"It's your turn, Brother," Alphonse said, his voice pitched low as to not disturb the car-full of sleeping passengers.
The voice yanked Ed from his dark thoughts and back to the game. He examined his hand carefully in the dim light, resituating his Queen of Hearts to sit next to the King. He then reached across the table and plucked a card from the top of the deck. A six of diamonds. He tossed it on the pile with a huff and turned to gaze blearily out the window at the dark scenery rushing by. It felt like they'd been stuck on this train all day! At least there was only one more stop till Central, then he'd really light into that idiot colonel. He was always sending him and Al to the farthest corners of the world on his pointless missions. Investigate a vehicle factory, of all things! Surely the military had more important things to worry about.
"Brother?" Al asked, breaking his train of thought.
"Are you okay?" His tone was innocent enough, but Ed sensed the cautious undertone beneath it. He probably assumed Edward was thinking about that, which Ed was most certainly not thinking of.
Ed turned his head to regard his little brother. "I'm fine, Al. Just thinking."
"That's unusual for you," he said, a smile in his voice as he shifted a giant gauntlet to draw a card.
Ed scowled. "I don't need your opinion," he muttered, though there was really no fire behind the words. He was too tired to do much more than feign grumpiness. Long train rides always took a lot out of him, but he didn't want to nod off and leave Al by himself. Especially not tonight . . .
"I can't wait to get back to our dorms. We've been staying in that creepy hotel with their crappy mattress for way too many nights." The 'investigation' had taken a whole week to go over, with ledgers to view, inspections to make, and tours of the whole city. Every night they had come back to a grungy hotel that squeaked and creaked all night long and nearly drove Edward mad.
Oh, yes, he was definitely looking forward to spending some quality time with his mattress when he got back to Central.
The train's intercom suddenly crackled to life, "Good evening ladies and gentleman, we are now approaching the city of Rejo. Due to weather warnings, we will not be continuing on to Central Station this evening. We apologize for any—"
"Weather warnings?" Ed demanded, shooting a glance out the window. It seemed like a nice evening outside. Maybe a little nippy, but the sky was clear. "There's not a cloud in the sky!"
"Guess it's another hotel mattress tonight," Al said teasingly, starting to gather the cards into one large hand.
"Wait a second!" Ed shoved all his 'chips' to the center of their table. His chips consisted mostly of bits of chalk, peanuts and candy wrappers. "All in!"
Al gave him a suspicious look. "The only reason you would go all in is if you knew you were going to win. And the only way you'd know that was if you cheated. And you always cheat. So reasoning says-"
"Aw, come on, Al! I don't cheat!"
"Except for maybe all the time," Al countered, gathering all of the cards, despite Ed's protests, and putting them away inside his chest plate.
"How can you say that about your own brother?" Ed pouted, gathering his chips back up and scooping them into his pocket. Normally he would probably have made more of a fight about it, but he just didn't have it in him tonight. First off, tomorrow was the anniversary of that day. But that aside, he was tired, and the news that they wouldn't be making it back to their dorm tonight only added to his foul mood. The card game just didn't seem that important anymore.
He leaned his head back in the seat and sighed, raising his flesh hand to massage his shoulder around the port. Maybe there really was a storm coming in. His automail was starting to ache.
He felt eyes on him. "What is it, Al?" he sighed, letting his eyes close.
Al squeaked in surprise, then asked timidly, "Are you sure you're okay?"
He had to stop acting like this. Al was probably upset enough as it was, and his pathetic complaints weren't helping. At least he had flesh to ache and would be able to sleep tonight, nightmares aside. Al would be left all alone to brood by himself until morning.
He lifted his head and plastered a smile on his face. "I'm fine, Al. Just thinking about what kind of crappy hotel we'll have to stay in this time."
He could tell Al didn't buy it, but his brother didn't press, so Ed pretended everything was alright. That was one of Ed's specialties, after all.
The train slowed and the brakes screeched as the giant locomotive settled next to the platform. Ed got up and made his way through the sleepy passengers, Al following behind with their suitcase. They made it out into the night air and Ed inhaled deeply. It was a cool spring night, with clear skies and a breeze rustling the trees. Ed regarded the rundown town before them with disdain, his eyes watching the crowd of people head for only inn. No doubt it would fill up in no time. And in a backwards town like this, who knew what kind of awful sleeping conditions awaited him in that hotel . . .
He made a snap decision.
"Come on, Al, let's walk the rest of the way." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and stepped off the platform, following the tracks into the night.
"But what about the storm?" Al squeaked, hurrying to catch up.
"What's the big deal? I don't see any clouds, do you?" he asked, trudging ahead through the first bits of spring grass. "It's a nice evening. If we book it, we can be back at the dorms by two. And that'll give me an excuse to be late for my report tomorrow." He smirked at that thought. That would serve that lousy Colonel right.
"Since when did you need an excuse?"
"Good point," Ed allowed with a contented sigh. It felt nice to stretch his legs after most of the day crammed in a train. Even with the unpleasant throbbing of his artificial joints, that pain was preferable over the kind he would experience once he settled down to sleep tonight. Maybe if he worked his body enough over the next few hours, he would be too tired to dream of that man . . .
"Are you sure this is a good idea, brother?" Al asked, settling into pace beside him. He turned to look at the sky, as if searching with his eyes to make up for what he couldn't feel with his body. He had no way of knowing that the temperature was dropping a bit, or how cold the breeze was. "If there's bad weather coming in, we don't want to get caught out in it."
"It'll be fine, Al," Ed assured him. "We've walked plenty of times."
Al didn't seem happy about it, but didn't press it anymore.
They settled into an easy silence. Ed did his best to keep his mind on the ground before him. There wasn't much moon out, so it was fairly dark, and the last thing Ed wanted was to trip in a hole. There were plenty of miles between Rejo and Central, and four hours was a long walk with a twisted ankle.
Anything to keep from thinking of that lowlife of a father . . .
"Hmm?" he said distractedly, picking his way over a pile of rocks.
"Can you tell me about dad?"
Ed almost forgot to put his foot down and stumbled, bumping into Al. He regained his footing and glared up at the suit of armor before fixing his eyes firmly on the tracks. He had been expecting the question, but not until tomorrow, at least. "What for? He doesn't matter anymore."
"I . . . I'd just like to know. I don't remember much about him—"
"Then count yourself lucky," Ed spat, crossing his arms to keep the chill at bay. Or maybe he was subconsciously trying to put up a barrier between himself and all these thoughts. Every year, it was the same thing; the anniversary of their father's disappearance brought forth questions from Al, and Ed would do his best to avoid answering them. It was better that Al forgot their old man entirely than live with the two-faced lies Ed did. He could remember his father smiling at him, teaching him to catch, playing with him and Al at the kitchen table like a real family. And then he could remember that cold, closed look as his father turned away from them and walked out the front door and out of their lives forever.
"I know you didn't like him, but I don't remember enough to know for myself." Al's voice turned pleading, subtly pressuring him to reveal everything he knew.
Ed kept his gaze glued on the ground in front of him. "What's to know? The scumbag upped and left us. Do yourself a favor and forget about him." And let me do the same.
"But that's not fair, brother! You remember him, don't you? What was he like?"
"Drop it, Al." His voice took on a dangerous edge that he didn't often use on his little brother. "I don't want to talk about it."
Al shut up and they kept walking, though Ed could sense the barrier between them now, a silent wall the stifled any attempt at casual conversation. He had hurt Al's feelings, but that was better than knowing the truth, right? At least he could save him that much pain.
They moved through the night, and Ed was getting nervous. The wind suddenly picked up, whipping his coat about his calves and ripping any warmth he had accumulated away from him in a rush. He glanced overhead and around the trees, he could make out a head of clouds rolling steadily toward them.
"Stupid weather," Ed muttered, hugging his coat closer around him.
"Well, maybe we should have spent the night in Rejo, like I suggested," All said bitingly. There was no small amount of resentment in his voice and Ed fought the urge to cringe from it. Al didn't often get mad, but when he did, it was kind of scary. Ed's anger was constant and explosive, like a burst of a firecracker that left him drained and finished until the next thing set him off. Al's, on the other hand, was a slowly building storm that hovered, drenching everyone around in his sullen mood until he finally snapped.
Ed didn't want to see that snap. So instead of making some kind of hotheaded jibe, he just grunted and wrapped his arms tighter against his body.
Who says Ed can't be tactful?
It didn't take long for his flesh and artificial joints to start freezing up, responding slower and slower as the temperature dropped. Al was soon walking ahead of him, not even sparing him a second glance as Ed's pace slowed. He did all in his power to keep his teeth from chattering, even as goose bumps flared all over his skin. It was just a little cold. There wasn't anything to get worked up over. In another couple of hours he would be nice and warm in his dorm, drinking hot chocolate and curled up in thin, military-issued blankets. Maybe he would even sneak into Mustang's office after hours so he could take advantage of that fireplace.
He had to get there, first, though. And Al certainly wasn't being much help. Well, if he positioned himself just right, he made a pretty decent wind block . . .
The metal of his automail was starting to affect the skin around it. He could feel his shoulder and what was left of his leg grow colder by the minute. If this kept up, he was going to get frostbite before too long, and it wasn't even snowing!
A snowflake flew from the darkness and lodged itself in his eye.
"Ack!" he shouted, wiping his stinging eye furiously. "Great. Just great," he mumbled to no one in particular. This was just his luck. 'Cause he was lucky lucky lucky—
He glared sullenly at Al's retreating back. He was getting even further ahead of him, but Ed wasn't going to call out to him. He had earned his anger, after all, and to call out to him now would be akin to apologizing for protecting him. And that was something he would never apologize for.
Not long later, the snow was coming down hard, and Ed was stumbling almost blindly through it. It was all he could do to keep following the train tracks that were slowly disappearing under a layer of white. Al had disappeared from his view long ago. Ed wasn't worried about him, though. The worst he would suffer in this weather was maybe frozen joints, and possibly rust afterward. Both of those would be easy to deal with.
He just had to keep walking, though he was having a hard time remembering where he was going, exactly. Someplace warm, he was sure. Someplace to get out of all of this cold.
And his arm was killing him! All the stupid cold was starting to affect the machine, making the fingers twitch and the port burn with icy pain. Maybe he should just take the stupid thing off. That might make the pain go away, right?
He reached under his coat, clumsily snaking his hand to his artificial armpit and fumbling the catch with frozen, uncoordinated fingers. He finally managed to flip the mechanism and his arm disconnected with an audible pop. He staggered drunkenly to the side with the sudden loss of weight, but righted himself and grinned when he found that it didn't hurt at all. The cold was good for something after all, right? He couldn't even tell the arm wasn't there anymore, really. It didn't feel any different, anyways.
He slung the freed appendage over his shoulder like some kind of prize and stalked through the snow with renewed vigor. It really wasn't even cold anymore! What had he been complaining about earlier? Seriously, this was nothing. He didn't even need his coat anymore. With a flair, he slipped his only remaining arm through the sleeve and let the wind tug it free, wrapping it around his automail arm like a flag.
"Ha! King of the Snow!" he giggled, waving his flag like a conqueror. He started to set off again, but then there was that pesky pain in his left leg. Maybe he should take that automail off, too.
He plopped down in the snow, trying to figure out the best way to get to the leg. After several moments of fruitless clawing and scrabbling however, he couldn't figure out how to undo his belt to go after the artificial leg. He supposed it would have to stay, then. It was too much trouble to take it off, anyhow. Then he'd have two limbs to carry and not enough limbs to carry them with.
That thought made him giggle. Two limbs to carry and not enough to carry them with. He was pretty clever, actually.
He was struck with a thought. Shouldn't he be moving? He was almost certain he was going somewhere. And wasn't there someone there with him, too? He stared into the whiteout but couldn't see anything but the snow. It was halfway up his back now, seeping into his clothes and soaking him to the bone from where he was sprawled on the ground.
Maybe he would look for whoever it was he was with after he had rested a while. It wouldn't hurt anything to close his eyes for a bit, and he was so tired—
Someone screamed his name from far away, but he couldn't wake up enough to care, much less respond.
Edward leaned back into the soft whiteness, letting the cold reality bleed away into white nothingness as he let sleep take him.
I'm no doctor, but I'm trying to keep this as accurate as mayoclinic .com allows me lol. Obviously Ed's experiencing some pretty severe hypothermia here, with the poor decision making, confusion, and apathy about his situation.
This'll be one, maybe two chapters more. A pretty short one. Just one of the fifty FMA ideas that won't leave me alone.
Hope you enjoyed enough to stick around and see this through with me :)