A Brother's Burden


That day had gone better than either Edward or Roy had expected, that was up until Ed fainted. They hadn't had anything to do and the country was relatively stable for that day and so they both had the day to themselves. Roy made arrangements for someone from Xing to come out here and help Edward. Edward for his part had invaded Roy's library and stuffed a bunch of books into his suitcase. When Roy was done he packed lunch for the two of them and they went to Central park where Roy left Ed to his own devices while he attended to some local errands at the marketplace.

When Roy had completed his errands (Mainly shopping for things he'd need in his house now that Edward was around), he had dropped the stuff back off at his place before returning to the park to search out Edward who was ordered to stay put. Roy was half shocked to find Edward had remained in the same place, he had honestly expected for him to go running off and getting a building destroyed. Rather he found Edward under a tree on his stomach, asleep on top of a book he had been reading in the shade. It was getting towards late evening, the sun setting slowly; more importantly though it was getting close to dinnertime.

Roy climbed the hill to where Edward was and shook the boy gently to get him awake. He frowned slightly as the boy refused to respond to his touch. Roy carefully removed the book from his hand and placed it to the side before rolling Edward onto his back. Then he noticed the sweat that covered Edward's head and the way his eyes rolled beneath their lids. He knew the signs of a nightmare well, having gone through Ishbal he had his fair share of them. So very carefully he knelt beside the boy and began shaking him again; trying not to frighten him to much. It didn't do him much good though as the boy still refused to wake.

"I'm sorry," Ed whispered in a broken voice. It pulled at the heartstrings in Roy that Edward on a normal day would swear didn't exist. He didn't know for certain but he had a good idea on what the boy was having a nightmare about. Suddenly Ed's hand reached out and snatched Roy's sleeve, making the man jump out of his skin. He thought for a moment that Ed was awake but that was proven to be false as the boy's eyes were still glued shut. "Al… Mom… Nina… Hughes…Roy… Everyone, I'm so sorry, it's my fault…"

"Ed," Roy said without thinking. "It's not your fault, you couldn't have known." Well honestly before today Roy had thought that Alphonse and his mother were Ed's fault. Not Nina and Hughes though, the boy couldn't have helped that; he'd never knew.

"My fault…"

"It's not, now wake up Edward or I swear I'll slap you awake!"

Normally Edward's nightmares consisted of him being a kid again, well more of a kid than he was now. He was always inside his house as it was burning to the ground, he could hear himself outside talking to Alphonse, Winry, and Pinako. He'd call out to them from inside, and he knew that they heard him, but they didn't listen. Because the Ed trapped inside the house was a part of their mistakes, a part of their shame. A part that he didn't like to acknowledge. In his dreams and in his dreams only did he allow himself to be weak. He never was allowed to show weakness outside of his dreams, he couldn't afford to be weak.

This dream though was different from the other's he experienced. He wasn't in his house; he was at a graveyard on a sunny day. He had both his arms and legs in the flesh and stood before a row of tombstones. He was dressed in a black tuxedo; one he hadn't worn since the day his mother died. Another thing that separated him from the previous nightmares, he wasn't a child; he was his own size.

Looking at the graves tears came to his eyes as he saw what they read. Ivy grew around one of them, obviously the oldest one there. He didn't need to move the fungal growth to know that it read Trisha Elric. On either side of her grave were graves reading Alphonse Elric and Van Hohenheim. Then in a line came Nina Tucker, Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye, Breda, Falman, Feury, Havoc, Winry, Granny, Hughes, Gracia, Elicia, Rose, and so forth listing everyone who had ever helped him or ever said a kind word. All the people who surrounded him were dead in order for him to get his body back and be allowed to live. They were dead because of him; they were dead because of his mistake.

Edward's vision became watery with tears as he walked down the line of graves until he came to a shaded part of the cemetery. Here a lone grave stood beneath a willow, separate from all the others that sat under the sun. This one he didn't need to read but did so anyway. Fullmetal Alchemist; Not Edward Elric, not Edward. Because he didn't deserve to be buried with his family, he didn't even deserve to be remembered by his name. Only by his title, only as a dog of the military.

Ed fell to his knees before the grave, tears streaming down his face. "I'm sorry!" He screamed as loudly as he could. "Al, Mom, Nina, Hughes, Roy, Everyone; I'm so sorry, it's all my fault!" He wailed and banged the ground with his human fists, smashing them long past the point where they should have started bleeding. He wished he could feel pain at that moment, enough pain to repay for all those who died because of him.

A hand fell onto his shoulder that caused him to cease his sobbing and movement. "Ed, it's not your fault, you couldn't have known." Ed looked up and behind him to find Roy dressed in a black tux looking at him sadly.

"You're not here," Ed whispered; confused beyond knowing. "You're dead, I saw your grave. You're gone, I killed you. It's all my fault you're all dead; my fault…"

Roy gave him a hard look, going Colonel on him. "It's not. Now wake up Edward or I swear I'll slap you awake!"

Ed felt tears running down his face again. He bowed his head in resignation. "You have all rights to hurt me, I won't hold it against you."

He looked up without moving his head to see Roy kneeling down beside him on the cold ground. "No," Roy said quickly. "I'm sorry Ed, I shouldn't have said that. You don't deserve to be hurt; you have nothing to make up for; you understand me?"

Ed shook his head, his shoulders quivering. "No; it's my fault Al's in the armor, mom… Nina shouldn't have died at all; I should have known. And Hughes died for Al and me and our search. No one should have to die for me! I'm not worth it!"

Edward was perfectly aware that he was in a dream talking to someone who wasn't really there. He was a smart person but rather than control his dreams like some people did when they figured out they were dreaming, he let his dreams play with him. He let them do as they wished and he rode along for the sake of it. The fact that he knew it was a dream was what made it so surprising when Roy slapped him across the face; it hurt. Dreams hadn't hurt physically before, had they?

"Edward! Listen to me this instant," Roy ordered harshly. Edward looked up into obsidian eyes, hard and angry. "People choose what they do in life. It's not your choice as to whether they should or should not help you, they chose to help you at the cost of their life. You are worth it; otherwise people would not have stuck by you. Hughes wouldn't have helped you if he had thought you weren't worth it. I would not be here now if I did not think you were worth it."

"Why do you care?" Edward asked pleadingly.

"Because I can," Roy answered. Suddenly Edward felt warmth all around him; like someone had just lit a fire right beside him. He closed his eyes and they didn't open again. Was this what death felt like?

Roy couldn't believe what he was doing. If it had been just three days before he'd not have been able to imagine it, now he could though. It was all too sudden, all too quick. He never in a million years thought he'd end up in this position.

Edward hadn't woken up, despite all of Roy's poking and prodding. Tears had begun leaking out of the sleeping boy's eyes which just made Roy's heart go out to him even more. He had continued to talk in his sleep, it even seemed like he had been responding to what Roy was saying. How could you talk to someone in your sleep though? Roy had kept talking though, hoping it'd wake Edward up. It didn't. Roy had become more distressed when Edward began muttering about his own worth. In a rebuke and an attempt to wake the boy, Roy had slapped him like he had threatened to. For an instant he thought it worked as Edward's eyes fluttered, but to no avail.

Finally, Edward had asked him why he cared. Roy had been dumbfounded by such a question. He knew vaguely that no one Edward's age should ask that. They also shouldn't be blaming themselves so much. And so Roy did the first thing that came to mind, he pulled Edward into his lap and hugged the crying child close.

Edward had not awoken when Roy shook him. He had not awoken when Roy had spoken to him. He had not spoken when Roy slapped him. So when a small hand reached up and fisted his shirt, and a head with blond hair turned on its own accord to sob into his chest; he was a little more than shocked. The second shock came as a realization, following on the heels of the first shock. Edward was awake and hadn't punched him in the face; that in itself was a miracle. Roy didn't know what to think, he didn't know what to do.

It took a second for some deep bone set instinct that people in their late 20's had. Once it came though he let it take over as his mind tried to grapple with logic. He made soft hushing noises and mumbled nonsensical words in a kind tone, trying to calm the sobbing child down. Caring seemed to have the opposite effect on the boy though as he only cried harder, and clung tighter. After a few seconds more of soothing Roy settled for letting Edward cry it out of his system. He was pretty damn sure Edward didn't get to be held by someone often; the boy probably needed this.

Normally Roy knew he would have yelled at Edward, told him to get up and fight again. Yes, that is definitely what he'd have done. Then again Edward would not have fallen to pieces before him if he was quite normal as well. So all he did was sit there as the sun vanished and the sky grew dark. He was astonished at how long Edward sobbed before quieting down at last. It had to have gone on for fifteen minutes at least!

When he was done Edward stayed a moment longer before pulling his head away from Roy's chest to look up at the man. He blushed and began trying to scramble off his lap, Roy pinned him down though until the boy ceased struggling. "Are you going to be okay?" Roy asked when Ed's struggles had ceased.

Ed bit his lower and lip and nodded but refused to speak. "If you're not okay," Roy said slowly, thinking his words carefully. "I'm going to be right down the hall, okay? If you need it."

"Thank you Roy," Edward whispered.

Roy let Edward go and the boy scrambled to his feet. Roy stood as well and, completely ignoring the wrinkles where Edward had gripped his shirt, and the wet spot which had absorbed most of the tears, asked Ed. "Ready to head back now?"

Edward stuffed his books back into his bookcase hurriedly before nodding and then the two set off back to the house in companionable silence. Roy was paying close attention to Ed as they walked. He noticed that the boy's breathing was uneven; a bit ragged to. Normally given that he had just spent fifteen minutes crying this wouldn't have been something to worry about though, would it? Roy wasn't sure until Edward was wheezing, not saying anything though.

Roy came to a stop and put a hand on Ed's shoulder to stop the boy as well. They stood under a streetlamp about a block from his house. The lights from Central filled the darkness and made it almost seem as bright as sundown. "Let's stop for a minute until you can breathe again," Roy suggested.

"I'm… Fine…" Edward gasped.

"No, you’re not. Now Edward have you-" Roy never got to finish his question because Edward took that moment to double over, a fit of violent coughs wracking his body. When Edward removed the hand he had used to cover his mouth it came away red. Roy's eyes bulged slightly, "Edward have you been coughing before this?"

Ed nodded silently, his eyes transfixed on the bloodied hand. "It was only today though; I didn't do it all that much even!"

"Let's just get you into bed okay Ed? Are you feeling okay aside from…that?"

Edward looked to think about it, cocking his head to one side as he considered it. "Just a little tired is all."

"That's not good," Roy said. "Let's just get back now, can you walk?"

"I think so," Edward said. Taking a hesitant step forward Edward stopped again. "Oh," he said as if he were surprised to discover something. "It appears I can't," then he fainted.

That night Al and his father camped under the stars. His father had been kind enough to transmute some sand into sticks so they could light a fire to which Al could read by. His eyes didn't get worse from having no light to read by, as he had none to worsen, but he still enjoyed reading by the light. It was one of the things that made him feel human still, and sometimes he needed reminders of that.

Before his father had turned in for the night he had stayed up for hours simply telling Al stories of the places he'd been and things he had seen. The stories made Al want to have adventures as well. It wasn't as if he and Brother didn't have their own share of adventures as it was, but that was all to a purpose. His dad traveled without want or need, aimlessly traveling for the sake of getting around; it sounded like a wonderful life. Yet these stories of traveling without rhyme or reason left something he needed to know.

"Dad," Al said; interrupting his father mid-sentence. "This is wonderful to hear and all. But if you traveled around for no reason… Well, why did you leave? Were you tired of us or something?"

"Absolutely not, Alphonse," his dad responded without missing a beat. "I left because there was something wrong with me physically, I didn't want you guys to see me like that. It was just something I needed to take care of that took a lot longer than I expected to heal. When it was done I came back though and that's why I'm here now."

Al nodded his metal head, accepting the response for what it was. He didn't get any details but he respected his dad's privacy. After that Al had been suckered into sharing some tales of him and Ed. It hurt Al a bit to talk about his Brother when he did not even know where he was. What was he doing now? Did he have a place to sleep? Was he warm enough? Did he get enough food to eat? What about the military, what were they doing to find him? It was of course a possibility that they had found him already, they just had no way to contact Al or his dad. They hadn't exactly left a number they could use to contact them. Before they had left Al had asked his dad if they should stop by the Colonel's office and inform him of where they were headed. He had been surprised at how angry his dad had become at the suggestion. He didn't want anyone to know about where they were going especially 'that bastard colonel'.

Watching his dad sleep now Al found it funny how much Ed was like him. It was more than the physical features; it was how close they were on an emotional level. They had the same mannerisms, same attitude towards certain things (The Colonel); and, as Al soon found out, had the same sleeping issues. It started out quietly enough with his dad shifting position and mumbling in his sleep. Al turned his attention back to his book, thinking nothing of it. Soon enough though his dad was fighting invisible demons in his sleep like Brother did at night.

Al sighed and closed his book, setting it aside. He stood and came to kneel beside his dad, looking down at the distressed face. In a few years’ time this could be brother's face, Al thought to himself. He hoped his brother wouldn't be so distressed by nightmares when he grew that old, but chances were they wouldn't ever leave him. Al carefully pulled his father into a hug, being careful not to hurt him with the sharper parts of his metal.

His dad struggled at first but quickly settled down and woke up. When Al was sure he was awake he released his dad. Reaching over Al passed his dad a canteen he had grabbed. His dad took a long drink from it. "Thank you Alphonse," he said when he was done drinking.

"No problem," Al replied lightly. "Brother gets nightmares all the time, ever since that day… The only way to wake him up is to hug him, if you try anything else it'll only pull him deeper into sleep. I figured it was the same with you."

His dad frowned in thought, "Why didn't anything else work?"

"Well," Al said slowly. "I didn't know at first so when Brother was busy turning in reports to the Colonel I'd slip down into the library and picked up some psychology books and read through them. I came to believe that brother only wakes up to hugs because when you shake him or yell at him his mental defenses kick into gear and won't allow him to awake. He needs to know it's safe to be awake in order for him to wake up."

Al turned to look up at the stars above them, glittering like diamonds. "I wonder who's telling him it's safe to wake up now."

"I have a guess," his dad said slowly.

"I'm listening," Al responded quickly, hoping his dad wouldn't change his mind.

"I think that Colonel Mustang character is hiding Edward."

Al frowned at hearing that, "The Colonel willingly helping Brother without any personal gain? It doesn't exactly sound like it… Are you absolutely sure?"

His dad shook his head, "I'm not; it's just a suspicion."

"He didn't sound like he was hiding something when we were talking to him in his office."

"True," said Hohenheim, laying back down on his mat and closing his eyes. "But then again you didn't see the red cloth behind the desk."

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