((A/N: Sorry for the delay! School and writer's block have both reared their ugly heads recently and have made updating VERY hard. There are probably 2 more chapters left in this story, so bear with me and my tardiness for a bit longer. I'll try to have another update this coming week.
This chapter feels a little weak to me, but I hope you all enjoy it anyway . . . ))
It was early in the day and the still-rising sun had not yet become hot enough for the cool, grey morning haze to burn off completely. The fog clung to the tops of the maple trees and flowed over the green, rolling hills that flanked either side of the train as it wound its way toward Resembool. The mist beaded tiny droplets of moisture on the train's wide windows, the wind outside distorting the water and making it move across the glass in a chaotic, frantically beautiful dance.
Mustang watched the dew-covered countryside fly by in a green-blue-grey blur as he pressed his forehead against the cool glass and tried very hard not to throw up.
"Only a few more hours, Colonel." Al said softly from the seat across from him, "Hang in there."
"I'm fine." He lied unconvincingly, wincing slightly as the sound of his own voice grated against the headache that had been pulsing in his temples since they'd left Youswell four days prior. Perhaps they'd been overly optimistic with Mustang's recovery. Dr. Foster had said that the Colonel was okay to travel as long as he felt up to it—and Mustang had been feeling much better—but he was starting to regret leaving Youswell while he still had so much healing ahead of him.
His arm stumps ached constantly now that he'd been taken off of morphine and given a safer, less narcotic painkiller instead. Much worse than the pain in his arms, though, was the sickness that clung to him. He was still battling against the sepsis infection that had poisoned his blood and nearly killed him. He was on a ridiculous amount of antibiotics, each of which left him nauseated and shaky. He greatly disliked being so medicated; he didn't even feel like himself most of the time . . . but he could clearly see that his condition had improved immensely over the last two weeks. Still, he was exhausted, and ill, and in pain, and was hating trains more and more with every passing moment.
He was having a fever again. Not a bad one compared to some that he'd had lately, but he was certainly uncomfortable. He was curled up on the train's hard seat, leaning against the window and blearily waiting for his latest round of medical drugs to kick in and reduce his fever. He shivered convulsively, chilled to the core. Ed had taken off his heavy scarlet coat and draped it over the Colonel, but even that did little to help. When that didn't work, Ed had insistently leaned himself up against Mustang and pulled the coat over the both of them, hoping that body heat would help sweat the fever out.
Unfortunately, that hadn't worked, either. Not only that, but Ed had fallen almost immediately asleep practically lying on the Colonel. Now Roy was cold, achy, nauseated, and pressed uncomfortably close to the sleeping teenager.
"I can move him, if you want me to." Al offered, looking across at his snoozing brother.
"He's warm." The Colonel said with a sigh, trying to keep his teeth from chattering together. "I'll tolerate him until this damn fever breaks. Once the meds start working, though, I'm kicking him off."
Ever since the Colonel's—rather embarrassing—breakdown, Ed had clung to him unnervingly, assertively taking Mustang's wellbeing into his own small hands. Ed made sure that Mustang took his meds when he was supposed to, ate regularly, slept whenever he could, and all the while blatantly ignored any protests that the man gave to his administrations. Ed had changed again. He was no longer meek or apologetic, but instead had taken to donning a very strange, almost paternal—and, at times, even affectionate—air. There was something oddly familiar about the way that Ed was treating him, but it took the Colonel a long time to figure out what. Then he had it.
Ed was treating Mustang the same way that he treated Al.
It was almost funny. Unspeakably strange, but still funny. In spite of how amusing it was, though, it was also unsettling and a little irritating. Roy didn't want Ed to take care of him as if he were a child or a cripple. The fact that Mustang technically was a cripple didn't really factor into the equation. He didn't want anyone to have to take care of him, especially Ed.
Still—Roy had to admit as he looked down at the sleeping boy—he didn't entirely hate it.
Ed stirred slightly in his sleep, giving a soft whimper as he pulled his coat up over his head and fell still again. Mustang resisted the urge to smile and closed his eyes, appreciative of the warmth of the body next to him but not about to show it.
Silence blanketed train car, but it was a comfortable, pensive sort of silence that neither Roy nor Al felt the need to break. After a while, Roy's headache began to lessen a little and the nausea had almost gone entirely. The fever, too, seemed to finally be coming down a bit; the intensity of his chills was decreasing and he wasn't shivering as quite as badly as he had been an hour ago. Thank God for Dr. Foster and his medicinal arsenal. The Colonel did not like the way that he felt on the drugs, but he knew that he'd feel a million times worse if he didn't take them.
During his recovery, Roy had grown to respect and even to enjoy the company of Dr. Foster. The man had a coarse, ironically silly way about him that had taken some getting used to, but he was a good man. He'd made Roy take an oath to keep in touch with him, saying that they should get together for a drink when the Colonel had finished healing. Mustang had rolled his eyes and agreed halfheartedly, but internally he promised himself that they would, indeed, knock back a few someday in a bar when he was back to his old self.
And he would get back to his old self.
Ed shifted again, pulling Mustang from his musing half-doze. The boy sat up abruptly, his coat mussing his hair as it slid off of him and puddled itself on the floor in a red heap. He looked around, befuddled, before his bleary eyes landed on Mustang and he realized that he'd fallen asleep on the Colonel.
"Oh . . . Sorry." Ed yawned, sheepishly brushing his hair back from his face and pushing himself away from Mustang. He stretched a little, then turned in his seat and reached upward, pressing his hand to the Colonel's forehead very matter-of-factly. Mustang sighed and let him, by now resigned to Ed's—rather pushy—care. Ed frowned and put his hand to his own forehead, comparing the temperatures.
"The fever still hasn't broken." The boy scowled, moving his hand back to Mustang's face.
"It's better." Roy replied, shrugging him off and trying not to shiver.
"How long has it been since we dosed him?" Ed asked Al, completely ignoring Mustang.
"Almost two hours."
"His temperature should be down by now."
Al nodded his agreement and turned his gaze to Mustang, saying, "Do you want us to call Dr. Foster? You've had the fever all morning and he told us to call if you had a temperature for more than a few hours."
"No. It's going down, it's just taking a while."
"That's what you said an hour ago, Colonel." Ed sighed, rubbing his temple with his hand and looking at his superior, annoyance and concern both knitting his brow.
Ed was being especially pushy today. True, the Colonel's fever was taking a worrisomely long while to drop, but Roy didn't think that was really the reason for Ed's concern.
Mustang had had another flashback that morning.
It hadn't been a bad one in comparison to others, but it had been enough to set all of them a little on edge. It had been just the briefest of visions, lasting only a few seconds, but Mustang had not been able to hide the horror and revulsion on his face in time to keep Ed from noticing.
Already weak and queasy from sickness, the flashback had left Roy shaking and even more nauseated. He had wanted to get up and leave the train car that he shared with the two boys, had wanted to get away from their questions and pitying glances, but the moment he stood up to do so, the world around him went black.
The next thing he knew, he was waking up on the floor with Ed firmly patting his cheek in an attempt to rouse him from his blackout.
It was then that Ed discovered Mustang's latest fever and had immediately forced an army of medicinal elixirs between his lips, angrily chiding the man and saying that he should have told them of his fever. Actually, Roy had not really been aware of the fever. He felt like shit all the time anyway, so how the fuck was he supposed to notice if he felt a little worse than usual?
Still, Ed had been eyeing him warily all day. Apart from his brief nap, of course. Part of Mustang wanted to hurry up and arrive in Resembool just so that he could get away from the boy. He felt smothered and patronized by his close proximity and longed to just be alone for a while.
Another, darker part of the Colonel, though, was dreading their arrival in Resembool. He did not want to see Winry or Pinako. He was sure that they didn't want to see him, either, but Ed assured Roy that they were more than happy to fix him up with automail. Mustang knew that both women hated him for being in the military that took the lives of Winry's parents, but as far as he knew they were not aware that the Colonel himself had been responsible for their deaths. But, still, he knew of his sin and after everything else that had happened to him over the past few weeks, he did not know if he would be able to handle the guilt when he stood face-to-face with them.
"Hey! Are you listening to me?"
Mustang looked up, startled from his thoughts. Ed had apparently been talking to him for a while and the Colonel hadn't noticed. It was probably due to the fever and the ungodly amount of drugs in his system, both of which clouded his mind and made him frustratingly inattentive.
"No, I'm not. What are you yammering about now?"
Ed sighed heavily and glared at Mustang. The boy had been rummaging through the Colonel's luggage, fishing out his medicine.
"I told you to take this." He said, shoving a small vial of brownish fluid in Roy's face. "If the fever still doesn't come down after this, we're calling Foster whether you like it or not."
"Fine. Whatever you say." Mustang huffed with irritation, leaning forward a little so that Ed could press the vial to his lips for him. He drank the stuff quickly, holding back a shudder. He hated this particular concoction more that any of the others that were forced upon him. For one thing, it tasted like bile . . . for another, it almost always knocked him out for an hour or so and then left him groggy for the rest of the day. It did do wonders for pain, though, and brought down fevers when the other medicines did not.
Ed re-stopped the empty vial and placed it back alongside the others in Roy's luggage. He shifted the Colonel's clothing around so that the glass medicine containers would be padded well for the duration of the bumpy train ride and, suddenly, a card fluttered out of the suitcase and landed on Edward's knee. The boy picked it up and looked at it.
"Put it back, Edward." Mustang warned, immediately realizing what the little card was.
"'Dr. Kolt, Military Psychologist'?" The boy read aloud, raising his golden eyes to regard Mustang appraisingly. Inwardly, the Colonel gave a soft curse.
Mustang looked out the window, embarrassed. "Hawkeye gave it to me."
" . . . Are you going to call him?"
There was a brief stretch of silence before the young alchemist ventured to say:
"I think you should."
" . . . Colonel—"
"Drop it, Fullmetal."
"I can't just drop it, Colonel. Not after everything you—"
"I am NOT discussing this with you!" Roy snapped finally, turning his head to pin the boy with an angry stare. "It's none of your business. Drop it."
" . . . Okay." Ed said softly after an uncertain pause. Mustang looked away from him again, once more sickened and unsettled by the expression of concerned pity on his young face. Roy knew that Ed wasn't going to drop this subject entirely, and would probably bring it up again later, but for now he fell silent. The boy put the card back into the suitcase and closed it as he exchanged a significant glance with his brother.
Roy exhaled an irritated breath and closed his eyes. The boys were going to double-team him on this issue. He just knew it. Resignedly, he sat back and waited for the medicine he'd just taken to throw him into another session of deep, coma-like sleep that always left him woozy and entirely unrested. Still, the thought of sleep was inviting, and when he felt the first warm tugs of the drug's power pulling his mind downward into silence like a shy child looking for a playmate, he followed it without hesitation.
Soon he was sleeping deeply, his dark head still leaning against the cool glass as his soft, even breaths gently fogged the window and obscured the world outside with a thin haze of grey.
Ed was not happy.
Mustang was not happy.
Alphonse, though, was overjoyed.
It had been ages since they'd been back to Resembool and Al's spirits were lifted high by the familiar dirt roads and the sprawling pastures. He could almost smell the wheat fields and feel the cool, autumnal breeze that he'd been so close to in his childhood. Ed liked to loudly proclaim that the Elric brothers had no home—needed no home—but Resembool would always be home to Al.
The three travelers plodded from the train station toward the Rockbell residence, the late afternoon sky darkening quickly with the threat of rain. Ed kept looking down at his broken automail and moaning, "She's gonna kill me." Ed had, apparently, failed to tell Winry the exact reason for his visit. He had told her that he just needed some "standard maintenance", and that lie had been good enough at the time, but now that they were actually within a hundred yards of the house, Ed was clearly starting to worry.
"Oh, man . . . what if she has to replace the whole thing? I'll never hear the end of it." He looked over at Mustang, who was trudging along quietly with a dark expression on his face. "She's literally going to kill me."
"You aren't getting any sympathy from me. I still can't believe you talked me into doing this." Mustang spat, ire and anxiety rampant in his voice. The Colonel was still fighting valiantly against the sleep-inducing drug that Brother had forced upon him a few hours ago. He was groggy and irritated and kept stumbling over his own feet as he struggled to keep up with the brothers. He was obviously having a hard time walking the two miles from the station to Winry's house, but was not about to complain—even though his fatigue and weakness were entirely understandable in his convalescing state. Al would have offered to carry him, but knew that the reply would be a very angry "No." Frankly, Al was half-afraid that the man was going to faint before they reached the house, but he knew better than to say anything.
Not only was the Colonel tired and just not feeling well, though . . . he was also anxiously wary about asking the Rockbells for help. Oh, Mustang hadn't really said as much, but Al was almost certain that that was the reason for the injured man's disquiet.
Well, that and—as Ed told him—the fact that the Colonel didn't even really want the automail.
Al was still a little foggy on what exactly had happened between Ed and the Colonel, but whatever it was had had a huge impact on them both. Ed had become domineering with Mustang and—for some reason what eluded Al entirely—Mustang was allowing it. Sure, he'd argue from time to time if Ed wanted him to do something that he didn't want to do . . . but his arguments were half-hearted and he usually gave in after a while with an unconcerned shrug. It was if the Colonel had just stopped caring about, well, anything.
At least, he was trying not to care.
But, even with the Colonel's new resigned outlook, it had taken the brothers days to convince him to get the automail. He would not give Al his reasons for not wanting it, but Ed seemed to know what they were and privately told Al to stop asking about it. Finally, the Colonel had caved, but he was still not happy with the idea.
"Aw, cheer up, guys!" Al said buoyantly, trying to raise his companions' spirits up to the level of his own. "Ed, we haven't seen Winry and Aunt Pinako in forever! Even if they're mad at you, it will still be nice to see them."
"Yeah, well, you can say that because you're not going to get decked in the face with a torque-wrench in a few minutes." Ed grumbled, hanging his head.
Mustang gave a small, dark laugh at that and smirked down at Ed. Ed scowled back up at him, mumbling something about being surrounded by sadists.
Finally, as the three topped a grassy hill, the Rockbell house came into view and Al's heart practically leapt with joy. He could see Winry sitting on the porch railing, swinging her legs idly as she waited for her "brothers" to come home. Al wanted to run to her, but he held back as he looked down at Mustang. He was leaning against a tree, panting like a sick dog as tiny rivers of perspiration trickled down his pale face.
"You okay?" Al asked him. It seemed like he was asking him that all the time, lately.
"F-fine." Mustang gasped blearily, "Just great."
"Come on." Ed coaxed, coming up behind the Colonel and gently taking his elbow. "We're almost there."
Mustang pulled his arm from Ed's grasp with a snort of annoyance, but still he pushed himself from the tree and started back down the other side of the hill, making his way unsteadily toward the house. He'd squared his shoulders and made his face carefully blank as he moved forward, his old air of military confidence hiding the apprehension that Al knew was there, stirring just beneath the cold exterior.
Winry looked up from her quiet musings as they approached, and her face brightened into a warm, energetic smile.
"Well, it certainly took you long enough!" she scolded merrily, trying to be stern and failing.
Al laughed and hugged her tightly, making her squeak as he lifted her off of the ground. As Al set her back down, he caught Ed smiling at them in that mysterious, sad way that always made Al wonder what he was thinking. But when Winry turned to face him, his smile quickly became cheerful and he embraced her.
"Good to see you too, Machine-Geek." He said, smirking against her shoulder. She laughed and pulled away from him, but then she suddenly froze, grabbing Ed's metal hand and bringing it up to eye-level. The broken, twisted metal of Ed's automail hand glinted dully in the fading light as Winry's fiery eyes roamed over the abused machine.
"Edward . . ." She said slowly, something dangerous burning at the edges of her words, "What is this?"
"Uh . . . I, uh . . . well, that is . . ." Ed stammered as Winry pushed up the sleeve of his coat and was able to see the full extent of the damage done to his automail.
"EDWARD! WHAT DID YOU DO?! Do you know how LONG I worked on this one for you?! Do you know how HARD it is to design something this sleek and lightweight?!" She screeched, pushing him violently into Al, where he cowered like a scolded pup, making apologetic whimpering sounds.
"Aw, Winry . . . it wasn't really his fault . . ." Al tried to soothe, silently very glad that she didn't happen to have a wrench in her hand at the moment. She couldn't really physically hurt him, but she could still be very scary at times.
"You stay out of it!" She shouted, standing on tiptoe to get in his face. "I'll deal with YOU in a moment. But, right now," She said as she whipped around to face Ed again, her blue eyes flashing with indignant rage. "I'm going to KILL your brother."
Ed looked over his shoulder at Mustang almost as if to say See what I mean? DO YOU SEE? but then his expression faltered and morphed into concern.
"Colonel?" He asked, his brow furrowed.
Al turned to look at Mustang, who had hung back several paces as the boys greeted Winry. The man looked as if he'd seen a ghost. His dark, red-rimmed eyes were wide and glazed with drugs and something else that was disconcertingly akin to madness. All of his attention was focused desperately on Winry, but something told Al that he wasn't really seeing her. Al had seen it enough times by now to know that the Colonel was hallucinating.
Winry had turned to face him, too, her face instantly contorting with dislike as she looked upon him. Winry had always hated the man for being a part of the military and for recruiting Ed into the ranks at such a young age. After a moment, though, her face softened with confusion as she read the sick horror on his face.
"I've . . . never shot anyone before . . ." The Colonel whispered, his voice so low that it was barely audible. He suddenly sounded much younger than his twenty-nine years.
" . . . What did he say?" Winry asked uncomfortably as Ed stepped forward and grabbed the Colonel's arm.
"Uh, nothing." Ed said quickly. "Excuse us for a moment."
Edward dragged Mustang away from Winry, firmly taking him around to the other side of the house where he couldn't see her. Mustang wrenched out of his grasp with a small, panicked cry, but Ed caught him again, grabbing him by the shoulders and slamming him back firmly against the white-painted wood of the house.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry . . . I have to." The Colonel rasped, still looking back toward the front of the house. Ed followed his gaze as saw Winry hovering uncertainly, peeking around the corner. "God, just . . . close your eyes . . ." Mustang begged her, his entire body trembling with old fear and grief.
"Go inside, Winry!" Ed shouted, taking the Colonel's jaw in his hand and making him look away from her.
Winry jumped a little at the frantic pitch of Ed's voice, but quietly obeyed him without question.
"I don't like using guns . . . I don't . . ." Mustang continued desperately, struggling weakly against Ed's firm hold on him.
"Come on, Mustang, snap out of it!" Ed implored, shaking him and trying not to sound as alarmed as he actually was. This was different from the other flashbacks that Ed and Al had witnessed. All the other times, Mustang had seemed to know that he was hallucinating. Not that that made the experience any less traumatic, but knowing that the visions in his head were demons from his past and not horrors of the present had allowed him to rationalize and try to get a grip on himself. Now, though, he wasn't even trying. The madness had taken him completely and every shred of the Colonel that Ed and Al knew was gone, lost behind those dark, terrifying eyes. Mustang was trapped within his own mind, imprisoned and cut off from the here and now in favor of some other dark, blood-spattered world that had stolen his innocence so many years ago.
"Blood . . . everywhere. One bullet, point-blank against the skull. The b-back of her head exploded and—"
"STOP IT!" Ed cut him off, violently slamming him back against the side of the house again. The Colonel's head snapped back and cracked against the blank surface of the wall jarringly, but he did not stop talking.
"—and then I shot him, too. Both of them." He sobbed, "They just . . . stood there, waiting for it . . . and I—"
Ed slapped his hand over the Colonel's mouth, cutting off his words. "Shh, Colonel. It's okay now! It's over." He said, his voice breaking with frantic alarm and pity. "That was a long time ago. It's done, now."
The Colonel shook his head, tears spilling from his eyes and rolling softly over Ed's hand. Mustang was not looking at him, but was looking over the boy's shoulder at some unspeakable horror that only he could see. Al wasn't even sure that the Colonel heard the soft, heart-wrenched words that Ed was speaking to him as the young alchemist tried to talk Mustang down from this newest manifestation of dark psychosis. Mustang was hyperventilating now, still ranting about terrible things and, though Ed's hand muffled his panicked words, it could not silence them entirely.
"Hey, look at me." Ed commanded with a trembling voice, forcing the man to turn his head toward him. "No, look at me."
Slowly, the dark eyes wandered to Ed and their eyes locked. It was a frightening, fascinating thing to observe as Mustang began to come down from his hysteria, violently grounded by Edward's golden stare as if the boy were some sort of psychological anchor. Mustang's rambling fell silent and his breathing slowed to a controlled—though terrified—gasping. The two stared at each other unblinkingly, their faces inches apart. Amber and black irises clung to one another like fire and coal, both of them silently raging against the cold grip of insanity that had taken hold of the Colonel's mind.
"Are you with me, now?" Ed asked hesitantly after a long, frightening pause.
For a beat there was no reaction from Mustang, but then, slowly, he gave a tiny nod. Ed stepped back shakily and took his hand away from the Colonel's mouth, awkwardly breaking their eye contact. Mustang leaned his head back against the side of the house and closed his eyes tightly, taking a deep, shuddering breath and trying to compose himself.
"I'd forgotten how . . . how much she looks like her mother." Mustang choked softly. Al could imagine the bloody, brain-splattered images of Winry's mother that must have flitted though the Colonel's head at the sight of the blond girl. It hadn't occurred to either Elric that seeing Winry in Mustang's current mental state might trigger an episode, but in retrospect the possibility was obvious. Al mentally smacked himself for being so blind.He looked down at his brother and saw the same self-blame drawing his features.
Mustang turned away from them with a soft moan and, doubling over, vomited hard onto the dew-flecked grass. Both boys were at his side in an instant and Ed reached out to put his hand on Mustang's arm, but the man jerked away.
"Don't touch me, Edward." He said lowly, almost apologetically as he spat and wiped his mouth shakily on his shirtsleeve. "Just . . . just don't right now. Please."
"Okay. Okay, I won't." Ed promised, visibly fighting against the impulse to cry.
Mustang straightened after a moment, leaning himself against the house with such an expression of dejection on his face that Al thought his heart would cave in with pity. Both Ed and the Colonel were breathing hard and trembling as they tried to overcome their emotions, but Al didn't think that there was anything in his power that would comfort either of them, so he stood still and silent, waiting forlornly for someone to speak.
"I can't do this, Ed." Mustang rasped brokenly after a few moments. "I can't be here."
"You have to, Colonel." Brother cajoled gently, reaching his hand out again as if to try and comfort him, but then he remembered himself and dropped his arm to his side, clenching his hand into an anguished fist. " . . . It's only for a few days . . . And automail aside, you're in no condition to be traveling anymore. They are doctors and they'll help you. I promise."
Mustang shook his head despairingly, but Al knew that he understood that Ed was right.
The rain that the sky had been threatening for the better part of the afternoon chose that moment to make its appearance, falling from the iron-grey clouds in frigid drops. Mustang raised his gaze skyward, letting the cold water run down his clammy face and wash away the tears.
"Let's go inside." Al ventured cautiously, trying to keep his tone light as he gestured for Mustang to follow him. "The very last thing you need right now is to catch a cold on top of everything else."
Mustang looked at him for a moment, then a bitter, humorless smile curved the corners of his mouth. "As if I couldn't feel any more pathetic, now you're both treating me like a child."
"Oh, sir, I didn't mean—"
"Forget it, Alphonse." Mustang said defeatedly, shrugging off Al's attempted apology and wiping rainwater out of his eyes with the back of his still-bandaged forearm.
Al turned and led the way back to the front of the house where Winry was waiting for them. She looked up at Mustang as he staggered forward, but he would not meet her eyes. Al watched some strange emotion flit across her face, some lurching mélange of hate, curiosity, malice, and compassion, but then it was gone as quickly as it had appeared and she led them inside without a word.
Ed sat down at the kitchen table across from Pinako, breathing in the familiar smells of the house that he had known so well as a child. The old woman pushed a cup of tea in front of him and he inhaled the steam gratefully, letting the cup warm his remaining hand. Winry had practically torn off his automail arm and had gone to work on it immediately, pausing only to give Ed a very large and painful bump on the back of his head via a heavy torque-wrench.
Al had taken Mustang upstairs to their old room. The man was exhausted and both Ed and Al thought that he should try to sleep off the rest of the drug in his system. That, and they thought that the man would probably appreciate some solitude after his latest attack of spontaneous madness.
"So, he needs both hands, then?" Pinako asked, writing Mustang's information down in her logbook of patients.
"He still looks pretty sick. I don't know how soon we should risk doing the surgery."
Ed exhaled softly, stirring the pale tendrils of steam that were dancing slowly upward from the teacup. "He's not as bad as he was when we first called you, but he's still weak and has intermittent fevers. He had a persistent temperature today so we had to drug him pretty heavily. That's why he's so out of it. It usually isn't this bad."
She grunted and made a note in her book.
"Thank you for doing this, Grams. I know you don't like him."
"A patient is a patient, even if he is a military dog. I mean, I treat you, don't I? I obviously don't have very high standards."
Ed smiled softly and sipped at his tea. He wouldn't say it aloud, but he had missed Pinako and her cantankerous, harsh affection.
"There's something else, though." Ed began after a brief pause. "Something else wrong with the Colonel, I mean."
"Yeah. Up here." He said, tapping the side of his head with his finger. "He . . . sees things sometimes. Things from the war."
Pinako looked up from her writing and regarded Ed for a moment. "Ah. That's not uncommon among the soldiers of Ishbal. I've treated more than one veteran who suffered from occasional flashbacks."
"No, you don't understand . . . he doesn't just get them occasionally. It's all the time now."
"He's had two just today. The latest of them was one of the worst I've seen him have. For a second there, I thought he'd really lost it . . . He's depressed and suicidal and he thinks he's going crazy. Maybe he is going crazy . . ."
Ed didn't really know why he was telling Pinako this. There was nothing that she could even do for Mustang's mental wellbeing, even if she wanted to. But still, she was the closest thing to a parent that Ed had and he felt the childish need to confide in her, to tell her his problems as if she could magically make them vanish.
"I just . . . wanted you to know, in case he freaks out while you're working on him or something." He finished lamely.
Pinako sat back in her seat, pulling out her worn old pipe and lighting it. Smoke spiraled delicately from the pipe, then dispersed as Pinako blew her lungful of the stuff out of the corner of her mouth.
"He isn't your responsibility, Edward." She said finally, after a heavy, thoughtful pause.
"You're worrying about him too much. You're taking care of him instead of taking care of yourself. I wasn't going to say anything, but you look awful."
Ed gave a half-hearted laugh and rubbed his face with the palm of his hand. "Heh. It's been a rough couple of weeks. I'm just tired, that's all."
"Hm. You just shouldn't have to take care of that man."
"I don't have to. I want to. I think he'd do the same for me. He may be a jerk to me sometimes—a really big jerk—but he's always watching out for Al and me and trying to keep us safe." Ed took another sip of the tea, quietly relishing the taste of peppermint as it slid over his tongue. "Besides, I really don't think he has anyone else to take care of him . . . aside from a few of his co-workers."
Pinako stared at her adopted son for a moment, then smiled vaguely and closed her eyes as she puffed on her pipe.
"You know, kiddo," she said after a comfortable pause, "I think you've grown a little since the last time I saw you."
Ed coughed a little as he inhaled some of his tea, the faintest of blushes tinting his cheeks.