Written by Hyperthia
Ed shifted slightly, feeling softness underneath his body. He moved his arms only to realize that they had become tightly wound inside cold sheets. He didn't need to guess where he was; he figured that one out just by sniffing the air. He could feel lines around his mouth and nose from where an oxygen mask had been placed. It was gone now, but judging by the impressions that it left on his skin, it had only been removed minutes before. His skin still itched – though not as badly as before – and he knew he probably still had that hideous rash from the gas. His lungs felt hot and congested, his throat was raw, his eyes and nose were dry and itchy, and his head felt like someone had driven an ice pick straight through his brain. He let out a tentative cough, and he heard some movement behind him.
Expecting to see Alphonse, Edward opened his eyes, squinting at the bright lights. He rolled over in his narrow hospital bed, but lurched back in surprise when he came face to face with an elderly woman who had parked her wheelchair right next to his bed. Her thin, grey hair hung over her eyes in stringy pieces, and the lines around her mouth were pulled into a deep scowl.
Ed wasn't sure what to say. What are you doing, watching me sleep? You're freaking me out! But the words would not come out of his mouth; the old woman was clearly deranged, and the look on her face scared Ed out of his wits. Her brow had furrowed and her eyes, embedded in deep pits of skin folds and wrinkles, had focused on his. Ed didn't want to believe it, but he could hear a faint, low rumbling from the woman's throat.
Was she growling at him?
Very slowly, and somewhat weakly, Edward propped himself up on his elbows and scooted toward the far corner of his bed. Not that he could really get that far, but at least he could reach the call bell for help. It wasn't like the old woman could really hurt Ed, but if she decided that she wanted to, he wasn't sure what he could do. Punching senile, elderly women was not very chic, and the military didn't exactly train soldiers for such a thing.
"Ms. Blackwell?" said a voice from the doorway. "Edith, how did you get out of your bed?"
A young male nurse, dressed in blue scrubs, hustled over to the old woman and wheeled her to a bed on the opposite side of the room. He drew the privacy curtain halfway, paying no attention to Ed, while he settled the old woman back into her area. Ed felt a new onset of unease as he realized that Edith was going to be his roommate for however long he would be there.
Ed took a moment to examine his surroundings. A ceramic vase sat on the side table next to his bed, filled with faded silk pansies. Pictures of birds decorated the pale blue walls. Some pieces of medical equipment sat in trays on a counter in the far side of the room. A clock hung above the door, reading 4:45 and judging by the level of activity in the hallways as well as the light from outside, Ed assumed it was afternoon. Edward tried to imagine what hospital he was in. Surely, the sparsely populated town they were visiting did not have a decent hospital. Alphonse must have carried him to the next city over.
Edward turned his attention back to the male nurse, who was still fussing over the elderly woman—Edith, apparently—and still had not seemed to notice Ed, sitting up in his bed.
"Excuse me?" Edward asked awkwardly raising his scratchy voice, trying to get the nurse's attention. The young man, seeming startled, turned around to face Edward.
"Oh, sorry!" he said sheepishly, glancing back at the old woman. "Uh, don't worry about Edith here. She probably just wanted to see who her new roommate was."
"Yeah," said Edward. "I growl at my new friends too."
"She's a dementia patient. She doesn't know what she's doing," said the nurse.
Edward gripped the sheets in his hands, quickly trying to think of a way to change the subject. "Where am I?" he asked.
"You're at the Oakwood County Medical Center," the nurse responded. "Some really big guy in armor brought you in. He said you guys came from that town just over the hill."
"That's my brother," said Edward. "Where is he?"
"I think he's outside somewhere; I'll go see if I can find him."
Ed watched the door, as the young man left the room, making an effort not to look in Edith's direction. He could feel her eyes on him, but he tried to make it look like he didn't notice.
Finally, Edward could hear the sound of heavy metal footsteps moving quickly down the hallway.
"Brother, you're awake!" The overjoyed suit of armor ducked into the room, bounding over to Edward's bedside.
"I'm fine, Al," said Edward, coughing afterward. "Just a sore throat."
"You've been out of it since last night," said Alphonse. "You started choking this morning." He paused, and Ed could tell that he had been scared; it sent a wave of guilt over Edward.
"Sorry Al," Edward rasped, choking slightly on his own voice. "Didn't mean to scare you."
There was a short silence between the brothers, before Edward finally cleared his throat and spoke again.
"When can I get out of here?" he asked.
"The doctor said tomorrow," said Al. "But you need an adult to check you out."
"Is my pocket watch not good enough?" Ed asked, incredulously. "Do they not know I'm in the military? Hell, I'm an emancipated minor, and still no one takes me seriously."
He crossed his arms and scowled. "How the heck am I supposed to get out of here?"
"Well, I called Mustang," said Alphonse. "I told him what happened, and he said he'd be here by morning."
"Crap," Ed grumbled, laying back down and putting his metal arm over his forehead. "Damn it, Al. Why'd you tell him?"
"I didn't know what else to do!" Al cried. "I didn't know how sick you were or how long you'd sleep for, or anything! Besides, Mustang kept pressing me for answers."
"Is he pissed?"
Edward sighed and glanced across the room at old Edith, who returned a nasty glare. "I'm not sure if I can handle another night here, Alphonse," he complained.
"Don't be a big baby," said Al. "You got us into this, so you'd better just cooperate."
Edward whined and let his metal arm fall to his side. Alphonse was right, but he did not want to admit it out loud. The last thing he wanted was for Mustang to come pick him up as if he were some little kid in elementary school. Still, he knew he deserved whatever lecture Mustang might give him.
A knock on the door interrupted the brothers' conversation.
"Boys, visiting hours are over," said a grouchy looking woman in scrubs, glancing pointedly at Alphonse.
"I guess I'll see you in the morning," said Alphonse, awkwardly walking out of the room. Ed gave a small unenthusiastic goodbye, before rolling over and trying not to dread the next morning.
Ed felt himself slip in and out of sleep throughout the night, floating on a wave of drowsy wakefulness. He listened to the rain hitting the window. It was a repetitive sound that had always made it difficult to sleep. It didn't used to faze him, but at some point, these rhythmic noises in the night began to disturb his sleep patterns.
He blamed this fear on a distant childhood memory, where another kid at school had told him that when you hear a repeating sound while trying to sleep, the brain usually cancels it out and anyone can end up falling asleep even with the sound. Well that noise might be something else; something more evil. And if the pattern breaks, even slightly, the brain will notice and you will wake up. The story ended with the warning: Do not go back to sleep; it rarely fails on the second try.
Ever since hearing that, Ed had felt wary of repetitive sounds in the night. The fear had dissipated since his childhood, but deep in his subconscious, he still thought about it every now and then. It was the worst on stormy nights when rain or hail would hit the side of the building in rhythmic strokes.
The other thing keeping him awake was the thought of that book. He was sure he had found it, but he assumed he had dropped it in that old mansion when he passed out. He couldn't count on Alphonse to have picked it up, not that he blamed him. Al hadn't even wanted to come to this town in the first place; at least not without the proper permits and preparation. Ed drilled his mind. Should he go back and try to find it again? That was a silly thought; of course he shouldn't, but he didn't think he'd be able to hold back from doing so. He wanted those notes; they could be vital. But knowing Mustang, the jerk would probably make him wait for approval from the town as well as a permit. That was, if Mustang decided to let him go back at all.
He could just imagine the lecture that bastard would give him. Hotheaded little brat, always running into shit you shouldn't. You're suspended etcetera, etcetera. No matter. Edward could always cook up a plan to return to the mansion, perhaps as a side trip during one of the other pointless missions that Mustang kept him busy with. Hopefully, no one else would get the bright idea of going there before he could. Surely, the once-hidden door was now completely exposed, and now anyone could walk in and take everything of any potential value. If that were the case, then it meant back to the books for Ed and Al. It would probably be months before they found another lead. Ed wringed the sheets in between his hands, feeling more stressed than before, and listening to the strong patter of rain on the side of the building.
Edward felt his insides go cold at the sudden sound of metal scraping along linoleum. A break in the pattern. He opened his eyes wide, trying to see through the darkness in front of him. He could make out the wall, a few pieces of medical equipment, and a short stool. The room had gone oddly quiet; even the sound of the rain seemed muffled.
He slowly rolled over onto his back, his eyes still straining to see. Ed looked across, toward the other side of the room. He squinted his eyes, for a moment, before he realized that Edith was out of her bed again.
She had gotten out of her bed and taken a spot next to his.
No time to react, Ed made one feeble lurch toward the night table before Edith wrapped her bony hands around his throat and squeezed tightly. Despite her obvious age and weak appearance, the old woman clamped her scrawny hands around Ed's throat with ease.
Ed tried to fight back but his limbs felt oddly heavy as if he was on some sort of sedative. He wheezed and flailed his right arm around, aiming for the night table to hit the call button, knock the vase over, make a sound, anything; but his arm felt like a dead weight and the muscles around the automail port were unresponsive to his desperate attempts at movement. He used his flesh hand to try to grip the old woman's wrist, but no matter how hard he tried, his body felt paralyzed.
The old woman's grip seemed to get tighter with each second. Her strength seemed unworldly; her voice sounded creature-like, low, moaning, growling. Some horrible singsong voice that could not belong to a human. She screeched and cried, indiscernible words flowing from her mouth. Ed felt his body slowly succumbing to the lack of oxygen. He felt his eyes roll back.
The strong pair of hands suddenly moved and gripped his shoulders.
Air rushed into Ed's lungs as he painfully gasped for air. His limbs no longer felt heavy, and he wasted no time swinging several rounds of punches at the body in front of him. The hands still gripped his shoulders tightly, pulling him in until he could no longer move. He squirmed in the other person's grip, not noticing that his eyes were clamped shut.
"Fullmetal, snap out of it!" A light slap on his face, and Edward's eyes flew open. He quickly shut them against the bright light coming in through the window.
But it was dark just a second ago. Edward scanned Edith's bed and all around the room, but she was nowhere in sight. Her bed had been stripped of all its sheets, and most of the medical equipment that had previously surrounded her bed had been removed. Her wheelchair was gone, as well as the clipboard that had been sitting at the end of her bed. Edward frantically searched the room with his eyes, his left hand coming up to rest on his throat where her hands had just been.
"So, how are things on your side of the nut house?" Edward looked up to see Colonel Mustang looking back down at him with an expression that bordered on amusement and confusion.
"S-She was just here," words stumbled out of Edward's mouth. His other hand wandered to his throat where he could almost still feel her clammy fingers.
"What the hell kind of drugs did they put you on?" asked Mustang. Ed blinked a few times, his eyes still rapidly scanning the room. After a long moment, Ed finally sighed and allowed his hands to fall to his lap.
It was just a dream; a vivid and horrible dream.
"You look like hell," said Mustang. Edward hunched his shoulders and scowled in response.
"Shut up, Mustang," he said, regaining his composure and swiftly changing the subject. "Can I check out yet?"
"Yeah, get dressed and make it quick," Mustang ordered, his smirk dropping from his face. "Our ride might leave without us."
Ed squirmed impatiently in a squeaky old wheelchair, despite Alphonse repeatedly telling him to cut it out. Meanwhile, Mustang struggled over the paperwork to get him out of the hospital. The snappy receptionist was visibly frustrated with all the anxious patients surrounding her; she had practically thrown the papers at Mustang, grunting in annoyance, and barking at him, "No no no! Don't sign there! Sign here!"
Mustang looked up at the ceiling and shook his hands, as if asking, "Why me?" Edward smirked; though he was eager to leave the smelly hospital, it was always entertaining to watch the colonel get flustered.
"Is there anything I can get you, hun?" Edward looked up at a young nurse standing in front of him. While he did not particularly appreciate diminutive pet names, like 'hun,' he politely responded.
"No thanks," he said. "I have one question though."
"And what might that be?" she asked.
"What happened to the old woman, staying in the room with me? I was in room 427."
"Oh, Edith," the nurse took on a gloomy expression. "I'm afraid she passed away last night. You must've been asleep at the time."
"Oh," Edward responded quietly, looking down at his hands and trying not to look freaked out. "That's, uh, too bad."
The nurse nodded in sad agreement before walking away without another word. Alphonse bent over and whispered in Edward's ear, "What was that about?"
"Nothing, don't worry about it," said Edward, trying to mask how much the eerie coincidence had unsettled him.
After another drawn-out minute, Mustang finally shoved the papers across the desk and stormed away, his hair askew and his appearance frazzled.
"We're leaving," he curtly announced. "Now."
On the long cab ride home, Mustang made no effort in keeping up conversation, instead taking advantage of the free time so he could sleep. Ed had loudly protested during the first ten minutes of the ride, saying that he already felt carsick and the train would have been less bumpy, but Mustang promptly stuck in some earplugs and ignored him.
It wasn't until later that night, when they were about thirty minutes outside of East City, that Mustang finally stirred from his sleep and removed his earplugs. He looked at Edward who had rolled one of the windows down to let the cool air hit his face, which had gone rather green.
"How was your nap, princess?" Edward asked, a bit of malice in his voice.
"Oh, I feel great," Mustang bragged, stretching long and making a show of it. "You, on the other hand…"
"Oh, shut it," said Edward. "Sooner we get to town, the better. If I puke before then, I'll make sure to aim for your fancy-ass boots."
Several drops of water suddenly hit Edward in the face as it began to rain outside. Cursing, he rolled up the window and returned to a reclined position in the stuffy car. Whatever medication he had been given at the hospital had not worn off completely, and that combined with the bumpy road did not agree with his stomach.
"We're almost there," said Alphonse, feebly trying to reassure his brother. Feeling mildly sorry for his obnoxious behavior, Ed acknowledged Alphonse's words with a nod. After a short silence, Mustang piped up again.
"Oh, by the way, Fullmetal, I almost forgot to tell you that you're suspended," he said with a grin. Ed grunted in response. He had a feeling this would happen.
"For how long?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know; I'm thinking about four weeks," said Mustang. "Hand me your watch," he added, holding his hand out expectantly.
"What?" Ed's jaw went slack as he protectively covered his pocket. "You can't just do that!"
"Yes, I can," said Mustang. "Until the end of your suspension period, if you want to use any of the military's resources, you have to come to me first."
Mustang wiggled his fingers, reminding Edward that his hand was still outstretched and waiting for the prized silver watch. It was the only thing that could get Edward into any place he wanted. Without that watch, nobody would even believe he was a state alchemist. He kept his hand over his pocket, unwilling to hand over his one link to absolute freedom. Mustang dropped his condescending smirk and leaned forward slightly, clearing his throat.
"If you don't hand it over right now," he said threateningly, "I'll prolong your suspension, and I won't even give you the chance to come to me if you want to use the library."
Edward looked at Mustang disbelievingly. With great hesitation and an overwhelming sense of defeat, he dug his hand into his pocket. He grimaced, almost in pain, as he handed his precious watch over to Mustang, who swiftly pocketed the item.
Edward could only stare at the man; he made sure his face expressed his anger and not his sick stomach. That changed quickly however when the cab went over a large bump, making Ed's stomach lurch horribly. He hurriedly rolled the window back down and leaned out to heave violently. He could feel Al's hands supporting him and rubbing his back, and he heard cab driver yelling something from inside the car. It was nearly two minutes before Edward could finally pull himself back into the car. His head was sopping wet from the rain outside; his stomach, empty of everything, still turned unpleasantly.
"You'd better be willing to wash my car, you little snot," said the grouchy cab driver, looking at his side view mirror. "There's gunk all over the outside!"
"Sorry," Ed muttered weakly, lowering his head to rest on his knees.
Mustang pulled a few notes from his pocket and handed it to the driver, who snatched it while muttering curse words under his breath.
"On top of being suspended," said Mustang, "you owe me money now, as well."
"Asshole," Ed mumbled, sitting back up and resting his forehead against the cold window.
After what felt like forever to Ed, the cab finally pulled over in front of what Edward recognized as one of the military dorm buildings. A place he normally tried to avoid by getting inn rooms instead. The dorms were cold, the bathrooms reeked, and the showers didn't stay hot for any longer than five minutes. It was definitely not his ideal living space.
"Please don't tell me I'm staying here," he said, looking balefully at Mustang.
"You're staying here," the man answered with a smirk before reaching into his pocket and tossing a key in Ed's direction. "Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite."
Ed scoffed and wrenched the car door open, stepping out with Alphonse right behind him.
"No really," Mustang continued. "This building has a serious bedbug problem, so wash your sheets."
With that, Mustang pulled the car door shut and waved the driver in some direction. Edward glared hard at the cab as it drove down the street, leaving the brothers out in the rain, and likely taking Mustang to whatever nice, warm place he lived in. Ed couldn't imagine that the colonel lived in anything more luxurious than a rental home, but anything was nicer than a bedbug-ridden dorm building.
Sighing in defeat, Edward led the way to their dorm room. The brothers went to the second floor, shoving their way past a group of loud, shirtless men. They eventually found the door with the silver-plated numbers 247, matching the numbers on their key. Edward opened the door and gazed, unimpressed, at the plain room. The walls were white and bare of any décor. There was a plain, wooden desk with a rickety chair. Against the wall sat a bunk bed with plain white sheets. Edward's favorite feature, by far, was the charming little window with the metal bars covering it from the outside.
Far too exhausted to give a crap, Edward tossed the key on the desk and threw himself onto the bottom bunk, not even bothering to take off his boots. Alphonse, making a sound of disapproval, bent over and removed Ed's shoes before throwing a blanket over him.
"Thanks," Ed muttered, his voice muffled by the pillow.
"Don't mention it," said Alphonse, turning the light out. He sat down in the corner of the room, prepared to sit through the night again in total silence, contemplating the day's events and thinking about tomorrow. His thoughts were interrupted by a drawn out moan from the ceiling, followed by a loud thump.
"Old pipes," he said to himself.
Ed rolled over, groaning as he did so. "This is going to be the longest four weeks ever."
Alphonse looked at his brother, who stared at the ceiling clearly unable to close his eyes. Then Alphonse remembered something.
"Hey Ed," he said, opening up his breastplate. "I, uh, don't know if it'll actually help much, but I picked this up at the mansion."
Alphonse held the blank, leather-bound journal toward Edward, whose eyes lit up immediately. He gently took the old book, holding it carefully as if it were made of glass.
"Thanks Al," he said, turning the book over in his hands and gazing at it in pure wonderment.
"Uh, sure thing. I guess," said Alphonse. "I just don't see its use, to be honest."
"I don't know either," said Edward. "I've just got this feeling about it, you know?"
"A little bit," said Alphonse. "You know, I'm not so sure why I picked it up. Just… something told me that I should."
Edward gave Al a slow nod before he silently lay back down on the bed, his mind now undisturbed by the loud noises of the building and the sound of the rain-turned-hail bouncing off the metal bars on the window and hitting the glass. He was not sure of the journal's use either, but he got a light, blissful feeling as he absentmindedly flipped through its blank pages.
To be continued…
A/N: Just to make something clear (since I got a PM from someone accusing me of removing chapters, instead of deleting the whole story and starting over, just to get more reviews), that's not the reason I did it this way. The reason: this story has over 200 subscribers, most of whom are not subscribed to me as an author. Therefore, I didn't delete the whole story; I wanted to give those subscribers a heads up that I was rebooting this story. That is all! :D