Ever since Ed had grown up some Mustang found Ed trusting him more and more. No longer did he show up late and start berating the older man. Now he came on time, had tea and genuinely discussed his research. His reports had never been more composed and Mustang found himself actually looking forward to seeing the Fullmetal Alchemist. Something he never thought he’d say.
Sure the Colonel had recruited Edward, but that was for his own personal gain. And to be honest, to spite some of the older staff. Most people looked down on Mustang for attaining his rank at such a young age. Then he went ahead and hired a State Alchemist at the age of 12 with the rank equivalent of a Major. The whole idea still made him grin.
So when he was called to the hospital once again as the Fullmetal Alchemist’s guardian he was worried to say the least. The teen never thought about his recklessness till far after the consequences. Edward had grown into a strong young man. His fighting was second to none and he was quicker on his feet than anyone Mustang had ever seen. But he was still human, a fact that Ed seemed to forget.
In the hospital bed lay Ed. His head was bandaged, and he had stitches above his eyebrow. His one arm was broken and the automail seemed to not be working anymore. It lay limp in his lap. Al was berating his younger brother.
“Brother! You need to start taking better care of yourself. You can’t keep putting yourself in these situations for me.”
“Don’t lecture me Al, we needed that information. If this is what it took to get it, it was well worth it. Another step closer to getting you back to normal.”
Al was at a loss for words and Ed knew it. And no words would make Ed give up his resolve. Mustang understood Ed’s passion to get his brothers body back but that didn’t mean he was invincible. When Al caught sight of Mustang he stood up and walked towards him.
“Can you please try to talk some sense into him Colonel? And Colonel,” Al’s voice was desperate, “make sure he eats. He hasn’t been resting well either.” This was news to Mustang. When he thought about Ed his voracious appetite was well known. When he recalled lately though…Al was right. Mustang appreciated Al’s confidence in him. Roy also knew the concern that Al had for his brother. This was the fifth hospitalization for Edward in the year. He couldn’t keep up this pace, or this luck.
“Of course.” Was his curt reply. Al left them to it.
“I’d salute you bastard but…” Ed had a smirk on his face.
“No you wouldn’t even if you could you smartass.” Mustang smiled back. Then he sighed.
“Don’t start. I know I know. Al has given me an ear full. Winry’s on her way here to fix my automail. I need someone on side.” Ed looked up at him a little desperate. He needed someone to understand. Someone to know he didn’t do this on purpose. To know that he was just trying to fix his past mistakes.
While he didn’t always agree with Ed’s methods he wasn’t going to let him down. Not now, not ever.
“Just try to be a bit more careful, for everyone’s sake.” Was all Mustang said. They spend the next hour discussing what Ed had learned on this latest venture. Mustang had order food and paid close attention as Edward ate. Once Ed had finished a little under half the plate he set it aside. Mustang took note. Ed was excited about his latest find. He was getting close, Mustang could feel it.
The door opened and they both looked to it. Winry stepped in.
“Colonel! Perfect I need to have a word with you before you leave.” Mustang was surprised to say the least. What business did the girl need with him? Ed looked just as stumped. When they stepped out the room Winry began.
“Colonel, it has come to my attention that Ed didn’t inform you on his… predicament.” Now Mustang was completely lost.
“I don’t understand. Ed fully disclosed everything to me when he signed up you knew this.”
Winry was shaking her head.
“No I know that. I’m talking about his physical disposition. Having automail is more complicated than just having a prosthetic. His nerves are connected in there. He bleeds out faster than normal people. Surely he made you aware of all this?”
Mustang knew the general idea of automail, but he was in the dark about most of it.
“No, he hasn’t said anything.”
“Idiot, I told him when he enlisted to tell his superior officer in case they didn’t know. Well now that you know, make sure he tells you. It could be the difference between life and death.”
That also caught Mustang off guard. He had no idea the risks could be so high. He nodded to the girl.
“I’ll see to it ma’am. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”
Fullmetal this is not a singling out of you.” Mustang said.
“I need to be well equipped in any of my subordinates... ailments. What if you’re hurt on the battlefield? I don’t know how to properly attend to you.”
Mustang understood Edwards’s wariness. Roy wouldn’t like people poking around in his disabilities either. But this was potentially a life or death situation. Ed on the other hand seemed to be coming to grips with it.
“So this isn’t because you want to know? This is because you should know?”
“Precisely. I understand you’re apprehension, and please tell me if anything becomes too much. I do not want to mistreat your trust.” Ed nodded. Mustang could see the gears turning. Weighing the pros and cons of disclosing this information to him.
“Winry put you up to this didn’t she? That’s what she talked to you about.” The statement was a fact and Mustang had no reason to hide it.
“Yes, and I’m glad she brought it to my attention. Though a few years later than I would of cared for. Edward, you know me. I’m not doing this to make you uncomfortable. I just need to have all the information at hand in case of an emergency. Which isn’t too far-fetched considering your tendency to land up in the hospital.” That struck a nerve with Ed, because Ed knew it was true. There was no deceit in this request. Ed huffed and began.
“Okay, well first off, people with automail will bleed to death faster. We have less blood then normal people. In my case it’s like I’ve already lost an arm and leg, and then some.” That was simple enough. Less body, less blood, made sense to Mustang.
“Secondly, there are release levers. If the automail is damaged severely enough it’s best to just remove it altogether. Puts less strain on the....on me.” Ed started to unbutton his shirt. Once removed Roy could see the whole prosthetic.
“The release lever is here.” Ed pointed to a flap that could be lifted up on the base of his shoulder.
“It’s as close the port as possible so in the case of injury it can still be removed.” Mustang leaned forward. He could easily see the difference between the port and the actual arm. The way the arm moved over the port. It was quite fascinating.
“Winry mentioned something about the nerves?”
“Uh, yeah. The nerves are connected in the automail. When it is damaged I…can feel it.” This news shocked Mustang. How many times had Edward broken his arm? Too many to count at this time. And he could feel it the whole time? The thought made him slightly nauseous.
“So it’s best to remove it right away if it’s damaged then?” Mustang swallowed. That had to be best right? Mustang leaned forward. Ed seeming to leave his question unanswered.
“I’ve never seen automail this close before. How riveting.” Ed was watching Mustang out of the corner of his eye. Waiting for a snarky remark on what a waste of a perfectly good arm. But none came. Instead, Mustang continued to be engrossed in the mechanics of it all.
“So I should learn how to remove it? That could mean the difference between life and death for you?” Mustang asked a little cautiously. This was a serious undertaking. Removing something that became a part of someone. Removing part of their identity. And it Ed’s case, his fortitude.
“I...I suppose you are right Colonel.” Ed stammered. This was not something Edward liked doing under good circumstances. But if he was unconscious or not lucid enough to walk Mustang through it... it would be disastrous.
“Fullmetal,” Roy looked the teenager in the eyes, “if this is something you’d rather not do, just say the word.”
Ed swallowed. It wasn’t that big of a deal in the short term. His nerves would be more sensitive from a quick disconnect and reattachment, and the pain was to be expected but all in all this wasn’t something to be scared of. Except Ed was anxious. He bowed his head. Having the Colonel see him without the automail would definitely alter the man’s perception of him. Maybe he wouldn’t see Ed as the Fullmetal Alchemist but rather that scared kid in the wheelchair having just committed the world’s greatest taboo. See him at his worst and most desperate. His most vulnerable. That is what made Ed give pause. Until a hand rested on his shoulder.
“Edward, I won’t think less of you either way. I’m just trying to be as prepared as I can to help you in the long run.”
Once again the trust that Ed had gained in the Colonel was unexpected. How many times had this man helped him out against his better judgement? How was it that no matter what happened when Ed landed in the hospital the Colonel would be there waiting to make sure he was okay? The thought gave Ed pause. Who would have thought that the Flame Alchemist would be one of Edwards’s closest confidants?
“Okay, go ahead and open the cover.” Ed’s mind was made up. If the Colonel was so invested in his wellbeing then what could he say to refute him.
Mustang nodded and opened it.
“Now when you pull the release, try to disengage the arm as quickly as possible. You’ll hear a pop that’s my nerves trying to detach. Don’t worry if it takes a couple seconds. I’ll try not to traumatize you to much.” Ed smirked. Roy saw through the joke in a second. He was covering up his apprehension. This was a much bigger deal then he originally thought.
“Make sure to count me down. On the count of three pull down the lever and then tug the arm downwards and away.” Mustang swallowed. Ed grit his teeth.
“Okay, one, two, three!” *click* *hiss* *pop*
Ed didn’t keep his promise. In the last few seconds his vision blacked out and he muffled his scream. Mustang was in a bit of panic having watched Ed’s face contort in pain.
“Did I do something wrong?” He was standing there with the arm in his hands.
“No no, just give me a second.” Ed grit out.
Mustang held the automail. The weight of it was astonishing. He knew it would be heavy but looking over at Ed he was sure it probably weighed as much as him! He couldn’t imagine the strain it had on Edwards’s body. Roy knew automail could be painful, but he didn’t know simply attaching and disconnecting it would cause such pain. Ed was rubbing at where the port met his flesh.
“This thing has to weigh more than you!” He grinned.
“Yeah they have said that could be the reason I’m sho.....” Ed shut his mouth. When he looked up at Mustang he glared. Mustang was holding his mouth trying not laugh at how Edward himself almost called himself short.
“Anyways! Now you know bastard. If you don’t mind... could we leave it off for a bit? It’s just... the nerves need to calm down.”
“Of course Fullmetal. Feel free to relax for a bit.”
Roy never expected Ed to fall asleep so quickly. The teen was passed out the couch for the entire day. A few people would waltz in followed by a quick shushing. Hawkeye came in after Havoc shut the door so quietly he startled her when he left. When Hawkeye stepped into the room she expected to find a sleeping Colonel and already had a lecture prepared for him. But as soon as she turned around hand raised and mouth open, Mustang eyed her and put his index finger to his lips. Then she noticed the form sleeping on the couch. Fullmetal lay there with mouth open, arm draped across his face and a blanket half falling off him. His metal arm still disconnected lay on Roy’s desk.
“Sir, what do we have here?” Hawkeye whispered.
“Long story short, Ms. Rockbell informed me that people with automail have special needs when it comes to medical care. So I had Fullmetal come in to give me a rundown on what that was.”
Hawkeye looked over again at the teen. She knew he was always busy, researching, fighting, and exploring. It made sense that he didn’t get the rest he deserved. As of late he’d looked especially worn down. Al had brought it to their attention to make sure he ate when he came in. Ed had been lacking on the basic functions of a human being. Whether out of guilt or lack of time or a mix of the two Edward did seem worse for wear more often than not. Hawkeye smiled.
“I’ll inform the staff that you are not be disturbed sir. Besides this will give you an excellent opportunity to catch up on your paperwork.” Mustang sighed.
“I’ve been working on it Lieutenant.”
“Well done sir.” Hawkeye left them to it.
Ed didn’t wake up till Mustang was sure everyone else had long gone home. He essentially had a ten hour nap. Ed awoke with a bit of start, having almost fallen off the couch.
“What time is it?” He groaned. Mustang gave a little laugh.
“It’s almost 8pm.” That woke Ed up.
“I’ve slept the whole day?! I was supposed to read this book I got at the library and Al! He’s probably worried sick! I said I’d be right back when I left and...I wasted an entire day!”
“Calm down Fullmetal. From what I could tell you finally got some rest.”
“Rest! I don’t any damn rest! I need to research! I need to get Al his body back! I...”
“Ed, one day isn’t going to wreak everything. Clam down. I’ll send for some supper.”
“Colonel! I don’t think you understand, I don’t have the time!” Ed was slipping on his red coat when he realized he was still short an appendage.
“Where’s my fucking arm?!” Ed was on the verge of hysteria. Mustang saw the panic growing.
“Edward! It’s going to be okay, I talked to Al earlier today. He said it was good you were resting.”
“Pft! Good! Good my ass! Don’t you get it Mustang! It’s MY fault he’s stuck in that tin can! I have to FIX it! I don’t get to sit around! Now help me put my arm back on!”
Mustang looked at the teen. He seemed so small. So determined to hold back any weakness. Here he was berating himself for a mistake 4 years ago. Still taking all the blame and responsibility.
“Edward, that wasn’t your fault.” Mustang wasn’t sure if anyone had actually ever said those word to him. Ed froze. He was staring at the floor.
“Of course it was. It was my idea. I made him go through with it. It’s my fault Mustang, it’s my fault he lost his body.”
“Edward listen to me that was not your fault. That was an unfair consequence not caused by you. Don’t blame yourself. I know Al doesn’t blame you.”
When Ed looked back up tear were building his eyes. Mustang hesitantly stepped forward and wrapped his arms around him. He thought Edward might try to fight and hiss and pull away. Instead his one arm grabbed ahold of him with all his might. That if he let go, his whole world would be swallowed by guilt and shame. Roy knew what it felt like. Taking all those lives in Ishval had left scars deep. The smell of burnt bodies, the sound of screams. Mustang had comes to terms with it eventually. But Edward, being so young when he lost his mother, brother and part of himself. Who knew how often he could truly sleep. Who knew how deep and raw the wounds were. Seeing his brother every day, unable to eat or sleep, to feel pain or comfort. Who knew the toll it had on Ed.
Ed who tried to never stop. Who kept looking forward always. Persevering after one disaster to the next. When thinking about it Mustang wondered if Ed was moving forward, or running away from the past. The past he saw on himself every day. The reason he’d been named Fullmetal in the first place. What a twisted sense of irony. Ed joined the military to move forward and here they were recalling why he joined every day.
He tugged the teen a little closer.
“Edward, it’s okay. We all know it will work out in the end. We see your strength and fortitude every day. Al knows this too. I’ve never seen someone locked onto a single purpose like you are Edward.”
Ed sniffled and looked up. Mustang had full trust in the teen. Full trust that he would restore Al back to normal. There was no problem too large for the prodigy. Ed wasn’t sure when he started to care so much about what the Colonel thought. But he was glad he did. He kept him grounded, and knowing there was always someone to fall back on was a great comfort to Edward.
“Thanks Colonel.” There were not enough words to express his gratitude at that moment.