Disclaimer: I do not have any ownership or rights to Fullmetal Alchemist. The disclaimer applies to this and all chapters to follow.
Angst comes pre-installed thanks to the series itself. Please R & R, comments are very welcome.
The men were shadowy and indistinct in the dark, stormy daylight. Voices called out, slightly muted by the inescapable roar of the driving rain.
"Ed, Ed, c'mon Boss - stop it - get up!"
"He's over here - hey, we could use some help!" - shouted to approaching footsteps.
"I can't - damn, he's still strong - be careful or we're gonna hurt him…"
"Get your face up! Stop struggling!"
"Crap, he's going to suffocate."
"Colonel's coming, he's got the medic. Get his other arm, help me keep his face up."
The medic swiftly stabbed a needle into his thrashing shoulder and injected the tranquilizer. When it started to kick in they were finally able to pull him back, peeling him up and out of the thick paste of sucking mud. His mismatched hands, pulled away from their digging, continued to claw fruitlessly in the deluge of rain, until he wilted, his voice quieting from his frantic calling.
"I…have…to…be…sure…" he breathed one last time before collapsing into their custody. The downpour was washing the thick yellow clay away from his face and tangled blond hair. Slowly, his face was beginning to appear from under the muck; it was ragged, scarred and pale.
"You call this watching him?" Mustang growled, doubly irritated by the drenching rain. "Get him inside, now!"
Ed shelved a book, picked up another from the cart, and regarded the spine vacantly. He moved along, found a spot, and slid the book onto a low shelf.
Sciezska waited for the usual course of things to progress. She would memorize the titles of the books when she loaded the cart for him, and watch surreptitiously as Ed made his rounds. As soon as he finished and left, she backtracked, removed and accounted for all of the books, then put them where they really belonged.
There wasn't any rhyme or reason to his placement of them, and she'd tried hard to find one for quite some time. Perhaps something that indicated he was trying to make a pattern, or send a subconscious message. But it seemed truly random. He continued to be incapable of properly performing the task. Still, she kept him at it, if only to make him participate in a fixed routine and, hopefully, feel like he still worked among them.
Once his 'work' was done, he made his way to his sleeping room and sat quietly. He held his red cloak and rubbed it with mild interest, the threads growing bare from his finger's constant worrying. He didn't wear it anymore, but he was still very attached to it. It held the most precious thing he owned tucked safely within its lining - Al's loincloth. He wasn't consciously aware of the significance of the item, but he was fiercely possessive of it. He would take it out and spend hours winding and unwinding it around his leg and arm, enjoying the feeling, although no one else believed that his automail limbs had feeling. It this state of mind it had no effect on him, other people's thoughts. They were wrong about everything anyway.
He rose and left the room - it bothered him a little that they made him sleep in an enclosed interior space - and went to one of the glass walls of the hallway. Wide amber eyes scanned the bright sky, trembling in wait for the clouds to return.
"I don't know how much longer we can let him stay here," Mustang shook his head. "He has no official function, and his disability went through over a month ago. I can't justify the manpower to watch him, especially when he gets out like that."
"It would destroy him if you make him leave," Hawkeye argued. "This is the only place he knows right now. It's well within your authority to let him stay on. Don't make it sound like you're somehow duty bound to throw him out. He's not military anymore, but it's still Edward."
"That isn't Edward. Edward Elric died when he lost Alphonse. The only difference between the two is that we found Ed's body."
Al's metal remains had never been found. The two of them had started on the mission together. When they'd found him gravely tortured, broken and unconscious, Edward was alone and deeply traumatized. All that remained of Al was the scrap of cloth he had worn for modesty on the suit of armor.
"Then show some respect for a departed comrade," Riza glared. "Let the mortal remains stay in this familiar resting place."
"I'll think about it."
The first time it happened , no one knew where he'd gone. They hadn't really even noticed Ed was missing until the next day, when they found him by chance. The rain had stopped and the sun had come out, drying up the sloppy, saturated earth. He was stuck fast in the drying heavy clay but seemed eerily content to lie there, face down. He'd swallowed a lot of mud, had even inhaled some, and was cold, bruised and feverish. His automail arm had partially ripped from his body , an indication of how violent his movements must have been at some point. Before this incident he was recovering physically and everyone hoped he would start improving mentally as well, but afterwards he settled into his current strange persona.
On paper, he was a full-time resident in the psyche ward, although he rarely went there. With privileges to visit the base, he showed up and shelved the books every day, when he was well enough. They let him stay in a small sleeping room after they witnessed the conditions he'd have to endure in the ward.
Over time Mustang hated to see him, hated to hear the latest horrible theory on what was happening to him or how little could be done for him. His Ed, the intelligent, talented young man that challenged and infuriated him, and despite the age difference was every ounce his equal, had passed away. And this quirky creeping husk had stolen his right to grieve over the loss. This Ed only approached him to paw silently at his coat. You can't have it, he'd explained a hundred times. You're not in the service, so you're not allowed to wear one of these anymore, so stop doing that. Go back to your room.
The devastating effect that storms had on Ed added immeasurably to Roy's hatred of the rain.
Not every rainstorm had a profound effect on Edward's behavior. He was acutely aware of any precipitation, he shadowed the hallways going from window to window whenever rains came. But it was only when the rain persisted and the grounds became truly saturated, that his obsession possessed him. Then there was no limit to what he would do to get out, in order to go swimming down into the yielding earth.
The doctors best theories involved Ed trying to resurrect his lost loved ones, his mother and Alphonse. Another popular theory was that he sought to join them in burial. He was quite verbal in the throes of his struggle and he cried out a lot things, as if calling to someone who was lost. He never discussed it, and would offer silence to any question asked about it. So it was unknown whether he didn't remember afterward (most likely), or if he simply refused to talk about it.
That he could still manage to escape and abuse himself into the earth was just about the last straw for Mustang. He knew Riza would object, but enough was enough. Letting him stay here was too irresponsible. He belonged in a secure lock-up. The Colonel was pretty damn sure that "his" Ed would never know about it anyway, and this wretched creature would be much better suited to long-term care somewhere. Anywhere but near him.
"Hey, Boss," Havoc said softly, as much to warn Ed of his approach as to greet him. Ed jerked his fingers away from the glass, and looked at him with startled amber eyes.
"Oh," Ed nodded, face relaxing. He reached out and touched the sleeve of Havoc's jacket when he got close enough. Havoc smiled and waited while Ed went through his usual procedure, feeling the cloth, furrowing his brow and closing his eyes for a few seconds.
He opened his eyes and looked up at Havoc again, still hanging on to the sleeve. He hangs on just a little longer every time, Havoc noticed. If he held still they could stay like this for a couple of minutes or more now. Hawkeye said he'd spent almost ten minutes with her one evening last week. He hoped it was a sign that Ed might getting some of his wits back.
The doctors thought it was more likely Edward was adapting to his current state and just seeking some level of normal human comfort.
"Humor me again, buddy," Havoc urged. "Just say my name, okay?"
"Jean. So tall." Ed smiled faintly, and Havoc gently ruffled his hair, pleased that he didn't flinch this time, studying the scars along his jaw line. They weren't quite so prominent now, but it did look like they would always show.
Ed dropped the sleeve and the smile faded - as though they'd been disconnected. He turned back to the window, expression distant and mildly anxious, and brought his fingertips back up to the glass.
"Thanks, Boss," Havoc breathed. He knew it would be hours or possibly the next day before Ed would be ready to interact with him face to face again, so he simply moved along . It probably shouldn't have been any of his business, but he'd always liked Ed a lot, and he was so damned heart-rending like this.
He'd noted with disappointment that the one person Ed tried clinging to the most now shook him off almost immediately. Mustang would snap at him, make insensitive statements about touching his uniform and brush him away.
It seemed pretty cold and heartless, even for the Colonel.
"Have you seen Ed today?" Sciezska's concerned voice asked over the phone. "He didn't show up for shelving today. I called the infirmary to see if he was sick, but he's not there." Hawkeye shot a look out the window. The few clouds that hung in the sky were white and fluffy, the sun was shining fully.
"I'll check his room and let you know. Maybe he overslept, there's a first time for everything."
She hung up the phone and hurried down the hallway, pointedly figuring on not telling Mustang. Just one more mark against Ed if he finds out, she thought.
There was no answer when she knocked, so she stepped tentatively into the dimly lit room. Her eyes settled on the thin figure curled up on the bed, his back to her, the red cloak twisted and tangled in his arms, held tight.
Her breath caught in her throat when he saw his bare back, She had seen him bandaged in the hospital before, but not the actual wounds. The wide swaths of discolored, scarred flesh were bad enough, but the gouge - she couldn't think of another word to describe it - was a hideous, puckered valley in his flesh, like someone had scooped out a dinner-plate-sized serving from one side of his back. He must be missing some ribs, she gasped. Dear God.
"Edward," she called softly, moving closer. A hand touched her shoulder blade and she slapped herself mentally for letting her guard down. It was the Colonel just behind her in the doorway, and he was taking in the same sight as she was. He had a glass of water in his hand, and set it on the bedside table. He motioned her to follow him back out into the hallway.
"You've never seen it before." Mustang said.
"The rest of him doesn't look much better. I can't imagine how he survived, all that on top of losing his brother, probably right in front of him. If you can call what he's doing surviving." he shook his head. "It's just an extension of the torture."
He saw her puzzled gaze. "He caught me in the hallway, wouldn't let go of my damned coat. He was talking to me this time, though. Looked me straight in the eyes. He wanted to know when it would be safe. Just that one question."
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him it was safe here now. That he should stop running off and stay here, then we could make sure he was safe. And he looked so crushed by that…and he dropped like I'd hit him with a fist. I had to carry him down here. I don't know what's going on in his head. Just randomness I guess." His dark look revealed that he was shaken, but only to her practiced eye.
"Was it the truth? Will you let him stay here, so we can protect him?"
Mustang nodded heavily, regretfully. "It's his eyes. When he's actually talking to you. It seems like it really is Edward mixed in there somewhere. I think, now, that maybe I was wrong about him."
"I should call Sciezska back," Hawkeye said. "Let her know he's okay."
"While you're at it, tell her to stop having Ed play zombie librarian. If she still wants him to come in every day it's okay, but she needs to give him something to do that's meaningful. Assign him some books to read, or if that's too much to handle let him listen to recorded books. "
Hawkeye brightened at the prospect of delivering his orders.
"I'll look in on him here for a bit, Lieutenant. Perhaps you can check on him for me later."
They were thankfully rare, but they were making an appearance now. The nightmares. Ed's mind was creeping into the realm of loud mode, and that's where the nightmares lived.
He had three modes, very distinct, that his brain now functioned in. His primary mode was standby. He moved though his day in it, worked at the library, wandered the halls, caressed his few possessions. Gazed out the windows when the weather was fair. He could even answer routine inquiries without breaking out of the cocoon. He hid himself there quietly, cowering, waiting. Very little infiltrated enough to touch him here, not even his own memories.
The second mode, rarest but growing bit by bit, was simple reality mode. He actually saw the people he shared space with in those short clips of time, could formulate words and remember what happened. A name, a face here and there. It built on itself and it was scary, but it was an irresistible force, drawing him out of safety in baby steps to seek real human contact. It was risky, though. He wasn't as protected from remembering bad things here. They could skirt the edge of his mind freely.
But loud mode was king. Once loud mode appeared, it usually took over, and nothing would stop it until it ran its course. It roared in his head with the sound of his own screams when he had been tortured, imprinted in his nerves, muscles and shattered eardrums. When the rains came, the volume would creep up in warning. As the soil became saturated, it became shrill, drilling deeper into his temples.
When it hit a certain pitch he had escape to seek the wet earth, because then all of the buried memories came back in exquisite detail. And then all of the torture, all the transgressions and regrets of their years of searching, all of it was a speck of no concern compared to what he remembered that he had been willing to do to silence Alphonse's begging and screaming. He had done something barbaric, unforgivable, and he had to bear the fact that he was still a willing participant in the act.
When loud mode passed, his mind mercifully slammed the door and shut in the demons. It deposited him back into standby were he hid in trembling, blinking ignorance again.
The nightmares went on unrelenting for over an hour before he could finally awaken Ed, the Colonel watching and trying to bring him out of his ugly, agonized struggles. He slacked to a calm and quiet twilight as soon as he opened his eyes, and it seemed doubtful that the soft, distant eyes remembered the nightmares at all.
When he was assured that Ed was okay, Mustang made sure that he was able to dress himself; he watched the slight figure wander to stand at the windows before he made his way back to his office. Once there, he directed Hawkeye to draw up Ed's extension of stay at the base so they could get it stamped and submitted today.
Always back to the windows, Roy reflected. What is it that he's looking for out there?
He'd come back from the hour of flipping blindly through books in the library, still vaguely disturbed by the change in his routine.
The first couple of days when Sciezska tried to explain his change in assignments, he'd cover his ears and walk away until he reached his room. He tried coming back several times during the day, but she still refused to let him do his work, and he'd walk away again.
It went on until the time he started to walk away and turned to find the Colonel standing there, blocking his way. He'd dropped his hands from his ears and held them up in alarm until the face made sense to him. They stood there in relative silence, only the Colonel's quiet "Edward?" spoken aloud.
Eventually, Ed's hand reached for the familiar blue cloth, and he felt his senses unsealing with a warm, painful rush. The colonel was looking at him and he tried vainly to steel his heart against the next words, expecting to be told to let go and go away.
"It's all right. I want you to do a different job now. Don't touch the cart any more. Do you understand my orders?"
Ed gaped and didn't realize he was pulling hard on the coat, trying the replace the words he thought would come with the ones he'd just heard. It was all right? Was it? 'It's safe now, remember?' the noise intoned from the edge of mind, and he let go of the coat and fled from the interaction completely.
Outwardly he dropped his hands and head and looked at the floor. He offered no resistance when he was steered to the chair and didn't look to see if it was the woman or the Colonel that did it. The book slid in front of his field of vision. Eventually a hand opened it. Later still a hand guided his to turn a couple of the pages. It was replaced with another open book, one with pictures. When he rested his forehead on the cool, smooth paper and closed his eyes, they let him be.
The next time he returned he sat at the table and waited. He never touched the cart again.
"We sure could have used some of that obedience before," Mustang reflected. "If he'd listened to orders he wouldn't have taken off without his back-up, and maybe none of this would have happened."
"Sciezska says he was there again today, no problems." Hawkeye said as she examined his stained coffee cup. "But no real change. He's still just making the motions."
Back at the glass wall, staring at the single wispy cloud in the dry season sky with little hope, he heard a deep, soft voice that beckoned.
He actually turned and moved a half-step to meet Havoc sooner, wanting to channel his warmth. Their exchanges were uncomplicated, the least threatening contact he knew. His hand rose to make the connection and he welcomed the chance to open up safely, however briefly.
But Havoc had been talking to Hawkeye, and he was concerned.
"Hey, Ed, you really are safe here, okay?" he said comfortingly. "There isn't anyone here who would let something else happen to you now."
The words were a bruising chain rattling across his heart, made worse since he was so open to their exchange. His head began to roar. He pulled back but the path to standby was closed.
A flash flood of memories, burning like acid, were leaking into his eyes, and he went hard onto his knees. He felt a hand and he fought it, like the hands that were rising up out of his past. He felt them slowly twist the barbed blades that bit into his soft young flesh, and he screamed to match the noise in his head.
Startled at Ed's reaction, Havoc thought Ed was having some kind of seizure by the way he jerked away reflexively and dropped to his knees. Havoc went to the floor with him, taking his arm in concern, and the small man exploded, screaming and fighting, his voice crashing through the drab hallways and traveling in echoes beyond. Havoc's arms wrapped around him to try and restrain him and it took all of his strength. Ed's agitation grew even stronger as he twisted them both to the ground and he was wild, unmindful even when he slammed his own skull into the floor to try and leverage away.
People were coming, as he knew they would. Havoc hadn't wasted any of his own breath calling for help.
Hawkeye was coming at a run from further back and Mustang was clearing away other responding personnel to give her room to get through. As soon as she arrived, Mustang clamped onto Ed's flesh arm, shouldering in under the armpit. Hawkeye reached over and shoved up the sleeve on his shirt, grimacing as she impaled him with the hypodermic.
Havoc and Mustang held their grip until they felt his muscles start to slacken and shake. Hawkeye moved the others away, directed them back to their stations, then returned to help.
"What happened, Havoc?"
"I don't get it, Colonel. I had just started to talk to him. At first I thought maybe he was having a seizure. There wasn't any warning," Havoc was pale.
"What did you say to him?"
"I just told him it was safe here. He's been asking, right?"
Mustang shook his head. "Don't say that to him. It has some other meaning to him, I don't know what yet, but it provokes him. Although, I didn't know he'd react this harshly."
He reached down and scooped Ed up, feeling for all the world like the only weight left to him was the automail, his body just the whisper holding the two brutally heavy pieces together. He hesitated, considering whether to take him to his bed here or back to the hospital ward.
Hawkeye sensed his indecision and took his sleeve, guiding him to the small room. She took Ed's head in her hands to give Mustang an easier shot at keeping his automail straightened when he lowered him onto the bed.
"Call over to the infirmary and have them send a medic to check him out. He hit his head pretty hard."
Hawkeye nodded and headed back to her desk to make the call.
"You want to sit with him, Havoc?" Mustang asked, sliding a side chair next to the bed. "Just until the medic gets here."
"Sure, sir, if you don't think it will upset him." He sat and took Ed's limp hand in his large strong one.
Mustang started to say something then thought better of it. If it made Havoc feel better to hold his hand while he sat with him, then so be it. He didn't really expect it to have much effect on Edward at all.