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Breathing Space


It is a late summer afternoon, when Roy comes to visit. He comes alone, armed with nothing save a bouquet of flowers; these he delivers to the matron of the ward, who takes them with a wry smile and gives him five extra minutes 'for being so sweet'.

"Don't excite him," she warns, filling a vase up with water from the tap. "You've got ten minutes. I'll be outside, and so will a couple of orderlies if you need them. Hopefully you'll be able to persuade him to take his medication; god knows I can't."

"Thank you," Roy says, with a dignified bow, and she blushes despite herself.

"Go on with you, then. Shoo."

The inside of the little room is airy and cool, despite the heavy bars over the window. There is a pale figure sitting in the middle of the single bed, arm wrapped around legs clothed in hospital-issue green pyjamas, chin resting on his knees. Roy waits while the matron shuts the door behind him—there's no handle on this side, no method of escape—before taking a step closer towards the bed. "Good afternoon, Edward," he says, gently.

"You're late," Ed tells him flatly. "You should have been here one minute and forty four seconds ago."

Roy peels off his coat, and takes a seat at the foot of the bed. "I had more work than usual, I'm afraid."

"You mean you put it all off until the last minute," Ed says acidly, with an unimpressed glare.

"That, too," Roy concedes with a chuckle. "How have you been?"

Ed shrugs. "Okay, I guess. They changed my medicine. It now tastes like mint-flavoured old socks."

"Oh?"

"As oppose to before, when it just tasted like old socks. You didn't visit last week. Why?"

Roy pauses, unnerved by the intentness in those golden eyes. "Edward," he says, softly, "I was... I had... I was getting married last Saturday."

"You... you were?" For a moment, a flicker of fear passes across Ed's face, and Roy inwardly curses. "You never... you never said..."

"I did," Roy corrects, and, wishing to stall any forthcoming breakdowns, added, "I'm not surprised you don't remember. You've been busy lately?"

Ed nods, grasping at the obvious cue, and steers the conversation back onto safer ground. "They took me out yesterday," he says proudly. "We went to the garden. The one out there." He jerks his head at the barred window, and grins brightly. "We flew kites."

"'We'?" Roy inquires, raising an eyebrow, and Edward beams at him.

"Yeah. Me and Al." Ed watches him carefully, as if daring him to say something, and Roy runs his hands through his hair and summons a charming smile.

"Of course. And how is Alphonse?"

"Fine," Ed says, and drums his fingers against a metal knee. The automail arm had been removed a long time ago, shortly after Edward had punched someone with a metal fist in the cafeteria, leaving them with a broken jaw and splintered skull. Mutilated for life. He had refused to acknowledge, back then—and still did, as far as Roy knew—that he had done anything his victim hadn't deserved. "He wants to know when they'll let me go."

"Not for a while yet, Edward," Roy tells him firmly. "The matron told me you haven't been taking your new medication?"

Ed shrugs sharply and looks away, the line of his jaw sullen and annoyed. "I don't see why I have to," he mutters. "I'm getting on fine. It's not my fault there're so many idiots out there."

"What does Alphonse say?" Roy asks mildly, glancing up at the clock. "I only have six minutes left, Edward."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I have to hurry. Alphonse doesn't like me hitting people, but he also doesn't like being ignored. You know?"

Roy nods, lacing his fingers together and popping his knuckles. Ed winces and shudders, and Roy smiles despite himself. "You have to take the medicine before they'll release you, you know. Did the Rockbells come visit?"

Ed blinks at him. "Yeah, I know, and yeah, they did. They stayed for three minutes, twenty three seconds. I kept an eye on the clock." He frowns. "Al said that they looked frightened, for some reason. Is something happening?"

"How do you mean?" Roy asks, carefully.

"Outside." Ed waves his hand at the walls of his hospital room, brows drawn together. "Nobody tells me anything in here. Is there a war on, or something?"

"No," Roy says, looking at his hands. "There's no war."

Ed shrugs, dismissing the dilemma, and grins. "So, tell me what you've been doing? Tell me everything. Please?"

Roy hesitates, unnerved slightly by the rapt attention Edward pays, and how the boy hangs onto his every word. It takes him a while to get into the mood, but he does so; starts off slowly, telling him about the wedding, and Hawkeye in her white dress; moving on to the books he's read, the things he's seen, the conversations he's overheard—even the food he's eaten and the textures of the things he's touched.

And by the end of the visit, like he always does, Ed's already forgotten them.

The door opens with a click, and Ed pulls a face as the matron enters, a glass of water and a few pills in her hands. She is shadowed by a pair of orderlies, who do not say or do anything but look stern; Roy can sense, rather than see, Ed stiffening and retreating quietly into himself, and the change in body language. "Hello, Alphonse," he says without looking back at the figure.

"Hello, Brigadier General Mustang," Alphonse says; he sounds sleepy, as he always does when Ed wakes him up. "How did the wedding go?"

Roy smiles at that. Some might be disturbed, he thinks, that the only one who can remember anything is the one who doesn't exist, but—well, he's seen more bizarre things. A soul animating an empty suit of armour, for one. "It went perfectly well," Roy tells him, standing. "I'll stop off at your grave on the way home, shall I?"

Al smiles at him, timidly. "That would be nice," he agrees, and stretches his arm above his head, popping the joints in his shoulder. "Thank you for visiting us. It's very nice of you."

"It's not a problem, Alphonse," Roy says gently. "I'll see you both next week, all right?"

Al nods. "Goodbye." He yawns and smiles shyly up at the matron, who wordlessly thrusts the glass and the pills at him. "Thank you for everything. Give Lieutenant Hawkeye my best, please?" Another pause, as he reaches up and grabs the pills. "Brother says to give you his congratulations, too."

Roy smiles, and pulls his gloves on. "Tell him that I said they were most appreciated, Alphonse."

"I will," Al says briefly before he flips the pills in his mouth, chasing them down with the glass of water. He swallows, shudders visibly, and hands the empty glass back to the nurse; Roy touches two fingers to his forehead in a flippant salute, and steps out of the room before he can watch the hospital psychiatrist begin his session with both brothers.

The look Alphonse gives the scrawny little man, through Ed's golden eyes, makes Roy frown. It is unnervingly similar to that first time—the first time, when he had burst into the dark, smoke filled basement; when he had chased Envy away before the sin could do any more damage, his heart in his mouth—was he too late, was he too late—and finally, the sin vanquished, had returned to the foot of the stairs to find Ed cradling Al's body gently in his arms, a gaping hole punched through the younger Elric's stomach. "You distracted him," the boy had said, softly. "He didn't complete the transmutation."

At first Roy had thought Ed had been talking about Envy, and had wondered franticly what kind of transmutation he'd been talking about. "I don't understand," he'd said cautiously, approaching Fullmetal warily.

Edward had looked over his shoulder, and smiled. "My brother," he'd said by way of explanation. "He was trying to put my soul in his body, after Envy—" he had looked down at the corpse in his arms, and frowned. "After Envy killed me," he'd whispered, gently touching the raw flesh at the edge of the wound.

"Alphonse?" Roy had whispered, mouth gone dry and the boy had nodded slowly.

"Almost," he'd said, softly, and closed his eyes. "He's not dead," he'd whispered. "I can feel him—in my mind—you interrupted him before he could get his soul of out this body—-" he turned golden eyes on Roy, and had smiled hesitantly. "You saved his life," he'd said, raising his flesh hand to brush one of Edward's bangs away from his face.

Roy had taken a few steps closer, crouching hesitantly by the small figure, neither Alphonse nor Edward but at the same time both. "We need to get you out of here," he had said, and had been pleased at how his voice hardly trembled despite the circumstances.

Alphonse had gone willingly, letting Roy pull him to his feet, though he kept his grip on the empty shell that he and his brother had sought so desperately for so long. "I won't leave it," he had said, when Roy had given him a quizzical look. "It's mine, isn't it?"

Roy hadn't really been able to argue with that. With one last, wary look around the room for Envy, he had ushered the boy out, with one hand on his shoulder. And that evening, in the hospital room which nobody knew, at that time, would be their home for the next two years, Alphonse and Edward had taken turns to explain what had happened, interrupting each other occasionally with relevant points.

Roy wonders about that, stuffing his hands into his pockets as he wanders through the hospital. The Elrics' souls seem to be cohabitating in the same body with the minimum of arguing, Edward's being the dominant. The impact of Alphonse's soul lodging in his body seems to have done something to his mind, at least; Edward is in this hospital for a reason. Alphonse, the secondary soul, sleeps all the time save for those few moments when Ed wakes him up to deal with things he cannot. They seem, for the most part, content with what they have; they are together now, and it doesn't matter that Alphonse has no body to go back to. They are no longer in any danger of being separated.

It is not perfect, Roy thinks, but it is close. Still, as he pushes open the heavy glass door of the hospital, the memory of Edward's golden eyes fixed intently upon his face, he wonders if Riza will forgive him for stopping off at a bar and getting very, very drunk.