There was nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night drenched in cold sweat and a sharp, endless pain traveling through your arm and leg. Well, he supposed that not feeling any pain would be much worse but that wasn’t his case, and a small part of him was thankful and at the same time disgusted with himself for even being remotely grateful.
He looked to his left and sighed when he saw the figure on the other bed unmoving, the two white slits gone in sleep (or whatever it was Alphonse did at night). The entire month had been exhausting as they had searched for the Philosopher’s Stone one town after another. It was enough to discourage even the most optimistic of people.
As silently as he could, he got out of bed, slipped on a pair of pants and shirt thrown about in the room and made his way down the hall to the Library, careful not to make any noise as he walked about the East City’s headquarters. He sighed as he looked around himself. Colonel Mustang had insisted they stayed at headquarters’, what with the recent killings of three alchemists around the region. He couldn’t say he’d argued much on the subject. The thought of being targeted and being at the receiving end of a sharp butcher knife again was enough to send shivers down his spine.
He’d grown up since that time (or he liked to think he had), but he’d never been that close to being killed again and he didn’t trust himself yet. He didn’t think he could handle the fear, the helplessness. It was impossible to tell if he’d be able to react logically or lose himself to his emotions like he had before.
Still lost in thought he didn’t hear the “Good evening Mr. Elric” of the guard on duty, nor did he notice the curious eyebrow elevated at his presence during such an hour of the night. He navigated around the library without thinking and stopped in front of the thousands of books researching on human transmutation. For what seemed like the millionth time since he was eleven, he wonder what in the world had possessed him to even try to bring his mother back from the world of the dead. He had been warned it was taboo. He had been told it had never worked before and that people had paid with their lives.
‘I thought I was better than that…I thought I was better than him.’
He had found the notes in his father’s book, and had ignored his father’s hand-written warning. He’d desecrated his mother. It really was no wonder she never left him alone in his dreams. He brushed back his bangs, grabbing hold of his spilt ends and made a face. Having long hair was such a hassle; he needed to trim it already. He’d ask Al to do it later; that should make him happy. If there was one thing his little brother was better at than him, it had to be in caring for both of them.
Ed smiled softly as he picked up a book he remembered looking at once before and sat down at one of the many empty tables, going through the book but not really reading it. His limbs were still hurting, but he couldn’t figure out why. The weather wasn’t particularly bad lately, and he’d been oiling them regularly everyday like Winry had told him to. So how come—
“You’re up late.”
With a yelp, the blond snapped the book shut and whirled around, hand on his heart and breath coming in in gasps. Behind him, in all his might and glory, stood none other than Roy Mustang, the man who seemed to strive to make his life hell. With a growl he sat back down and decided to ignore the older man, not in the mood at all to talk or even look at him this evening.
It didn’t help the brunette obviously had different ideas as the chair in front of him scraped backwards and the Lieutenant plopped down on it and began a session of ‘let’s observe the shrimp.’ But he wasn’t going to be deterred from his decision. So with that in mind Ed let his hair hang in front of him, creating a natural curtain hiding him from the man in front of him. This continued for a few minutes, Ed staring at his book, knowing that Mustang was staring at him but refusing to tell the man to go away, hoping that he’d get the obvious hint by himself.
It wasn't until soft fingers began pulling at his hair that Ed glanced up, glaring and frowning at the hand playing with his split ends. He moved his gaze up until he saw the smirk plastered on the older man’s face as he continued to watch him, clearly amused at his irritation. Grunting, he closed his book, leaned back (away from Roy’s prying fingers) and stared blankly at the man in front of him, who good-naturedly joined in the staring contest.
This went on for a while until Ed, fed up with the whole thing, sighed and got up to place the book back on its shelf. No need to hold on to it if all he was going to use it for was to smash Roy’s head to a bleeding pulp. No, it was best to spare the book. After all, it never did do anything to him. After stalling for as long as he could, he sighed, turned around, and crossed his arms on top of his chest, shuddering as he felt the cool feel of the steel on his bare arm. He’d forgotten he was wearing short sleeves.
“No need to stand around glaring at me like that. I won’t bite.”
Ed looked around for a few moments, debating his sanity, and decided to take up on the offer. He didn’t want to go back to his room anyway. He sat down again and played with his hands for a bit, watching as the metal opened and closed at his will, almost as if it were a normal hand, almost as if it really were part of him. He traced the carvings over and over until a hand rested on his metallic arm, inches from his fingers. He glanced up, a retort resting at the tip of his tongue, but he held it back when he saw the Colonel’s face.
“Was she worth it?”
For a long time Ed didn’t answer. Why should he tell him? Why should he know? “I didn’t lose this for her,” he replied back anyway, looking down at his hands. Maybe he just wanted him to know. “I lost this to save Al. He was worth it. And if I could have created a body right then and there for him, I’d have given up all my limbs for it.”
He never looked up, refusing to see what emotions would be playing on the Colonel’s face. Most people pitied him, while many more looked at him in disgust and wonder: disgust at his arrogance and wonder at his survival of the incident. He blinked and looked up when a pile of grayish powder was dumped in front of him.
“Can you show me what it was like? Will you show me?”
A small snarl formed at the corner of Ed’s mouth, his temper rising by the second. How dare he… How could he even… “And why should I?!”
“I’m curious as to what made you defy God.”
Ed recoiled back, momentarily stricken by the words. His actions had never been phrased quite this way before, as if they had been a spectacular show of self-confidence and rebellion towards a power greater than himself. Without thinking about what he was doing, he nodded dumbly, the meaning of the Colonel’s words still sinking in. Was this why the man had agreed to keep the human transmutation incident hidden? Because he admired a then eleven year old boy and his defiance for the rules and what people told him?
Slapping his hands together, he felt the power crackle between them and forced it downwards as he placed his hands above the pile of dust. He focused on the image of his mother as she had been when she was alive: smiling, beautiful, kind. Then he focused on how his brother used to look like when he was ten years old, short brown hair and an easy smile always readily available for everyone. He closed his eyes and pictured them as they had been four years prior to his arrogance. He saw them smiling, their human flesh glistening under the sun.
Under his hands he felt the static of his power as the dust on the table shifted and grew, taking shape as he willed it. He felt his powers create a replication of what he failed to do. He felt his powers mutate something he had been sure he could do and yet had failed so miserably to accomplish. At that moment something in him snapped and he felt tears form under his eyelids. He was showing the Colonel his biggest failure. He was allowing the man to see his greatest desire, his greatest weakness… And yet he didn’t have a problem with it. Maybe because he trusted the man, or maybe because something he had said had convinced him that perhaps sharing this wasn’t as bad as he had made it.
Slowly the power stopped and the smoke cleared away, leaving behind three tiny grey statues standing in the middle of the table. Ed looked at them for a moment before diverting his eyes away, staring at the hard floor of the library. He felt Roy pick them up and examine the statues with a critical eye, rotating them over and over in his hands, handling them as if they were made of precious, irreplaceable china. Gently, he placed them back on the table and leaned forward, chin resting on his hands.
“She was a very beautiful person.” He remained silent for a while more before picking up one of the smaller statues and holding it in his open palm. “Do you think your brother will ever get his body back?”
Ed clenched his hands into fists but refused to look up at the Colonel, teeth gritting together in irritation and anger. There was no way he could answer that question. There was no way he could know whether or not his foolhardiness could ever be undone, but saying that would only be voicing a fear he refused to acknowledge. He stared at the small statues on the table, unshed tears blurring his vision. He relaxed his hands, clapped them together, and placed them on the tabletop, sending his power through the table and into the small representations of his life. He watched silently as they began to move on their own, running around and playing together as he remembered doing with his brother those many years ago.
“You should get some sleep,” Roy murmured as he watched the small figures running around the table. “You look like hell.”
Ed snorted in disgust. “I can’t sleep.”
Roy nodded his head slowly and pushed himself up, watching the teenager in front of him gazing languidly as the statues continued their antics controlled by his thoughts. Reaching into his pant’s pockets, he retrieved his glove and pulled it on silently. He waited a few more minutes until the blond finally looked up with haunted eyes before he snapped his fingers together and incinerated two of the three moving statues. He watched as they burned and crumbled to dust and glanced up to find Ed watching him with a mix of curiosity and hatred.
“The dead only haunt the living if you allow them to.”
“Your brother doesn’t hate you. And from what I’ve seen, your mother doesn’t either. You’re the only one who does.”
Silently, Roy picked up the eleven year old statue that had by then stopped moving and held it out to Edward, waiting patiently for him to accept his offering. For a long time, neither men moved, but eventually Ed looked up, eyes a bit clearer as he reached out and grasped his self representation. He held it on his metal palm, watching as the small statue glistened in the artificial light of the library. He looked up and smiled softly at Roy’s nod, keeping his mouth shut as the man passed by him and ruffled his loose hair as he made his way out of the library.
He watched the small object for a few more minutes, remembering green fields and open pastures and never ending laughter and contentment. Sighing softly, he snapped his hand closed and watched as the statue crumbled to pieces onto the table. He stood up and glanced at the clock hanging nearby, noticing he’d been in the room for a good three hours. If he went back to bed now, he could probably squeeze in four hours of sleep.
With a grunt he cracked his back and made his way out of the library, once again unaware of the “Good evening, Mr. Elric” that the guard muttered and not caring about the strange glances he got on his way back to his room. He opened the door and waved to his brother who had been silently seating in bed, obviously waiting for his return.
Without a word, he crawled back in bed and fell asleep, happy to notice his limbs weren’t hurting as much as they had been when he had woken up earlier in the night.