He dreamed about his mother and Al, and being at home. He dreamed about dinner at Winry's house and snowball fights with Al, bedtime stories and thunderstorms spent safe in his mother's arms.
And he dreamed about his father. Hoenheim was with them at breakfast and birthday parties, tucking them in at night and playing catch in the backyard.
Then his father left, and he begged him not to go, and when Hoenheim turned around, his face was replaced with Roy Mustang's, and Ed wondered why the Colonel was teaching his four-year-old self how to fish.
But those memories and dreams were slowly being crushed by a wave of darkness. It clouded the summer sky, washing away the images and bearing down upon them all until he couldn't make out anything and reality began tugging at him insistently, making his whole being throb and hurt . . .
The visions of his mind were quickly forgotten as Ed became truly aware of the pain.
A lot of pain.
So much so that it dragged his mind from the depths of unconsciousness, nudging him and irritating him enough that he finally relented and woke up.
Ugh. He felt like he had been hit by a train. His whole body was stiff and sore, and he could feel a very distinct stinging sensation around his ports, as if they were slowly burning. He just wanted to go back to sleep and disappear under the blanket of oblivion.
Instead, he slowly opened his eyes, allowing them a moment to focus. He was staring ahead at a beige wall with no recognition of it whatsoever. He couldn't remember any specific place with beige walls. And he was lying on . . . this wasn't his dorm bed. His sheets were white, and these were clearly brown. Where was he?
And now that he was on the subject, what had happened? He couldn't remember anything . . .
Oh. Wait. The train, Al, all that snow . . .
Yeah, the last thing he remembered was being buried under the snow.
Now he was in a bed and . . . was someone snoring?
Despite how much his body hurt, he managed to tilt his head back ever so slightly, searching for the source of the noise.
He discovered, much to his confusion, Colonel Roy Mustang behind him, his head tipped back against the headboard and his mouth hanging open slightly. Ed also noted, with a cool sort of detachment, that his own head was pillowed in the older man's lap.
Something about that was wrong. He frowned, his sluggish mind trying to make sense of it. What was it? He thought hard, reexamining the situation carefully . . .
He was lying . . . on Mustang's lap . . .
Ah, yes, that was it.
He shot up as if he had been burned, trying to roll to one side and realizing with panic that there was no arm on that side to catch him. He tumbled over the side of the bed, his automail foot catching in the sheets as he nailed his shoulder port against the floor. The jolt against the metal stung inflamed skin and grated against his very bones, making his head spin and bile rise in his throat.
He didn't move for a moment, opting instead to wait for the world around him to stop the joyride and settle down.
"Fullmetal, what are you doing?!" Mustang's voice shouted, a panicked edge to it. Ed saw bare feet appear on the floor in front of him and warm hands gently wrapped around him and hoisted him back onto the bed.
Ed blinked, fighting back pain, nausea, and his own spinning head so he could get a decent glare in at the colonel. There were about three of them standing before him though, so he wasn't sure if he was actually looking at the right one. Actually, he wasn't even sure that his glare was all that impressive at the moment anyways, so he closed his eyes and leaned back. There would be plenty of time to glare later.
"What are you doing here?" Ed growled instead, lifting his arm to massage his head. When he didn't feel the cool automail on his face, he suddenly remembered the reason he had ended up on the floor in the first place. "And where's my arm?" he demanded with no small amount of irritation.
"First, tell me what you remember," Mustang said, but his voice wasn't brusque and business-like the way Ed expected. There was something gentle there that took Ed by surprise and somehow, gave him some small measure of comfort. It was like the way his mother had spoken to him when he got sick as a little kid.
That just made him even more annoyed. He didn't need to be babied like some kind of invalid! He didn't ask for Mustang's help!
"I remember the snowstorm . . . we were out walking in it and . . . wait, where's Al?" he demanded, his eyes flying wide open. "Al!" he called, heart racing. Where was his brother?! He had been so mad last night, did he just leave Ed behind?
Fear clutched at his heart, making it hard to breathe. If he had been that mad, maybe he had left Ed for good. Ed couldn't blame him after all he had put him through, but that didn't stop the drowning feeling he was suddenly experiencing. "AL!"
"Shh, Ed!" Mustang said, laying a firm hand on his shoulder, grounding him. "It's okay, Ed, Al's fine. He's around the house somewhere."
Those words, coupled with the reassuring hand seemed somehow like the most comforting thing Ed had ever experienced. The drowning feeling slowly melted away and he took in a shuddering breath. "Oh. Oh, good," he said, the words sounding feeble and breathy and he felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment. He hated losing control of himself, especially in front of Colonel Idiot. It was probably just the pain. "Good," he repeated, struggling for something else to say, something to cover up his slip, but nothing came to mind.
Mustang pulled back, taking his hand with him and for some stupid reason, Ed ached for the lost contact.
A memory sparked to life at the notion, something that had happened last night . . .
"Dad . . ."
Oh . . . no . . . by the Gate, no.
He did not remember what he thought he remembered. That was not possible. Even if he was hallucinating and delirious, he would never ever say that! Not to Mustang!
His cheeks were on fire.
"Shut up! What are you doing here?!" he shouted, calling on his familiar temper to smooth over his embarrassment. Anything was better than . . . oh, he wanted to die. That shouldn't be too hard to manage, should it? Enough people wanted to kill him. Even the snow wanted to kill him.
Mustang interrupted his silent pleas, stepping up to stand in his line of view with a scowl in place. "The better question would be, what are you doing here?" Mustang said, his voice all high-and-mighty. The conceited jerk. "This is my house. Al brought you here last night. Do you know what he told me?" he asked, his voice turning dangerous enough to make Ed uncomfortable. "He told me that you knew there was a storm blowing in, yet you decided to walk all the way to Central anyway. And then you go and get buried in the snow, scare Al half to death and we've had to be up babysitting you all night long!"
Ed returned his glare with equal venom. "I didn't ask for your help! It's none of your business if I die or not!" he yelled, making his own head spin with the volume, but he wasn't going to let that stop him. "You'd just find some other lapdog to do your bidding if I did, so just lay off!"
Somewhere during the course of Ed's outburst, Mustang's anger melted away from his face, leaving something raw in its wake. His dark eyes widened ever so slightly and his jaw went slack. He looked almost . . . hurt . . .
The look was gone almost as suddenly as it had arrived and a furious glower settled in its place. The fact that it was directed at Ed made him feel small and vulnerable and stirred up an almost primal need to protect himself. He suddenly wished that he wasn't lying down with one arm missing.
"Shut up," Mustang hissed, his voice embodying all the foreboding of the calm before a storm. Mustang kept his voice low and dangerous and Ed was made painfully aware of one of the reasons that Mustang was such a formidable opponent: he was scary when he was mad. "You know good and well that's not how it is, so just shut up."
Ed shut his mouth, displaying once again his growing sense of tactfulness.
What was his problem? This wasn't how this was supposed to work . . . they were supposed to argue. Mustang was supposed to make short jokes, Ed was supposed to blow up, then Mustang would smirk in his holier-than-thou manner and hack Ed off even more. It was a familiar dance, one they had performed hundreds of times, so why was Mustang ruining it now?
"What are you—" Ed began, but Mustang cut him off.
"I actually thought you were dead when Al brought you to the door. Do you have any idea how worried Al was? How worried I was?" he demanded, dark eyes flashing with emphasis and his lip curling in a snarl. "You think you can just pull a stunt like that, then pretend that nothing happened? Don't you dare pretend that was nothing, and don't you dare pretend that I don't care if you're dead or alive, do you hear me?!"
Ed blinked at his superior officer. Had he really scared everyone that badly? Maybe he was going too far this time in his accusations . . .
He knew that Mustang cared about his and Al's wellbeing on some level. At first, he was convinced that he only cared as far as Ed could take his military career, but over time, Ed started to sense that that was changing. Mustang seemed to take an annoying, almost parental interest in his and Al's whereabouts and personal lives. Ed did his best to ignore it, even when Mustang did a lousy job of hiding it, but sometimes, being a genius had its drawbacks and Ed couldn't help but see it.
Well, maybe he was only a partial genius. When it came to being socially adept, Ed was an apparent moron.
Mustang didn't say anything for a long time. He didn't even look at Ed. He slowly sat down in the chair by the bed and stared at his hands, his eyes obscured by dark bangs and his mouth a hard line.
Ed shifted uncomfortably, wishing that Mustang would either say something or leave. He hurt too much to deal with this right now! How was he supposed to fix this if he couldn't even think straight?
Fine. If Mustang wanted to be that way, that was just fine.
Ed didn't need him. He could find Al and his arm all by himself, blast it.
Ed kicked off the sheets, then shot a furtive look in Mustang's direction. He didn't even twitch. So far so good.
Now that he was much better prepared for the motion, Ed rolled to the side, hissing at the sudden pressure on his automail port, then he was over the side of the bed and balanced on his flesh foot.
"Fullmetal, what do you think you're doing?" Mustang demanded. Ed chanced a look in his direction. He hadn't moved except to stare up at him through a layer of dark bangs. So he was still mad at him.
"What's it look like I'm doing? I'm leaving!" he announced.
"You're going to fall."
"Am not!" Ed retorted, steadying himself on the nightstand. He slowly shifted his real leg forward, letting the weakened limb accept his weight. "I can walk fine, Mustang!" he said with a cocky grin. This was a piece of cake! He didn't know why Mustang was making such a big deal out of it—
Suddenly, his automail gave a plaintive whine and agony shot through his whole leg, the feeling painfully reminiscent of when the very port was being installed. Ed stifled a pained yelp as his vision went white around the edges and tried to rock back onto his real leg, only to overcorrect with the loss of his right arm and end up falling flat on his face for the second time in ten minutes.
"Shut up, Colonel," Ed ground out into the carpet.
His vision was swimming again, making nauseating patterns out of the images before him. Ed didn't have any intention of getting up for a minute or two, so he contented himself with studying the space under Mustang's bed. Something was interrupting his view, though, and it only took him a moment to realize it was a sleeve. The sleeve to an ugly maroon sweater that had somehow found its way onto Ed's torso. Wait, not even the pants were his . . .
He did not want to think about those implications.
He heard soft treading on the carpet and glanced up at the Colonel hovering five feet above him. "Need some help?" he asked, that stupid smirk back on his face. Ed didn't want to admit how relieved he was to see it.
It meant that he was forgiven.
"No. I'll do it myself," he grunted.
"Suit yourself. Just know that you probably have frostbite on both those ports. It's probably going to hurt. A lot," he added, almost sympathetically.
Ed had never had frostbite before, but he had seen pictures. He didn't want to think about that, either.
Mustang glanced at the wall clock. "It's almost eight. I'll go make us some breakfast. Hopefully you'll be there by lunch?"
"Shut it, Mustang! I'll be there ten minutes tops!"
"That's good to hear, because as soon as that's done, I'm taking you to the hospital."
"W-what?!" Ed stammered. "What for?"
"Just to make sure everything checks out." Mustang turned to leave, talking over his shoulder as he left. "Need to make sure your brain didn't freeze." Ed sputtered at the insult, but Mustang ignored him. "And the cold has a tendency to make things shrink, and if you get any shorter, you're going to need stilts."
"I'M NOT SHORT!"
Actually, it took Ed a full thirty minutes to make it down for breakfast.
It hadn't taken him that long (only four more falls) to give up on the notion of walking to the kitchen. It hurt too much, and it seemed the automail simply wouldn't support him, be it from the damage to his skin around the port, or from malfunction in the automail itself. He was kind of hoping for the former, since the later would probably get him a wrench to his skull . Either way, he wasn't about to call for that idiot Colonel's help, and he wasn't even sure if he and Al were on speaking terms at the moment, so it looked like he was crawling to breakfast.
"Stupid Colonel and his stupid house," he grunted, dragging himself with one arm and one leg while his useless automail trailed behind. "Why's it so far to his stupid kitchen? Who needs hallways this long?!"
"Brother! What are you doing?"
He looked up to see Al standing at the other end of the hall, and was suddenly, acutely aware of how ridiculous he looked.
But his embarrassment was quickly obscured by a dark thought tugging at the back of his mind as he watched his brother approach. It was a bit irrational, but Ed couldn't shake it nonetheless.
The last thing he remembered was Al's cold back walking away from him in the snow. Sure, maybe he couldn't just leave Ed out there to die, but what if Al was still mad at him? He had almost lost his little brother once over a seemingly small issue like this.
What if Al was harboring those same feelings now?
What if he hates me?
Ed wasn't sure if he could live with that.
Al started wringing his hands over Ed's head. "Oh, Ed, are you okay? Why are you on the floor?! The Colonel just told me you were awake, I was down in his basement, and I'm so sorry! I should have been there when you woke up, but I just didn't think and he had so many books and I thought maybe I could find something on the Philosopher's Stone, but I know I should have been up here—"
He laughed so hard that his arm wouldn't support him and he had to roll over on his back, his whole aching body shaking with hysteric guffaws.
He couldn't explain why, except that he was just so relieved. All of his doubt vanished during Al's stumbling apologies, and Ed was so happy he couldn't get a breath in.
Al didn't hate him. They were going to be okay.
"Ed?" Al asked, obviously concerned. "Are you okay?"
Ed wiped a tear from his eye with a too-long sleeve. "I'm fine, Al," he finally managed to gasp. "Just fine."
Ed was finally able to get a hold of himself, and with Al's help, they made it to the kitchen to see Mustang almost finished with his bacon and eggs, a full plate sitting untouched beside him. "Well, well, Fullmetal. That was the longest ten minutes I've ever seen. Looks like you needed some help after all," he smirked.
Always with the smirking.
"Shut up!" Ed screeched from his perch on Al's shoulder (because he simply refused to be carried bridal-style when there was a chance Colonel Idiot could witness it).
"That height looks good on you, Edward. We're almost eyelevel now."
"When I get my arm back, I'm bludgeoning you to death with it!"
"Did you know you can be court martialed for threatening a superior officer?"
"That won't save your smug face!"
Al set his brother down at the table amidst the flurry of insults, where Ed dived into his meal enthusiastically. He exchanged more unpleasantries with Mustang as he inhaled his food before his temper cooled off a bit and conversation turned toward more amiable subjects, like how their mission had gone, what the guys at the office were up to, and even the snow outside, which was piled up four feet in some places and now coming down in a gentle dusting.
Despite the weather, the half-hearted insults, and how much his body just plain hurt, there was a strange peace here in Mustang's kitchen, something warm and nostalgic that Ed couldn't quite place. It was almost like when he and Al went home to visit the Rockbells, or when they had dinner at Hughes' house. Maybe there was even something more to it.
And as they sat there, all three of them, Ed was struck with a memory from childhood. Sometimes when their mom went out of town, Hoenheim made them breakfast, just like this. It would be the three of them, talking about anything and everything, like why the sky was blue, and plans for snowball fights as soon as the first snow fell.
They never had that snowball fight, though. Hoenheim left before it could snow.
Despite the air of disappointment and bitterness surrounding the memories, he couldn't remember another time that he felt as safe and content.
Except for maybe now.
"I'm not all that surprised he got buried in the snow, really," Mustang was saying as he poured another cup of coffee. "We almost lost him that time the maintenance crew went on strike and the lawn grew four inches."
"I TAKE BACK EVERY NICE THOUGHT I EVER HAD ABOUT YOU!"
Well, I can't say that I'm thrilled with this chapter, but it was overdue, and I was tired of messing with it lol. I like some things, though, so guess that's worth something?
I know I've said this for the past two chapters, but only one more to go lol. I think I actually mean it this time xD
To the people that faved this, the people following, and especially you reviewers, thank you so so much for your support! You've all been a real encouragement to me and have helped me keep writing, even when I decided that I would rather organize my sock drawer than type another sentence C: You guys are the best.
In case you're interested, I did some fan art for a scene from the last chapter :D You can find the link on my profile :)
Drop a review, if it suites you! Love hearing from you guys :)