Take Anything

chapter 2.

It reminded him of the air before a storm—that deep, uneasy shade of sunlight that filters down between banks of purple clouds and the way the air shifts and stops and shifts again, restless but not quite violent. Not yet.

That it was a lovely, crisp day, the only clouds thin and high above him, did little to dispel the comparison from his thoughts; if anything, it only served to make the idea more disturbing for the contrast it presented.

Because it wasn't the weather that put Ed in mind of a brewing storm, but rather the city itself.

People scurried about like birds that had sensed an unpleasant change on the wind, nervous and watchful, fluttering from building to building in an effort not to take too long a distance all at once. From the few open windows—at least one per block, in accordance with the new ordinance, and all the rest were shuttered up—radios stood facing the street, news reaching the air in a small, tinny voice, occasionally interrupted by static.

Ed tried not to listen too closely to the words that left them as he passed the little devices by, focused hard upon the sound his feet made instead, the steady not-quite-rhythmic noise that came from having one leg that weighed so much more than the other. Still, though, it was hard to ignore entirely, hard to force his mind from the reality that he knew to be unfolding beyond the still-safe city limits.

"...body count not yet in, but there seems to have been..."

Ed hunched himself further over, drew the nondescript coat in closer about his shoulders. It was a dark shade of grey, just shy of charcoal, picked because Al had read somewhere that when you wear grey, people tend to notice you less.

"...has taken control of the famous water city Aquaroya..."

And it seemed to be working, at least. No one paid him so much as a glance as he made his way through the streets, not even with the peculiarly limp way his right sleeve flapped with each step he took, pace steady and lips pressed tight into an expression that teetered between unhappy and determined.

"...handed their third consecutive defeat against the gathering..."

There was nothing left of the Fullmetal Alchemist in him—no distinguishing outfit of red and black, no shining silver of a too-strong false limb. No weapon with the clap of his hands or the satisfaction of closing a circle that he'd drawn just perfectly.

"...sources in Central say that General Armstrong has been hospitalized in critical condition..."

Edward's expression twisted, lips quirking into a grin that was thick with the sting of regret; up ahead, his destination came into view.

"...seventeen hostages killed in the still-unresolved..."

The sign was one he'd seen countless times before, that neatly carved wooden plaque hanging at a right angle from the squat little building, large, elaborately decorative letters declaring that a medical professional took up shop within. At the sight of it, Ed sped his pace, anxious to be out of the streets with their relentless implication that a storm was building.

"...submitted a formal request to the new Fuhrer for more troops, but has not yet received a reply. Some military experts now suspect that the new government has overextended itself, and that it is only a matter of weeks before..."

The boy grasped for the doorknob as though it had the power to keep the reports at bay, wrenching it open with a ferocity that might have taken it from his hinges, had he possessed his automail arm to use.

"Because he's getting worse, you bastard!" Ed snarled, grasping the man hard by his collar and shoving him up against the wall.

Beneath the iron grip that the boy had on his shirt and the terrifying gleam in those golden eyes, the doctor flinched, raised his hands as though to ward away the rage. "Now, now... calm yourself, Mr. Edwards."

"Calm myself?" Lips pulled away to bear teeth, an expression very near to a snarl. "Calm myself?" One final shove, all frustration and force, and the boy spun away to stalk back and forth across the room, pacing. "My brother is dying. Do you understand that? He's dying."

"Mr. Edwards, I told you from the very beginning that all I could do was give you medication to treat his symptoms." Unmoving from his spot against the wall, the man smoothed out his shirt, erasing the wrinkles created by the rough treatment. "Even if I were able to pinpoint exactly what was wrong with your brother, I couldn't guarantee that a cure would be possible."

"I know you can't fix him, you asshole," Ed growled. "But he's in pain—whatever you've been selling me isn't working worth shit anymore."

"Have you stopped to consider," the doctor replied gently, "That suppressing the symptoms might not be the solution you need?" At last the man ventured from where he'd been pinned, approaching the boy to set a comforting hand on his shoulder; the surprise at realizing there was no longer an arm attached to it flickered briefly in his eyes before being pushed aside. "I suggest that you find someone familiar with this condition. Perhaps they'll know an appropriate treatment."

"Where the fuck," Ed snarled, jerking away from the man's touch, "Am I supposed to find someone like that?"

There was a pause as the man considered. "You might try Aquaroya," he said at last. "Or possibly Central. Their medical professionals are quite adept, I've heard."

"You've heard, have you?" Those golden eyes were fierce, vicious. "Well maybe you've heard about a little insurgency that makes other cities pretty well off fucking limits!"

The voice was quiet. "It was a suggestion."

"Well, it was a shitty one!" The boy turned so that he wouldn't have to face the calm sympathy etched so clearly across those features, fisting his single hand into the fabric of his coat.

"Your brother is dying," the man said at last. "You said it yourself, and I've seen nothing to indicate otherwise." Carefully, he made his way to the counter, lifted a bottle of pills that he'd prepared beforehand for the visit. "There's always hope, of course—but perhaps you should just focus on making him as comfortable as possible." Several more steps brought him back to the boy's side, and he offered the medication. "And on letting him know that he's loved before he goes."

Ed fumbled for the pocket of his coat, threw a handful of bills at the man's feet and ignored the fact that the world had become suddenly quite blurry. "Fuck you," he hissed, and was startled when his voice was much thicker than usual. His sole hand snatched blindly at the bottle, the same medication that had become progressively less useful over the course of several months. "Fuck you, you worthless bastard."

The windows shook with the force of the door slamming behind him.