A/N: Please, PLEASE, do not kill me for not updating in so long. Life has exploded lately, so I haven't had much time. TTTT I am SO sorry for not updating sooner.
This chapter (and pretty much the entirety of this story) is dedicated to Lina for all of her help and support, and I don't think that SSDS would be half as good as it is without her. (glompcling)
Also, dear Lina was my beta for this chapter, so thank you. :heart:
Chapter Eight: Nightmares
Brother, I really wish you were here to see all this… Well, you might be able to, if you used that trick you pulled in the colonel's office. Whatever that was.
I've never seen him like this before. When I told him that Edmund had taken your place, he got this sad, pained look in his eyes that only lasted a second, but it was still there. You know how uptight he is. To get him to express anything is nothing short of a miracle, and you managed to do it, Brother, even when you weren't right there in front of him. Well, you sort of were… never mind…
But then we were called out to look at this man's corpse, because they said he was Azure, and Colonel Mustang saw the body and almost looked like he wanted to throw up. Not because it was a corpse, but because if that really was Azure, then we wouldn't be able to get you back, at least not so soon, anyway.
And he kept looking at Edmund in the car, but I could tell, Brother, I could tell that he wasn't seeing Edmund. In his mind, he was seeing you, and I could really tell that he doesn't like seeing you when you're unhappy or in pain about something. Normally he's so withdrawn and calm and collected, but there seems to be something about you that makes his barriers lower, if only just a bit.
If you ask me, Brother, I think there's something he's not telling you…
The younger Elric, not needing to sleep, watched as the Pevensie boy tossed and turned in Edward's bunk. After seeing the corpse of the supposed Azure Alchemist earlier that day, Edmund had simply shut down. He hadn't said anything to anyone, he simply laid down on Edward's bed and stared out the window. Judging from the way his chest had moved when he breathed, it had taken him quite a while to fall asleep, but it was a troubled sleep. The boy was undoubtedly having nightmares. Of what, Alphonse didn't know, nor did he wish to find out. It was none of his business, he reasoned, but if the boy needed to talk, he would listen.
As he did whenever Edward's nightmares became too much, he gently laid an armored hand on Edmund's shoulder and called his name softly, then louder when there was no response. When Edmund blearily opened his eyes, taking a moment to focus on Al, he asked him, "Are you okay?"
The boy lifted up his right hand as if to rub his eyes, but remembered that it was automail and lifted his left hand instead, wearily rubbing his face. "What? Yeah. Just a bloody dream," he muttered before rolling over and showing his back to Alphonse.
If he could have done so, Al would've narrowed his eyes a bit before rolling them. But if Edmund was anything like his brother, pushing him would only prove disastrous, so Alphonse left it at that and went to sit back in his chair at the little desk in the corner of the room. It wasn't long, though, before the young Elric heard a sigh and a mumbled, "…I had a nightmare."
"I kinda figured you did," Al said. Being Edward's brother made him very familiar with the signs.
"It was… really strange," Edmund admitted, still facing the wall. "I really don't know where it came from… I was kneeling next to this kid in front of this… thing. I don't quite know what it was, but it looked like a circle with a bunch of lines and gibberish written on the inside. We both cut our fingers for some reason and then touched the circle… it gets a bit wonky from there. I can't remember all of it, but my leg disappeared and something happened to my arm as… well…" His voice died, and Alphonse had no doubt that the boy was putting two and two together.
Edmund sat up then, turning to look at Al. "Alphonse," he began slowly, "what happened? Why does Edward have these limbs? Why don't you ever take off that armor?"
If Al had said that those questions didn't sound odd when asked in his brother's voice, he'd be lying. It was very strange, and if he were to be completely honest (which he normally was), it hurt. He knew that Edward wasn't there, he knew, but hearing his older brother's voice so confused about the circumstances that had made them closer than they had ever been was painful. It just wasn't right. Edmund's questions had been a slap in the face with a wet rag, a blatant reminder that his brother was gone.
The armor sighed. "Maybe I shouldn't tell you, not after what you saw today," he suggested gently.
Edmund hesitated visibly, but shook his head and said only, "I want to know."
So Al told him. He told him everything beginning from when their father left and their mother became sick. When he reached the point of the transmutation, he lifted his helmet to show Edmund that he had no body. Edmund gaped, looking as though he wanted to crawl under a rock and hide there.
That look almost broke the boy right then and there. Alphonse was used to people staring at him and had received many horrified looks. Being an empty suit of armor wasn't exactly something that was readily accepted, and he understood that, but… he never thought he'd be given that look from his brother.
No. No, no, no. That's not Brother, Al reminded himself. Even though it's still him on the outside, that's Edmund in there. Brother would never look at me like that. He remembered the way that Colonel Mustang had looked at Edmund in the car when he thought Al wasn't looking, that devastatingly pained look that spoke volumes in Al's mind. Maybe I'm not the only one having trouble with this, he supposed.
Al hunched over at his desk with his hands in his lap, immensely aware of Edmund's eyes on him and the heavy silence that feel between them. It was quite some time before Edmund said meekly, "Well… I suppose I should've expected that. After all…" He offered Al a weak smile. "After you've found an entire world inside an old kook's wardrobe, been inside a talking beaver's dam, and spoken with a faun, there's not much else to see, I reckon."
The armor perked up considerably. "Talking beavers?"
How he managed to get himself into these situations, Edward would never know. Chasing after bad guys, being shipped to another world, zipping along a frozen countryside as the prisoner of a marshmallow freak… really, it was all one big conspiracy against him.
Dealing with talking wolves had not been fun. The whole time they "escorted" him back to Jadis, they had nipped at his heels and taunted him by calling him the "poor little Son of Adam", whatever that meant. Just before he froze to death, thereby forming a Pevensie-Elric popsicle, Jadis and her sleigh mercifully appeared. Jadis, of course, was none too pleased over his escape attempt. He supposed that the slap would've hurt quite a bit if he could've actually felt his face.
And so, Edward once again found himself huddled down in the bottom of the sleigh and at the complete and utter mercy of a woman in a marshmallow dress.
Things were changing, though. The longer they traveled, the more Edward began to realize that he could actually see the sun and blue skies surrounding it. And though it wasn't by much, the temperature had been rising. The snow was melting.
If he was any sort of genius (and he was), he'd think that the Pevensies had some sort of hand in the disappearing snow. The voice in his dream had certainly stressed their importance and, even though it would be far more sensible to attribute the sudden fluctuation in weather to the seasons simply changing, Edward didn't think that that was the case. After all, this place--this Narnia--was stranger than anything he had ever seen, Gate of Truth, notwithstanding. Edward reasoned that, if he could hold a perfectly intelligent conversation with a man-goat chimera, then who was he to say that a bunch of kids weren't capable of changing an entire country?
The next few days saw Mustang looking through reports that the Investigations department had written about Azure's corpse. While they had been able to positively identify the body using dental records, it had been difficult simply due to the large amount of teeth missing. As it had been obvious without an autopsy, Azure had been badly beaten, most likely as a way to subdue him. Whoever it was that killed him certainly had issues against the rogue State Alchemist. The final stab wound count had equaled fifty-two, a bit larger than the thirty Roy had guessed at the crime scene.
The term "crime scene", though, was used loosely. There was no evidence to suggest that that particular location was where Azure had died. No blood had pooled around the body, so it was clear that the man had been dead long before being dumped on the outskirts of the city. The body hadn't decomposed as quickly as it should have, though, which made Roy think back to Barry the Chopper and his refrigerated truck.
Sighing, he closed the file he had been reading and sprawled out across his desk, right arm under his head with his hand hanging loosely off the edge of the desk. As his eyes slid shut, he wondered what the hell he was going to do. Knowing how and when Azure had died was fine and dandy, but that didn't solve the tiny problem of how to get Edmund home. There was no way of knowing where the mad alchemist had kept his research, and even if they did find it, he would've written it in code. The ones best suited for decoding the notes of an alchemist were other alchemists, and Roy needed the best and the brightest on a case such as this.
As luck would have it, his best and brightest was Edward, and Edward worked best when paired with his brother.
Of course, this was all assuming that Azure had even kept notes during his research.
Whatever gods are plotting this all out must really hate me, Roy thought drearily.
His attention was drawn to his office door as the doorknob turned and the door opened to reveal someone he never expected to see. "Sleeping on the job again, Roy?"
"Maes." He blinked in surprise, pulling himself back up to sit up straight. "What are doing all the way out here in East City? Don't tell me they gave you the same demotion of a transfer as they did me."
Hughes laughed. "No, no. My boss told me I had to take some vacation time and I decided to come out here and surprise you with a visit." The lieutenant colonel ambled over to one of the leather couches in front of Roy's desk and plopped down, lifting his feet up onto the coffee table. He folded his arms behind his head and shot the colonel a sidelong look through his glasses. Now that the man mentioned it, Roy did recall receiving a call from his friend about Hughes expressing a desire to visit him in East City. He had been so busy working on the Azure case (not to mention losing his mind over it) that he had completely forgotten about it.
Roy snorted, pushing his chair back and moving to join his friend on the sofa. "You and I both know that's a lie, Maes. If you took a vacation we both know it'd be to somewhere where you could take legions of photos of your precious Elysia."
The mention of his sweet little angel pushed Hughes into what his coworkers called the 'Elysia Zone'. "Oh, speaking of Elysia, guess what she did the other day!" he cooed, pulling his infamous photographs out of his pocket. "Look, Roy! Look! Just last week she was learning how to read! Here she is trying to read to Gracia just before bed. Isn't she adorable in her little nightgown?"
"Maes." The colonel's fingers twitched; the extremely rare thought that he sometimes regretted being Hughes's friend and therefore was not able to cause him bodily harm flitted across the back of his mind.
"But this one's the best! We went to a carnival and I won her a teddy bear that was twice as big as her! Look, see! She can't even wrap her arms all the way around it!"
"Maes!" Roy barked.
Maes blinked, pushing his glasses up. "Yes?"
Mustang let out an irritated breath and placed a hand over his eyes. "I'm really not in the mood for all of this today."
Grounding himself once more, Hughes drew his brows together in a concerned look. "What's wrong?"
The colonel sighed. "I think I'm going crazy, Maes."
"Over the case?" Having a major role in the Investigations department made Hughes privy to a large variety of information concerning the hunt for Azure.
The colonel chewed the inside of his cheek. "Sort of. It's not the case I'm worried about… it's the people involved."
"Meaning Edward." It was a statement, not a question. Hughes knew that Roy worked hard to keep the Elrics protected, but that meant Edward more often than it did Alphonse. The older Elric boy had a knack for finding himself neck-deep in trouble. "What's happened now?"
Roy stopped chewing on the inside of his cheek in favor of chewing on the corner of his lower lip. "It's… rather difficult."
An eyebrow was raised and an amused look passed over Hughes's face. "When is it not?"
The Flame smiled weakly. "Good point." His grin faded, though, when his door swung open once more and Lieutenant Hawkeye entered the room, saluting the higher officers.
"The Elrics are here to see you, sir," she told Roy, who nodded in acknowledgment. Lieutenant Hawkeye left, leaving the door cracked open.
"Maes, I'm afraid we'll have to continue this later," the colonel said, pushing himself off the sofa. "You remember the old tavern just west of the park? Meet me there at eight." As an afterthought, he added, "I'll explain it then."
Despite feeling confused and somewhat left out of the loop, Hughes could only nod. "I'll be there." He clapped Roy on the shoulder before pulling the door open to see the infamous brothers standing outside his friend's office. "Hey, boys! It's been a while, huh?"
"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes!" Al chirped. "What are you doing here?"
"Eh, business. Been too busy lately to actually take a vacation, and even if I did who'd be crazy enough to actually want to visit this dustbowl of a city?" he said, winking at Roy, who only grinned and shook his head.
Al nudged the blonde beside him. "Brother, don't be rude, say hello."
The older Elric looked up at the bespectacled man. "Hullo, Lieutenant Colonel." When he didn't say anything beyond that, an uncomfortable silence fell between the four of them. Al shuffled slightly, and Ed looked up at Roy, almost as if searching for instructions.
"Well," Hughes said, breaking the silence, "I'll see you later Roy. Don't do anything I wouldn't!" With a jovial wave, he was gone, but something didn't sit quite right with him.
Since when did Edward call him by his rank so impersonally?
A/N: HA! Betcha didn't see that one, did you:D Yes, Hughes is alive. Chronologically speaking, this takes place during the time when Ed is still reporting in to Mustang regularly, so it only made sense to keep him alive.