.

"I thought I'd be able to conduct the transmutation, though this isn't my specialty."

"It's fine, thank you, Mustang," Ed said; accepting the coat. Pulling the coat on Edward walked to the living room where over one wall Mustang had a map of Amestris. "I think I'll travel here," Edward said pointing a little off the map to Xing. "Their Alkahestry may be able to cure whatever I have."

Mustang eyed the map with a dubious glance. "That's a long way out and past the desert, I'm not sure that's in your best interest at the moment."

Edward shrugged, "I don't have much of a choice at the moment, I need to get a cure that I don't believe an average doctor can give."

"Why don't we stay a little closer to home for now, I can contact some people in Xing and see if anyone is willing to come out here."

"How would you convince them of that though? I mean advertising, 'hey we have a sick alchemist out here that needs help, but don't worry he's the almighty Edward Elric!' Doesn't really sound all that enticing."

"Not when you phrase it that way," Roy said; flicking Ed in the back of the head casually. "You need to give it more spice. Now if you said 'the Fullmetal alchemist needs someone who knows Alkahestry to help him; honor for your clan,' there may be a different story. Just give me some time."

Edward considered it, honestly he wasn't really looking forward to going to Xing. The desert wasn't his favorite place to start off with, besides that though he felt a bit lethargic. "Alright," he said at last. "I'll give you some times, then I'm going off if you can't find anything."

"Sounds fair," Mustang agreed. They shook hands on it and then Ed suddenly realised that he had nothing else planned.

"So uh… what do we do now?" he asked sheepishly.


Alphonse sat beside his father in the roofless jeep as they drove out of Central. They had spent yesterday in the library after their confrontation with Mustang. They had needed to do a small amount of research on Edward's ailment before setting out. It became apparent very quickly to his father that there was only one course to take to relieve Ed of his burden. He wouldn't discuss it with Al, having found what he had been looking for, just going about ordering Al and expecting him to listen.

And he had listened, despite the itch in the back of his neck at not knowing what was going on. He had chosen to trust his father and follow him; something Edward would scream at him for. Al sighed, if brother was here he'd never follow their dad; even if he didn't hate his guts. No he'd have made dad tell him what was going on first, in excruciating detail; and only then would he have gone along.

Al hardened his heart as he sat there; he'd make his father tell him now or he'd not go another step. "Dad," Al said.

Hohenheim looked over at his son with upturned eyebrows at the tone Al used. "What is it, son?"

"Where are we going, what are we doing when we get there, and how will this help Brother?" Alphonse demanded in one fluent rush.

Credit to his dad for not even hesitating before responding. "We are going to the ruins of Xerxes between Xing and Amestris. What we are doing is some very complicated alchemy to get you your body back. And it doesn't directly benefit Edward but I'm sure he'll feel better knowing your normal again."

Al would have gaped had he been able to. "We're really going to get my body back? But Brother and I have been searching forever and-" Al metaphorically clamped his mouth shut. "Never mind. Brother comes first and then we'll take care of my body and whatever may come next."

"I'm glad you feel that way Alphonse but first things first and that's getting you your body back. I don't know how to help your brother right now but I know how to help you and so that's just what I'm going to do."

Al had a warm feeling in the center of his soul upon hearing that from his father. He was glad his father cared about him so much as to go out of his way to help him. He knew he wasn't being good to Brother but as he sat back in his seat again he couldn't help feeling guilty for not devoting himself so completely to helping brother. As he began to turn his thoughts away from the matter he heard his father say softly. "It's not as if Edward doesn't have anyone there for him right now."

Alphonse mentally frowned at the statement he probably wasn't supposed to hear. What had his father meant by that? He thought at first it was said in sarcasm, because Edward was alone back at central; or wherever he was. Yet his father hadn't sounded sarcastic or remorseful, rather he sounded jealous. Why would that be?


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