A/N: This was written for FMA FIC CONTEST and the prompt was Library. Guess what? This won! Yes, the tied third place and did it feel awesome. I also got a beautiful banner, my first one ever. It's on my LiveJournal:
http : / / misty-nala. livejournal. com/
I hope the link works. If it doesn't, just search for misty_nala, that's my name there.
Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy!
Recipes for pudding, meat balls and vegetable stew. At the last title, Edward's stomach let out a noise and the boy shook his head. He was too busy to eat.
Alphonse glanced at his brother but he dared not say a word. It was their fourth day in the library. For four days Edward had not been feeding his body properly and the boy understood why; this was their first real lead in ages. Both of them were anxious and excited but whereas Alphonse could physically work around the clock, Edward was still flesh and bone and his body would soon give up albeit his mind was determined.
A knock interrupted the boys' work.
"Hello there, any progress?" Hughes waved as he entered the study hall, carrying a plastic bag.
"Not too much," Edward relaxed in his chair, a rare gesture, and Hughes was one of the few Military People to witness it. "Marco really wants this secret to stay hidden."
"Really important things usually take time," the man said wisely as he sat on a chair beside Edward and offered the boy a container. "Here's my part of the deal."
The blond boy opened the lid and the aroma of warm chicken-noodle soup filled his nostrils and his stomach growled like a wolf howling a war call.
"But," the boy started protesting. "You already gave us those guards so we could continue working here. Remember, I gave you Sheska!"
Hughes nodded, and dug a napkin and a spoon from the bag. "Well, she is more help than I thought. Giving you a few men for a girl of her caliber doesn't seem like an equivalent exchange to me. "
The boy didn't need more convincing. A second later, he was slurping the soup, not minding about the man or his brother who were watching him with amusement. As his brain and organs got the nutrition they needed, his mind started to clear out but his thoughts turned more complex than before.
Hughes was glancing at the notes on table when the boy spoke up.
"It feels strange. We're this close to our goal yet the wall in front of it is bigger than ever before."
Edward had drawn his knees against his chest, with the container in his hand. Hughes eyed the boy with worry; the golden eyes were glistening with unshed tears and his whole appearance hinted an upcoming breakdown.
"I try to convince myself 'you're smart, you'll figure it out' but what if I won't? What if this is too much for me? I thought this was going to be like every other alchemic problem I've come across but this is way different. What if I am too stupid to-"
The boy couldn't finish his sentence.
"Brother," Al whispered as Edward set his meal down with a shaky hand and a single tear slid down his pale cheek.
"Edward," Hughes forced the boy to face him by taking his face between his hands. "You're an incredible kid and I don't doubt for a second you couldn't get over this."
He wiped the tear trail from the boy's face with his thumb and gave a dry smile.
"I've said this before and I'm going to say it again: you're being too strict with yourself."
"It's not about that!" The boy snapped, startling the man. His face was red and warm and more tears came out. Edward wiped them away quickly but his swollen eyes refused to stay dry. Hughes, somewhat familiar with Edward's train of thoughts, knew that the boy's upset was not only because of the stress.
"Edward," The man said the boy's name with a strict tone, catching the younger one's attention. Hughes rarely used the boy's full name but when he did, it meant business. "I want to help you but I can't unless you tell me what's bothering you."
"Why are you scared?" Alphonse asked, testing the atmosphere. Edward stayed quiet for a moment, shoulders heaving with silent, tearless sobs until he spoke with broken voice.
"Marco quit his research. He refused to tell us anything. This Philosopher's Stone has to be something horrible. Do we need to do even more sin just to return things the way they were? What more do we need to sacrifice? And if we manage to find the stone, will both of us survive?"
"Edward, that's completely understandable. Future and changes, they scare everyone! You're in a very fragile age and dealing with problems like these," the man shook his head." I don't envy you the slightest."
The boy let out a strangled laugh and quickly wiped his face with a grin he intended to be cheerful.
"This is so pathetic! I'm supposed to be bouncing up the walls but here I am, crying like a little baby."
"Crying is okay," Hughes assured the boy, wiping the long bangs from the boy's eyes. "Hey, even I cry sometimes. It's just a way to cope with the world. You shouldn't be ashamed of feeling humane emotions, Ed."
Edward blew his nose into the napkin and wiped his face with the back of his hand.
"I'm so embarrassed."
The man shook his head, ruffling the boy's hair affectionately.
"Don't be, I didn't mind it at all. You feel better now and that's all that matters."
Half an hour later Edward had finished his meal and was once again in high spirits and ready to work again. Hughes apologized he had to leave but his break was over.
"What?" Edward exclaimed. "You wasted your lunch break on us?"
"Better than some stuffy cafeteria," the man waved his hand lazily. "Remember boys, you're not alone. Whenever you need help, just give me a call and I'll be there."
With that, the man left.
Edward began studying again. He knew there were going to be major changes once they figured the code out but he hoped one thing would stay the same: he hoped Hughes would always be there.