Coats and words filled with underlying love helped keep Edward warm for a while, but they did not stop something as petty as the common cold from visiting.
Ed’s hacking coughs ripped through the air uncomfortably. His upper body was soaked from sweat, and his cheeks were a sickly pink as though he had been sunburned.
“Brother,” Alphonse watched Edward search for his boots under the bed. “Maybe you should stay in bed. I can tell Teacher you aren’t feeling well, and then you can get better faster.”
“I’m fine, Al,” Ed pulled out the missing footwear triumphantly. The victory was punctuated by another deafening cough.
Alphonse cringed. “This isn’t a good idea.”
“I told you, Al, I’m fine,” Edward slowly pulled the boots on over his socks.
“But you’re not,” Al insisted.
Edward started on the laces. “Alright, I’m not, but I will be. Just let it go. We’ll train with Teacher, and I’ll be fine.”
Stubbornly, Alphonse started toward the door. His brother’s worsening condition was beginning to scare him. Edward was always most unreasonable when at his most vulnerable point. “I’m telling Teacher you’re sick.”
“NO!” Edward was up off the bed and barricading the door within seconds. “Al, I told you: I need the training. I’ll be okay.” He was panting from the quick movement, a testament to his true condition.
“But what if you get worse,” Alphonse stated unyieldingly. “You might get so sick that you’ll die, and you’ll leave me alone like Mom left us. I won’t let that happen!” His voice broke at the end and tears started to form in the corners of his eyes. Alphonse was genuinely scared, and it showed in the way his body trembled and his fists unconsciously clenched.
Edward’s muscles tensed at the idea, but his body relaxed quickly as he enveloped his baby brother in a hug. Al could feel the sweat from his brother’s body wetting his shirt, and the heat radiated from Edward’s skin, making the embrace hot and uncomfortable but still just as reassuring. “I’m not gonna die, Alphonse,” Edward promised. “I won’t leave you.”
Al nodded and blinked away the surfacing tears. Edward pulled back and smiled as confidently as his weary body would let him. “Let’s go train, and then I’ll get some rest, okay?”
Alphonse returned the smile with less cheer. “At least put on your coat,” he reminded, filling in the role of older brother now that Edward was too ill to take care of himself.
Edward deflated. Glancing around the room with a groggy stare, he sheepishly asked, “Uh, do you remember where I put it?”
Alphonse shook his head and sighed.
An hour into training, it had started to rain. At first, it was a mere annoyance, but the longer the two boys scampered across the front yard in a futile attempt to take down their teacher, the more of a detriment the rain became. Alphonse glanced sideways at his brother. He had been sure that when they exited the house Edward’s inhumanly pink skin tone would cause Izumi to send him straight back to bed, but she had hardly glanced their way before training began, and from there it was all a blur.
They fought together using a series of practiced moves since the rain washed away all attempts of a transmutation circle. With ease and grace even in the debilitating weather, Izumi avoided all their moves and knocked them to the edges of the yard over and over and over again.
Until Ed slipped.
The yard was a mess of mud and kicked up grass so the little mistake was bound to happen. Edward’s feet simply could not gain traction on the slippery turf, and he crashed to the ground in a panting, coughing heap. With fever touched eyes, Edward dazedly searched the yard for Izumi so he would be ready to defend himself when he stood.
On the other side of the yard, Alphonse dropped his stance and watched numbly as Ed struggled to his feet. This had gone on long enough. There was no reason for his brother to be taking this beating when he was already so miserable.
“Teacher, Brother is sick,” Alphonse shouted over the thunder. He noticed Edward flinch at the noise overhead. Edward had always been frightened of thunder. Alphonse spared him some dignity by leaving that part out, but the fact that Edward was still outside and giving it his all when sick and afraid said a lot about his stubbornness. Alphonse pleaded, “Please can’t he go inside? He can barely fight; he’s not okay.”
Ed glared at Alphonse for pointing out his weakness, but the look was dampened by the way he wrapped his arms around his shivering body.
“I know Ed is sick,” Izumi revealed without removing her eyes from Edward. “But it was his choice to come out and train even though he is feeling down. Al,” she addressed him directly, her eyes still locked on Edward, “your brother needs to learn to choose which battles to fight, and he needs to learn to have some common sense. I know he is sick, but do you remember my rule?”
Edward glowered at their teacher and responded on behalf of Alphonse. “Finish what you start.” He gritted his teeth and charged Izumi, predictably missing her.
Alphonse was still worried, but worry never seemed to help when it came to Edward or Izumi, only action. So he forced his aching body forward and reminded himself that his brother was suffering from his stupidity as well as physically pushing his limits, so overall Al was a lot better off. That gave him a little more drive to compensate for his brother’s weakness, and together they finished the morning’s hellish physical training.
Izumi ordered them both inside after that. With Sig and Mason’s help, both boys were cleaned up and dressed in dry clothes before being sent to their bedroom to rest.
Ed fell into a feverish sleep minutes after crawling onto his bed. Ever concerned for his brother, Alphonse climbed onto the end of Edward’s bed. Taking a book of blank paper and a pen, he began to draw the day’s events. He never shared his journal-type drawings with anyone other than Edward, and, when she was alive, his mom. They both said his sketches were very good, but Alphonse knew that stick figures had nothing on acclaimed artisans who sold their pictures for thousands of cens. Still, drawing passed the time and it helped take his mind off Edward’s febrile mumbling.
Alphonse had drawn scenes of everything up to his confrontation with Teacher in the yard when Edward finally snapped. He moaned and twisted the sheet into knots at his feet. Alphonse gripped his pen tighter and tried to ignore Ed, but he jumped when a desperate, raspy voice called out, “Mooom…!”
The pen shook in Al’s grip and his fingers turned white. His lips trembled, and for a moment his heart stopped completely, stolen by fear.
Edward groaned and tossed onto his side. Within his chest, he choked on a shallow half-conscious sob. He turned onto his back, his arms limply draped over his chest like he was trying to hug himself to conserve heat.
“Brother?” Alphonse dropped sketchbook, but his fingers clung to the pen desperately as though it could offer him assistance.
Edward gasped, “Al…”
Al’s eyes widened and he crawled up the mattress alongside Edward’s restless body. Kneeling over Ed’s face, Alphonse hesitated, “Brother, can you hear me?”
“…Al…miss her…” Edward murmured unconsciously. “…I…Mom…” He turned over again and coughed violently in his sleep. The sound was so horrible that Alphonse started to cry. He was just a kid; he didn’t know what to do. His brother was sick, and in Alphonse’s mind dying. With all the anguish of a terrified nine year old, Alphonse’s heart screamed for someone to help him.
The bedroom door opened.
“Teacher?” Al stared at her when she walked in the doorway, but when he blinked he felt hot tears break free and trail down his cheeks.
Izumi strode swiftly to the bed and set a cloth and bowl of water down on the night stand. She laid her hand on Edward’s forehead, the gentleness in her action conflicting with her typically boisterously exercised authority.
“He’s gotten worse,” she muttered bitterly, although the tone was directed inward and not at the boys. “Why didn’t you come get me?” she questioned.
Alphonse folded on himself and curled up next to his brother. “He wasn’t this bad before, but then he started talking about Mom and calling for me, and I didn’t know what to do. I was scared…” He ended in a sob and buried his face in his hands. Beside him Edward shivered and unconsciously moaned once more.
Izumi ripped the sweat soaked sheet from Ed’s body and promptly began to wring out a rag in the bowl of frigid water. “Alphonse, stop crying. It’s not going to help your brother. If this continues, you are going to make yourself sick.” She tried to keep her voice commanding, but it was hard to do so when her concern for Edward was making her own hands shake a little. No matter how talented they were with alchemy and how fast they picked up fighting techniques, Alphonse and Edward were still just children, and if they weren’t looked after properly, an everyday cold could very well claim their lives.
Regardless of Izumi’s words, Alphonse stayed curled up, his free hand clutching one of Ed’s hands. He used his brother as an anchor so he didn’t lose himself in the terrifying thoughts of facing the world alone.
Izumi, meanwhile, worked on calming Edward from his fever induced nightmare. Through his sniffles and tears, Alphonse watched her stroke back the golden bangs stuck to Edward’s skin. She placed the wet cloth on his forehead and held it there even as he hissed at the cold and tossed his head away from it. After a minute or so, she removed the cloth and repeated the process of dipping it into the cool water, wringing it out, and pressing it gently to Edward’s forehead.
After a few minutes of this, Alphonse’s outburst had subsided so that he was no longer sobbing. The tears still leaked out as he watched Izumi repeat the endless process. Edward had calmed down somewhat, that or he was too exhausted now to turn and thrash in his sleep. He still groaned and coughed and muttered, but with less severity.
Izumi glanced at Alphonse when he began to involuntarily hiccup. She leaned down next to Edward’s ear, “You have to get better soon so your brother doesn’t worry himself sick. Remember what you told me, Ed. You’re the older brother. You are a fighter, and your job is to protect.”
Edward’s body went still like a response to her words, and little by little, the tension left his muscles and he relaxed into the mattress. Izumi smiled a little, fondness seeping into the gesture. The smile faded, though, when Al sniffed loudly to cover up a strangled sob in the back of his throat.
The distress that wracked Alphonse’s soul was not the kind that could easily be placated. He needed someone to hold him – if not his mom then his brother, but his mother was dead, and his brother was in need of care himself. Izumi’s motherly instinct awakened fully and she sensed his need.
Alphonse tensed when Izumi moved out of his vision and came around behind him. He resisted when he felt her arms wrap around him. This wasn’t right. Izumi Curtis wasn’t affectionate. She was stern and punishing and loud and…and gathering him in her arms and– and prying his hand away from Ed’s!
“No!” Alphonse cried out, and clutched his brother’s fingers tightly. He was Edward’s lifeline. If Edward knew he was needed, he wouldn’t die so easily!
“Let him rest,” Izumi successfully pulled their hands apart and cradled Alphonse close. That’s when she noticed the pen clutched tightly in his other hand. “What’s this?”
Al didn’t seem to hear her. He breathed in shallowly, on the verge of sobbing again. “Is Brother going to die?”
“Alphonse,” she said firmly, her voice ordering him to meet her gaze. “Do you think so little of your brother? He’s a lot stronger than some cold.”
Trembling, Alphonse shook his head. “But it’s just like when Mom died. She was fine, and then she wasn’t, and she kept on saying she was okay, but she died anyway. Brother is going to be like that!” He started sobbing and buried his face in Izumi’s shirt. “Mom didn’t recognize me for days right before she died. Brother’s so sick he doesn’t know who anyone is…”
Izumi’s breath caught, and she chose her words carefully. Pulling Alphonse back so he could see her face, she promised, “Al, as long as you and Edward are under my care, I will not let you or him die. Do you understand?”
Alphonse panted from crying, but he clung to her words, nodding whether he fully understood what that promise meant or not.
Izumi nodded her approval at his decreasing hysteria. “Now what do you have in your hand?” She queried once more, sliding the pen out of Alphonse’s death grip.
With a small trembling voice, he responded, “I draw with it.”
Izumi set the pen next to the bowl of now lukewarm water. “What do you draw?” she carefully steered Alphonse’s attention away from Edward.
Al pointed at his sketchbook at the end of the bed. “Everything,” he answered.
Izumi shifted forward, reaching over Alphonse in her lap so she could grab the book. “Mind if I have a look?”
Al tensed. He had never shared his journal-like drawings – depictions of events the way he saw them – to anyone outside of family. Izumi had the book in hand, but so unlike her, she was actually waiting for his consent.
Unsure of what to answer, Alphonse instinctively looked toward his older brother. Edward didn’t move or give any indication that he knew he was needed, but it was because he was so still and calm that Al knew what to answer. “Okay,” he nodded.Not everyone could calm Edward down during a nightmare. Alphonse knew of only two people: himself and their mom. Now he knew three.