Breaking the Habit
A/N: Sorry for the abrupt cliffhanger, but I needed enough material for this chapter.
You all probably know that ICU stands for Intensive Care Unit, right? Just checking…
Your heart is full of broken dreams, just a fading memory
And everything's gone, but the pain carries on
Lost in the rain again, when will it ever end
The arms of relief seem so out of reach
But I, I am here
"Not Alone" by Red
Those five words hit Roy like a train at full speed.
"It's weak," Knox clarified, "dangerously weak. We need to move him to the ICU immediately."
"I got him," Havoc volunteered, picking up Ed and following Knox into the hallway. The other soldiers remained huddled around the Colonel, who was shaking from a fresh round of shock.
"He's… he's alive…" was all he could manage.
Hughes smiled and patted his comrade on the back. "I must admit, that news flash threw me for a loop, too."
"I just hope Dr. Knox will be able to stabilize him," sighed Fuery, wiping his eyes under his glasses.
"As do we all," Hawkeye concluded, gently pulling her superior to his feet. "Colonel? How about we go to the ICU? You should be with Ed when he wakes up."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," said the Lieutenant with a firm tone. "You are the only family he has now, sir."
Mustang took a deep, calming breath and reassumed more of his usual authoritative air. "You're right, as usual. All right, let's go find him."
It had been four days since Ed's overdose, and though his vitals remained constant (albeit low), he showed no signs of stirring from his comatose state. Roy hardly left his son's side, waiting for those golden eyes to open and that smart-ass mouth to insult him. His subordinates visited as often as they could, as did Hughes, but Dr. Knox was the one who most frequently kept watch with Mustang.
"Jack," said Roy in a flat, controlled voice, "be honest with me. What will happen if his condition doesn't change soon?"
"I can't say for sure."
"In hospitals, worst-case scenario only means one thing, Roy, and you know full-well what that is."
"Yes, I do, but I want to know details. How bad are the possibilities?"
Knox gave him a quizzical look that implied, "Are you feeling masochistic today, or something?" "Well, we know he's not completely brain-dead, but… there is the possibility that he'll never wake up, that the heroin caused too much internal damage."
"I see." Roy placed a hand on Ed's pale, warm forehead. "Do you think… do you think he can hear us?"
"No one knows that, Roy." Seeing the Colonel's morose expression, however, Knox decided to let a little sarcasm slip into the conversation. "But, what the hell - maybe if you call him 'short' enough times, you'll get through."
Roy chuckled in spite of himself. "Maybe."
At that moment, Havoc entered, breathing hard. "Chief! I've got good news, and I've got bad news."
"Bad news first."
"Boucher got away."
Mustang groaned, but he quickly let this annoyance go. "I should have anticipated that. Fine, what's the good news?"
"He sold out the people who hired him to kill Ed; he left an explicit note for us with their names and ranks. We're taking action now, sir."
"That… that is good news." Turning to Ed, Mustang clasped the boy's limp hand and murmured, "Hear that, Ed? We going to make sure those bastards pay for this."
Knox rose from his seat and sent Havoc a silent communiqué: "Let's leave them alone for a while." Understanding, Havoc accompanied the doctor from the room.
In the stillness that followed, Roy listened to the small, steady sound of Ed's breathing until, finally, he couldn't remain silent any longer.
"Edward? I really hope you can hear me. I hope… that somehow, my voice can help you come back to us." Sniffling, he continued. "I… I can't help but feel that this is my fault. I shouldn't have left you alone when Al died; I let you feel isolated, and I am so, so sorry. I should have done more; I should have made it clear that I was at your side, ready to help you. Please forgive me, Ed. Please give me the chance to make it up to you. We're all waiting, some of us better than others. Poor Fuery's broken down into hysterics more than once; he's always had a soft spot for you. In fact, we all do." He caressed Ed's forehead with a tender hand. "Especially me; my soft spot's gotten so big, I don't know where it ends. Please, Ed. I need you to wake up. If you don't, that spot is going to rot away into something cold and dead, just like… just like you would be." With the small hand clutched between his own, Roy closed his eyes and rested his elbows on the edge of the bed, his head bowed in what might have been prayer, though to whom or what, even he didn't know.
This whiteness… it felt familiar. The Portal? No, it was something… even less comprehensible.
"Well," sighed Edward, "I guess that's it. I'm dead."
A warm laugh resounded from behind him. "Still jumping to conclusions, aren't you, Brother?"
Ed whirled around, and joy more potent than any drug flowed through him. In front of him stood Alphonse, Al as he should be: human and whole. Ed could feel tears stinging the corners of his eyes, but he forced himself to hold them in.
Sensing his hidden emotions, Al smiled and held his arms out. "Why don't you drop the tough-guy act and come give me a hug?"
He closed the distance in a second, wrapping his arms around his little brother and letting a few drops fall from his eyes. For the first time, Ed didn't care that Al was still taller than him; all that mattered was that they were together now, and nothing could ever separate them again.
"Actually, that's not necessarily true," said Al, as if reading Ed's thoughts.
"What do you mean, Al?" questioned Ed, pulling back a little so he could see Al's face. "I'm dead, aren't I?"
"Well… no, not yet. But, you're close, close enough that…"
"That you can choose."
"Between life and death? Al, there's no 'choosing' involved. It's obvious! I want to be where you and Mom are."
To Ed's surprise, Al's cheerful expression faltered. "I knew you'd say that."
"What is it? Why do you look so glum all of a sudden? Don't… don't you want me with you?"
"That's just it, Ed. I… I don't want you to die, not yet. It's too soon; you still have so much life ahead of you."
"So did you, and yet you-"
"It was my time. You might find that hard to believe, but it's the truth." Al grasped his elder brother by the shoulders. "But you, Ed, there's no need for you to die now. Your time will come, but please don't make it today."
"But, why wouldn't I? What do I even have to go back to? Surely you've seen how… how I've destroyed myself."
Al's eyes filled with sadness. "Yes, I have. But, you don't have to go back to that. You can leave that right here to die."
"You make it sound so easy. I can't just quit it like that, Al. I… I need your help."
"And I'm giving it to you. I'll tell you right now: I want you to stop hurting yourself, Ed. Stop existing and actually live. You still have plenty to live for: finding the Stone, restoring your body, spending time with all of the people who care about you." Al's gaze drifted off into the nothingness. "You can't hear him, can you? The Colonel."
"Mustang? What about him?"
"He's been calling your name over and over, begging you to wake up, to come back." Looking at Ed once more, Al asked, "Would you really put him through the same kind of pain you felt when I had to leave?"
"Are you trying to guilt-trip me, Al?"
"No, I'm just saying that you shouldn't give up, not when there's still so much you can do."
"But… what about you? Won't you be lonely without me?"
Smiling, Al said, "Not at all. I have Mom, remember? I'll gladly wait for you, Ed; I'd like to think I've always been a rather patient person."
Ed couldn't help but momentarily match his little brother's grin. "Yeah, you have been that." Glancing at the white void, he checked, "Are… are you sure?"
"Yes. Unequivocally, yes."
"…Okay. Okay, I'll go back."
Al gripped him in a tight hug. "Thank you, Ed. This will have to be goodbye for now, but it won't be the last time we see each other; you can be sure of that. I love you so much."
"I… I love you, too, Al," Ed sniffed, no longer able to stem the flow of his tears. "…Goodbye."
That was the last thing he remembered in the whiteness, holding his precious baby brother close… and saying goodbye. Maybe… maybe that was what he had needed to do all along.
His face was wet. The tears of his heart had reached his body and streamed down the sides of his face, leaving little damp spots in his hair. Slowly, he opened his eyes and took a deep breath. His hand felt so warm. When Ed looked, he found Mustang clasping it tightly, yet gently. The Colonel's eyes were closed; he hadn't yet noticed Ed stir. Doing his best not to startle his superior, Ed found his voice. He chose the one word carefully, wanting in that moment to imbue Mustang with some of the strength he had just received from Al.
The effect was instantaneous. Roy's eyes flew open, and as soon as he looked down at Ed, relief overwhelmed him. Half-laughing and half-crying, he pulled the boy upright and hugged him tightly.
"Whoa, now, Colonel. Be gentle with me; I just about kicked the bucket."
Roy could hear it in Ed's voice, something that had been missing ever since Al had died. For the first time in a long time, Ed could joke and laugh, and it was real.
"Are you really okay?" gaped Roy, giving Ed a cursory look-over.
"Yeah, I am," snickered Ed, as if he found his father's antics highly amusing.
"I'll let the others know," said Mustang, getting to his feet only to feel a strong tug on his sleeve.
Ed had grabbed hold; the boy looked up at him and requested, "Not yet. There's… there's something important, and I want to tell you first."
Crouching back down, Roy encouraged, "Okay. What is it?"
"I… I saw Al. He's the one who convinced me to come back, and he told me… exactly what I needed to hear." Smiling, Ed stated his resolve. "I'm going to be able to do it this time, Colonel – give up the heroin, I mean. I know it won't be that easy, but I want to try. Will you… will you help me?"
Mustang beamed. "Of course I will; you don't even need to ask." On a spur of the moment, Roy planted a fatherly kiss on the top of Ed's head. "Shall I bring everyone in now?"
As Roy let the door swing closed behind him, he whispered his gratitude. "Thank you, Alphonse. Thank you so much. I promise, I'll take care of him for you."
A sort of warmness lit up his heart, and something seemed to whisper in his ear, "You're welcome; I know you will."
I am with you
I will carry you through it all
I won't leave you, I will catch you
When you feel like letting go
Cause you're not, you're not alone
A/N: Alphonse… we love you so TvT
The end. ^_^ Warm fuzzies all around…