Rain thundered against the window in an angry torrent, sending sheets of frigid water cascading down the slick glass. The roaring of the storm and the rattling of the glass in the windowpane combined into a sound that was almost like nails on a chalkboard for Colonel Roy Mustang. It sent shivers of displeasure down his spine and scraped against the back of his skull in a way that made him want to break things. If anything could have annoyed the Colonel any further than he already was, it was the goddamn rain. He hated it, hated it, hated it.
Roy tapped his finger on the desk in a slow, ponderous rhythm that only minimally hinted at the supreme irritation stirring within his breast. He was a patient man—or at least he liked to think so—and he was more than willing to change appointments around someone else's schedule if they had a valid excuse as to why, exactly, they could not make the previously agreed upon appointment time. What Roy could not tolerate was when, after delaying the meeting three times for various reasons—unspecified reasons, mind you—in a week, his three o'clock appointment simply failed to show up without even calling to say, "Um. Yeah... I'm not coming."
"I'm going to kill him," Roy declared quietly to his office at large, "I am literally going to kill him if he doesn't show up within the next five minutes."
"Aw, give the kid a break, Boss..." Havoc laughed from the other side of the room. Havoc and Breda always seemed to think it incredibly funny when Roy got annoyed with Ed. The Colonel had vague suspicions that the two placed bets on which of them would crack first in each of their little wars: so far, Roy was fairly certain that he'd won most of the battles... but it was still aggravating that some of his own staff members didn't take Ed's employment seriously. Sure, he was just a kid and had somehow become a sort of mascot around the office, but that didn't exempt him from the duties that he'd sworn to undertake and that included reporting on a regular basis.
Reporting ON TIME on a regular basis.
"I have given him a break. I've given him three breaks this week," Roy snapped at Havoc, "He gets far more leniency from me than you do, so don't push your luck, Lieutenant. I am resolutely not in the mood."
Havoc ducked his head a little in an almost lupine kind of supplication and Breda bit his lip hard to keep from laughing. Roy shot him a withering look and he immediately sobered.
"Perhaps you should call him," Hawkeye suggested evenly, not looking up from her paperwork.
As a direct antithesis to Havoc and Breda, Hawkeye was entirely too serious. She rarely smiled and she stayed on task a little too well, making sure that those around her did their work with the same gravity: namely, Roy. Honestly, would it kill her ease up or, hell, even to laugh once every once in a while?
Roy sighed and scrubbed at his face with his hands. No... Ed had just put him in a bad mood and the rain wasn't helping. He was just taking out his frustrations on his staff. Breda and Havoc were good workers and they brought some color to the otherwise-dreary office, and Hawkeye was an efficient and loyal miracle-worker when it came to both paperwork and the battlefield... It wasn't their fault that Fullmetal was such an arrogant, disrespectful, scatterbrained little prick.
"Perhaps I should," Roy conceded, glancing at the phone on his desk. He sighed to himself again and lifted the receiver from the hook, dialing the number and mentally composing an angry lecture to assault Ed with the moment that he answered.
The phone rang several times on the line, then:
Unfortunately, it was Alphonse and not Ed who answered the telephone. A little disappointed because, truth be told, the lecture that Roy had just invented was going to be absolutely epic, Roy cleared his throat.
"Your brother is late for his report, Alphonse," Roy told him bitingly, not bothering to return his greeting, "If he's not on his way here yet, I suggest that you tell him goodbye because there might not be much left when I've finished with him."
There was a long pause and then Al drew in a small, startled gasp, "Oh. Oh, I was supposed to call and reschedule... I'm so sorry. I meant to tell you yesterday..."
"He wants to reschedule again?" Roy asked incredulously, his gloved fist clenching on the desk's smooth wooden surface, "He's already rescheduled three times in the past six days! I do have other appointments to keep."
"I know, it's just—"
"What, is he afraid to go out in the rain? What's his excuse this time?"
For a moment Al stayed silent, the ghostly static on the phone lines giving Roy his only answer. When Al did speak, his words were hesitant and surprisingly fragile sounding:
"...He'll get mad if I tell you..."
Roy sat up a little straighter, his brow furrowed. It was not uncommon for both Ed and Al to keep secrets from the Colonel. Roy often found that Al loyally covered for his older brother whenever prompted, turning away any questions with phrases like, "I'd rather not say," or "Brother doesn't want me to talk about that." It was not what Al said that suddenly piqued Roy's interest; it was the way that he said it. Typically in these situations, Al would sound guilty or exasperated, even a little worried if he didn't agree with Ed's actions, but this time...
...He sounded scared.
The Colonel shook his head. It was probably just his imagination.
"Well Alphonse, I'm going to get mad if you don't tell me," Roy said, ignoring the fact that Havoc and Breda had started giggling again from behind their respective stacks of unfinished paperwork, "So make your choice: which of us would you rather piss off today?"
There was another, longer pause from Alphonse as if he were fighting some sort of internal battle. Roy waited silently, knowing that he'd already broken the metal boy's resolve.
"...Brother is very sick," Al said finally, his hollow voice barely above a whisper.
A tiny chill of uncertainty ran its skeletal finger down Roy's spine, but he shook it off. It had to be a cover. Ed never got sick. He just wanted Alphonse to make up some lame excuse for him so that he could play hooky from work. Roy was both irritated and unsurprised; this was becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence since that whole fiasco with Shou Tucker and his daughter.
Now Roy wasn't heartless. He understood that little Nina Tucker's death had been very hard on both Edward and Alphonse. He also understood that Ed had been a complete, nearly hysterical wreck that night in the alley with the splattered remains of the girl/chimera tainting the air with the reek of burnt hair and wet dog... but Roy had told him even then that he couldn't dwell on it. Fullmetal needed to get over it if he ever expected to get anywhere in life. Death happens. He needed to move on.
"Oh, is he?" Roy asked dryly, deciding to play along with Al's ruse for a while.
"He didn't want me to tell anyone..."
"Hm. What's wrong with him?"
"That's the thing, I don't know what's wrong," Al whispered as if he were afraid that someone would overhear, "He's vomiting and pale and sweating like he has a fever, but he won't talk to me about it..."
"I see," Roy mused, examining his cuticles lazily, "Have you taken him to a doctor?"
"And why not, if he's so very sick?"
"He won't let me! The last time I tried, he transmuted me so that I couldn't move!" Al squeaked, his voice becoming increasingly frantic as he spoke. Roy had to hand it to Al: the kid had a knack for theatrics, "It took me ten minutes to put myself right again..."
"Interesting," the Colonel smirked, then decided to play his trump card, "Well, then perhaps I should go down there myself and order him into medical care. Either that or I can put him out of his misery."
"Oh, please, would you come?" Al gasped, the desperation in his words sounding a little too real for Roy's comfort. That little tingling of doubt down Roy's spine returned slyly, working its way into the pit of his stomach. Maybe something really was wrong with Fullmetal... or maybe Al was just calling his bluff. Either way, Roy was tiring of this game.
"Is he really sick, Alphonse?" Roy asked warily, "Because if you're just lying to keep him out of trouble..."
"I'm not lying! Why would I lie about this? He's been sick for days now and there's nothing that I can do! He doesn't want me near him. He won't even let me in his room anymore. Just come talk some sense into him. Please. I'm begging you."
Either Al was balanced precariously on the verge of tears or he had an amazing talent for acting drama that no one knew about. He sounded genuinely concerned for his brother's life. Roy bit his lip, still not entirely convinced. Well, there was only one way to find out.
"Fine," he sighed, "I'll be there in ten minutes."
"Thank you so much, Colonel."
And with that, Roy hung up the phone dismissively and ran a hand through his raven hair, taking a deep breath. Those boys were going to be the death of him.
Precisely nine and a half minutes later—which meant that he was on time, thank you very much—Roy rapped his knuckles sharply on the door to Ed and Al's dormitory, feeling a vague sense of nostalgia as the sound echoed down the dim, ill-furnished hallway. It had been years since Roy had lived in the dorms himself... and he did not miss them. They tended to be dank and cold this time of year, no matter how high you turned up the heat. The boys would be moved into a small apartment more appropriate of Ed's new rank in the very near future, but for now he and Al were stuck in the barracks. Their leaving the Tucker estate was not exactly planned and the military had nowhere else to put them for the moment.
Hm. Perhaps it wouldn't be that surprising if Ed really were sick; it would probably be a shock to his system to go from the luxury of Tucker's estate to this chilly, damp cesspool of communal living.
The door opened almost immediately in response to Roy's knock and Al's huge metal helmet appeared, the steel glinting in the hallway's jaundiced lights.
"Thank you for coming, sir... I know that you're busy..." Al piped, bobbing his head in a tiny bow of gratitude as he ushered the Colonel inside.
"Actually, I had some free time anyway. It seems my three o'clock appointment failed to show up," Roy told him with a little shrug, feigning bewilderment.
"...I said I was sorry for forgetting to tell you," Al mumbled, sounding both hurt and reproachful.
Roy looked at Alphonse evenly. He was right; he had apologized... but that didn't soothe the Colonel's foul mood. Then again, it wasn't Al's responsibility to keep Roy informed anyway. It was Fullmetal's responsibility, not his brother's.
"I don't blame you, Alphonse," Roy half-apologized, looking toward the closed door on the other side of the small room, "He's in there, I take it?"
Al nodded. "I think he's asleep."
Roy grunted and crossed the room without preamble, tossing his dripping umbrella into the scratched wooden table in the corner. It was time to wake the little punk up and see how sick he really was. Roy placed his hand on the latch and, mentally reveling in how cathartic this upcoming lecture was going to be, shoved the door open.
The sardonic words of greeting that Roy had prepared died on his lips instantly as the room's stale air slammed into him. The room smelled of sickness in its most savage form; it smelled of vomit and sweat with the faint, meaty undercurrent of infection bringing it all together into a truly frightening stench. Roy stopped dead in the doorway, taken off-guard by the smell.
There was no way to fake something like this.
Ed must really be ill.
Roy looked back at Al incredulously from the open doorway. "How long did you say he's been sick like this?"
"A few days. I don't know what to do..."
So the fear in Al's voice over the phone had not been an act, nor had it been any sort of exaggeration. Roy looked back into the dim room, spying Edward's blanket-obscured form huddled into a shapeless heap toward the head of the bed. The lump rose and fell with respiration, but even from this distance Roy could see that his breathing was uneven and labored.
Roy nodded grimly to the youngest Elric brother and stepped fully into the room, closing the door behind him. Okay, fine. He'd save the lecture for later. Roy moved to stand next to the bed and looked down at the occupant critically. The thin grey line of watery light squeezing in from between the closed curtains fell upon the bed in a long vertical stripe, creating a band of color on the boy's cheek like a streak of war paint. And he did look like a warrior... a defeated warrior, exhausted from battle.
Ed's skin was sallow and clammy-looking with beads of perspiration dotting his brow. His hair had been let down from its typical braid and the tangled golden strands clung to the moisture on his face and fell over his shadowed, red-lidded eyes like a veil. His breaths were hitched and rattling through his dry, cracking lips and every exhalation was accompanied by a tiny, unconscious moan of discomfort.
Roy crossed his arms over his chest and clenched his jaw. Well that answers that question: the kid was definitely not just playing hooky.
"Hey," Roy said loudly, "wake up, Fullmetal."
Ed groaned, his brow knitting as he burrowed deeper into his cocoon of blankets.
"Come on," the Colonel continued when he got no further response, "Get up. I'm taking you to a doctor."
"...Told you I'm not going to a doctor, Al..." the boy mumbled, his words slow and muffled by sleep.
"Oh, you wish that I were just your brother. You can't brush me off so easily. Get up."
Ed willed his eyes open with some obvious effort and raised his gaze to Roy's face sluggishly. His eyes were glassy and bloodshot, his fair lashes darkened and gummed together by both sleep and illness. It looked as if it took him several beats to understand who was in the room with him, but when he did he closed his eyes again dismissively with a faint grunt.
"Go away. I'm sick."
"It's a good thing I'm taking you to a doctor then, isn't it?" Roy asked flippantly, though part of him was deeply disturbed to hear Ed's voice made so thin and weak, crackling from between his parted lips like a bad radio transmission.
"I'm not going anywhere. Just leave me alone. I can take care of myself," he rasped without opening his eyes, curling up into a tighter ball under the blankets.
Roy stood there thinking for a moment, then uncrossed his arms and removed his glove, stepping closer to the head of the bed. He leaned forward and pressed the back of his hand to Edward's brow and felt his chest constrict with the first ungainly lurch of anxiety. He'd known before stepping into the room that Ed was feverish; what he hadn't anticipated was how feverish. This was not just a little fever that might accompany a bad cold... he was absolutely burning up. His face was like a furnace, radiating unhealthy heat.
"Clearly, Fullmetal, you can't take care of yourself. From the looks of things, you don't even know how to treat a fever," Roy scolded dryly as he reached over and grabbed a corner of the boy's blanket, yanking it off of him in one swift motion. Ed made a high, plaintive sound halfway between a whimper and a curse as the cooler air enveloped his skin and he tried to pull the blanket back over himself, but Roy snatched it from him and tossed it away from the bed.
Ed made a half-hearted attempt to sit up, but then fell back onto the bed again defeatedly. That was a little worrisome... even if Ed was sick, Roy had expected him to express more anger and indignity at having his blankets stolen. The kid had already given up.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Ed demanded gratingly, wrapping his arms around himself and closing his eyes again tightly. He was wearing his old scarlet coat over his simple pajamas, no doubt in an attempt to make himself a little warmer in spite of the thick blankets. Roy rolled his eyes a little at that. Stupid kid.
"You're not doing yourself any favors by bundling up like that."
"That's because you have a fever," Roy told him in a slow, condescending drawl. "But we have to bring your body heat down, not up; your temperature is high enough as it is and huddling under blankets will just make it worse."
Ed mumbled something incoherent that might have been an insult, but Roy chose to ignore him as his eyes landed on a pitcher of water on the table beside the bed. There was a half-empty glass beside it. Well, at least it seemed that Ed was smart enough to try and keep himself hydrated.
"How much fluid have you had today?"
"None... can't keep anything down."
"Not even water?" Roy asked with a frown, fishing in his pocket for his handkerchief.
Ed shook his head, eyes still closed. That, too, was worrisome. Roy sighed and lifted the pitcher, re-filling the glass.
"Sit up," he commanded, holding out the glass for Ed to take. Ed cracked his eyes open with irritation, then let them fall shut again.
"I'll just throw it up."
"I don't really care. Sit up."
"Damn it, why are you even here?" Ed groaned pitifully, pushing himself upright with some difficulty. He swayed unsteadily for a moment, then raised his glazed, unfocused eyes back up to Roy. "I told... told you to go away."
"I'm here because your brother is worried about you. I can't imagine why, since you seem so very healthy," Roy smirked humorlessly, handing him the water and trying to ignore the growing worry in his own gut. Ed took the glass cautiously, but made no move to drink it.
"He called you?" the boy asked, sounding a little betrayed.
"I called him. You were a no-show for your appointment today and I wanted to bitch you out royally," Roy informed him, taking the handkerchief that he'd pulled out of his pocket and dipping it in the water pitcher, "He told me that you were sick and wouldn't go to a doctor."
"I'm not that sick. I don't need a doctor... I'll probably be better tomorrow," Edward mumbled, although Roy thought that he didn't sound entirely certain.
"Alphonse told me that you've been sick for days and I really don't think that he was exaggerating. Drink the damn water."
Ed looked down at the glass doubtfully. "...If I do, will you leave?"
Ed sighed loudly and took a small, hesitant sip of the liquid then put the glass back on the table.
Roy squeezed the excess water from his handkerchief and turned to face the kid again. He folded the wet cloth into a rectangle and pressed it firmly to Ed's brow. Ed made a small, unhappy sound and pulled away a little, but Roy quickly cupped the back of the boy's head to keep him still and continued mopping Edward's face with the damp handkerchief.
"Get off of me!" Ed whined, struggling. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Be still! I'm trying to cool you down," Roy barked at him, his stomach twisting once again as he felt just how hot Ed's skin was.
"But I'm already cold..." Ed maintained stupidly.
"Have I been talking to myself for the past five minutes?" Roy asked bitingly, "Did you not hear me when I explained that we needed to get your temperature down?"
"...Oh..." was all that Ed said after a pause, looking genuinely lost. The pang of worry in Roy intensified. There was absolutely no way that Roy was going to leave here without taking Ed to a doctor. The fever couldn't be anything less than 103 degrees and it was obvious that the kid was having trouble staying alert; his words were slurred and his eyes were over-bright and unfocused. Roy ran the cool cloth down Ed's cheek to his jaw, but the kid reached up and stopped him.
"I can do it myself," Ed rasped petulantly, taking the cloth and pushing away Roy's hand. Roy sighed harshly through his nose and let him. Ed wiped his face slowly, the cloth catching momentarily on his rough, cracked lips.
Roy should probably make him drink more water. He was undoubtedly dehydrated if he hadn't been able to keep any water down... How long had he gone without water? Surely no more than a day, right? How long does it take to die of dehydration? More than a day, but if the dehydration is accompanied by a severe fever...
Roy shook his head. No sense in worrying about it. The kid would probably be fine once they got him to a hospital.
The Colonel turned his attentions back to Ed. The boy's arm had dropped back to his side, the handkerchief clenched loosely in his automail hand. He was staring off into space vaguely as if he had forgotten what he was supposed to be doing.
"Ed?" Roy called warily.
Slowly, Ed raised his heavy head and looked up at Roy, his expression both strained and a little confused. God, he was so sick...
"That's it, kid. We're going to the hospital now, " Roy said gruffly, concealing his rising concern, "Get your ass up."
"No..." Edward mumbled, raising the cloth to his eyes and rubbing them, "No, I'm not going."
"It's not a request. It's an order."
Ed shook his head and leaned sideways, lowering himself back down onto the bed. He curled himself into a ball with his back to the Colonel and fell silent, probably listening to the rain tap against the window. It sounded as if the storm was letting up a little.
"You're sick, Ed," Roy said into the thick quiet of the room, "Why don't you want to go to a doctor? Do you not understand that you could die if you don't get medical help?"
The kid gave no response other than to draw his legs up even more tightly to his chest.
Why didn't he want to go to the doctor? As far as Roy knew, the kid had no particular fears associated with hospitals. Everyone knew that he was certainly admitted to them often enough, as careless and adventurous as he was. He had never refused medical aid before, especially when he knew that he needed it... so why this sudden, irrational reluctance to go when his very life might hang in the balance?
"You're hiding something," the Colonel realized aloud, "And not just from me... but from your brother, as well..."
Ed stiffened, but remained silent.
"Why would you keep something this important from Alphonse...?" Roy asked, the gears in his head turning as the worry in his gut began to morph into something akin to fear.
"He... wouldn't understand..." Ed said finally, his voice quiet and distant.
"What wouldn't he understand?"
"...Nothing. It's nothing... I'm just really tired. I don't know what I'm saying..."
Roy worked his jaw. He wanted to pick up the kid and shake him hard, to make him say what was wrong. Instead Roy thought quickly, trying to think up reasons why Ed would be keeping something from Al.
"Are you sick because you did something stupid...?" Roy supposed. The kid didn't reply, but Roy saw him give a tiny, reluctant nod. Well, at least that was some progress... "What did you do?"
Ed gave a little shrug and didn't offer any more than that. Roy bit back the urge to yell at him and reigned in his anxious frustration.
"Did you contract a venereal disease or something?" Roy guessed wildly, thinking that perhaps Ed's problem was embarrassing and that's why he didn't want to talk about it, "Did you hook up with one of the whores in the park?"
Ed turned his head slightly and shot Roy a dirty look. Okay, so a "no" on that. Roy thought hard. What could Ed have done to make himself so sick...?
"...Is it drugs?" Roy asked, a cold ball of sick anger and terror forming in the pit of his stomach, "Have you been taking drugs, Edward?"
Drugs fit. Drugs made sense. Ed had been depressed lately, calling off of work... and with the strain of everything that had happened with Tucker and his daughter, of course Ed would seek some sort of release. Maybe he'd been sharing needles. Maybe he'd gotten an infection from a tainted syringe.
"I'm not on drugs..." Ed sighed.
He could be lying. Of course he was lying. That's why he was wearing the jacket, wasn't it? Not to keep himself warm, but to cover the infected injection site. God, it was so obvious.
"Show me your arm," Roy ordered him.
"Why not, unless you have something to hide? Track marks, perhaps?"
"I'm not taking drugs!"
"Then show me your arm!"
Roy gripped Ed's shoulder roughly and made him roll over, then grabbed his arm. Ed cried out as Roy's fingers closed around the slender limb, his already-pale face blanching even further with pain. Fuck, so there was something wrong with his arm. Edward struggled but Roy held him firmly, pushing up the boy's sleeve to reveal a white bandage wrapped around his forearm.
"...Edward," Roy said tightly, his insides churning with rising anger, "What is this?"
"It... it's nothing," Ed stammered, though his tone spoke otherwise. He was afraid. He tried to pull his arm away but Roy jerked him closer, eliciting another pained cry from the boy.
"Bullshit!" Roy accused, his voice low and growling to cover his fear. Ed was scaring him out of his wits, but he'd be damned if he let the kid know it. Roy snatched a corner of the bandage and tore it off with a quick jerk, violently exposing the infected tissue beneath.
A cloud of silence rolled into the room as the wounds were revealed, thickening the air with something so terrible that Roy held his breath, staring down at the injured flesh speechlessly. There were no track marks. No sign of drug-use at all, but Roy took no comfort in that. The truth was far worse than the enraged thoughts that had been screeching through his head at full, half-panicked speed for the past few minutes. The anger in Roy evaporated in a great rush like a harsh exhalation, but the fear remained and intensified until the stoic Colonel thought he might vomit from it.
There were two very distinct gashes running across the pale blue veins of Edward's milky wrist, accompanied by several tiny hesitation-cuts that fanned out around the gashes like thin red feathers.
All of the irritated words that Roy had gathered in his mind to abuse Ed with... all of the witty lectures and dry comments that he'd thought Ed deserved for his irresponsibility... all of it was suddenly gone from the Colonel's mind, leaving behind a cold, unsettled buzzing and—for the first time since he'd met the kid—Roy had no idea what to say to him. He was struck utterly mute by this entirely unexpected revelation.
Roy couldn't take his eyes away from the wound. His heart was sick and he lacked the courage to look up at the damaged boy on the bed. But no... Maybe Roy was jumping to conclusions. Maybe this wasn't what it looked like. God, don't let this be what it looks like. Maybe he'd just hurt himself accidentally. Ed had always been prone to injury. He was too careless. Too bullheaded. Too brave for his own good. Surely Edward, strong little Edward, would never sink so low as this...
"Are you happy now?" Ed whispered, a horrified, shamed kind of venom making his words burn themselves into Roy's flesh like an acid, "Is this what you wanted to see?"
Roy finally looked up at him, but each word that his mind thought up to say was immediately snatched back before it could touch his tongue.
"Say something, damn you!" the boy shouted, his voice breaking, "Tell me how stupid you think I am! Tell me how disappointed you are in me! Tell me that I'm a worthless failure for even thinking about killing myself! Say it, you bastard! I know you want to!"
Ed's eyes were penetrating, dual golden orbs that were both fiery and desolately cold, glowing in the rain-colored light that streaked in through the curtains. He was humiliated and he was frightened and he was so desperately sad that he trembled with grief. Was he crying...? Oh god, he wascrying. This had really happened. This was real...
Ed had actually slit his own wrists.
Roy absorbed that for a moment. He tore his gaze from Edward, unable to witness the defeated, helpless tears that were birthing themselves from his lower lids. Slowly, the Colonel seated himself on the edge of the bed and Ed shied away from him a little, flinching as if he expected Roy to hit him, to suddenly explode into a flurry of rage.
Part of Roy wanted to do just that. He wanted to punish Ed for entertaining this weakness, and not only for that, but for entertaining it in total silence. How dare him. How could this perfect child—this prodigy—have this fault buried within him... this self-destructive flaw... this unforgivable, unforgettable, selfish defect that Roy himself had been marked with not too long ago? Ed was supposed to be tougher than this. He was supposed to be this golden, untouchable, aggravating, punk-ass kid...
But now here he was: so broken that Roy—in his wordless, heartbroken shock—didn't even know where all of the pieces were.
"...Why?" Roy managed to force out after a long, nauseating silence.
Ed sank back down onto the bed, curled himself around his slashed arm—the testament to his failure—and did not answer. He didn't really need to answer. Roy knew all too well why he had done it... there were so many reasons why Ed would want to kill himself. What a dumb question. How completely inane.
Roy swallowed hard, then made himself continue, "There... there are people you can talk to when you really need to talk, Ed..."
Ed gave a short, exhausted laugh and wiped his face on his pillow, "Oh yeah? Who?"
"Well... Alphonse, for one."
"...Al would never understand," the boy rasped, "I always have to be so strong for him and..." his voice broke, "a-and I just can't sometimes..."
Edward trailed off, then suddenly his small shoulders heaved and he leaned over the side of the bed. With a strained, choking sound, he vomited into a strategically placed basin that was seated on the floor. He retched hard, but his stomach evacuated nothing more than the sip of water he'd taken only a few minutes ago and a sour dribbling of foamy bile. Roy had an intense, paternal urge to reach out and hold his hair out of his face or to rub his back, but he restrained himself. To do so would mean accepting Ed's weakness... and he couldn't do that just yet.
Ed wiped his mouth on his automail arm and collapsed back onto the bed. Roy watched him for a moment, then gathered his courage and said:
"You could have come to me."
Ed gave another sharp, bitter laugh that sounded like it was half-sob, "You? You of all people could not possibly understand..."
Roy knew that his relationship with Ed had always been—and would always be—just a little bit strained, but the incredulity in Ed's voice hurt. True, they had never really gotten along well and Roy knew that there were times when Ed literally hated his commanding officer... but Roy and all of his staff were dedicated to Edward Elric with both heart and soul, no matter what a pain in the ass he was. Roy had risked his career to adopt Ed into his employ and his faith in the kid had never once wavered. Roy would do anything for him... if only he'd let on that he needed the help.
"There's a lot about me that you don't know, Fullmetal. Don't you dare tell me that I wouldn't understand," Roy warned seriously, "I know how you feel far more readily than I'd ever wanted to admit to you."
Ed looked up at him critically, visibly trying to work out what Roy meant by his statement, but Roy plowed on before the kid could think too deeply on it.
"...So, what made you change your mind?" the Colonel asked.
It was obvious that Ed had changed his mind after committing the act. He was, after all, still alive and Roy knew for a fact that Ed could have been successful in terminating his own life if he had really wanted to. Instead, he had stopped and bandaged himself, then had hidden in his room for days as he unsuccessfully struggled to recover from his suicide attempt.
"I heard Al come back into the dorm..." Ed croaked, his words distorted a little by the pillow, "He was gone when I... when I did it. But then he came back and I... I just couldn't go through with it. I couldn't leave him. Not after everything I've put him through. I can't ever leave him, Colonel... And I can't talk to him about this. I don't w-want him to know."
With that last sentence, Ed looked up at Roy imploringly.
"...I wont tell him, Ed," Roy promised. Some of the tenseness in Ed's curled form eased at that and Roy allowed himself to feel the tiniest bit of relief. Good, at least he had the kid's trust...
Hesitantly, Roy ghosted his hand forward and took Ed's arm again, gently this time, pulling it toward him so that he could look at it. It wasn't a pretty sight. The gashes weren't really bleeding much anymore, but the area was festering badly. The gashes themselves were discolored and oozing pale pus and there were faint red lines radiating from the wounds like the rays of a dying sun: a telltale sign of infection.
"I have to take you to a hospital, Fullmetal," Roy told him as gently as he could, "This looks bad."
"I can't. They'll tell Al what I did... He'll find out..."
"I'll lie. I'll make something up to tell Al," Roy invented, "and I'll tell the doctors to keep their mouths shut."
Ed didn't say anything to that, but Roy could tell that he wasn't convinced. Slowly, Ed pulled his arm out of the Colonel's gentle grip and drew it to his chest. He turned his head and buried his face against the rumpled, sweat-soaked pillow, his eyes closed tightly to hold back a renewed onslaught of tears. His shoulders trembled and, in spite of his best efforts to keep it within him, a sob broke out from between his cracked lips.
"I'm sorry..." he wept into the pillow, shuddering through his anguish, "I'm so sorry, Colonel... god, I'm so stupid...!"
The lamenting, hopeless tones in Ed's fragile voice wrapped themselves around Roy's heart and squeezed hard. His throat constricted and the powerful urge to join Ed in his grief was almost overwhelming, because Roy knew exactly how he felt. He, too, had been there. He had stared death in the face and begged, "Please, please, just take me away from here..." but then had taken a step back and, like Ed, chose to live. There is no way to describe that dark, almost holy kind of pain and Roy knew all too well that it would never really go away...
No. Roy could not give in to those thoughts now. Not when Ed needed him. He took a deep breath and steadied himself, hesitantly reaching forward to brush the kid's hair out of his face.
"You're not stupid, Edward," Roy told him quietly, then sighed and added, "You just do stupid things sometimes... But we all do stupid things, kid—believe me: I do them all the time—and we can still fix this if you'll just let me help you. Let me take you to a hospital."
Ed whimpered and gave another choked sob, drawing his limbs more closely against himself. He was so ill. Ill and scared. He could be dying. It might already be too late; the infection might be too severe to fight... or maybe he didn't want to fight it anymore. Roy's heart tightened with empathy again and he reached for the damp handkerchief that was crumpled beside the suffering boy. He picked it up and drew it across Ed's brow again, trying to soothe him. Ed would never have allowed this contact while in his right mind, so Roy sadly took advantage of the rare chance to prove that he really did care for the little hell-raiser, even if he had trouble showing it most of the time. Roy wiped the tears from Ed's cheek with the same careful tenderness that he had seen Maes Hughes use when drying his baby daughter's eyes. Ed's furrowed brow smoothed a little under Roy touch and he opened his eyes, looking up at his commander blearily.
"Please, Ed," Roy tried again, "let me take you in. I will force you if I have to, but I'd rather you came along without a fight."
Ed gave no reaction to Roy's words for several beats, just looked up at him with a painful, heartbreaking sadness. Then, uncertainly, he nodded.
"...Okay," he rasped, his voice so quiet that the light pattering of rain on the window might have been louder.
Roy sighed out a tiny exhalation of relief and favored the boy with a small, worried smile. Ed did not smile back, but he reached up to his face and took Roy's hand in his own, squeezing Roy's fingers. Roy felt another pang of paternal grief and clenched his jaw, shifting so that he could slip one arm under and around the boy's shoulders, hoisting him upright. Ed stiffened for a moment, then understood as Roy slipped his other arm under the boy's legs and lifted him from the bed.
Ed gave no protest to being carried, which surprised and frightened Roy a little further, but then he shook it off. Fullmetal would be okay. He just needed to get to the hospital and then he'd be fine. Sure.
Time was a crucial factor now and Roy knew that, but he couldn't help taking a moment to revel in the small body in his arms, envying the budding relationship between his best friend and his new daughter. A suppressed, distant part of Roy craved that same kind of bond with Ed, the only child that Roy had ever really interacted with. But Roy knew that this brief moment was the best that he could ever hope for and this would probably be the closest thing that he would ever have to a child of his own.
Ed was only tolerating being held like this because he was so sick... but still, Roy allowed himself a few seconds to enjoy contact as the exhausted boy pressed his face against his Colonel's chest and clutched the front of his uniform with his automail hand. Ed's other hand was hidden up his sleeve again, concealing his secret pain.
Roy shook himself from his mournful parental daze and carried his burden to the door, fumbling to open the latch without jostling the boy too much. Al's head shot up as he saw the Colonel carry Ed back out into the front room of the dorm and he stumbled over to them, hands outstretched.
"How is he? Is he okay?" Al squeaked, looking his brother up and down and running a curled finger down Ed's cheek. In response, Ed buried his face a little deeper into Roy's uniform and started trembling again, no doubt from the anguished shame he felt for what he had done... for what he could never allow his brother to know that he'd done.
"He'll be fine, but I need to take him to a hospital," Roy told him, "I want you to collect some of his things and I will send Lieutenant Havoc to come pick you up in a few minutes."
"But... but I want to go with you now..." Alphonse stammered, "I can't leave him alone..."
"He's not alone," Roy told the metal boy flatly as he moved toward the front door, "Just do as I say."
"...Yes, sir," Al murmured unhappily, opening the door for Roy. The Colonel stepped over the threshold and into the dank hallway and Al called after them "I'll be there soon, Brother!"
Ed remained silent, although Roy was almost positive that he'd started crying again. Roy held him a little closer and continued down the hallway, wordlessly promising the boy in his arms that he would be okay when all this was over. After the antiseptics and the pills... after his wounds had closed... after he had taken a long look at himself in the mirror, scathingly telling himself that he could not give up. Not now. Not ever. And then he would pretend to be okay for a while and only Roy would know how fucked up he really was inside. And then the pretending would become habit, and the habit would become so natural that he would eventually believe in the lie himself. And then he'd be okay, but not because he had really healed... but because he had to be. And not even for himself; he would be okay for everyone around him, because they needed him to be okay.
Welcome to my world, Ed, Roy said to him mentally, looking up at the cloud-heavy sky as he stepped out of the building.
"...Colonel, are you crying...?" Ed asked groggily as Roy carried him toward the car.
"It's just rainwater," Roy sniffed dismissively.
Even in his weakened, slightly delirious state, Ed knew better than to point out that it had already stopped raining.