"Alphonse!" Roy's voice sounded distantly. Edward ignored the distraction and concentrated; this was one battle he was determined to win. "What is taking so long? Breakfast's getting cold!"
"I'm trying!" Alphonse yelled back. "Nii-san's not being co-operative!"
Nii-san didn't intend to be either, Edward thought darkly, freeing his hand from the shirt sleeve. He was having none of this.
"Nii-san!" Alphonse was clearly exasperated. "I just got that on you—look, hold still—" A sweater was tugged over his head and the struggle to dress him began again. "You can't go to the doctor's without clothes—"
That was the plan. Edward did his best to wriggle out of the shirt before Al could get his arms in the sleeves. No clothes meant no doctor. No doctor meant no injections. He liked no injections.
Unfortunately things did not go his way.
"Alphonse, what is the hold-up—my." Edward didn't have to see him to know that Roy was smirking. His voice dripped amusement.
"Stop staring and grab his hands," Alphonse said. "Hawkeye's going to kill us if we're late."
Edward fought hard but two against one wasn't fair. He was clothed albeit reluctantly.
"Finally!" Alphonse said with relief. "Breakfast."
But it wasn't so easy. Edward managed to grab the headboard and it took another five minutes to pry him loose, only for Edward to gain a hold on the door frame.
"Nii-san!" Alphonse scolded as they tugged him free. "Stop acting so undignified!"
Roy snickered. "Your brother has never behaved with dignity in his life. What makes you think he's going to start now?"
By the time they sat down to breakfast they were all exhausted. Edward sullenly refused to eat, and Alphonse was too exhausted to force him. Roy was the only one amused.
"The two of you look like you've been dragged through a hedge backwards."
The brothers gave him identical looks of dislike. "Shut up," Alphonse said, and Edward demonstrated that he remembered the use of a particular hand gesture.
By the time the woman arrived, Edward was too tired to do more than put up a token show of resistance. Ignoring Alphonse's admonition to 'behave for the doctor,' he looked out the car window with a vague sense of curiousity. He couldn't remember leaving the house before.
"It's nice to see you again, Edward-kun," the woman said as she drove the two of them through the city. "How have things been lately?"
Edward shrugged. She was part of the doctor-conspiracy, even if he'd not been so tired, he wouldn't have wanted to talk to her.
"You can nap if you want, Edward-kun. The hospital is still a while away."
Edward pulled himself up stubbornly. So maybe he had been feeling sleepy, but damned if he was going to take a nap because she suggested it. He turned his head away from her deliberately to watch the passing city.
He awoke with his head pressed up against the window and a blanket tucked around him.
The woman was talking to a man in a white uniform, and as Edward watched a wheelchair was pushed over to the car. He knew where this was going. Sure enough, with the woman supervising, he was lifted into the chair and they set off.
The doctor was stocky and broad, smelled vaguely of ginger and had wide cool hands. He took his time examining Edward, and his words were unhurried and kind. "I want to check your hearing now, Edward. I'm going to blindfold you—is that okay?"
Edward nodded, putting a hand curiously to the cloth that covered his eyes.
"Responsive, isn't he?" The Doctor's voice sounded close by. "Edward, I want you to listen. If you hear a sound, please turn towards it."
He turned obediently, and it seemed the Doctor was pleased. "You've got the idea. Now, let's start."
They worked their way through hearing and seeing slowly but steadily. The doctor seemed to sense just when Edward's patience wore out or things got too difficult and changed activities quickly.
"His reactions are slow but his senses seem acute," the Doctor said as he helped Edward shift his legs over the side of the examination bench. "What kind of accident was it?"
"Traffic," The woman answered vaguely. "He was found with severe head trauma."
"Interesting. Edward, lift your leg for me as high as you feel comfortable . . . His symptoms seem much more in line with lack of oxygen to some parts of the brain as might result from temporary heart or lung failure . . . or some forms of alchemy?"
The lady's smile was brisk and polite but nothing more. "I'm afraid I don't keep up to date with medical theory, and I've never had an interest in alchemy beyond my work. Can you help my nephew recover?"
The doctor was silent awhile, bending Edward's leg until Edward tried to pull his leg away. "I'm sorry, Edward, was that painful? Let's try the other leg." He waited until the examination was done before speaking again. "Miss Hawkeye, it will probably be difficult for you to hear this. Most patients with Edward's condition never recover."
Edward turned curiously at her sharp intake of breath. "But—he's doing so well! Two weeks ago, he didn't recognise anyone and now—he's even begun talking—"
"With time and attention patients can regain motor skills and limited language. A few are able to gain a fair amount of independence in daily life, but it is likely that your nephew will spend the rest of his life dependent on those around him for care." The doctor let Edward's leg fall and patted his shoulder. "I know it's hard news to take, but it is in the patient's best interests that you accept these facts. Placing too high expectations on the patient will cause frustration, not only on your part, but for the patient himself. Inability to perform expected tasks leads to impatience, doubt in his abilities, withdrawal and regression." The doctor reached for a jar of biscuits. "You've been very good today, Edward. Would you like a treat?"
Edward looked with interest at the biscuits but he was concerned about the woman. She'd been very quiet through all of this, probably worried about her nephew. Instead of taking a biscuit he pushed the jar toward her.
She was startled. "For me, Edward-kun? Thank you."
"Remarkable." The doctor patted Edward's shoulder, passing the jar back to him. "Very remarkable indeed. Help yourself, Edward, I think you've deserved it."
"Does this mean something?"
"Many of my patients gain awareness of the people in their surroundings, but very few seem to regain awareness of what that means. Edward demonstrated not only awareness of your presence but sensitivity to your attitude and the desire to help. This bodes very well in terms of his capabilities." The doctor made a note in his book. "Let's start with mobility. He doesn't try to walk? How does he get about then?"
"We carry him," Hawkeye explained. "We shift him regularly so he's not bored."
"It might be better if he was. Try leaving objects and tools just out of his reach. Until he wants to start walking, Edward is not going to make any progress."
"I see. Anything else?"
Edward had discovered that although he could pick up a whole handful of biscuits inside the jar, he was unable to remove them like this. He tugged at the jar, wondering what the problem could be. His hand had gone inside there with no problems—
"You're covered in crumbs," Hawkeyes scolded as she settled him back in the car. "And I'm sure the doctor didn't mean you to eat quite so many biscuits."
Edward shrugged. He was fairly vaguely pleased with himself, leaning forward obediently so that the woman could do up the belt. He was impatient to be home to tell Alphonse about his day. "Home?"
"Yes, we'll go home now," the woman agreed, climbing into the driver's seat. "I imagine Roy and your brother are looking forward to seeing you." Her voice faltered and the hands gripping the wheel went white. "How am I supposed to tell them?" she whispered. "I can't—" Much to Edward's horror, she lent forward against the wheel, shoulders shaking, breath fast. He had the horrible suspicion she was crying, except Hawkeye would never cry—
"Stop—it will be all right, lieutenant," he said, worried enough to wriggle free of the belt and put a hand on her shoulder. "It will be," he repeated awkwardly. Hawkeye wasn't someone who wanted to be held, and even if he hadn't seen her gun that was no reason to assume that she wasn't carrying one. "Please, don't cry—" And suddenly he was being held tightly enough he couldn't breathe.
"You're back! Nii-san you look happy—where'd you get that cake?"
"We stopped in at a bakery on the way home," Hawkeye said. "I'm afraid Edward won't want dinner, he was rather spoiled today."
"Is that so?" Edward carefully held the cake to himself as Roy carried him inside. "Good news then, Edward?"
Edward shrugged. He could have told them he didn't need to go to a doctor in the first place, but as he'd got a cake out of it he couldn't really complain.
Alphonse waited until Hawkeye had drawn Roy aside into the kitchen before talking to him. "How was it?" he asked. "Was it really so bad, Nii-san?"
"No injections," Edward reported. "Doctor's all right but he made Hawkeye cry."
"Hawkeye never cries—" Alphonse cut off as Roy entered. "Are we ready to eat?"
"Almost," Roy's voice sounded strange, as it was not quite there. "Hawkeye said that Edward was awake the entire cartrip home, he's probably pretty tired. I'm going to put him to bed, then Hawkeye and I can fill you in."
Definitely strange, Edward decided. Roy usually spoke to him. He wasn't mad about that morning, was he? But he was going, without even patting Edward's head in goodnight. He wasn't a baby, but it felt strange to be without the gesture. Edward turned to watch Roy pause in the doorway.
"Goodnight, Edward." The shadow across his face seemed darker than it usually was. Edward somehow felt suddenly unhappy.
The door clicked shut. Edward stared after him in hurt. He hadn't heard? After a moment, he sat up and kicked his blankets down the bed. He was not going to sleep, not after that.
He was still awake hours later when the door opened and Alphonse slipped in, almost as if he'd known Edward would be waiting. His brother scrambled over the bed to him and for the second time that day, he found himself comforting someone with little idea why. At least he knew how to take care of Al.
By the time his brother had calmed down, they were cuddled on Edward's bed, the blankets retrieved, and Al's head resting on Edward's shoulder. Edward ran his fingers through his younger brother's hair softly, reassured by the way his breathing had evened out.
"I don't care what the doctor says," Alphonse said, his voice vehement despite its softness. "Nii-san, you're going to get better."
Edward patted his cheek reassuringly. "I'm not sick," he told his brother. "Just tired." He drew the blankets more tightly around them, stirring memories of when they were both smaller and not too proud to share a bed on a regular basis. "Go to sleep, Al. Things will be better tomorrow."