A Brother's Burden


Al walked into the HQ building with an air of confidence, he knew who to talk to and where to go; there wasn't going to be any harm here. He and his dad walked to the receptionist’s desk, there Al asked for the Colonel. The receptionist asked for his name to which Hohenheim had responded as the Rockbells. The receptionist called Roy's room and after a moments pause, waved them on ahead. When they were out of earshot Al asked quietly, "Why did you say we're the Rockbells?"

"Do you really think that Colonel of yours will let us see him if he knew we were us?" Hohenheim had responded. Al thought it over and then nodded in agreement, it was true. Plus, if Ed was up there right now he wouldn't be able to hide from them. So it was that they rode the elevator up to the outer office of Mustang's team. The desks which normally housed everyone were surprisingly vacant save Hawkeye's. There was also a suspicious groaning sound from a certain supply closet, which Al chose to ignore. Hawkeye looked up as they entered, her face showing her surprise. She stood up and said, "I'll let the Colonel know you're here."

Hohenheim held up his hand and told her. "That's quite alright, miss. We can show ourselves in." They swept by but Al paused when Hawkeye grabbed his shoulder, the touch shocking him as he hadn't felt a human's touch except his father's. "Alphonse, is that you?" she asked.

Al grinned at her, surprised to find he wasn't that much shorter than her. "Yep," he said popping the P. Hawkeye smiled, her eyes turning soft, "I'm glad you got your body back."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Al said, equally soft in tone.

Then he and his father were at the doors to the inner office, tension between them high. Al took a deep breath and pushed open the doors. Ed was there, dressed as he normally was in the black clothes and red coat that matched Al's own. He sat on the corner of the Colonel's desk, a paper airplane in his hand; amusement dancing in his eyes as he laughed. The Colonel looked equally happy as he smiled at Ed, his right hand moving automatically to sign a report in front of him. Al almost felt guilty for interrupting when it seemed that his Brother was so obviously enjoying himself; despite over his confusion at how his brother can be enjoying himself when he's with the Colonel of all people.

At that moment Ed and Roy noticed him and his father, no their father; his and Ed's. Al expected a multitude of reaction from his Brother, he had visualized this moment forever now. Surprise, shock, joy, anger, sorrow, pain, a whole range of them. What he hadn't expected was for his brother to look afraid. Ed froze up, his eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights.

"Brother," Al said, "It's me."

Ed climbed off of Roy's desk and moved to stand before him. Their eyes never left one another, as the seemed to bridge the gap between two worlds. Ed stopped just before him, his eyes still holding a fear to them. Behind both brothers their respective father's glared at each other, Hohenheim's full of anger and hate; a burning inferno of fire. Hypocrite that he was The Flame Alchemists glare was cold like ice.

"You have your body back," Ed whispered, stating the obvious.

Al nodded quickly, "Dad got it back for me. Now we're going to fix you too, then we can go back to Risembool! Come on Ed, we'll want to hurry." Al grabbed his brother's hand and tugged, urging him to follow him. Ed yanked his hand back and took a step back from Al.

"I don't need any healing," Ed said slowly. "I'm fine where I am."

Al smiled gently, like he was dealing with a mental patient. "No you’re not Ed, you're dying. It's okay though, dad and I have a way to fix you. We can be a family then and be happy together, isn't that what you want?"

Ed was backing away further from him now, Al felt like he was losing his brother all over again. Ed shook his head furiously, biting his lower lip. "I don't need fixing, and I have a family, one that doesn't blame me."

"Ed, I told you I'm sorry I said that! I didn't mean-"

"Shut up!" Ed yelled. "Of course you meant it, how could you not!? You may not have meant to speak the words but you meant what they said! And It's all true, it's my fault. I don't want to hurt or be hurt anymore, I don't want that life." Tears formed in the corner of Ed's eyes, shocking Al. Ed never got so close to tears so quickly before. "I don't belong in Risembool," he said.

"But what about Winry?" Al asked.

Ed snorted, "What about her? She said it herself, she won't date anyone shorter than herself; and I haven't exactly grown much over here."

"What about me and Dad then?"

Ed was shaking his head again, "Hohenheim is not my father, he's yours. You are my brother and you always will be; but my life is not your life."

Hohenheim and Roy had been warring a silent battle while the boy's warred there’s. At this point Hohenheim got frustrated enough to say, "To hell with it, Colonel. I'm taking my sons and leaving." Before anyone could react Hohenheim moved over to Ed and grabbed him by the arm.

No one in that room had been prepared for Ed's reaction. Ed's eyes bugged out of his head and he began thrashing wildly while crying out, trying to break free. Hohenheim was so surprised that he let go of Ed's arm. Ed ran away from Hohenheim and attached himself to Roy who stood, his face full of anger, gloved hands poised to snap.

Upon having Ed attach himself to him Roy instantly calmed and turned his attention to the boy who was now crying while holding on to his uniform. Roy made Ed sit in his office chair and quickly pulled out an inhaler from a desk drawer. He passed it to Ed quickly who took a few quick puffs from it. Al and Hohenheim stared at this process in shock.

After Ed's breathing regulated Roy worked to soothe the boy and get him to stop crying, this taking a combined effort of soothing words and kind facial expressions. When Ed was calm again Roy shot a cold glare at Hohenheim and Alphonse. "Panic attack," Roy said simply as Ed clung to his uniform still.

"See Brother," Al said gently. "You're still sick and need help."

Ed sniffed and buried his head in Roy's chest, "Go away Al," he said. "Haven't you done enough already?"

Al stared helplessly at his brother who was currently being held by the Colonel not two weeks before had adamantly stated that he despised. He looked up at their dad for guidance on what to do. Hohenheim's face was that of rage and hate, the gaze he set upon Mustang was enough to kill anyone in his place. Roy knew he could not die though, and not at the hand of one so low as Hohenheim; after all, he had Ed to watch out for now. That made everything different.

Hohenheim stepped forward, his fists clenched at his side. "What's the big idea Mustang!" He all but shouted. "That is my son, you have no right to him! You have no responsibility to him! Give him here or else, now!"

Mustang pried Ed off him and set the boy back into the chair before standing up and giving Hohenheim a cold look. "Actually I have every right to him, Hohenheim. You see, legally speaking; Edward is my son now."

Hohenheim and Al recoiled in shock. "Brother," Al whispered. "How could you?" Ed looked at Al with tear-stained eyes before looking away, drawing his legs up onto the chair with him and curling to make himself look invisible.

"I'll tell you how," Mustang said, pulling his spark gloves off slowly. "It's because you weren't there when he needed you, you chased him away. Then rather to fight to get him back you ran off and followed your own mission, leaving him behind to be found by whoever came along and gave a damn. Now you come back and expect things to be as they were?"

"Well you're wrong if you think I'll go with you," Ed finished quietly from where he sat. "I moved on…" Ed stood up and walked to stand by Roy and took the man's hand into his own. An act of betrayal to Hohenheim and Al. "Can we go now?" Ed asked, looking up to Roy. Roy bent down and picked up Ed, then proceeded to walk coolly past Hohenheim and Al.

"I assume you can show yourselves out," Roy said over his shoulder, Ed burying his head in Roy's shoulder as he let himself be carried away.

When the two were gone Al and Hohenheim were left staring after for several minutes. Al didn't know what was going on in his dad's head and he certainly didn't know what was going on in his own. It was a jumble of emotions, shock was a big one, followed by hurt, anger, betrayal, and a need for vengeance against Mustang. He couldn't believe how close the Colonel had gotten to Ed in so few days. Ed would never have let himself be carried like that, he'd never have broken down and run to someone like that.

Or did he? Now that Al considered it he didn't really know a lot about his brother. All he really knew was that his brother was strong willed and not one to show his weak side. When Al and he fought though Ed had been released from the pressure of having to be so strong willed, he was free to act as he desired. So was Ed different without the pressure? Was he really that… helpless on a normal basis? Without Al around was Ed that normal of a boy?

"Edward didn't get a childhood did he?" Hohenheim asked.

"Not really," Al said after a moment of consideration. "He had to look after me for the most part, and he refused to complain about anything. He didn't get a childhood after Mom died, he had to grow up for me and for everything else," Al gestured vaguely as 'everything' was quite a lengthy list.

"Then this is probably his mind trying to make up for lost time," Hohenheim said, relief evident in his voice.

"What do you mean?" Al asked.

"I'm saying that this is just a phase he is going through. Soon enough he will start hating his new father and become rebellious. He was always ill-tempered wasn't he? It'll go over quickly enough and then we'll get him back on our side."

"What do we do until then?" Al asked.

"I'm not entirely sure yet," Hohenheim said, scratching his bearded chin. "I guess all we can do now is wait."

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