A Brother's Burden

The Silent Vow

Ed woke up the next day in his bed. It took him a few minutes to remember all that had happened yesterday but once it became clear he had to run through his memories again to be sure he had them right. He had broken down in front of Mustang? That didn't seem right, but the memory was right there; clear as the noonday sun. How low had he come to be willing to have break downs like that?

Shaking his head, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. He was still in his clothes from yesterday, save the glove that he had coughed on. Ed went to his closet and opened it up, intending to get changed. He blinked at the closet for a minute. His black sets were still there like normal, but beside them were normal clothes that looked about his size. Jeans, T-shirts, and hoodies. He remembered Roy had yesterday left him in the park to go take care of some errands, had this been it?

Ed bit his lip, trying to decide on what to do. At last he pulled out a military blue hoodie and some jeans with a black T-shirt. He changed quickly and braided his hair hurriedly before exiting his room. He came to the living room where he saw Roy dressed in his military uniform, talking on the phone.

"Yeah I know, look I'll get there when I get there but I have some things to take care of," Roy was saying into the phone. Roy listened to what the other person had to say before sighing. "No, I'm not procrastinating from my work; I really am busy!" Roy looked about ready to blow up at what had to be Hawkeye on the other end. Ed took a step back, feeling like he was intruding, but too curious to leave fully.

"I'm staying at home for today, you can bring my paperwork down here and I'll give it back to you the next day; okay? I just can't make it to the office today." There was a long pause of silence in which Ed could only assume the person on the other end was giving Roy a telling to. Then, "I don't care if you come down here and hold me at gunpoint! I can't make it to work today and that's that. Now you can bring the paperwork down here or save it for tomorrow. Good day to you Hawkeye." With that Roy slammed the phone on the receiver and sighed. "I am so dead," he said to himself.

It was around then he noticed Ed standing in the entrance to the hallway, sort of in between staying and fleeing. Roy's eyes had been full of anger from his argument with Hawkeye, it shocked Ed when he saw those eyes soften upon seeing him. "Hey Ed," Roy said. "You shouldn't be out of bed you know."

Ed hesitantly stepped fully into the living room, deeming it safe to come out. "Sorry," Ed said quietly; followed swiftly by a small series of coughs. Roy came over quickly as he started coughing, guiding him to the couch where he had Ed lay down, head resting on some pillows that seemed to be placed there just for him.

"You've been coughing up blood since yesterday, Ed. I don't want you moving around a whole lot, okay?" Roy tossed a blanket over him as he spoke. Ed was a bit out of sorts with how nice Roy was being to him, but he had to admit he kind of liked it.

Ed nodded his head and leaned back into the pillow, feeling tired already. Roy vanished from view only to reappear a second later with a glass of orange juice which he set on the table beside the couch. "You hungry?" Roy asked him.

"Not really," Edward said softly.

Roy nodded and came around to sit on the other end of the couch by Ed's feet as Ed only took up two of the three spaces. "Well is there anything you need?" Roy asked kindly.

"No," Ed replied, a second later asking. "So is Hawkeye going to come murder you?"

Roy chuckled, "With my luck probably. If you don't die in the crossfire do you mind making sure I get a decent burial?"

Roy's words cut close to the memory of the nightmare from yesterday and made Ed shiver. "Don't say that," Ed said.

Roy seemed to understand that he had crossed an unknown line. "I'm sorry, that was a dumb joke."

"Yeah, it made my ears bleed," Ed joked. He coughed suddenly, forcing himself to sit up as he coughed. When he was done he took a long drink from the glass of orange juice before laying back down again. "Any word from Alphonse?" Ed asked.

"No word directly but its reported that he and Hohenheim left Central and headed in the direction of Xing."

Ed nodded to himself and yawned tiredly. Roy smiled a genuine smile at him, "Get some sleep, Ed. You need all the rest you can get."

"You used my name," Ed said suddenly, the realization just dawning on him.

Roy frowned, "Of course I did."

"I mean you called me Ed. Not Fullmetal or Edward."

"Oh," Roy said; blinking in surprise. "I guess I did. Does it bother you or something?"

"No, it's just strange to hear; but it doesn't bother me at all."

There was a knock at the door which stopped both of them from talking. Roy nodded to him before standing and going over to the door. Ed sat up and twisted around to the right so he could see what was going on.

Roy opened the door slowly, his spark glove having appeared on his hands. Riza Hawkeye stood on the other side of the door, a folder full of papers tucked under one arm. "Sir," Riza said; saluting. "I brought the files you requested, permission to enter?"

"We're not at work, Hawkeye; you can drop the manners." Roy said, stepping aside from the doorway. Hawkeye entered and did a quick glance around the room but didn't seem to notice Ed watching them from the couch.

"Mustang," Riza said, turning to the man as he set the files on a desk beside the door. "What's going on with you? You don't look sick and yet you're not coming into work. At least you used to show up to work before procrastinating."

"I told you, Hawkeye. I'm just a bit busy today and can't come into the office, it's not that big of a problem is it?"

"No," she said; then her eyes grew hard. She drew her gun and pointed it at Roy. "Sir, if you don't come with me to work this instant I'll force you to come back."

Roy's eyes didn't widen and his expression didn't change at being held at gunpoint by his Lieutenant; this was a normal occurrence after all. His eyes glanced to Ed and quickly by to Hawkeye. Ed didn't really want Hawkeye to know he was here. It was embarrassing enough to be in Mustang's place, but being found in Mustang's place while looking normal; no can do, not happening. Not yet anyway…

"Riza, just listen," Roy said. "I can ex-" He was cut off as Riza pointed her gun to the wall and fired. The loud noise sent a wave of panic through Ed, he thought he was the one being shot at. Ed cried out loudly at the noise and covered his ears with his hands, drawing his legs up to his chest and beginning to simultaneously sob and hyperventilate.

"Shit!" Roy said. Hawkeye looked briefly confused, her gun focusing on him again as if it was his fault. Roy slapped the gun away from her and shot her a heated glare as he came around the couch to kneel down beside Ed who was close to passing out.

"Ed," Roy called, grabbing both the boy's wrists in one hand and using the other hand to grab Ed's chin and turn the tear stained eyes towards him. "Calm down Ed, just breathe, okay? Breathe." Roy was taking very deep and over-exaggerated breaths to demonstrate, as if Ed forgot how to breathe properly. Slowly but surely Ed's breathing became regular save for the sobs that still wracked his body. Roy pulled Ed into a hug and let the boy cry himself out. It didn't take long this time before Ed pulled away and wiped his eyes, "Sorry," he said.

Roy stood, ruffling Ed's hair. "It's no trouble. Just get some sleep okay? I'm going to be outside talking to Hawkeye if you need me." Ed nodded and laid down again, closing his eyes. In seconds his breathing evened out and he fell asleep.

Roy nodded to himself and quietly gestured for Hawkeye to follow him outside. On his front porch he closed the door to the living room softly and let out a sigh of relief. "I was wondering how long before the panic attacks set in," Roy said to himself.

"Roy," said Riza, a slight quiver in her voice. "What was that all about?"

Roy turned and glared at Hawkeye again. "That, was why I'm busy today. I'd like you to have a little more confidence in me when I tell you I cannot show up to work. And don't ever fire your gun in my household again!"

"I apologize sir," Hawkeye said stiffly, saluting.

Roy sighed, the anger going out of him. "It's fine, Lieutenant."

"Sir, if I may ask, what was that with Edward?"

Roy shook his head and gestured for Riza to sit in one of the porch chairs. She did so and Roy paced before her as he recounted all that had happened since he found Ed on the street to now, leaving nothing out because that wasn't his style.

When he was finished she blinked slowly, taking in the information. "That's a lot to accept, sir. Yet after seeing what happened in there I must accept the story." Hawkeye stood up and placed a hand on Roy's shoulder, drawing his eyes to her. "I'm glad you're taking care of him, sir. That boy's been through hell and shouldn't have had to grow up as quick as he did. I'm glad he has a father like you to look after him."

Roy spluttered and gaped, "I am by no means the boy's father! He hates his own down to the bones, there is no way I'm filling that role."

Hawkeye gave a mysterious smile that only a woman such as she could do. "We'll, see about that sir. Anyway I must return to the office, be sure to do your paperwork." Mustang groaned, rolling his eyes.

"Yes ma'am."

Alphonse knelt beside his dad at the transmutation circle they had just drawn in the center of Xerxes. They had arrived late this morning and now as the sun set they had just completed their work. Al was nervous as he could possibly be. The last time he'd attempted such a large transmutation had been when Ed and he had transmuted mom, and that had not gone over well. Now he and dad were going to try to get his body back, what if it didn't work? What if he died? What if dad died? He didn't want his dad dying because of him, he'd never live with himself.

Still every time he tried to object his father would assure him that he knew what he was doing. Al wasn't stupid, he knew there was something his dad knew that gave him such confidence, yet he still refused to tell Al about it. It was maddening to say the least. Still, Al refused to doubt his dad's intentions and so complied with the instructions given.

"Right then," his dad said as he finished the final marking. They were in what must have once been a market place, the buildings all crumbled now; the tiles cracked in areas. "Now that's done, Alphonse do you trust me on this one?"

"Yes, dad," Al said without hesitation.

"Then would you be kind enough to stand in the middle of the circle please?"

Al hesitated, all his doubts riding to the surface in one overwhelming swoop. His dad saw something about the way he stood that clued him into Al's thoughts. "Alphonse," he said gently. "If you don't want to do this you don't have to."

"No, I want to do this. This is what I've been wanting for years now." Al strode into the middle and halted there, still as a post.

"This may tickle a little," was all Hohenheim said before pressing his hands to the circle. There was bright red alchemic light, not unlike that of Scar's; that was the last thing Al saw before it went dark.

When Al woke up he was in a white place with a large gate before him. The next thing Al noticed was that he was in his own body, not the armor, but his own. He was pale and thin but he was alive, and breathing. Al poked his own arm and felt the touch, he laughed aloud. This was great! He actually had his body back!

"Not quite," said a disembodied voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.

Al looked around wildly, his eyes bugging out of his head as he looked around. "Who's there?" he demanded.

"Some call me God, some call me the Truth, I call myself you," said the voice, laughing. Suddenly a faceless form materialized before Alphonse, nothing visible but a very wide grin and its outline. "Are you willing to pay the price for your body?"

Alphonse felt anger flare up in him, an unusual feeling considering he wasn't normally angry. "Price? What more price can you possibly want from me!? Three years as a soul trapped in a suit of armor, is that not enough for you? The whole point of the transmutation failing, that not enough for you? How about finally being thrown back into my body to find it shriveled up and wasted, that enough for you? No! It's not is it? You just want to take what's left of me don't you, sick bastard? Well fine you can have whatever you want but don't you dare send me through that gate like you did my brother! You will send me back, in my body, to my dad and that will be the last of our business!"

The Truth actually seemed taken aback by his outburst, its smile faltering. For a minute nothing happened as Al continued to glare at it. Then it's grin returned and it said, "Well someone must pay the price and since you don't seem to be willing to pay for it; I'll have someone else do it for you."

Al's anger turned to fear in a split second as he thought of his dad, what was the Truth going to do to him? It wasn't his dad though that appeared in the room, it was Ed. "Brother!" Al yelled, Ed turned confused golden eyes to Al; which widened upon seeing him.

"Al! You have your body back!?"

"Not yet," Al said bitterly. "There's still a price to be paid, what are you doing here?"

Ed blushed a bit, ducking his head. "I… Uh… Well I was sleeping and then I ended up here. What's this about a price though?"

Here the Truth spoke, "A price for the body of Alphonse Elric must be paid by one who shares blood with him. I figured I'd bring all the candidates in together to decide."

"Well then, Truth. You forgot to invite me to the party," said Hohenheim striding up behind Al and Ed. Al beamed at his father who glared at the Truth. Ed on the other hand reacted more violently to Hohenheim's presence, jumping out of the man's reach quickly lest he try to touch him.

"Ed needn't have been brought here, the price shall be paid by me," Hohenheim stated.

"And what shall you pay for it?" Truth asked cockily.

Hohenheim's eyes narrowed. "I think you know what I'll pay."

"Very well then…"

"Wait! Let me talk to my brother," Al said quickly. Without waiting for the Truth's reply he turned to Ed. "Brother, listen I'm sorry for yelling at you, it wasn't called-"

"Please Al, just stop," Ed said; hurt showing on his face. "I know what you're going to say already, but it's not what you mean. Even if we made up now in the back of your mind you'll always remember the three years I stole from you. I'm glad you have your body back but please… For now, just stay away from me."

Al felt his heart break into two, his brother didn't want him back. His brother didn't forgive him, worse that look on Ed's face was one Al would never forget. "No, I can't accept that Ed! I'll find you! You need me and dad right now you don't understand! You're-"

"I'm dying, I know," Ed whispered. "I'm going to fix myself if I can, but if I can't that's just as well. I won't hurt anyone anymore that way... " Fog swirled around Ed and his form became more indistinct. His voice sounded like it was coming from a long way off. "I'll see you someday, Alphonse. Until that day take good care of Winry; I know she loves you so go live your life. Just forget about me okay? I'm going to be fine…"

With that Ed was gone and Al felt as if the world was coming down on him. He had just lost the person who had stuck by him for three years. Because he had let his temper control him, he had lost Ed. Hohenheim set a hand to Al's shoulder, looking up into the calm golden gaze Al found the comfort he needed. "Don't worry," Hohenheim said. "We'll find him."

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