She couldn’t scream anymore.
She had lost that ability long before. At first it had been because her throat was too raw to produce sound anymore, and then it was because her tongue was gone.
She couldn’t remember the exact details of that particular torment now. All of the pain she had experienced—past, present, and future—seemed to be twisting together. She couldn’t discern apart anything she was experiencing anymore.
She didn’t know it was possible to feel like this. Feelings beyond terror, beyond agony. She didn’t know it was possible to feel so terrified, she wanted to be dead, just to escape the feelings of revulsion, humiliation, and sleepless, adrenaline fueled fear she had been experiencing for so long. How long had it been? It could have been ten days or ten years for all she knew.
She felt a hope every time those fingers were back on her face, digging into her throat—a hope that he was going to finally choke the life out of her, finally end it… but she was never that lucky. He wasn’t merciful enough to end it like that. She knew he was going to drag this out as long as he could. She was going to be conscious until every last part of her flesh had been ripped apart, every last bone and organ had been shattered and fragmented. He had told her, whispered it right next to the melted lump of flesh that used to be her ear.
The last thing she saw before she died were his eyes. Pale and hungry, drinking in every part of her shredded body.
Then she was gone.
The knock on Roy Mustang’s door came much too early. Although he supposed he had been dreading this particular meeting for so long, any time it came would have been too early.
“Yes, come in,” He said, unsurprised when Edward entered, his expression foul. Roy was discouraged when he saw how terrible the kid looked. His skin was wan, and he looked almost ready to collapse on the spot. Despite that, his darkly rimmed eyes were still bright with familiar contempt.
“Good afternoon, Fullmetal,” he said.
Ed merely grunted in reply before he walked across the room and dropped his report on Roy’s desk.
“As eloquent as ever, I see,” Roy commented dryly, pulling the papers closer. From what he could see, it was the usual hastily written chicken scratch. He could already feel the headache he would get from trying to decipher it looming over the back of his skull.
“Yeah, you try writing a report in a hospital. It’s impossible to focus in those places,” Ed said in a tired voice, quickly dropping into one of the couches in front of his desk.
“I’m surprised they discharged you so quickly. Are you feeling better?” Roy asked.
“‘m fine. Ready for you to read my damn report and move on from this stupid accident.”
“You didn’t look fine a few days ago when I visited you,” Roy said pointedly.
“Yeah, well, like you said, it’s been a few days. All healed up now,” Ed sneered, although his voice was a bit too frail for it to have the bite he intended.
“I’ll decode your report later. You’re delusional if you think I’m just going to just send you off again after what you just pulled.” It’d been hard to miss how off-kilter Ed had been. He probably should have listened to his instinct and taken Ed out of the field after his earlier disaster of an assignment that month, but it was too late for that now.
Edward glared at him. “Then what the hell am I here for?”
Roy sorted through the mess of papers on his desk. He found the business card he was looking for and leaned forward, handing it to Ed over his desk. The kid snatched it from his hand with a curious expression.
“Hollis Merrick? Who the hell is this?” Edward scoffed, looking at the front of it.
“It’s Doctor Hollis Merrick,” Roy hesitated slightly. “He’s a renowned, well-established psychiatrist and therapist who’s been operating in East City for well over a decade.”
Ed went rigid. His fingers pressed down into the card. “A psychiatrist?”
Roy had been expecting an explosive response to his proposal, and it seemed like Ed was going to deliver. “Yes. Look, I know you’re not the biggest fan of hospitals. Or doctors in general, but—"
Ed crumpled up the pamphlet and threw it at the table in front of him, jumping to his feet. He looked furious, but was it also…embarrassment? “I don’t need. A stupid therapist. Why the hell would you even suggest that? I’m fine!”
Definitely embarrassment. “Because…” Roy sighed. “Look at yourself, Fullmetal. There’s no point in trying to push me away with that nonsense. You are not fine. I can tell there’s been something going on for a while, although I don’t have a clue what. Alphonse told me you haven’t been sleeping, you haven’t been eating, and you’ve barely read or done any research recently. All of your most recent assignments have been disastrous and you just got out of the hospital because of your reckless behavior. Your work these last few weeks has been appallingly bad, and it’s not reflecting well on me to let my subordinates continue working even when they’re clearly not performing adequately. I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but I’m not allowing you back to active duty until your condition improves and you stop endangering yourself. You need to talk to someone, and if it’s not going to be Alphonse, it should be someone who’s going to help you.”
Edward’s molten gold eyes narrowed with suspicion as he spoke. That was the same piercing glare that could strike uncertainty into even the most hardened criminals. Roy had grown used to it a long time ago. “Why the hell are you… Is this a practical joke? Are you trying to trick me?”
Honestly, Roy didn’t even know why he bothered sometimes. He leaned his head sideways onto his chin, returning Ed’s fiery glare.“You know as well as I do that’s not what this is. Stop acting like a child.”
Ed’s glare only hardened. “Why don’t you stop acting like a fascist prick?” He paused for a moment, inhaling. “Look, if you’re actually being serious, I don’t need therapy. I don’t have time to sit around and talk with someone about my feelings. That is such bullshit!”
“Watch your language,” Roy snapped. "Not while you're in my office."
The kid’s eye was twitching. “You can’t make me go, anyway. This is so stupid.”
“Actually, I can make you go. Last I checked, I’m your commanding officer. And I’m not letting you get yourself killed, idiot. I’m ordering you to take leave for two weeks and to four appointments with Doctor Merrick. He can also prescribe you medicine to help you sleep better.”
Ed seemed at a loss for words. His fists were clenched. Although he seemed more energized from raging at Roy, he could only see how exhausted the kid was. “You can take a seat again if you need to.”
He just rolled his eyes, of course. Roy swore the kid was going to eye roll his way into another dimension some day.
“Look,” Roy said. “It’s just a few appointments. It’s all being paid for. And it won’t kill you to at least try something new. You’re not going anywhere, anyway, not on my watch. If it helps you get back on your feet faster at all it’ll be worth it. Lieutenant Hawkeye recommended Doctor Merrick to me. He helped her out a few years ago, and her reference is enough for me to know he’s trustworthy. You can tell him anything you need to. And I mean anything,” He gave Ed a meaningful look. “He could really help you if you just let him.” Emphasis on if. Something in Ed’s expression told him that the doctor was going to have a hell of time getting Ed to open up to him. “Your first appointment is tomorrow at 1300 hours. I’m sending someone to pick you up at the hotel.”
Ed gave him a dirty look. “Unless I’m hiding halfway across the city.”
“You don’t have to hide for me to lose sight of you, shorty,” Mustang said, his lips twitching up into a smirk.
“Shut up, bastard. You’d never find me,” Ed said darkly.
“I will flame you, brat,” Mustang said, half relieved that Ed at least responded normally to his ribbing.
The kid leaned back on his heels, leg jittering with anticipation. “Whatever. Can I go now?”
“Wait.” Roy hesitated.
Edward narrowed his eyes at his expression. “Why are you acting so weird?” He asked bluntly.
“Until you’re fully recovered, I don’t want you going out past dark. And try not to travel alone, if possible.” Roy said.
“What?” Ed said incredulously.
“I said you’re not to go out alone or past dark,” he repeated firmly.
Ed looked genuinely confused. “What the hell is with you today?” He looked down at Roy’s desk and his eyes cleared with understanding. “Wait… this is about those missing kids isn’t it?”
“...Yes, it is, if you really want to know. The cases are piling up. It’s just a precaution.”
“I’m not a kid!” Ed said indignantly, flinging his hands up. “I can handle a run-of-the-mill kidnapper! You should be assigning me to this case, not telling me to watch myself!”
“This isn’t a run-of-the-mill kidnapper. And you just got yourself shot and hospitalized a week ago,” Roy said dryly. “I’ll determine whether or not you need monitoring.”
Ed’s eyes were stinging with fury again. “For the love of god, the bullet just grazed me! It wasn’t even that bad!”
“That doesn’t change the fact that you were injured and refused to seek help. You can’t keep pulling things like this. It’s beyond idiotic.” He let out a long exhale, almost winded from all the rapid fire lecturing he was doing. “Two weeks, four sessions. starting tomorrow. You can leave now,” He finished. He didn’t have the heart to keep scolding the kid, not while he was still looking so dead on his feet.
“Finally,” Ed spat. He inclined his head, hesitated for a moment, then grabbed the crumpled pamphlet from the table and turned to leave.
“And Fullmetal,” Roy said.
“What?” Edward asked in an exasperated voice, twisting his head around again.
“Try to get some actual rest before tomorrow, alright? That’s it,” Roy said.
Ed scoffed and stormed to the door, muttering something probably very vulgar under his breath as he slammed it shut behind him,
The ensuing silence was bliss. Admittedly, the confrontation hadn’t been quite as bad as he had thought it would be, if only because Edward was most likely too exhausted to verbally pummel him and irritate him like he usually did.
There was a knock on his door. Roy looked up as Hawkeye walked through the door, giving him a salute before going to stand in front of him. “How did it go?” She asked.
Roy yawned and leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms out. “About as well as can be expected. I think he’s actually going to go to the appointments willingly, but who knows. It’s a long shot. I might have to go drag him down there myself tomorrow.”
“I’m certain speaking with Doctor Merrick will be beneficial for him. I’m glad you took my advice, sir,” Hawkeye said.
“Yeah, well, me too. I’m more than happy to hand him off. This isn’t exactly my area of expertise. That idiot’s going to run himself into an early grave if he keeps going at this rate.”
“Sounds like someone else I know,” Riza replied.
Roy gave her a look. “Don’t tell me you’re about to drag me to a chaise longue, too.”
“You have too much work to do, sir."
“Right,” Roy let out a sigh. He usually prided himself on not crossing lines with his subordinates, and he’d been concerned at first sending Edward to a psychiatrist was vaulting straight over that line. Riza assured him it wasn’t. She’d been concerned as well. Roy told himself over and over that he would do this for any of his other subordinates. Even if he knew that probably wasn’t true. His relationship with Edward had never exactly been professional from the start.
He turned his attention to the mess of papers spread out on his desk. “Do you think he’ll finally be caught this year?”
The lieutenant’s expression grew more melancholy. “We can only hope, sir.”
“HQ and the entire city’s been on high alert for almost month now. It’s a mystery he hasn’t been caught yet. This bastard’s good at what he does.”
Twenty two children missing in East City in just over ten years. It hadn’t been until a few years ago that the disappearances had been connected. Always children from the ages of nine to fourteen from all from different socioeconomic backgrounds, always in the months of October and November. Not a single lead. Not a single suspect or clue. Just thousands of terrified parents and a rising demand for the military to catch the organization or person responsible. The case had recently taken on national attention as the cases piled up.
Initially, the case had been entirely the Investigations Department’s assignment, until the kidnappings accelerated this year and there were five missing in the last month. Now practically every military official in HQ had been assigned to help with the case. It was an embarrassment that the crimes had been allowed to continue like this. Roy hated seeing so many frightened parents and children. No one should be living in fear like that in any city in Amestris. Wasn’t that the entire goddamn point of the military?
The picture of the most recent missing kid caught his eye, a twelve-year-old girl named Isidora Watson. She was smiling in the picture, her blue eyes warm. She had gone missing just a week ago. God knew what had happened to her.
Criminal profilers had stated that the abductor was most likely a middle-aged male living in East City, but aside from that lacking description, there was no way to know who to look out for. Speculation in tabloids and newspapers had been wild, raising panic in the public even more. The faster this son of a bitch was caught, the better.
A strict curfew had been issued recently. He had assigned several of his subordinates to join other officers in nightly patrols in the street. The bastard was most likely going to strike at least once or twice again. It was only November twelfth, plenty of time.
“He certainly is,” Riza agreed. “And the only way we’re going to be able catch him is if you don’t slack off.” Her tone was serrated.
Roy made an exasperated sound and waved her off, leaning forward in his chair again. “Yeah, yeah.”
The idea was so funny, Ed could’ve laughed in Mus-taint’s stupid face. If he wasn’t so pissed off.
The concept of him, sitting in a chair and letting a snot-nosed intellectual pick apart the ten thousand miles an hour speeding clusterfuck that was his mind was just… hysterical. Not to mention the fact that someone was trying to force him to talk to a professional psychiatrist now instead of after, oh, I don’t know, his mother died at a grotesquely young age, or after he’d suffered through a failed human transmutation, lost his brother’s physical body, and then gone through a double amputation and automail surgery all within the same two months. It was the sickest joke he’d ever heard. He was tempted to go along just to pick apart the poor psychiatrist to pieces and throw Mustang’s plan right back into his face.
He could practically see the labored thought process forming in Mustang’s mind; could feel the neurons firing as he devised his ingenious plan to get Ed to stop “reflecting badly on him.” Ed has been acting weird… he hasn’t been sleeping well… he landed himself in the hospital this week… I know! I’ll just send him to a shrink! Forcing him to talk to a stranger with a PhD will magically make his nightmares disappear! Problem solved! Another brilliant solution from Colonel Dickwad!
He’d gone in expecting the fifth degree, not whatever this was. In all honesty, this seemed…out of character for Mustang. Why would he would go out of his way just to help Ed’s stupid nightmares? But at the same time, he knew the answer. Just another cunning, calculated move on his precious political chessboard. No doubt he had some ulterior motive.
Either that, or he was just plain punishing him for screwing up his last missions. Ed wished he could discern exactly what it was. His head was aching enough as it was.
He was cursing under his breath as he shut the colonel’s door behind him and entered the larger adjoining office.
“Hey, chief!” Havoc said with a wide grin, leaning back in his chair as he walked in. Havoc, Breda, Hawkeye, and Fuery were the only ones in the office right now. Al was sitting on a bench pushed against the wall. He got to his feet and went to go stand near Ed as he left the office. The men around the table looked up at Ed with fondness at the familiar sound of his vehement swearing. “How’d the meeting go?” Havoc asked.
“It went great,” Ed said in a derisive voice. “I’m stuck in East City with you lunatics for another two weeks.” Hawkeye stood up to enter the colonel’s office as Ed walked closer to them. She gave him a smile as she brushed past him. Havoc, Breda, and Fuery watched her move across the room, and when the door shut, they discreetly uncovered a hidden deck of cards and growing pile of cenz under the mess of files and paper on their shared desk. Ed narrowed his eyes at the cards. They were playing Spades. “You’re not worried about how many holes the Lieutenant will put in you when she comes back out?” Ed asked.
“Thanks for the warning, kid. Today’s a slow day. We've got it under control,” Breda said with a smile. They were all well-trained in the art of hiding their games and looking busy before Hawkeye could make it into he room.
Ed crossed around the table and leaned behind Havoc’s shoulder, narrowing his eyes at his open deck in the older man’s hands and the three cards from the others spread out on the table. “Wow, your hand is terrible. How much did you bid?”
Havoc huffed. “I said I’d take four tricks.”
Ed snorted. “Yeah, dream on. No way you’re making two.”
“He’s already lost almost 2500 cenz,” Breda snickered from behind his deck.
“Hey! I have to make up my losses somehow,” Havoc replied.
“This is how you can accrue serious debt, Jean,” Fuery said in a partly serious voice from behind his own pile of cenz, mostly accrued from Havoc. “The first step is admitting you have a problem.”
“I’m sure the next hand will be better!” Al said encouragingly.
“See, I like how he thinks,” Havoc said, turning to smile at Al. “How’re you feelin’ by the way?” The blond asked Ed, reluctantly settling on putting down a six of hearts.
Ed stepped away and shrugged. “‘M fine. Just tired.” That was his default answer these days. It wasn’t like it wasn’t true. And he was feeling especially strung out after having to deal with the human version of a splitting headache.
“Wished I could’ve visited you in the hospital, but we’ve been slammed recently,” Fuery said.
“It’s fine,” Ed scoffed, crossing his arms.
“Yeah, I’m pretty tired myself,” Havoc said, watching dejectedly as the hand went to Breda and he and Fuery handed their cenz over to him. “I had patrol ‘til midnight last night.”
“Patrol?” Al asked curiously.
“Yeah. Officers are being assigned to patrol the streets while that kidnapper still hasn’t been apprehended,” Havoc said.
“Oh, right,” Al said in a sad voice. “It’s so terrible, what’s happening. We’ve been seeing it all over the news since we got back.”
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” Breda said as he shuffled through the deck. “I’m sure it’ll be resolved soon.”
“I hope so,” Fuery said. “Those kids have apparently been going missing for ten years. It feels hard to be hopeful they’ll be caught when it’s been going on so long."
Breda gave him a look and Fuery cleared his throat. “Nothing you should worry about though, Alphonse.”
“Yeah, Al, it’ll be fine. You ready to take off?” Ed said started to walk to the door.
“Yeah, I’m ready,” Al said, following him.
“Bye, guys!” Fuery said, waving at them.
“See ya later, chief!” Havoc said.
Ed gave them a wave before he pushed open the door and he and Al walked down the hall.
There was silence between them for a few moments. “So… what did you talk about?” Al said.
Ed snorted. “I’m off active duty and Colonel Blowhard is trying to force me to see a therapist. A therapist."
“Brother, you should be more respectful than that.” Al sounded beyond exasperated already.
“I’m not insulting him. I’m just describing him.”
“You can’t just—“ Al sighed and changed his tact. “You said he scheduled you to see a therapist?”
Ed shot him a glare as he stalked down the hallway. “I do not want to talk about this right now.”
Al sped up to match his stride. “You never want to talk about anything! You wouldn’t even let me sit in on your meeting with the colonel! I’m so sick of you shutting me out.”
Ed was almost certain his brother would’ve punched him right there if he wasn’t concerned over his health. He wouldn’t mind sparring himself. Taking out his frustration on a giant suit of armor sounded great.
He stalked down the brightly lit halls, feeling annoyance curdling in his stomach. He and Al hadn’t exactly been getting along well recently, and it was entirely his fault. He knew that. “Can you just give me a break, Al? I’m tired of feeling like I’m being interrogated every time we talk.” He sounded petulant but he didn’t care at that point.
“And I’m tired of feeling like you don’t want to talk to me anymore!” Al exclaimed. “We hardly ever speak, and when we do, you barely say anything.”
“We’re talking right now,” Ed said.
“You know what I mean,” Al said, voice raising even higher.
Ed scrubbed the back of his head and shot his brother a glare. “Let’s at least wait till we’re away from HQ until we keep shouting at each other.”
Al huffed but nodded. They started walking again.
Ed could see uniformed officers looking at them as they passed by, but he barely noticed. It wasn’t exactly a rare occurrence for him to get stares for raising his voice at Eastern Command. They finally made it to the main entrance and he shoved the heavy door open, hearing Al clank behind him. It was a beautiful day. The sky was a striking shade of blue and the late autumn air was crisp and invigorating. It annoyed Ed to no end. He kicked brittle leaves under his feet as they walked away from the soul crushingly ugly building and continued down the well-maintained path until they were past the official military grounds and were standing close to a path near to a busy street in East City, lined with orange and red hued trees.
Ed breathed in slowly, exhaustion pinching at the edges of his head. Despite the antibiotics and painkillers he was taking, his bandaged chest was still throbbing. The stupid bullet had barely hit the side of his chest, but the wound had somehow gotten infected and that had kept him bedridden in the hospital for almost three torturous days.
He turned around to face his brother. “I told you, yes, the colonel is making me stay in East City and he’s trying to force me to go see… a shrink,” He said in a lower voice. “And I’ve told you a million times, there’s nothing wrong with me!”
“Yes there is, Ed!” Al said, exasperated, following him out into the front of the massive building. “And I wish you would stop acting like there’s not! It’s infuriating! We’ve been at this stupid impasse for weeks now. I keep telling you, I’m not going to stop asking you what’s wrong until you tell me!”
Ed shot him an angry glare. He was so sick of people being concerned. It grated against his nerves like nothing else. “And I keep telling you, no matter how much you ask me about it I’m not going to talk about it. It’s nothing you need to hear about.”
“I think I can decide whether it’s something I need to hear about or not,” Al shot back. “I’m not angry, Ed,” He said in a more gentle voice. “I can’t be, when you look like that. I’m just worried. You just got out of the hospital for getting yourself shot. It could have been a lot worse.”
Ed stepped back, putting a hand on his forehead. “It was just a dumb mistake. It’s not gonna happen again.”
“I find that hard to believe, Ed,” Al said. “Listen, I think maybe talking to this person might be a good idea. Can’t you at least try? Taking a break for another week or two could be really helpful.” He sounded… hopeful.
Ed shut his eyes for a moment and stuck his hand into his pocket, pulling out the business card he had stuffed in earlier. Dr. Hollis Merrick, MD, Board Certified Psychiatrist. His contact information was listed out below. Burning frustration and shame were welling in Ed’s stomach. Sitting around in East City for another two weeks sounded like torment. What the hell was he supposed to do? He’d already laid around in a hospital room long enough. And going to see a damn therapist. The idea was idiotic. He didn’t want to do it. And yet…
“Fine. I’ll do it,” he ground out, regretting it the moment the words were out of his mouth. “But don’t blame me if I end up socking this idiot in the jaw tomorrow.”
“Thank you, brother,” Al sounded relieved. “I’m sure this will be helpful to you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ed muttered. He felt a little better when he heard the relief in Al’s voice. It was almost worth it, just for that. He turned around and they started heading back to the main road.
“Do you want to get something to eat?” Al asked, striding faster to catch up.
“Nah, I’m okay.”
Al would’ve glared at him if he could. “You haven’t eaten anything yet today. Or last night.”
Ed threw his head back and sighed. “Fine. Whatever.” He didn’t want to get into another argument today. He was already tired enough.
Another plant had died.
He wished he could say he was surprised, but it was the second one that month. Unfortunately, his attention had been so divided recently he had forgotten about the potted peace lily sitting on a shadowed windowsill in a drawing room upstairs. He sighed sadly when he found it and took the poor thing outside, setting it by the cypress trees.
He took a moment to gaze up at the sliver of bright light in the night sky and feel the chill in the air. The cool breeze in the murmuring trees around him meant that the end was approaching—the time he looked forward to most each year had almost slipped away. It had become a ritual over time, something which had started merely as a way to placate himself and ended as an honor and a comfort.
There was still work to be done. Dawn would be approaching soon. He turned around, ready to head back and continue the dismantling and draining.