[identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] tierfallen
Title: Speechless
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Pairing: Roy/Ed
Rating: R
Word Count: 25,000?? (7,150 in this piece)
Warnings: something like a post-BH AU; language; blood and drama at turns and also at once; it wouldn't be a Tierfal fic without some bad innuendo; S O U L M A T E S!!
Prompt: "soulmarks on the wrist/arm that Ed lost" for Roy/Ed Week
Summary: Ed's mark is long, long gone, but it's not like he has time to care.
Author's Note: Please note that I have bumped up the rating on this bad boy, because there's probably gonna be some naughty shit at the end. :'D Also, since I sort of… failed to specify, it's an AU. Where things are how I like them. XD


The call comes just after five in the morning.

Ed knows because the decrepit little clock that Al fell in love with at some antique shop is sitting right next to the phone, and the position of its hands is unmistakable even though his head’s banging so fucking hard he can barely hear his own voice grinding out “Hello?”

“Is this Edward or Alphonse?” a desperate feminine voice says in response.  “This is Doctor Heilis—we really—we need one of you to come in, if you can; I’m so sorry—”

“S’fine,” he manages.  “This is Ed.  And it’s fine.  What’s—”

“Just a few minutes ago—there was a house fire—there are two children, a brother and a sister; they—”

“We’ll be there in ten minutes,” Ed says.  “Tell ’em at the front where they need to send us.”

“Thank y—”

He hangs up and throws his brown coat on over his fucking pajamas, kicking around in the half-light of the foyer for his shoes.

Al!” he calls down the hall.  “We’re going to the hospital!  Come on!”

He hears a very faint, very sad moan of “My head…”

“I know!” he says.  “I’m sorry!  It’s kids, Al!  C’mon!”

There’s a great commotion, a serious thunk, a whimper, and then a smaller commotion as Al stumbles down the hall to join him.  Ed’s got Al’s best coat ready for him.  Al’s wearing the pajamas with the pattern of the kitty faces.  Ed really, really hopes there isn’t too much blood this time.

He shoves his feet into his shoes and holds the door while Al hops into his.

“You okay?” he asks.

Al tries to twist his grimace into a smile.  “Eh.  Close enough.”

It’s a good damn thing they live nearby, and it’s a good damn thing it’s so early—not that Ed would give a flying fuck if anybody saw them running down the street in their jammies, but Al has this thing about ‘shame’ and ‘proper conduct’ or something, and he’s always talking about how glad he is that he couldn’t feel embarrassment viscerally back when Ed was flailing around and making them look like a pair of dorks all the time.  Ed believes the record would show that he usually made them look like a pair of badasses.  There were some dork moments, sure, but the bulk of the experiences are on his side.

Point is—

Adrenaline and the shoes they jammed on sockless (Ed’s right heel’s chafing like a motherfucker, and it’s weird, having that ancillary sensation of mild pain in the muddle of everything else) carry them to Central City Hospital in half the time that Ed projected.  They’re both panting so hard he can’t tell if they’re shaking or just breathless by the time they stagger into the emergency room entrance—it’s the closest, and he’s pretty sure it’s Dr. Heilis’s usual beat, and it’s the most likely place someone would bring disaster victims.  Before he’s stopped wheezing, Ed starts gesturing to the receptionist in a way that’s supposed to mean Where are the kids?

“Are you the Elrics?” she asks.  Must be new here; usually people see them coming and basically just dive out of the way.  “Operating rooms three and five, just down th—”

Definitely new: Al’s got Ed’s sleeve and is hauling him at a renewed breakneck speed down the corridor, then around the sharp left turn that has toppled at least one gurney in the time Ed’s been here.

“You take three,” Al says, and the soles of his shoes squeal on the linoleum, and fuck, it is so good to hear him gasping for breath with his real-life fucking lungs and his real-life fucking throat, and— “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “Al—”

They skid to a stop in front of the door marked OPERATING ROOM 3 NO UNAUTHORIZED ENTRANCE, and Al’s bright-wild eyes fix on his.  Kid’s hair is fucking everywhere.

“It’s burns,” Ed says.  “That’s all she said.  Just—heads up.”

“Thanks,” Al says.  He musters a slight smile.  “Good luck, Brother.”

“You, too, Al,” Ed says.

Then he shoulders his way through the door.

The stench of charred flesh and scorched hair slams into him with so much acrid, eye-stinging force that his stomach turns hard, and for a second he thinks that the hangover’s going to tip him right over the fucking edge—

He reaches out more or less blindly and grips the cold steel bar on the shelving unit next to the door with his left hand.  It’s fucking cold in here.  That helps to ground him.

He draws in a slow deep breath, holds it for a second until the roiling revolt in his guts settles to a minor burbling sort of motion, and steps forward, pushing up his sleeves.

“Fill me in,” he says to the attendants bent over the operating table.

“There isn’t much to tell,” one of the nurses says.  “We just got her in here a few minutes ago.”  She peels back the coverings.  “See for yourself.”

He can.

It’s fucking horrible.

Children in pain is bad enough; children in unnecessary pain—children suffering so much he can barely even imagine

At least she’s not conscious.  At least she’s hopefully been out for all of the worst of it; at least she can’t feel it right now.

“Can somebody help disinfect me?” he says, holding out his hands.  He’s going to need both of them.  He’s going to need two hands, and all the bits and pieces he and Al have cobbled together from medical alchemy and mailed-in alkahestry books and sheer ingenuity over the past two years.

“Got it,” a male nurse says, sidling around the table, and Ed backs up towards the sink so they can scrub the worst of the germs off of him together, and then—

All that’s left—

Is alchemy.  All that’s left is the last-chance, the last-ditch—the Elric Method.

Today that means trying to stretch and shift and rework and remake as much of the angry, bloodily-burned, raw-blistered and soot-blackened nightmare of this little girl’s back as he’s capable of.  The way the scalded flesh gleams wetly in the bright blue light as he presses his palms together and then lays them down—

He swallows, and swallows, and holds himself together—because she needs him.  She needs his help.  This is the least he can do; this is the smallest thing that he can offer.

He focuses in so fucking intensely that he can barely smell it, barely taste it in the air, barely see anything but the light and his mismatched fingertips and the fragile little sparrow-strength bones underneath her shredded skin.

He’s going to fix this.

He is.

There’s only so much he can do with alchemy when he can’t make more of her, but hopefully—he’s hoping, all right; he’s hoping with everything he’s fucking got—it’s going to be enough.

He reduced the severity of all of the worst burns on her by a significant margin, and he redistributed thicker sections of the surrounding epidermis to help coax them into healing up completely.  She’s going to have a rough couple of weeks, but he’s pretty sure she’ll make it.  He’s pretty sure everything’s sealed up enough to rule out an infection.  He’s pretty sure that with enough time, she’ll be okay.

The second he steps away from the operation table, his right knee starts to shake so hard that the guy who helped him clean his hands off instinctively slips an arm under his shoulders to try to hold him upright.

He tries to shake it off and direct his stumble towards the door—which is probably stupid, but that’s always sort of been his signature, right?

“I’m fine,” he says.  “Hey—thanks, but I really—I’m good.  Just need some coffee.  That’s all.  Are you guys—you got it from—”

Cynthia, who he knows, and who he swears has got to be distantly related to Rosé, smiles and salutes him.  “Andreas, get the man a coffee, would you?”

“Sure thing,” Andreas says.  He holds the door, which would normally not be cause for a surge of secret gratitude, but Ed’s flagging so fucking fast right now that his vision’s swimming at the edges.  “Cafeteria coffee okay?”

“Sounds great,” Ed says, which is half-true only because anything that remotely resembles caffeine would be a godsend.  His head is buzzing.  Either there’s a wasp nest in his skull, or he’s close to crashing out.  “Sounds… f—” Censor.  “Freakin’ amazing, actually.  Thanks.”

“No problem,” Andreas says.  His smile has way too many watts for someone who just helped press flaps of singed skin down against a little girl’s spine so that Ed could try to trick them into healing there.  “Back in a jiffy.”

Scientifically speaking, Ed doesn’t know exactly how long a ‘jiffy’ is supposed to be, but it’s probably long enough to sink down into one of the crappy metal chairs scattered along the hall outside the ORs and stare at the ceiling, trying to remember how to breathe deep and slow enough to float his brain on oxygen again.  He knows he’s in some serious shit here; yesterday he wouldn’t have been able to imagine a universe where he’d call the sludge they sell in the cafeteria ‘amazing’.  They’ve committed people for less.

“Hey, Brother,” the best voice in the world says after some interval of time that he hasn’t really tracked.  Maybe a quarter-jiffy?  Fuck knows.  Ed looks up towards Al instantly regardless, and his perfect-wonderful angel-brother is holding out a bagel on a napkin and a paper cup full of water.  “Before you ask, I just had one.”

“I love you,” Ed says, taking them.  He chugs the contents of the cup.  Hard to tell at this point whether it makes the swoopy feeling in his skull better or worse, but he considers the bagel next.  “Where’d this come from?”

“Break room,” Al says.  “It’s not even technically stealing if there’s no clear indication that you shouldn’t take one, right?”

“I love you even more,” Ed says.  He bites into it.  Shit’s fresh and everything.  He’s not about to wait until he’s swallowed to ask the important question, though: “How’ff’it go?”

“It was fine,” Al says, dropping into the seat beside him with a faint sigh.  “They said she was hurt worse than he was, so I think you got the tougher case.  He’s a little younger.”  Neither of them says She was probably trying to protect him.  Neither of them has to.  “He woke up long enough for us to tell him what was going on.  I caught Cynthia on my way over; she said they’re going to put them in different rooms for a little while until a bigger one clears up.  She said the little girl should hopefully be awake in a couple of hours; I guess they hit her with something pretty good.”

Ed tries to smile while inhaling the bagel—which is a bit of a challenge, but his favorite kind.  “Can I have some of whatever the fuck that was?”

“Sure,” Al says.  “I’ll steal you some of that, too, and then we can get caught, and then they’ll fire us, and they’ll besmirch our names in every newspaper in the country for thieving sedatives from children, and then no one will ever pay us money to do alchemy ever again.”

Ed swallows a bite of bagel and turns to look at him.  “That escalated pretty fuckin’ fast.”

“Yeah,” Al says, gazing ruefully at the wall.  “Speaking of drugs I want to steal, my head is killing me.”  He glances down at his kitty pajamas.  Nothing splattered that Ed can see, but Ed’s been accused once or twice of being selectively blind and/or deaf and/or pigheadedly illogical.  “I think I’m going to go home and go back to sleep.”

“Good,” Ed says, switching the empty cup to his right hand so he can reach over and ruffle Al’s hair with the left.  It’s all stuck up funny from sleeping, so the ruffling might actually help.  “I think I’m gonna stay until the kid wakes up—just to make sure she knows what’s going on and… make sure everything took and whatever.  Y’know.  I remembered last night that I left some reading I wanted to do in the Closet anyway.”

Ed calls it the Closet.  Al calls it the Nook.  The hospital calls it their ‘office’, which is pretty generous, considering it fits a single desk and a single bookshelf with about two square feet of space left.  It’s got a hook to hang up two off-white coats with Resident Medical Alchemist embroidered on the chest, though, and they’ve got their own phone, and it’s in such a distantly forgotten corner of the south wing of the building that it stays quiet even when this place is bustling so much it’s a blur.  There aren’t any windows, either, which Al lamented right up until he realized that that feature made it perfect for sneaking naps.

“Sounds good,” Al says.  “Keep me posted.  And just call me if anything comes up.”

“Will do,” Ed says, patting his pockets.  “You got your keys?”

Al fishes his out of his pocket, and the giant pink cat-face he hung on them jingles its little chain merrily.

“Good,” Ed says, “’cause I fucking forgot mine.”

“Oh, no,” Al says.  “I think we left the door unlocked.  Erudite early-rising burglars will surely have broken in and stolen all of our arcane alchemy texts.”

“Probably,” Ed says.  He nudges Al’s arm with his elbow, and it gives.  That is never gonna get old.  “You should hurry back.”

“Guess so,” Al says.  He tips his head against Ed’s for a second and then levers himself up.  “Don’t work too hard, okay?”

“When have I ever done that?” Ed asks.

Al gives him a Look.

“…recently,” Ed says.  “When there wasn’t a cause for it.  You know what?  Shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything,” Al says.

“Shut up anyway,” Ed says.

Al smiles.  He looks so damn tired; the circles under his eyes are so deep.  Ed’s got to… something.  He’s got to do something.  He’s got to figure something out.  Al loves this, yeah—this whole gig; the medical thing; the doctor thing; saving lives and helping people—but it’s draining him, too.

It’s draining both of them, really.  But Ed’s used to that.  That’s his style.  That’s his life.

“See you later,” Al says.  “Take care of yourself, too, would you?”

“Yup,” Ed says.

“Real convincing,” Al says.  “If you’re not home by dinner, I’m sending a search party, okay?”

“Love you, too,” Ed says.

Al blows him a kiss and then puts his stride advantage to good use skedaddling down the hall before Ed can throw the cup at him.

Little shit.

Ed wouldn’t trade him for the whole damn world.

He startles awake at a slight pressure on his left arm, but before he can get the right fist involved and turn the source of that pressure into some automail-knuckle-imprinted mincemeat—

His eyes mostly focus, and he registers that it’s Andreas.

There’s still a little bit of swimminess at the corners, though.  Either Ed’s way more hungover than he has any right to be, or Al’s on to something, and he’s about to start needing glasses.

No time for that right now, though, because—

“Coffee!” Ed says, not even trying to tamp down the fucking delight.  “All right, you’re my new favorite.  Don’t tell the others.”

Andreas flashes him a huge grin, passes him the cup, and sits down next to him.

“My lips are sealed,” he says.  “Sorry it took so long; there was a hell of a line.  Breakfast and all.”

“Oh, shit,” Ed says.  He fits the coffee cup inside his empty water cup to free a hand for digging into his pockets.  “How much do I owe you?”

Andreas waves both hands, still grinning.  He’s going to strain his face in another second.  “On me.  It was an honor just watching you work.”

Ed can feel that his smile is supremely awkward, which has a lot to do with how close Andreas is to his right arm, but he’s pretty much powerless to change either one.  “I barely even did anything.”

“You were incredible,” Andreas says.  He looks really fucking serious about this.  Ed tries to make leaning away a little bit look natural—partly because holy shit, personal space; but mostly so that he can sip his coffee without hitting Andreas in the face with the bottom of the cup.  “I’ve never seen alchemy up close before, and to use it for medicine—to heal someone like that—” He smiles.  Kind of… dreamily.  Like he’s drifting off towards fantasy-land right this second, and if Ed doesn’t put a leash on him and drag him back like a kite or some shit, he’ll disappear into the clouds.  “It puts the magic back into it, you know?”

A couple years ago, Ed would’ve looked him right in the eyes and said It’s not magic; it’s fucking science.

Today, though, he swallows that, and he says “Just… doing the best I can” instead.

“It’s great,” Andreas says.  He’s… still smiling.  “You’re—I mean, you’re pretty great.”

Ed blinks.  Even after the not-bashing-with-coffee-cup distance he added in, it suddenly seems like they’re way too fucking close together.

“Um,” he says.  “Thanks.”

Oh, shit.  Shit-fuck.  Andreas’s eyes just went all big, and his cheeks just went pinkish.

“Can I get you a coffee?” he asks.  He gestures, vaguely and helplessly, and Ed’s heart wrings itself empathetically a little bit.  “Not—I mean, I know you have—I mean—another time, maybe?  Somewhere else.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck

It’s not like—

It’s not like there’s anything wrong with this guy.

It’s not like he’s not… nice, and… well, his face is sort of… face-y.  It’s put together pretty well.  He has cool dark brown eyes and really thick black eyelashes and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose.  And Ed’s really only known him for a couple of hours now, but he can usually tell in five minutes flat whether someone’s decent underneath or not, and Andreas has a ring of it about him.  Most of the people who work at the hospital do.

It’s just that something in Ed’s head is saying Don’t chance it—something that lodged in that spot in the back of his skull after festering a long time in the center of his chest; something that wriggled to life in the base of his guts and traveled upward on the wings of pure fucking instinct.

Al’s always telling him he shouldn’t close doors in his own face just because he’s not sure what’s behind them, but this…

Something in him’s saying no.

“Uh,” he chokes out around the miasma of panicked half-thoughts—Don’t hurt his feelings!  Don’t say ‘fuck’!  You’re probably going to have to work with him on Monday, with your luck!  Why does this shit always happen when you’re tongue-tied-stupid, and your head aches?  Just your fuckin’ luck, Elric; just what you deserve.  Just be nice, for fuck’s sake; just fucking say something; just— “I’m kinda—it’s been a really busy—month or so; maybe… another time?”

Fucking motherfucking fuck.

Andreas’s face is doing that thing—where every part of it goes just a little too neutral and a little bit cold as he tries to close off his feelings before the disappointment shows through.

Ed’s familiar with that by now.  He’s disappointed a lot of fucking people over the years.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt every time.

“Hey,” he gets himself to say.  He’s grasping at straws and flailing underwater here, but doesn’t it count for something if you try?  “If you want to—y’know, like, get lunch sometime—next time we’re both on the same shift—”

“That’d be nice,” Andreas says.  “My schedule’s still pretty up in the air, but…”

“I’ll keep an eye out for you,” Ed says.  He raises the coffee cup.  “On me, since you got this.  How’s that?”

“Sounds great,” Andreas says, but his smile doesn’t light his eyes the same way as it did three minutes ago, and Ed feels like shit.  “I should probably get back to work, but—see you around.”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  So much for the flailing.  He went down like a fucking boulder to the bottom of the lake.  “See you.”

Andreas gets up and saunters off, rejoining the intermittent flow of people in scrubs and white coats moving up and down the hallway, and Ed…

Takes a couple seconds to try to talk himself down from the instinct to berate himself for that whole conversation.  He didn’t do anything wrong—did he?  He’s within his rights not to want to go out with some guy; accepting a free fucking coffee isn’t the same thing as signing a contract.  He’s not responsible for Andreas’s feelings.  And he tried.  He tried not to hurt them; he tried not to make it worse.  All he did was not defer to what somebody else wanted.  That’s not a fucking crime—so why the hell does he have to sit here feeling like he just fucking ruined something?

Well—what he said to Al before was true, and besides that, he doesn’t want to be sitting here like a bump on a fucking log if Andreas happens by again.

He rocks his weight back and tries to slingshot himself up out of the chair.  The instant he shifts his weight up onto his legs, he realizes his mistake.

First off, his right fucking foot’s asleep.

Second, the air pressure’s changed, and his leg port aches like a motherfucker.

This is just fine and fucking dandy; apparently the universe decided to deal out immediate retribution for him wounding Andreas’s feelings.  He considers pitching the coffee cup in a trashcan on his way out, so that at least he’s not really taking advantage of the generosity of the gesture anymore, but one of his deepest—perhaps his only—moral beliefs is that wasting coffee is a crime.  Even mediocre cafeteria coffee is a precious natural resource, and should be considered moderately sacrosanct accordingly.

So he limps towards the doors back out of the ER, and he chugs it.  Even though it has some sort of dairy product in it, and all the sugar’s sunk to form a layer of crunchy slush down at the bottom.

It still tastes pretty good, which says a lot about how bad he fucking needs it.

Because the universe hates him and wants him to give up—and always has, and knows he won’t, and hates him even more for that—this stupid hospital expanded in an organic kind of way, so the east and west wings both connect to the north one with convenient little covered walkways, but the south wing is off on its own like a cast-out stepchild or some shit, and the only way to reach it is down a stretch of concrete past where the ambulances drop off for the ER.

The lot’s pretty empty, and the path is, too, but there’s a girl sitting on the curb right outside the entrance, with her feet in the gutter and her head in one hand.  The other hand’s holding a lit cigarette trailing a tiny stream of smoke, and she’s wearing a paramedic uniform.

The darkening sky’s gone a delightful shade of pigeon-feather gray on the undersides of the cloud cover.  The throbbing in the ports makes Ed want to fucking run for the Closet, where he’s got a hot water bottle stashed in one of the drawers of their desk, and Al’s installed a tea kettle because it’s ‘civilized’; but the glimpse he gets of the girl’s face makes him sit his miserable ass down next to her instead.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” she says automatically.  “Thanks.”  She glances at him, and her eyes flick up and down over his admittedly probably kind of hilarious fucking outfit.  “Are you one of those Elric guys?”

Word travels fast around here.  Or at least when it travels, it sticks.

“Yeah,” he says.  He holds his left hand out.  “Ed.”

She pauses, and he holds up the right so she can see why he’s offering the other one.

“Oh,” she says.  She grasps his hand—brief, brisk, and firm; good shake—and tips her chin at the automail.  “It’s really nice work, though.  I had a girlfriend who did that stuff once.”

He smiles a little.  “Yeah, this is my best friend’s masterpiece, pretty much.  It’s seen me through some shit.”

She smiles back.  “It’s funny, the way they talk about you and your brother.  My driver was going on about you when we were coming back from that fucking house—the whole way, they were just, like, ‘It’s all right, they can call in the Elrics; the Elrics can fix anything.’  I think they should apply to be the head of your fucking fanclub at this point.  But—I mean, you did, kind of.  Fix it, I mean.”

He shrugs.  Which hurts.  Fucking hell.  “There’s only so much you can do, is the thing.  And anybody could do it; it’s not like we’re doing anything special—it’s just alchemy.  But alchemy’s got limits, and they’re really just based on what you start with.  You can’t make shit out of thin air.  Sometimes you can fix things with what you’ve got, and sometimes you can’t.”

She takes a long drag on her cigarette and blows the smoke out slow.  “Yeah.  Sometimes you can’t.”  Her face scrunches up as she stares out across the lot.  “Sometimes you can’t do shit.  Like when there’s fucking kids in a burning house, and nobody even reported—”  She turns to him, and the agony on her face is so intense that something in him freezes up.  “It was a neighbor halfway down the fucking street that called.  Way down the road; it’s that new fucking development right past Calverson Avenue.  They were outside, that family—they wanted to help, but the firefighters wouldn’t let them, obviously.  Nobody else on the whole damn street even… even came outside.  Like they didn’t even care.  You know how loud a house on fire is?”

Ed’s heart beats in his throat so hard it almost chokes the “Yes” right out of existence.

But she hears it.  And she might hear some tiny part of what’s behind it.

“God,” she says.  The cigarette comes up, hovers, drops.  The smoke slithers out through her parted lips.  “Fuck that.  Fuck people.  Fuck today.”

“Wish we could drink to that,” Ed says.  He draws a breath, holds it until the darker, thicker, blacker smoke lingering at the back of his head clears a little, and lets it out.  “She’s gonna be okay.  The girl.  And her brother, too.”

The paramedic knuckles at her eyes and gives him a weak smile.  “That’s something.  Guess you guys are as good as they say, huh?”

“Probably not,” Ed says.  “People say all kinds of shit.  But we’re trying.”

“That counts,” she says.  “They listen to you in there?”

“The staff, you mean?” he asks.  She nods.  “Mostly, I guess.  Why?”

“Nobody’d tell me whether they’d contacted next of kin,” she says.  She takes an even longer drag off the cigarette this time and then releases it in a curling little cloud.  “It… the one set of neighbors that were there—they were saying this family’d just moved in, and they were so far from home, or something.  It was kind of hard to tell with the hysterics, and we were all on edge waiting to see if the firefighters were even going to get anybody out, but—I mean, I dunno if they have anybody.  The kids.  I dunno if they have anybody at all.”

Two scarred kids who have to go it just about alone—how come that sounds familiar?  Ed’s heart aches so sharp and hard and suddenly that it strangles his breath for a second.

“I’ll figure it out,” he says.  “I can promise you that.”

“That’s more than I had a minute ago,” she says.  She holds the cigarette out towards him.  Ash flakes off the end, and embers spiral towards the pavement.  “You want—?”

“Nah,” he says.  “Thanks, though.”  Al would fucking murder him if he even thought about it semi-seriously.  Al would know.  “Hey,” he says, levering himself up to his feet and regretting that more than a little as the spears of pain stab up at him from the leg port in particular.  “See you around?”

“Sure,” she says.  “Good to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he says, and then he has to save his energy for stumping away towards the south wing.

On that note, fuck this hospital’s architect with something really uncomfortable.

Good old fucking Asclepius.  Nobody understands how to write so tantalizingly cryptically that Ed simultaneously wants to soak it all in and tear his fucking hair out quite like this guy.

The book’s easy to find, as is usually the case in any space an Elric inhabits that hasn’t yet gotten completely blanketed in paper products.  Their apartment’s starting to edge into a dangerous proportion of books to open space where that goes, but the Closet is still relatively sparse; the bookshelf’s stuffed so full it sometimes creaks randomly from the strain, but there are only, like, six books on the desk right now, and Ed’s been reading two of them pretty regularly.

The real question is whether Al ever made good on his vow to stash some spare clothes here for them after that time they got the call while he was taking a bubble bath, and there wasn’t time for him to put on anything except damp underwear and his fluffy yellow bathrobe, and everyone in the entire place was either checking out his legs (Ed glared at those) or laughing behind their hands (Ed joined them).  The house slippers really completed that whole look; Ed doesn’t think Al’ll ever be more ready for his fashion magazine cover shoot than he was that day.

In the meantime, Ed opens and shuts the desk drawers—fighting his instinct to start pulling them in the semi-random order of most-likely-places-for-clothes-according-to-his-own-brain.  He’s trying to teach himself to be methodical about that kind of shit, not least because it’s not unimaginable that Al might’ve put them in a weird spot specifically to test him on it.

He starts at the top left and works his way down, then starts his way back up—and finds them in the right-bottom drawer, underneath a piece of tissue paper, because… well, who the hell knows why Al thought that was necessary, but it’s too late now.

There is definitely not enough in here, though—not enough for it to be one set for each of them.  And not enough skulls and red accents for Al to have pulled anything out of Ed’s stash of clothing, such as it is.

That little shit.  He must’ve just grabbed something he isn’t in love with from his own expansive selection of clothes and crap—Al owns about a million damn shirts alone, and Ed can’t bear to stop him from buying more, because he “just loves textures so much, Brother” and whatever other shit—and decided that Ed can always, like, roll up the fucking sleeves and make do.

Ed looks down at his pajama pants, which are a faded, randomly bleach-stained blue flannel paired with a gray T-shirt that’s sort of starting to fall apart.  Then he looks over at the neatly-folded forest-green button-down shirt and brown corduroy trousers he just set on the desktop.

He would look like a fucking nerd in those.  He looks like a fucking nerd right now.  He’s between a nerd-rock and a nerdy fucking place here.

After an extremely long moment of agonizing vacillation, he trades out the pajama pants.  Whoever allowed Al to believe that wearing corduroy is anything but an unforgivable act of wardrobe warfare—Ed would never have let him buy this atrocious fucking article of so-called ‘clothing’—is officially on Ed’s shit list from now until eternity.

The really horrible thing is that they’re comfortable.  Cozy, even.  So Ed can kind of understand why—if one was an unconscionable, incorrigible fucking dork who didn’t care about going around in public looking humiliatingly un-badass—a person might wear these goddamn things.

At least his coat’s long enough that it kind of disguises the monstrosity of it all; maybe if people just glance at him, they won’t notice.

Oh fucking well.  He’s got bigger problems today.  It’s sort of a tragic reflection on the state of his life that he doesn’t have much energy to spare for hating on corduroy, isn’t it?

He pulls on his coat to make it cover as much as he can, and then he tucks his book under his right arm, steps out of the Closet, locks the door behind him, and starts back for the hospital proper.

His paramedic friend took off, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to do what he promised her.  Once he gets his corduroy-clad ass in through the ER again, it doesn’t take long to find someone who heard about this whole thing, and he gets directed over to the little girl’s room in a matter of minutes.

There’s a nurse sitting at the bedside with a clipboard—probably filling out forms or something; you just can’t escape the fucking paperwork no matter what field your job’s in, can you?—who looks up at him as he steps through the doorway.

“Are you Ed?” she asks.  At the nod, which is much less bewildered these days than it was the first time somebody knew him by description around here, she smiles slightly.  “She’s not awake yet, but you’re welcome to wait if you like.”

“Thanks,” he says.

And he does.

And it’s not until half an hour of Asclepius later—not until a rustle of sheets, and a soft whimper, and the nurse standing up, and him instinctively shoving the book aside and getting to his feet—that he realizes the part of this that he was missing.

It’s not until she stirs and opens her eyes, and they’re an unmistakable ruby-red.

He wasn’t really paying attention to anything except the damage in the OR—certainly not to the contrast between her hair and her skin.  He might’ve registered it offhandedly; just figured she was a pale blonde kid who’d been out in the sun a lot lately.

She’s Ishvalan.

And that shouldn’t change a damn thing, but it does.

Not about her, though.  Not about this second, and what she’s feeling, and how hard his heart rocks forward against his sternum, because he knows

And he crosses the space in three strides and sinks to his knees at the bedside to take her hand as her eyes well, and she starts to scrabble around on the sheets.

“Hey,” he says, and she gasps a little, and her breath sticks wetly, and the tears wobble on her lash line for a second before they start to fall.

“Where—” she chokes, hiccups.  “Where—”

“Your brother’s just in the other room,” he says.  “Okay?  You both got hurt pretty bad, but he’s going to be fine.  You know how I know?  ’Cause my brother was the one who took care of him.  And he’s the best.”

She grips his hand, and her tiny little shoulders start to shake, and the pain of it crinkles up the corners of her eyes.  “Wh-what h-h-happened?”

“There was a fire at your house,” he says.  Fuck this.  This is the worst shit anybody could ever have to do; how are you supposed to find the words to tell a fucking child that her life just got ripped apart?  “You remember anything?  It seemed like you were looking after your brother.”

She twists her hand, and he lets go, and she scrubs at her eyes with it.  He grabs her a tissue; she’s trying so hard, and it must fucking hurt, and he doesn’t know… how to do this.  He doesn’t know if he can.  But he fucking has to; he owes it to her.

“I th-think s-s-so,” she manages.  She crumples the tissue up in her hand instead of using it, and the tears just leak out onto the pillow, and Ed’s heart clenches up so small it feels like his whole chest cavity’s going to collapse around it.  “I d-dunno.  It was—it was so h-hot, there was—it was d-d-dark, and Xander—that’s my b-brother; his n-n-name’s—” She sobs, and then she cringes.

He can’t help himself; he reaches out and starts stroking back her hair.

“It’s okay,” he says.  “He’s okay.  He’s just fine.  And you’re gonna be fine, too—you know you are; you’re so strong.  You saved him, you know that?  I’m so proud of you.  You’re so brave.”  He swallows, and swallows again.  “You’re just going to have to keep being brave for a little longer.”

He talks to her for a couple minutes after that—mostly about Xander and all the stuff he likes; he’s just learning how to read, and his favorite thing is scary monster stories, but he also really likes flying machines.  Then the pain starts to overwhelm her, and she can’t stop crying, and the nurse very carefully doses her up with something that puts her right to sleep.

Her name is Liandra.

She likes stories about princesses who save the day.  There aren’t a lot of them out there, so she was writing one.

Once the nurse has checked all the bandage dressings, she tells him that someone got ahold of Liandra’s parents’ next-of-kin—they’ve got an aunt and uncle out in Ishval who are already on a train towards Central.  They should be here by tonight.

They’ve got somebody.  They’re going to make it—somehow, some way, they will.  The fire in her eyes isn’t out; every time she talks about her brother, you can tell she’d do anything it takes for him.  What it’s going to take is surviving.  And they will.

He starts walking back to the Closet on his bum-ass fucking leg so he can get to their phone.  The stupid sky hasn’t even started spitting yet; it’s just threatening ever more avidly with progressively darker stupid clouds.  Fucking figures it won’t even get this shit over with—it’s just gonna sit like that and torment him for as long as it can.

After a long fucking stroll punctuated by a lot of fucking muttering, he drops into the creaky rolling chair behind their desk in the Closet, and he picks up the receiver, and he dials.

He tends to get a bad feeling about Roy’s impulse control-slash-ability to separate his self-worth from his work ethic these days.  Not that Ed would know anything about that, obviously; it’s a completely objective observation that bears no relation to him in any way.

But it’s why he calls the office first.

Roy picks up on the second ring.


“What the hell are you doing working on a Saturday?” Ed asks.

Roy takes a breath to speak, and then he pauses.  “Is this a secure line?”

Apparently Ed’s not too tired for another shot of fucking adrenaline.  “South wing of Central Hospital.  Why?”

“I was going to say ‘It’s a free country’,” Roy says.  “Followed by something I could get in a great deal of trouble for.”  That wrings a smile out of Ed, at least.  Roy doesn’t give him long to savor it.  “What’s wrong?”

Funny how he knows.  Sure, Ed’s calling him on a weekend from the hospital; sure, he wouldn’t harass the workaholic bastard if it wasn’t important.  But it’s still funny that he knows.

“Nothing I can prove,” Ed says.  “Just—got a nasty case here, and I started thinking about it too much.”

“I hope it goes without saying,” Roy says, “that your thoughts are enormously valuable.”

“Go ahead,” Ed says.

He’d bet two hundred thousand cens that Roy’s blinking owlishly.  “Beg your pardon?”

“Go ahead and say my ‘enormously valuable’ thoughts are ‘ironically disproportionate’ or whatever shit,” Ed says.

Equivalent fucking exchange: he can hear the grin in Roy’s voice when the bastard answers.  “I wouldn’t dream of saying anything of the sort.”

“Right,” Ed says.  “And I was born yesterday.  In a barn.  Without a single brain cell.  Anyway—the thing is… I mean, maybe I’m a little paranoid, y’know, after all the shit we… did.  And saw.  But wouldn’t it seem a little suspicious to you if a nice house in a new neighborhood suddenly caught fuckin’ fire and burned to the ground, and the only people on the whole street who got hurt were the Ishvalan family who’d just moved into the place?”

There’s silence on the line for a long couple of seconds except for Roy breathing softly.

“It would seem very suspicious indeed,” he says right before Ed starts to squirm.  “Are you going over there?”

“Damn fucking right,” Ed says.

“I thought you might say that,” Roy says.  “May I come with you?”

Ed blinks at the wall.  “What?”

“To the house,” Roy says.  “May I come wi—”

“I heard you,” Ed says.  “It was a ‘What’ like… confused.  Surprised.  Don’t you have better shit to do?”

“That’s arguable,” Roy says.  “If this is what it sounds like, none of the deplorably dull papers currently strewn across my desk have anywhere near as much significance as what you just told me.”

Ed pauses a second to sift through that piece of shit excuse for a sentence.  “So… what you’re trying to say is that your job isn’t important.”

Roy pauses for a second of his own.

And then he fucking laughs.

“Shall I come and pick you up?” he asks.

“You didn’t answer the question,” Ed says.

“It wasn’t a question,” Roy says.  “You made it a statement.  I know better than to try to change your mind.”

“At least I taught you that much,” Ed says.

“And more,” Roy says.  “I can be out front of the emergency room in twenty minutes if that works for you.”

“Sure,” Ed says.

And it’s funny, too—he kind of had the upper hand for most of that conversation, and at the same time it felt like falling.

[Part 3]


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September 2017

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