MILITARY HOSPITAL, CENTRAL COMMAND
Alphonse Elric was rarely angry.
Scratch that. He was never angry.
But the nineteen-year-old young man who stood in front of the doctor, cheeks flushed, hair askew and clothes in a general sense of disarray looked anything but peaceful.
"Are you telling me doctor," he said in a deathly quiet voice, "that you have no idea?"
His hands shook as the bangs hid the molten amber eyes—the eyes same as his older brother. The eyes same as the one who lay on the hospital bed in the room beyond a nondescript door.
"You have no idea what is afflicting Edward Elric?" he ended the latter part in a heart-broken squeak.
"I am sorry, Mr. Elric. The disease which ails your brother is not something very common. In fact, I am under the assumption that your mother is the only documented case of this particular disease. Rest assured, I will try my very best. But I cannot afford to give you false hope," the doctor sighed, pushing aside the younger Elric gently as he went to see another patient.
Al slumped on a nearby metal chair, the fight leaving his limbs. It has been five years since the Promised Day, five years since he got his body back. Everything should have ended with the Promised Day, hell, what else does Truth/Fate/World/White Grinning Maniac want from his brother? Hadn't he paid enough for the sole mistake of trying to bring mom back?
He buried his head in his hands...why can't they have a bit of normalcy in their lives?
4 HOURS EARLIER
"So Al, how about a visit to the library? For old times' sake?" Ed suggested as the brothers ambled down the well-traversed lanes of Central.
"Can't see why not," Al replied, looking up at the April sky. "Maybe we can say hello to Sheska as we visit. It's been a long time since I have had a chat with her."
"Sheska's got transferred to Western Command, didn't you know that?" Ed said as they took a turn which brought them right in front of the library.
"Seriously? Was that a..." Al began before Ed interjected.
"It wasn't a demotion...rather, she got promoted! She's a part of the Investigation Department of Western Command—apparently, some thugs are running loose so their department was short on man-power. And you know how much stuff is crammed in her head...as far as the rumours go, she's having the time of her life," he said as they began to climb up the steps.
"Sheska got promoted, huh...that's nice," Al said, happy for their bespectacled bookworm friend. "She's helped us out a lot, brother."
"Damn right, Al."
The librarian was pleased to see her old patrons visiting and waved them in.
"Hey Al, I am going up to the second floor—there's this book on Milosian Alchemy I need to check out," Ed said, walking towards the staircase.
"Okay brother, I am down here in the alkahestry section. Maybe I can suggest the librarian to include some more books on that subject," Al replied.
It felt nice to see those worn bookshelves again, as if meeting an old friend. Two years of rehabilitation in Resembool followed by three years in Xing, he realised it had been a long time since he last visited Central. He ran down his finger over the spines of the books, thinking with a grin of how frustrated they were when they came in here to research alkahestry and found next to none books about it. But now, a credible space has been allotted to the subject, clearly Ling wasn't so secretive about alkahestry as the previous Xing's emperor. He saw a book which had been planning to read for a long time but didn't actually get to. He excitedly slid it out and went over to their favourite table at the back of the hall.
He was so engrossed in reading that he didn't realize almost an hour had passed. As he turned the page to begin a new chapter, he checked his watch.
"Is brother again reading sitting in-between shelves?" he wondered, placing the book on the table and going upstairs. Knowing Ed, he knew his brother tended to forget the world when presented with a good book.
The second floor had books on specialized subjects and mostly state alchemists who were researching on obscure subjects tended to come up here. Hence at present, it was empty.
"Brother..." Al called out hesitatingly, unwilling to disturb the quietness of the library.
"Hey brother...are you sitting on the floor again?" he called out.
There wasn't any answer but Al wasn't expecting any. The building could catch fire and he wouldn't even register it.
Al looked at the passages, sometimes stopping when a book caught his eye. As he walked over to the end of the hall, he saw books with strange symbols over their spines.
"These must be the books on Milosian alchemy—at least, they aren't the symbols from the alchemy and alkahestry I know," he mused as walked between the shelves. Then the sight he next saw made him go pale with terror.
Ed was sprawled over the floor, his golden hair in sharp contrast with the dark wood floor. Books lay around him in a mess—apparently he was carrying them when he fell. Al ran up to his brother, quickly checking his pulse. It was faint, erratic. His skin was cold, yet cheeks were flushed. His face was covered in a thin film of sweat.
He was looking...just like...mom...
Al quickly unfroze, lifting Ed over his back and ran down the steps. The librarian looked shocked at the duo.
"Ed's fainted, I will get him to the hospital," Al called back.
He hailed a cab and quickly bundled in.
"Ed will be okay...Ed will be okay..." he kept on chanting as the cab raced to the hospital.
"Hey Al! Wake up!"
Al woke up with a jump and then groaned, rubbing the back of his neck. He had fallen asleep in a bad position on the chair and cricked his neck as a result.
He turned a bleary eye over his surroundings as the gears in his head brought his body up to speed with his predicament.
Oh God Ed!
"How is Fullmetal, Alphonse?"
Al focussed his eyes to make out the blue uniform of the man standing in front of him before his heart plummeted into his stomach.
Brigadier General Mustang!
How would he ever explain Ed's condition to him?
Before he could open his mouth, the doctor in charge of Ed came up to them. Al realized that Major Hawkeye and Lieutenant Havoc had accompanied Mustang and were presently standing across the corridor next to the door of Ed's room.
"Brigadier General Mustang, I presume?" said the doctor, bowing his head in the General's direction. Mustang nodded affirmatively.
"I will be frank; Major Elric's condition is no good. And I think that losing the ability to perform alchemy has worsened it—from what I have gathered till now, his alchemy acted as a deterrent, keeping the illness at bay. But now, with no obstacles, the illness has got up on its feet so to speak."
Al looked devastated at the news—no no no! Not again! His brother lost his arm once to transmute his soul, now he's on the verge of dying just so he could eat quiche again?
Al felt a warm palm on his shaking shoulders—it was Mustang.
"Get that stupid thought out of your head this instant, Alphonse!" he roared. Al gave him a puzzled look.
"Don't give me that look...I know you two brothers very well—so eager to feel guilty that you admonish yourself for something that wasn't your fault to begin with," he continued, though he brought down his voice a couple of notches. Hawkeye came up to the duo, a motherly smile on her face.
"The General's correct, Al," she said gently. "Don't blame yourself—just be glad you were there when Ed collapsed. Think what would have happened if you weren't there...he wouldn't have got help for days..."
Al looked up at the two adults he trusted most apart from Granny.
"Yeah, I guess you have a point, Major," he sighed as his trembling came to a stop. Mustang sat on a chair next to him.
"Tell me what you two have been doing since the Promised Day. Maybe we can find a clue there."