Summary: Ed and Al are given orders to take a vacation where they won't have to worry about anything for a while, but it turns out that trouble has followed them in the form of a strange new alchemy group that would love to join the brothers to its ranks whether they want to or not.
Ed came to as he heard a phone ringing somewhere. It was his second or third night in the hospital, and it wasn't any easier to sleep. He groaned as his head started hurting, and he shut his eyes again in order to lessen the pain. How badly had he gotten hit? He'd been told more than once by the stupid doctors that he was lucky to be alive.
Ed opened his eyes again. "Al?" His brother had come in and curled up in a chair next to the bed.
"How does your head feel?"
"Awful," he said, closing his eyes again. "What hit it? I can't remember."
"His fist. Colonel Armstrong says that the alchemist that hit you was stronger than he was," Al said, patting Ed's hand in a conciliatory gesture.
"Are you sure that it was just his fist? It hurt far more than any fist would."
"Trust me, it was his fist," Al said, sounding amused.
"Mmm. So what's happening on the outside?"
"The usual, and nothing too exciting. Investigator Hughes says that he's going to come and see you tomorrow since he has news from the top for both of us."
Ed opened his eyes again. "News from the top? What news? I'm not being decommissioned, am I?"
"Not that I can see," Al admitted. "Maybe he's only joking. Maybe he actually has a new set of pictures of Alicia to show us."
Ed groaned. "The kid's cute, I'll admit that, but enough is enough!"
Al couldn't keep his laughter back. Ed's expression was too funny.
"So when's he coming?" Ed asked, smiling and relaxing a little bit. He always liked it when he could make Al laugh.
"He said after your breakfast, and he sounded just as he does when he's planning a surprise for Alicia—you know, all happy and excited and secretive."
Ed looked at his brother. "Do you think he's planning a surprise for us or something like that?"
"Ten to one he's bringing Alicia to come visit," Al said, sounding as if he were choking back laughter.
That was too much for the two brothers and they collapsed across Ed's bed, laughing hysterically. Momentarily, Ed forgot about his injuries and worries, and Al enjoyed his brother's company. Things were good, and they both wished they could stay that way, and neither brother needed to say so.
"Well, good morning, you two," Investigator Hughes said as he came in. "How are you both?"
"Fine, thanks," Al said. "Ed's head still hurts, though."
"Does it really?" Investigator Hughes asked Ed. "What did the doctor say?"
"They say I'm out of danger and all that, but it'll hurt for a while. They gave me medicine to take for it," Ed told him, fiddling with the edge of his blanket. He hated staying in bed, but the doctors had told him to. When he argued, they threatened him with a "no visitors" policy (that had included Al) and an old dragon of a nurse to watch him to make sure he rested. Eager to avoid that, Ed had done as he'd been told.
"So, what's the news you have for us?" Al asked, unable to restrain his impatience.
"Oh, eager to know, are you?" Hughes teased.
"Actually, yeah," Ed admitted. "So, what's the news from the top for us? It's not a new assignment, is it?"
"No, not an assignment," Hughes said, grinning. "The news from the top is that you, Edward, are off active duty until further notice! Isn't that great?"
"What!" Ed almost yelled. "Why?"
"It's not what you think," he said, waving his hand back and forth in a conciliatory gesture. "No, you're just being sent on an all-expenses-paid vacation, that's all."
"We're being sent on vacation?" Al said, sounding confused. "Why?"
"Well, you both have been working yourselves to the bone for ages now, and you've ended up in the hospital how many times since you became a State alchemist, Ed, and you've made some stunning victories over adversaries, so the top has decreed that you're to be rewarded by being given a chance to rest up and relax. Don't worry, you'll love the place you're going!"
"But—why are we being sent on vacation?" Al asked weakly, still confused. "Why not just rest at headquarters?"
"Well, the top feels you deserve it," Hughes said, patting Al's shoulder. "And who can rest at headquarters with all that goes on there? No, a nice trip will be just what you boys need!"
"So, where is it we're being sent?" Ed asked since he could tell that Hughes was almost dying to tell them.
"A lake resort up in the mountains a few days' journey from here! You'll be able to swim, boat, go hiking, biking, and there are horses for you to ride. The lodge where you'll be staying is very comfortable, and the food is superb!" Hughes sounded inordinately jealous of the two of them, but he also sounded very happy that they were going.
"Doesn't it rain in the mountains?" Ed asked. "We'll be stuck in a comfy lodge with nothing to do!"
"That's where you're wrong, my boy!" Hughes said, sounding happier by the second. "They have a huge game room, a library, and an activities director to help you find whatever it is you want to do. Not to worry, you won't be bored a moment."
"What about Al?" Ed wanted to know. "Will this place be fun for him, too?"
"Of course it will," Hughes assured him. "There are plenty of activities that you and Al will be able to enjoy."
"I don't know," Al said. "Everyone around here is used to seeing me, but what about the people there?"
"No one will stare, if that's what you mean," Hughes said kindly. "I promise you that. So, when did the doctors say you'd be ready to go?"
"The day after tomorrow," Ed said, sounding as if he really didn't want to go. Something in his gut was telling him that this vacation was a bad idea.
"Well, you can get ready to go then, and I'll come as soon as you're released and take you boys to the train station. See you then!" With that, the implacable force that was Investigator Hughes swept out of the room.
"Do you think this is a good idea?" Ed asked after Hughes was gone.
"I have no idea," Al said. "But I do know that if the top's determined to have us do something, then we'll do it whether we want to or not."
"Isn't that always the truth?" Ed muttered. "Do you have a bad feeling in your gut, too?"
"Does it tell you to not go on this trip?"
Al nodded again.
"Well," Ed said thoughtfully. "He can take us to the station, but who says we have to get on the train? We'll wait until he leaves, and then we'll go see Winry. How's that?"
"Yeah!" Al said, sounding much happier. "We haven't seen her in a while!"
"We'll stay with her until it's time for us to come back, and no one at headquarters will be the wiser," Ed said, sounding much happier.
"Leave it to you to think of a way out," Al said, rubbing his hair to make it stand on end.
"Hey, watch the head!"
"Sorry," Al said, not sounding contrite at all. Oooh, wait until Ed went by a mirror!