It disturbed him that he was getting it down to a routine. Aberrant noises from the study—crashings or clatterings or a particularly prolonged and vicious coughing spasm—would draw him out of even the most intense of reading trances. He'd grab the case from under his desk and head out, stepping into the next room to find Heiderich collapsed or doubled in a spasm over whatever he'd been working on when the fit took him.
Ed had also learned to ignore Heiderich's protests, whether weak or strong, as he hooked the young man's arm over his shoulder and hauled him off to the narrow cot that passed for his bed in this apartment. If Heiderich continued to protest or struggle even after he'd dumped him there, Ed would simply sit on him to keep him still while he pried the case open one-handed and sorted out Heiderich's medicine.
"Ed-ward," Heiderich complained, shoving the glass away from his face weakly. "Must you be such a mother-hen? If I drink your smelly concoctions, I'll sleep the rest of the day away!"
"That's the idea," Ed retorted, pressing forward relentlessly. "You're a fool, you know that? How are you supposed to bring glory to your country if you kill yourself with work first?"
"If I don't work, I'll never accomplish anything," Heiderich objected, but he couldn't keep up resistance for long. He drank, stopping twice to cough, and Ed lingered nearby, sorting through his glass bottles and labels, until Heiderich's labored breathing had eased into sleep.
The high-handed approach was necessary, because left to himself, Heiderich would ignore his symptoms and continue to work until he dropped. Ed knew the temperment; it left an ache in his gut, to see his own obsessive, self-consuming drive reflected in his younger brother's gentle face and demeanor. Ed understood it all too well, for mirror images of the same urgent drive writhed in his gut, rearing its ugly head now as it had every time this happened.
Heiderich's complaint was accurate; the medicine in the case was a specialty of Edward's. He'd come into this world already knowing a library's worth of anatomy, and even more of chemistry; it hadn't been too hard to put the two together in the study of pharmacology. In that field, at least, this world had far more to offer than his own—only fair, since the proportion of debilitating illnesses was unbelievably high. There was a practical consideration, as well—it was far cheaper to buy the raw ingredients for the medicine and mix them himself than to buy the finished product, particularly in the post-war economy. Edward had gotten very adept at fine-tuning the general formulas he'd learned from textbook to suit his specific needs. Heiderich's needs.
Ed found himself staring fixedly at an empty bottle in his hand, and shook his head irritably as he slammed it back into its place. This was ridiculous. Pharmacology was a side study, a distraction from his main goal—from what was supposed to be his focus. Home, the voice of his heart whispered. Go home. Al is waiting for you. The longer you wait, the further away he becomes. He ought to have been devoting all his time to that. Fiddling around with chemistry and medicines was just a frustration and delay.
He shoved the case under the bed with his right heel, and got up to leave the room. He stopped in the doorway, though—as always—and found himself staring and Heiderich's face. Lined with pain, lined with exhaustion, faintly blue about the edges that slowly cleared as his labored breathing continued.
He needs you, the voice of his conscience reminded him. Al has all the time in the world, but what about him? His time is running out, and runs out a little more every day.
What makes you think I can save him?
Are you willing to just let him die?
The two voices were hardly ever silent, any more, the war between his heart and his head that twisted his gut into knots. Ed was heartily sick of being their battlefield.
He meant to leave then, go back to his own study and pick up where he'd left off, a treatise on aerodynamics. Instead he found himself crossing the room again, and his left hand moved all of its own volition to stroke the bedraggled, overgrown hair out of Heiderich's eyes. He was far overdue for a haircut.
"I'm not your brother," he told the sleeping figure; it rang hollowly. "You're not my Al. I don't owe you anything." And that was an outright lie, and one that threatened to crush him as soon as he said it. "Well," he allowed, an apology that never took form.
Heiderich didn't want his help. Heiderich wanted him to focus on rocketry, too. Heiderich had a dream, and was more than willing to die to accomplish it.
Heiderich was a damn fool. Ed knew the flavor.
He sighed. Suppose it was his destiny, to always be chasing after cures for Alphonse.