Roy Mustang had been looking forward to a quiet day.
Roy Mustang should have known better.
It started off innocently enough, with the usual mounds of paperwork, but not much else. His office had been quiet, with only Hawkeye poking her head in every once in a while to make sure he wasn't asleep. He had no debriefings scheduled, no meetings or appointments to attend to. He even briefly entertained the notion of clocking out early.
Until he got the phone call from the military hospital.
It seemed a certain blond haired-alchemist under his command had been admitted a couple of hours ago with a knife wound.
Blond and in the hospital. Roy had no trouble guessing who that might be.
That in itself didn't necessarily warrant a phone call, since the wound wasn't life-threatening and it was only going to be an overnight stay. It was only that the boy was demanding to be released, and since he wasn't an adult, he had to have a guardian's signature. As a child with no parents, that particular joy fell on the shoulders of his superior officer.
The request was also followed by a , "please hurry," as it seemed Fullmetal was being his normal, ill-tempered self about the whole thing. The doctor on the phone explained that they already had a nurse take the day off, and two more crying in the break room.
A quiet day, indeed.
When Roy arrived at the hospital, he was greeted by a young, frazzled nurse he vaguely remembered from the last time he had been hospitalized. She was really very pretty, even if a little flustered, but much to his chagrin, he was given no time to flirt; she demanded his identification, then latched onto him and dragged him down the hallway. He quickly discovered what the rush was about.
"I'M NOT TAKING ANY MORE OF THAT CRAP!" a familiar voice howled from somewhere down the hall, loud enough to wake the emperor of Xing.
"KEEP THAT NEEDLE AWAY FROM ME!" A crash emanated from the same relative location. "GET OUT OF HERE!"
"AND DON"T COME BACK WITHOUT THAT SORRY COLONEL!"
A young, panicked doctor Roy had never seen before quickly backed out of the room in question and shut the door behind him, muffling another clatter that sounded suspiciously like something metal striking the door. He turned wide eyes on Mustang and Roy thought he might melt to the floor in relief. "Colonel Mustang?" he asked hopefully.
Roy couldn't stop the sigh that escaped him. "Unfortunately. Report."
The young doctor fumbled to put a syringe away in his pocket, then lifted his clipboard with shaking hands to read off the most recent of Edward's mishaps. "Major Elric was admitted with a stab wound that cut into his left pectoralis major— uh, that is, the left side of his chest, sir— this morning at ten fifteen a.m. The wound itself is approximately four days old, and it wasn't deep, but his brother was concerned about it and brought him in. There was some infection, and if left untreated, could have caused a lot of problems, but we treated it. He's, uh, refusing painkillers right now, though . . ."
There was another resounding crash from inside, followed by muffled cursing and Al's scolding.
"You don't say," Roy commented dryly. "Thank you, Doctor. That will be all."
The doctor babbled his gratitude before retreating down the hall. Roy noticed that the nurse that had escorted him had already disappeared.
Roy steeled himself as the last of his "quiet day" died a silent, miserable death and opened the door.
The tiny hospital room was brightly lit, but Ed's temper had marred any happiness the sunshine might have provided. There was a tense, dark sort of energy in the air that, on an instinctive level, Roy did not feel comfortable walking into without backup. Nevertheless, Roy stepped over a bedpan and several other objects strewn across the floor and deeper into the room.
Alphonse stood up as soon as he saw Roy, and though he was an expressionless suit of armor, Roy was almost certain he could see the boy's apprehension written all over his face. "Colonel! We're glad you're here!" he said, sounding anything but glad, glancing pointedly at his older brother behind him.
Silently warning Roy that he was about to step on a landmine of teenage emotion.
Edward was sitting at the edge of the bed in hospital shorts, arms crossed to protect his linen-wrapped chest and his automail foot suspiciously close to a dented, overturned cart. A scowl was firmly planted on his face, but something changed when he laid eyes on Roy.
He wasn't entirely sure what he was expecting, but he wasn't expecting the look on Edward's face.
The kid looked completely relieved.
"Finally," he huffed, trying to keep his temper in place and failing. "What took you so long?!"
Roy found the strange mood shift odd, but chose to ignore it for now. "Some of us actually have responsibilities, Fullmetal," he commented off-handedly, seating himself on an uncomfortable plastic chair next to the bedside. Al lowered himself hesitantly onto the one beside him. Roy sensed his tension like a dam about to burst. It made Roy even more nervous. "Last I saw you, you both were on your way to the Drachma border following a lead on the Stone. What happened?"
Ed didn't look pleased with the question. "The stupid train got hijacked and one of the nutcases stabbed me," Ed groused, as if it had been more of an inconvenience rather than an attempt to end his life. Roy found his flippant attitude unsettling. Did the kid not have any regard for his own existence?
That was a stupid question. Edward Elric only cared for his life as far as it impacted that of his little brother. Al came first and foremost in his mind, and Roy knew good and well that when the Philosopher's Stone got involved, Ed got reckless.
When Roy had first gotten wind of rumors of 'red stones' near the Drachma border, he had been hesitant to offer the information to the boys. The lead itself was pretty strong, but he wasn't comfortable sending a couple of kids by themselves to an area that was so dangerous. Amestris had always had a strained relationship with their neighbor, and border towns were simply unsafe, regardless of their defenses in the North.
Despite his better judgment though, he had passed along the lead to the brothers anyway, which they eagerly left to follow on the morning train. That had been almost a week ago, and they hadn't been due back for at least another two weeks.
He really should have known better.
Ed massaged his flesh shoulder with his metal hand. "The shot hurt worse than the knife!" he complained, giving Al a sullen glare.
Al raised his hands in a defensive gesture. "It was infected! You knew they would have to give you a shot!"
"Which was why I didn't want to go in the first place!" he huffed, then turned to the Colonel. "Did you sign those papers yet?"
Roy crossed his arms. "No. Nor am I going to."
Any relief, any happiness Ed had exuded about Roy's presence evaporated in that split second. It was as if all his emotion simply disappeared as he struggled to process Roy's response. It was the calm before the storm, and Roy was gearing himself for a monsoon. "What?" Ed asked, his voice far too casual to be trustworthy.
"You heard me," Roy said, leaning back. "You don't quite seem to appreciate that you were almost killed, Fullmetal. Maybe some time in the hospital is just what you need. And some leave, after that."
Ed processed this over a slow, tense moment, several micro expressions flitting across his face.
For a split second, Roy almost thought he saw complete and utter betrayal in the boy's eyes, as if Roy had been the one that had stabbed him. It was gone before Roy could be sure though, replaced by a slowly building anger.
Al gave Roy a nervous glance, while Roy himself was counting down to the explosion.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU"RE NOT GOING TO SIGN THE PAPERS?!" Ed screeched, his automail foot lashing out to deal another devastating blow to the abused cart. It skidded across the floor and put a sizable gash in the wall.
Roy kept his level gaze trained on the young alchemist as if he were a rabid animal Roy was trying to talk out of biting him. Sometimes, that was exactly how the brat acted. "Just what I said," he said, struggling to keep his own temper in check. "You're staying overnight, and after that, you're going back to Resembool for two weeks."
"I have a better idea!"
All three visibly flinched at the tenor voice that sailed into the room and forcibly dissipated the tension with its oppressive cheer.
"Oh, Mr. Hughes! How nice of you to come by!" Al said, obviously very much relieved.
"Go away," Ed and Roy growled in unison.
"Uh uh, that's no way to treat a friend!" Hughes chastised lightly, waltzing up to Ed and patting him on the back. "And look what my dear, sweet, thoughtful Gracia made for you!" The Lieutenant Colonel thrust a bag of cookies under the blond's nose, and though it didn't help Roy's mood, Ed's improved considerably. He took the bag with a proffered "Thanks," and dove in, shoving two in his mouth at once.
"So, I couldn't help but overhear that you have some leave coming up, Edward," Hughes said, seating himself on the bedside across from Roy with a broad smile plastered on his face.
"Not if I get any say," Ed growled around a mouthful of cookie.
"You don't," Roy assured him.
Ed's snarled reply was cut off by Hughes. "Perfect! I know just what you boys need," he said, leaning in close. "You guys need a camping trip!"
Ed and Al regarded him as if he had grown another head.
Roy tried to massage away the headache that suddenly cropped up.
"Come on, it would be fun!" Hughes insisted, not the least bit deterred by their lack of enthusiasm. "Just you boys, me and Roy here!"
Roy almost choked on the air he had been inhaling. "Excuse me? I most certainly am not going on one of your inane camping trips."
"Me either," Ed voiced, stuffing another cookie into his mouth. "We don't have time for that crap."
Hughes was not dissuaded in the least. In fact, their refusals didn't seem to register at all. "It will be wonderful! Cool mountain air, lovely scenery, just man and nature! And we won't have any of that freak alchemy stuff, either. We'll do things how they were meant to be done, and really connect with nature!"
Ed stared at him vacantly. "Did you hit your head on a rock?"
Roy gave a tortured sigh. "Hughes, the last time you went on a camping trip, you fell into a gorge and broke your leg."
"Which is exactly why you guys should come along," Maes insisted, wrapping an arm around a very unimpressed Ed. "Gracia says she doesn't like me going out there alone, and I can't say no to my Gracia!"
"So you're only inviting us because you want to make Gracia happy," Roy said, standing up.
"Of course not! Who would I rather spend a long weekend with than you guys?"
"Gracia and Elicia," Ed pointed out indifferently, already making headway on his seventh cookie.
"Gracia doesn't like camping," Hughes informed sadly.
Roy smirked, already heading for the door. "Tell you what, Maes. If you can convince Fullmetal to go, I'll go." And since the odds of Ed ever agreeing to something as frivolous as a camping trip were slim to none, Roy could safely say he was not going. He didn't have the time for a silly camping trip.
"Not happening," Ed growled.
"It's a deal!" Hughes called after him.
"Hey!" Ed protested at Roy's retreating back. "Don't leave him here with us!"
Roy ignored him and shut the door.
He massaged his temple as he walked away. He couldn't get that image out of his head, the expression on Ed's face right before he covered it with his temper. Roy should have stayed, gotten the whole story, but with Hughes in there, he wouldn't get very much out of the kid. He wondered if there was more to this injury than what Ed was conveying, at least on an emotional level.
The kid really could use a vacation.
But it certainly wasn't going to be with Roy.
Ed was trying valiantly to focus on the theory book in his lap. The lights in his hospital room had been dimmed for the night, but his tumultuous mind would not hear of sleep, so he had turned to the book Al had left on the bedside table to sooth the overwhelming sense of guilt that had hounded him all week.
He couldn't stop thinking of how he had failed.
Ed glanced up to see Al's worried gaze on him from his seat on the floor. He had been in one of his meditations that passed for sleep, but now he was alert and looking at him questioningly. Al was always so concerned for him, so forgiving, even after knowing how much he screwed up . . .
"Can you not sleep? Does it hurt or something?"
"Nah, Al. It's fine," Ed waved him off. "Just wanted to check out this book you were reading."
Al didn't look convinced. "If you want, I can go find a nurse. I'm sure they can give you something—"
Ed scowled. "Yeah, more shots. It's fine, Al, it really doesn't hurt any more. I'll go to sleep soon."
Though he didn't seem to buy it, he dropped the issue without complaint. Ed went back to the book in his hands, but moments later, he could sense Al's eyes on him. He could almost hear Al's conflicting thoughts, warring over if he should say something or not. Al worried about stupid things like that. It was so distracting that Ed couldn't concentrate on the next sentence of the book. With a sigh, he put the tome aside and leaned back into his pillows. "What is it?" he demanded.
Al jumped. "Well . . . I was thinking about what Mr. Hughes was saying . . . about going camping . . ."
Ed studied his little brother, curiosity piqued. "What about it?"
Al averted his gaze, staring down to his lap as his hands fumbled nervously with his loincloth. "Well, do you think we could?"
Al wanted to go camping?
Under any other circumstance, he would have given Al a very firm, "no." They didn't have time for stupid things like camping trips and vacations. They had to find the Philosopher's Stone, so that Ed could fix Al and try to put their lives back in order.
But that was also the very reason that Ed couldn't refuse him.
The lead in Drachma had been so promising; Ed had been so close that he could taste their victory, their success. He was certain that before the month was out, Al would have his body back. He had even told Al as much, and Al had sounded hopeful and heartbreakingly optimistic.
And then Ed went and got himself stabbed, just when their salvation was so close. They had been on the train that was to take them to the very town where the Stone was rumored to be. Ed's injury had set them back, and by the time they had gotten there, the merchant that had been sighted with the Stone had vanished, only hours previous. There was no trail, no sign of him or his destination. In that single stroke, Ed had let the Stone and Al's chance at a human body disappear once again.
And all Al wanted was to go on a camping trip, like they used to go on when they were little.
Ed had robbed Al of his childhood. How could he possibly refuse him this? That was the least of what he owed him.
Ed offered Al a small smile that he hoped didn't look as broken as it felt. "Sure, Al."
Al's soul-fire eyes lit up, and Ed tried not to feel too relieved. He deserved to suffer Al's hatred, after all.
"You mean it?!" Al asked, voice quivering with joy.
Ed smirked. "Of course I mean it. If you want to go, we'll go."
Al let out a joyous whoop, the sound of his happiness like a balm to Ed's guilt, and despite how much he wanted to hold on to his self-loathing, it dulled and quieted until there was some semblance of peace in his heart.
He and Al spent the rest of the night recounting memories of camping with the Rockbells and Ed listened to Al talk until he finally dozed off into a fitful sleep sometime in the early morning, hoping stupidly that he had somehow done right by Al this time, done something to help atone for his sins.
It was enough to sleep.
Not quite enough to keep the nightmares away.
This got long for a first chapter. For me, anyways xD
I don't know why, but I found the thought of Roy and Ed camping too hilarious to pass up. And then, naturally, it got infused with angst and parental Roy Ed, and it was too late to stop it . . .
Now I have to write it xD It's already outlined and stuff, so hopefully updates will be regular. I won't even pretend to predict how long this is going to be. Probably a bit longer than Whiteout, but not as long as some of my other fics. We shall see C:
Drop a review, if you'd like! I love hearing from you guys, and I'll try to be much more prompt in responding to them this time lol xD