The night slipped by on tattered wings, full of fractured dreams and vague memories. More than once Ed awoke aware of at least one constant, sleeping presence at his side. It was reassuring: an anchor to reality. Like a frightened child he reached out, carefully gripping the hand closest to him and hanging on tight. This was where he belonged, right here, so why did it feel as though part of him was trying to slip away?
He opened gritty eyes for what felt like the hundredth time and blinked blearily. Images filtered back into his mind, vile and disturbing. The gate, the bodies, Carmine and the shadows. He recalled Hughes checking his pulse and the glittering night sky overhead. Was that real, or had it been a dream? Ed swallowed tight, feeling the dry rasp of his throat. A faint coppery taste lingered on his tongue. Blood. He flinched at the recollection of the warm flow on his fingertips and quickly pressed his hand to his neck.
There was nothing there.
Carefully he dropped his palm to his chest, realising that he was almost naked beneath the sheets. Someone had left him his underwear, but that was the only concession they had made to his dignity. There should be a hole in his body where the darkness had pierced him, and a rib protruding from his side. Instead there was only the array on his torso, which prickled and itched.
Ed groaned quietly as his head throbbed, pushed to the point of pain by the elusive memories of the night. What had happened? He had thought that Carmine would take what was left of his life to use as her own, but instead... . Something must have gone wrong. The potent fury etched on her face as the glimmer of light in her palm had rushed towards him was unmistakable. This had not been part of her plan.
A flicker of heat danced around the lines of the design on his chest and Ed traced it absently, trying to reassure himself that there was nothing out of the ordinary. He was back in Amestris, back in the hospital bed and it seemed that he was safe. At least for now.
Faint morning sunlight peeked out from wispy clouds beyond the windowpane. The shadows of the room were chased away, and the persistent tug of sleep's fingers gradually slipped from him. His body was weak and shaken. Even lying still in bed, Ed could feel the drained emptiness of his muscles and the trembling in his limbs. His mind was not tired, but his flesh still burned with exhaustion.
A shiver raised his skin into goose flesh, and he gently shuffled further under the blankets. A hot weight tightened around his stomach, and a sleepy growl of complaint echoed in the quiet air. Mustang was still sleeping at his side, his face turned a bit into the mattress to escape the breaking day. Dark hair spiked in odd directions, and a crease from the sheet had carved an indentation across one cheek. At some point he had thrown his arm across Ed's waist, effectively pinning him.
He looked younger like that. Stripped of the austere polish of his rank and the tense stress of his waking hours, Roy looked more human. Stubble darkened his jaw, and faint bruises still lingered under his closed eyes. As carefully as he could, Ed untangled his left hand from the clutch of Mustang's right and touched a fingertip to his face. It was the lightest possible caress, and he knew it was only the exhausted weakness of his body that drove him to it. He just had to know that the man slumped at his bedside was real.
'You'll wake him up.'
Elysia's whispered warning made him jerk back in surprise, and he looked to his right to see the little girl watching him with sleepy eyes. Her cheek was pressed against his automail arm. He wished someone had thought to give her a pillow: she must be freezing.
'No I won't,' Ed murmured back. 'He's a heavy sleeper. What are you doing here?'
She smiled at his question and nudged his forearm with her nose. His metal limbs never bothered Elysia. He supposed that, because she'd never known him another way, it seemed natural to her. 'Looking after you. Everyone's scared.'
'They think you're going to leave.' Her voice was heavy with sadness and dread. She always said that her father had “left”, and it didn't need much brainpower to work out what Elysia meant. 'You're not, are you?'
'Not if I can help it,' he replied with a tired smile, hoping that it was enough to reassure her.
Elysia nodded and sat up, slipping down from the bed and moving towards the doorway. Beyond it Ed could see Hughes and Gracia, and he felt a warm shot of relief. That part hadn’t been a dream. The two of them were curled uncomfortably in the hospital chairs, sleeping in the warm cradle of each other's arms. Gracia's fingertips were twisted in Maes' shirt, and the man's arms were wrapped tightly around his wife's waist. Elysia looked at the two of them thoughtfully before climbing into her father's lap and nestling between them. Her parents automatically shifted to make space, and Ed grinned to himself as Hughes woke up enough to drop a sleepy kiss on Elysia's forehead. That was how things should be.
He grimaced as he realised that Carmine was probably indirectly responsible for bringing Maes back. She had transmuted his body in order to sacrifice him again. All Ed could take the credit for was an impromptu rescue. The very fact that Carmine had successfully brought back the dead was enough to make him shudder. He didn't understand how she had done it.
With a shake of his head, he propped himself up on his elbows. He couldn't think right now. The exhaustion in his body was intense, but it didn't stop the more fundamental needs from being present. Nature was calling, and the press of Roy's arm over his bladder wasn't helping that one bit. He managed to slide out of bed, but as soon as his feet hit the floor it was as though he were yanked towards the ground. Holding out one hand to steady himself he tried not to fall over, but it was close. The last thing he wanted was to be found collapsed in his boxer shorts.
The headache had increased to a painful pounding, and Ed narrowed his eyes against the weak light as it lanced through his skull. It felt as if he had the mother of all hangovers. The kind where you wished you were dead so that you didn't have to bear the hammering pain on every nerve. At least he wasn't throwing up.
He made it to the bathroom with tiny steps, pushing himself on with dogged determination. His legs were shaking drunkenly and shivers were making his teeth chatter. Finally he sat down on the closed toilet seat, quietly locking the door as he struggled to recoup some of his strength. 'Well, this is pathetic,' he muttered to himself, touching his forehead. He wasn't feverish, but the trembling of his body was increasing to the point of pain. What the hell was wrong with him?
Finally feeling well enough to stand, he stepped out of his boxers and quickly answered the call of nature. One palm was pressed to the wall behind the toilet as he struggled to keep his balance. When he was done he pulled the flush, ignoring the gurgle of the water as he washed his hands and looked around the room.
The bathroom was small with white tiles polished to a painful shine. There were all the basics, including a shower, and Ed only hesitated for a moment before flicking on the water as hot as he could stand it. The calescent cascade flowed over his skin, and he panicked for a moment when he saw it was tinted red. Quickly raising his hand he felt the matted strands of hair and grimaced in disgust.
He forced himself to wash his hair and soap his body, chasing away the grime and filth that clung to him. Steam was already billowing in the bathroom, and he took a deep breath of the warm, moist air as he rested his head against the wall. Water sloshed in his face. He closed his eyes against the stream, letting it banish the chill from his body as his mind wandered.
Ed's eyes snapped open, and he spluttered as he swallowed a mouthful of shower water. It had sounded like a whisper right in his ear, but he was completely alone. Another shudder tore up his spine, induced by fear this time. It must have been his imagination or the beginning of a dream, he logically decided. What else could it be?
Scowling, he flicked off the tap and reached for a towel. It was flat and scratchy, but it would do. A quick rummage in the cupboards revealed several pairs of loose cotton pants and t-shirts. They were better than nothing, and he hastily pulled them on. Maybe they'd do something to keep the cold at bay.
About to pull the top over his head he hesitated, a movement catching his eyes. At first he thought it was just his reflection in the steam-obscured mirror, but as he stared he saw a word begin to trace itself in the fog.
His arm went slack, the top still dangling from his loosely clenched fingers as he read the letters. With a mute shake of his head he reached out and swiped the word away, obliterating it in a watery streak. This was insane.
A yelp choked in his throat as he saw his image in the glass. His face was the same, slack-jawed in shock and wide-eyed in disbelief. There was only one difference, and it held Ed's rapt attention. His reflection's bare chest showed the same scars and the same trails of water that he had yet to dry away. Yet there was something else. In the direct centre of his torso a bead of light glowed weakly.
It was under his skin, casting a muted luminescence that was tinted pink by the blood in his veins. It waxed and waned, matching a staccato rhythm with his thundering heart. With a jolt he snapped his head downwards, searching for the same glow beneath his skin. There was nothing there. His flesh was ordinary. Nothing sparkled or dimmed beneath his ribs. It was the same as it had ever been.
When he looked up again the mirror told the truth. His reflection was normal.
Sanctuary. It wasn't a request, he realised; it was a fact. The light in Carmine's hand had been all that remained of the core of the gate. She had intended to destroy it, and it had taken the only course left open to it. It had found a hiding place.
He touched numb fingers to his chest, his eyes narrowing as he felt a patch of heat. It was warmer than body temperature and lay beneath the middle of the array. There was no pain, not really, but all Ed could think of was the violation. It had not asked his permission or sought any kind of approval from him. Like an animal it had acted on instinct, and now it was inside him doing who knew what?
'Get out,' he snarled through gritted teeth, bracing one hand against the sink. His eyes flared with anger, and he could feel his cheeks begin to flush with fury. 'I'm not your puppet. Get out.'
There was no answer. He hadn't really expected one. Nothing scrawled its way through the mist that remained on the mirror, and no thought murmured in his mind. A sigh escaped him, and Ed felt his legs begin to shake again. Anger was short-lived, and it didn't take long for familiar fear and exhaustion took the upper hand. He thought that he was done with the bloody gate. He thought it was all over!
He resisted the urge to smash the glass, clenching his fists at his side instead. It wouldn't do him any good. Besides, he didn't need more bad luck.
As soon as he was better he would get to the library. He did not care about the gate. It didn't matter to him whether whatever had been contained beyond those doors lived or died. All he knew was that he wasn't going to put up with this alien presence for a moment longer than he had to. He'd paid time and again, and he wasn't about to roll over and let it have its way.
Ed wrenched open the door and stepped out, letting out a grunt of surprise when he collided with someone's chest. Hands grabbed his bare shoulders, steadying him before he could fall. The touch of smooth, warm skin against his own was electrifying, and a flash of hot desire burned its way through him. Pain was shoved aside, replaced by an entirely different kind of ache, and he swallowed tightly as he met Mustang's dark gaze.
Unconsciously licking his dry lips Ed tried to get a grip and pull himself together, but it was easier said than done. They were close, almost toe-to-toe, and neither of them was backing away. Once or twice in the past Ed thought he had seen a flash of desire in Roy's eyes but had dismissed it as his imagination. Now there was no flicker; there was an inferno.
Perhaps he really was hallucinating. There was no reason for Mustang, notorious womaniser, to be looking at him like that.
On his shoulders the strong grip tightened possessively. It wasn't quite hard enough to bruise, but nor was it gentle. One thumb brushed absently along his collarbone, and Edward struggled not to groan aloud.
He blinked, and just like that the spell was broken.
'What the hell do you think you're doing?' Roy demanded, his voice rough with sleep. 'You shouldn't be out of bed.'
Edward raised an eyebrow and blew a strand of wet hair out of his face. This was more like it. This he could deal with. 'I didn't think I needed your permission to take a piss,' he grumbled. 'If I hadn't had blood in my hair I'd have been back before you even woke up.' He forced himself to brush Mustang's hands away, trying not to miss the brief warmth of his touch. He was tired, and it was making thoughts fuzzy. Logic was being driven away and instincts were taking over. He had to put some distance between them before he did something he would regret, like kiss his superior officer.
With a quick tug he pulled the t-shirt over his head before walking back to the bed. If he hadn't had an audience he would have sighed in relief as the mattress yielded beneath his weight. Instead he fought valiantly to hide the shaking exhaustion of his muscles from Roy's watchful gaze and tugged the blankets up around his shoulders.
He turned on his side, trying to block the other man from his universe. Unfortunately Mustang was never easy to ignore. He stepped into Ed's line of vision and folded his arms, opening his mouth to begin a tirade. Briefly Edward considered turning over again, but his body practically fell apart at the idea of more movement.
'Can we save the lecture for later?' he asked. 'I'm tired. I wouldn't want to fall asleep and miss it.' The sarcasm in his voice was unmistakable, and he felt a flash of satisfaction as Mustang scowled. For a moment he hoped the older man would walk out the door. Ed didn't think he had the strength to deal with Roy's disappointment right now. The worst part was that every word would be true. He should have told someone where he was going. He shouldn't have discharged himself from hospital. Yes he was an idiot, and no, that never changed.
'Thank you.' Quiet and vulnerable, the words were little more than a murmur. For a minute Ed froze, watching Roy close his eyes and bow his head. Broad shoulders rose and fell in a deep sigh. 'Thank you for bringing Maes back, Fullmetal.'
That wasn't what he had been expecting. Briefly Ed wondered if this was actually Mustang, or if it was some kind of impostor. Roy didn't thank him for anything, yet he hadn't imagined those words.
Blowing out a heavy breath he propped his weight up on one elbow and shook his head. 'Don't thank me. I just got him out. I didn't bring him back to life. Didn't he tell you what happened?'
Mustang uncrossed his arms and settled into one of the chairs nearby. He propped his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands loosely in front of his face as he shrugged. 'The details are a little patchy. Hughes can only tell us what happened after he was brought back. He wasn't there for the beginning.'
'Can't I just write a report?' Ed asked quietly, trying to delay the inevitable.
'Your reports are more fiction than fact. Besides, your handwriting's appalling.' Roy stretched his legs out in front of him and shifted in his chair, getting more comfortable. 'Start talking.'
‘And don’t leave anything out,’ a soft voice added from the doorway. Edward looked up to see Al and Hughes standing on the threshold. They were bedraggled from sleeping in their clothes and scruffy from hours of waiting, but there was no mistaking the relief on their faces.
‘Unless you don’t feel up to it,’ Al cut in, casting a surprisingly sharp look at Roy and Maes. ‘It can wait if you’d rather.’
The opportunity was a two-edged sword. If he said he wasn’t feeling well enough then he would never get out of this hospital, but if he claimed he was all right then there would be no choice but to relive the events of the night. With a deep sigh Ed closed his eyes for a moment and tried to get his thoughts in order. There was no way he was staying in this uncomfortable bed for any longer than was absolutely necessary.
Hesitantly at first he began to speak, bringing together the patches of his memory into a cohesive train of events. As he talked he watched Roy carefully, hoping for some sign of recognition at Carmine's name, but there was nothing. Only the grim set of his mouth gave Ed any indication of Mustang’s emotions, and it was clear that he did not like what he was being told.
It was only when Ed explained the total collapse of the gate that anyone spoke.
'There's nothing left of it?' Al asked in disbelief, shaking his head as he tried to understand the enormity of it. 'Nothing at all?'
'Just a hole. Carmine was slowly polluting the gate until it tore itself apart. She's been doing it for centuries.' He didn't mention the light in her palm or the heat beneath the scar on his chest. Something warned him against it. 'I don't know quite what is happening there now. Something pushed me out of that plane, and she was left behind.'
Mustang stood up, beginning to prowl restlessly as he tried to think. 'You said she was trying to get revenge?'
'It started off that way. The gate's a channel for energy. She was tainting it by pushing as many murdered lives through it as possible. She basically fed the gate with hate and anger, and it learned. When it began to develop a personality she made a deal with it. Something to do with getting someone back that she had lost.'
'In exchange for what?'
Ed shrugged and slumped back against the pillows. 'Setting it free?' He ran a hand across his face, wishing he wasn't so tired. 'It sounded like she was trying to explain that what was in the gate was separate from the doors and the frame. They just marked the boundary between here and there.'
'And whatever was inside wanted to get out,' Mustang finished, a frown marring his face.
Ed fought against heavy eyelids as he struggled to press the point home. 'The laws of equivalent exchange haven't applied in our lifetime. At least, there is no equal return. The gate has been asking more and more in exchange for less and less. I think in the beginning it was like a machine. It was just a conduit that she wanted to destroy. After she corrupted it, it became too strong for her.' Ed managed a weak shrug. 'I don't know what will happen now that the gate is gone.'
He stiffened, glancing quickly at the other three in the room to see if they had heard anything unusual. No surprise showed on their faces. All three were thinking silently, trying to unravel what had happened and why. Quickly he lowered his eyes so that they wouldn't see his alarm and tried to find a measure of calm.
The flash of heat made him gasp involuntarily, and a desperate pain burned through his head. Curling up tight he pressed his palms to his temples, gritting his teeth to stop himself from crying out. A high-pitched note rang in his ears, and tears stung at his eyes as his muscles coiled tight. Someone called for a nurse, but it was external to him: irrelevant. The agony trapped his attention, driving him deeper inside himself.
Images flickered across his mind's eye. Some were familiar memories - others were unlike anything he had ever seen. They were weak and grainy monochrome pictures, as though whatever was projecting them did not have the strength to give them colour or life. Snatches of knowledge, incomprehensible and strange, floated around. There were words he didn't understand in languages he didn't know, but it did not matter. Their meaning got through to his tormented understanding.
Just because the gate was no longer a standing construct did not mean that it had been destroyed. The elements of what had lain beyond its doors still survived.
Something pricked his arm, and the pictures fizzled out. Hot sluggishness seeped through his veins, unwinding his muscles with its touch. A warm hand rested against his forehead, and he groaned in relief as the pain began to ebb away.
'Ed, open your eyes.' Roy's voice was gentle, but very far away. Easy enough to ignore. People were talking, their voices low and worried. He could feel the familiar calluses of Al's grip on his left hand: panicked, frightened. He should check he was all right, but his eyelids felt like lead.
'Come on, Ed, just for a minute,’ Mustang urged, ‘then you can go to sleep.'
With a massive effort he managed to open his eyes a fraction. A gentle fog seemed to cover everything, but no one seemed to be alarmed by it. He would have frowned, but he felt incredibly unconcerned.
'Ed, listen. They've given you laudanum for the pain. It's going to put you to sleep for a while. If we're not here when you wake up, promise me you'll stay in bed?' Roy seemed to be waiting for an answer, and he gently shook Ed's shoulder when he didn't respond. 'Okay?'
Sounds began to fade as he shut his eyes again, revelling in the painlessness of his body. There were no twinges at his ports or prickling of his scars. Everything was beautifully numb.
'So that's what it takes to make him follow orders.' Hughes' voice was amused, as though he were trying to lighten a black mood. It sounded like it was coming from the other end of a long tunnel.
'You could probably tell him to jump off a cliff right now and he'd do it,' Mustang replied grimly. 'I wish there was something else they could have given him, but -'
'But that was horrible. I've never seen him like that before,' Al finished. He sounded shaky and uncertain, as though he were wondering whether he had just rescued his brother from the frying pan and dropped him in the fire. In a quiet whisper he confessed, 'Mum was being given laudanum at the end.'
‘Don’t worry, Al,' Roy replied, and Ed felt the fingertips against his forehead tremble. ‘It’s a common method of pain relief. It doesn’t mean that Ed will go the same way your mother did.’
‘Laudanum is addictive,’ Hughes said softly, a gentle caution.
‘With any luck he won’t need something this strong again. If he does, I’ll talk to the doctor about an alternative. I won’t let Fullmetal become reliant on this stuff.’
Shame, Ed thought to himself as the voices vanished and his awareness faded. Life's good when there's no pain.
Light and sound came flooding back in an abrupt rush. It was as though someone had flicked a switch inside his mind and yanked him from sleep to wakefulness in the blink of an eye. He managed not to move, even though every instinct was on high alert. He recognised the hospital from the chatter of the nurses, and realised with a sick feeling that there was an IV embedded in the back of his hand. The fog of the drug they had given him was gone, and now waves of chilly horror unrolled through him.
He opened one eye, prepared to shut it again at the first sign of pain. Memories of the earlier agony were still fresh in his mind, but they were only phantoms of sensation. His nerves were calm and unbothered. Only the stab of the line that fed into his flesh concerned him.
A nurse was standing over him, her face fixed in a gentle expression as she waited for his response. 'Are you awake?'
'Can you take that out?' he croaked, not caring if he sounded more like a frightened boy than a man.
'If you can sip this glass of water and keep it down, then yes.'
She adjusted the pillows behind him and helped him shuffle into a sitting position. Intelligent blue eyes watched him carefully, no doubt looking for any sign of discomfort. 'How do you feel?' she asked calmly as he took small mouthfuls of the water. It was cool and soothing, and he forced himself not to gulp it down.
'Better,' he said flatly, sighing when she made a motion for him to expand on that statement. 'Nothing hurts. I just feel a bit woozy.'
'That'll be the drug in your system. It was very effective against the acute pain you suffered.' She pressed her fingertips to his wrist carefully, measuring his pulse. 'Have you ever had an attack like that before?'
Ed finished off the water and put the cup down on the bedside table, feeling the fluid settle uncomfortably in his stomach. 'No.'
The nurse nodded, making notes as she spoke. 'We think it was caused by dehydration due to blood loss. When you first came in your blood pressure was very low, and one of your colleagues estimated you had lost approximately twenty-five percent of your blood volume,' the nurse explained. 'The IV was to rehydrate you and hopefully increase the amount of fluid in your veins.'
Ed stayed quiet. Her theory sounded pretty good. Yet he could remember the flashing images and knew that the light from the gate was responsible. Was it some kind of retribution or punishment? Was it as malicious as the shadows that had once surrounded its burning core? He supposed it was too much to hope that it was benign and gentle. The proof of the past few hours was enough to rule that out.
He looked around the hospital room with distrust, trying to reassure himself that everything was normal. Night was thick and inky outside the window, letting him know that he'd slept the day away in a drug-induced haze. The sudden warmth in his veins had been a relief, releasing him from the torment. Ed could faintly remember worried voices, and someone gently brushing their fingers across his forehead. He had promised Mustang that he wouldn't leave if none of them were there. They were probably getting some rest and catching their own peace, but he felt abandoned and uncomfortably alone.
There was no way he was staying here.
'Can I have some discharge forms,' he asked, adding a quiet, 'please?' when the nurse looked horrified. He watched her open and close her mouth once or twice, as though unable to make a decision between his request and simple common sense.
'Mister Elric, you need to rest! You can't just leave. Let me get the doctor.'
Ed groaned as she marched out of the door, her sensible pumps squeaking on the floor as she went. He shot another look at the IV in his arm and sat up straighter. The doctor had said it himself. He was of age to decline medical treatment if he wanted, and he was sure as hell declining this thing sticking into his hand.
His automail fingers were clumsy and heavy, but he forced himself to concentrate as he peeled off the tape that secured the line. Swallowing queasiness, he grabbed the base of the needle and slid it out, shutting his eyes against the slick feeling of it slipping free. A bright dot of blood welled in its wake, pooling and trickling down his hand to drip on the sheets. It spread out, painting a crimson blossom on the stark white.
Fear gripped him hard, choking him even as his mind reeled in confusion. It was just a bit of blood, a tiny wound. Why was it terrifying him so much? It took him a moment to realise that the fear wasn't exactly his own, and Ed blinked in surprise. His body was reacting to the adrenaline and the other hormones of the fight or flee response, but his mind was clear of it.
A flash of light on the back of his hand made him flinch and, just like that, the tract of the needle had gone. Terror departed, leaving a jittery uncertainty in its place. Like a tide, the weakness rolled in again, leaving him to slump back against the pillows and close his eyes. Automail chill traced across his skin as he poked the place where the needle had been - Nothing. No pain, no wound, not even a mark on his skin.
The panic had come from whatever was inside him. He knew it with a logical certainty that rested like ice in his mind. A piece of the gate had ferreted itself away, and it knew that its haven was frail. For something of such a long existence as the gate to be hiding inside such a transient, temporary being must mean it was desperate. It knew how easily the body that sheltered it could be slain, and the very possibility of death spawned abject terror.
One is all. All is one.
Ed blinked as that thought came to the surface. He knew the words well. It was the summation of Izumi's philosophy about the essence of alchemy and the natural cycle of the world. So why did it seem to take on a different, more ominous meaning now?
Like sand between his fingers his ideas began to slip away, and the murmured concepts were once again silent. Ed clenched his teeth in frustration, tightening his muscles as he fought to wrestle his life under some control. He didn't understand what was happening, and every time he tried to think about it his strength evaded him.
It was this place, with its blank walls and its vague expectancy. He had to get out of here. He had to feel safe.
He was just starting to consider getting out of bed and sneaking out when the doctor appeared at the door. He looked as though he were preparing himself for a battle as he straightened his shoulders and walked to Ed's bedside. If he noticed the disconnected drip he didn't comment, and instead took a blood pressure device from a nearby drawer and strapped it on.
'The nurse informs me that you want to leave. I'm sure I don't need to explain – again – why that would be unwise.' He gently began pressurising the cuff, pressing the pad of a stethoscope to Ed's skin as he counted. Ed stayed silent, waiting for the doctor to finish. 'Your blood pressure is still below tolerance and is likely to remain that way for some time. You are unfit to return to any kind of duty. You must have noticed yourself how light-headed you were when you first awoke.'
'I can handle it.'
The doctor's jaw clenched, and he could see that the older man was rapidly losing his patience. 'Mister Elric, your condition is severe and dangerous. You need to be kept under surveillance! You do not seem to appreciate how life threatening your situation is. If I let you walk out of here it could be the death of you.'
'Then consider this my last request,' Ed snapped. 'Get me the discharge forms. I'm going.'
Doctor Collins tapped his pen on the clipboard in his hands, his eyes raised heavenward as though in a silent prayer for patience. Eventually he gave a resigned nod. 'Very well. I called Brigadier-General Mustang before speaking to you. I believe he is making arrangements.'
That made Ed hesitate. If Roy knew that he was being difficult then it was bound to result in a lecture later. He was privately surprised that no one had materialised to make sure he did what he was told. 'Arrangements? What kind of arrangements?'
'I was serious, Mister Elric. You need bed rest and supervision. You cannot function normally, and a blood transfusion in your current state would be risky at best. Your commanding officer is just doing what's best for you.'
A tap at the door interrupted Ed's doubtful response, and he looked up to see Hawkeye waiting patiently. She had some clothes in her arms, and was looking at him with amused disapproval. 'Must you always make a fuss?' she asked quietly, as the doctor waited for Ed's scribbled signature on the forms. 'They're only trying to help you, Edward.'
He shrugged childishly, watching the doctor go with an angry glare before he pushed the blankets aside and got to his feet. It was better than last time, but he couldn't deny the disorientation that assailed his mind. Riza's petite hand on his elbow steadied him, and she guided him to one of the chairs before crouching in front of him.
'I'm all right,' he said quietly, gripping the sides of the seat to anchor himself. 'Just light-headed. There's no point staying in hospital for that.'
Hawkeye sighed and made a grimace. 'You don't like them, do you? Hospitals, I mean. You always seem to do everything in your power to avoid them or get out of them as soon as you can.'
'They smell funny,' he grumbled, knowing from the look in her eyes that she didn't believe that for a second. When she waited in silence he shoved his hair out of his face and shrugged hopelessly. 'People come here to die. They lie down and they just accept it. I'm not doing that.'
He looked up into her face as she gripped his hand, giving it a quick, strong squeeze. 'Good. Come one, let's get you home.'
'You're not going to make me stay?'
'I'm not stupid, Edward,' she said as she straightened up, her voice becoming clipped and military. 'I know you can't be dissuaded once you've made up your mind. Think of this as a compromise.'
Ed frowned, motioning for her to turn her back so that he could change into his own clothes. 'Why don't I like the sound of that?'
Riza hesitated, and he knew he wouldn't like what she had to say. As if she were delivering a particularly unsavoury order she straightened her head and squared her shoulders, talking to the opposite wall. 'You're staying with the Brigadier-General until the doctor clears you for active duty.'
He paused in the middle of doing up his fly, staring at the lieutenant's back with a mixture of disbelief and horror. 'You want me to live with Mustang? Are you insane? We'll kill each other!'
Hawkeye glanced over her shoulder, her gaze quickly taking in his bare torso. 'Finish getting dressed and don't argue. It's that or stay here.'
For a heartbeat he considered getting back into bed and pulling the blankets over his head. If he weren't so bloody tired he'd have told her not to treat him like a child, but he suspected he deserved it. Barging out of hospital and denying all attempts of help wasn't exactly mature behaviour. For assistance to be coming from Mustang's quarter was different though. It wasn't that Roy didn't help; it was just that this wasn't his style. Ed knew more than he ever let on about the Brigadier-General's ways. He liked to pull people's strings and then deny all knowledge of having done so. It was like a game. Yet this approach was direct, and the barefaced honesty of it was unsettling.
'Why is he doing this?' he asked quietly, doing up his belt over the black pants and shrugging on a clean t-shirt. 'He hates letting people into his personal space.'
'You need looking after,' Hawkeye said, grabbing a coat and wrapping it around Ed's shoulders. 'His place is big enough for you and Al to live there as well as him. The doctor's orders were very clear. You're not to be left alone. Someone from the office will be in the house with you at all times.' She shot him a quick look. 'Think of it as being under guard.'
'Great. So I'm basically a prisoner.'
She looked over her shoulder, levelling him with a chilling gaze that made him feel about ten inches tall. 'No. You're a friend to all of us, and when you won't look after yourself then we have to do it for you. If you'd stop behaving like a child perhaps you'd see that.' She seemed to remember who she was talking to and added a grudging, 'Sir.'
Ed pushed his arms into the sleeves of the coat and wrapped it around him, glaring at her as she smoothed out the collar with a sharp jerk that nearly pulled him off of his feet. 'It's for your own good. If you won’t look after yourself then remember: Mustang outranks you. He can always order you into bed.'
She turned and marched out of the door, leaving Ed standing with a faint grin on his lips. A small part of him liked the idea of that. Maybe staying with Roy wouldn’t be so bad after all.