And here goes the last chapter. I am not entirely happy with it but then I never am, I always hate my endings. So feel free to bash it, maybe in a review? ;3
And then Mustang's body finally slumps completely and he whispers a barely audible "'Kay" before passing out.
It is a busy rustle that follows. Hawkeye puts the buckets to the far corner of the room, Ed transmuting the top shut with some spare metal. They don't know if that will help keep the two little pearls of red stone in there but it is worth the try. Fuery and Falman turn Mustang over on his back and release him from his binds. Knox checks if the colonel's air ways are free before hooking up the patiently waiting Breda.
"We still need to get him to the hospital," the old coroner says.
"How do we explain his condition?"
"We don't. We don't even know how he was able to throw up almost all of his blood, let the docs figure it out and treat it. There have been enough unexplainable medical conditions before, one more won't make a difference."
Hawkeye nods at the answer she got.
They keep waiting for a bit. Mustang doesn't wake up again and Breda starts getting tired. Finally Knox declares they've reached the point where Mustang has enough blood to make it to the hospital and Breda can't give any more without getting into dangerous condition himself. They load everyone into the cars and speed through the night, the golden lining of dawn coming up at the horizon not giving any hope at all.
Mustang is wheeled away by hectic nurses and someone comes to check on Breda, telling the Second Lieutenant and Dr. Knox how well they acted and that they saved the colonel's live like they didn't know that. The others receive praise as well but no one in the group feels like a hero. All they feel is anxiety and the need to discuss the homunculus problem, but they first want to know if their colonel will make it so they keep their mouth shut and fidget in the hospital waiting room. Breda is eating, for once only because he was told to do so to regain strength, he has no appetite at all. Fuery is nervously cleaning his glasses over and over again. Hawkeye seems to be calm but her knuckles are pale as she clenches her hands to fists far too hard. Knox furiously chews on a tooth pick he got from who knows where. Falman seems like he wants to pace the room but is too stoic to give in to that desire.
Ed on her part is pacing the room, up and down as her thoughts run wild. She's worried because of the homunculus still in the bucket at the old house, but she doubts it's strong enough to take on form or attempt anything else. She knows which sin it is and that leads her brain to all the horrible Saturday nights at Mustang's place. And then finally that last one.
She has the urge to touch her skin where he did, trail the paths his fingers had taken. Just to make sure she had felt that right, because it still seems so surreal. Because even if the rational side of her now knows that it had never been Mustang himself who'd treated her like a doll, every other part of her is surprised and can't believe that the man who had taken so much from her was able to be so gentle, so... caring.
Hawkeye taps her shoulder to get her attention and only now does Ed realise that she's been staring at her fingers, which are still stained with his blood from when she'd stopped him from clawing at the oroboros tattoo. The Lieutenant beckons for her to follow and the younger blonde docilely walks after the older to the women's rest room. They clean up but when finished Hawkeye checks the stalls for occupants instead of leading the way back. When no one's there she takes a deep breath and seemingly collects her thoughts before finally speaking.
"That... thing said something about crushing his resistance and making him... jump you. Does that-... how-... why did you never tell, we could've helped!"
"It was an equivalent exchange, a deal I willingly entered." Not really, there was never a choice for her when it came to saving Al, she'd always give everything for him. And Hawkeye seems to read these thoughts right though her grim face. Yet the sniper doesn't comment on it and Ed knows it's only because Hawkeye is the same, would give everything to save Mustang. So Hawkeye ceases her lecture and instead asks "Are you... alright?"
Ed shrugs."Nothing I can't handle."
"If you ever need to talk I'll listen." Hawkeye knows she'll only make Ed snap at her and run away if she keeps digging.
Ed gives her the best smile she can muster up at the moment. "Don't worry too much. He's never been too bad."
Upon back in the waiting room soon a doctor arrives, telling them that while the colonel still isn't a hundred percent out of danger they have him stable so far. It seems the blood loss is the most problematic factor, the reason for it a case of bleeding oesophageal varices, or at least that's what they believe comes closest to Mustang's condition. The doctor isn't too proud to admit that they've never seen this exact condition before nor do they know how to treat it other than do what they'd do to fix the closest familiar problem.
Anyway, the veins in Mustang's oesophagus, that seemed to have ruptured from a sudden and dramatic rise in blood pressure, seem about to heal just fine and that's what counts more for them all than a perfect diagnosis would.
Knox nods and leaves, saying Mustang owes him. The rest of them finally gets to see their commanding officer, though they're only allowed in in small groups. Which, in this case, means pairs. So while Hawkeye and Fuery, and after that Breda and Falman, check up on their leader Ed goes to call Al.
The blonde fiddles with the phone cord during her little brother's lecture, which is laced with worry about her more than with anger, and wryly huffs to herself when Al worries about the colonel, too. The younger Elric would kill Mustang if he knew what else had happened this Saturday evening and so many Saturday evenings before, homunculi in control or not wouldn't matter during that moment of rage. She makes a mental note to tell the others to keep their mouth shut. Finally, Al tells her he'll come get her and Ed hangs up.
She slowly steps into the colonel's room, barely daring to make a sound. Even breathing seems too loud when the person on the bed in front of her seems so fragile. Pale as a sheet, an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. A blood transfusion is still going on. He looks damn vulnerable and it disturbs her even more than the sides she believed to have seen on him when the homunculus was still in control. Imagining Roy Mustang as a total and real asshole seems so easy yet she's never been able to imagine him weak.
But then he is human and humans are weak at times.
Careful, though she's not sure if she doesn't want to hurt him or if she just doesn't want to wake him, Ed pulls back the thin blanket. Human, yes. The oroboros is gone. All that's left are the scratches from his fingernails, perfect symbols for all the wounds the homunculus left behind. She wonders if there will be permanent scars. Probably not, Mustang seems to have good healing flesh because what's left of the burnt shut stab wound in his side doesn't look too gruesome anymore either. Though maybe it is the homunculus after all who's responsible for the doctor's surprise upon finding that severe wound almost completely healed into smooth white scar tissue.
Ed dimly wonders if, had it been really been Mustang fucking her into the couch, the colonel would've maybe kept to wearing some sort of top, too. She's never thought about it before, her own scars made her unafraid of other's. But vain Mustang? When taking one of his girls to bed that wasn't hardened like her? She doesn't want to think about all that but the thought is still there. Mainly because she now realises that he'd never ever shied away from her scars, not even the ugly automail ones. Either Lust had been too blind to care about its plaything being a bit damaged or he wasn't as superficial as she'd always thought.
Ed frowns. Being so busy hating him over that deal she'd never realised that he'd done something she'd always secretly feared no one would ever be able to do. He'd touched her without fear and disgust. Even during that last night where he had been the leading force, the homunculus lengthening his leash a bit to see what Mustang would try to teach to it. He had done it and it had been honest.
There's a quiet knock at the door and Ed pulls the blanked back up. It's Al who's come to collect her. At the thought of going back to their room she suddenly realises how tired she is. No sleep and lots of action during the night, she really should lie down and have a nap. Maybe when she wakes up again the world isn't this confusing anymore and she can finally tell what exactly she's feeling.
The phone rings, Al answers while Ed curses the device and wipes the sleep from her eyes. Apparently the call is for her so she takes the earpiece with a grunt. It's Hawkeye, apologising for not letting her rest that much and asking what to do about the ruby pearl earrings she found at her place yesterday. Ed sighs. She doesn't know either but just as coded she promises to come by and help.
They are standing in front of the two buckets for a while. Finally Ed shrugs and steps up to open the first. The red gleam in the midst of too much dried blood is tempting, it calls to be picked up. The alchemist resists, knowing Al wouldn't accept other's lives and souls in exchange for his body and neither would she. She transmutes the lid shut again, then looks after the other stone. This one is glinting at her from the a water blood mixture but that doesn't make it any more desirable so she resists this one as well.
"They're still there. I think as long as we can keep them separate and hidden we'll be fine until we can think of the best way to deal with it."
"Alright. Maybe the Colonel knows a bit more about it now that the thing's been inside of his head," Hawkeye offers.
"Is he awake yet?" asks Al.
"He came by a few times but they said visitors will have to wait until noon or they will just tire him out and that doesn't help."
And so Ed finds herself walking down the hospital hallway later that day. She doesn't know why she wants this so she pretends it's only because of scientific questions regarding the homunculus. There's a turmoil inside of her. One part of her doesn't want to see Mustang at all because there are still those bits of unjustified hatred and also it would be so damn awkward, talking to his real self that had never wanted what they did. She's torn between being ashamed because he knows she would sell her body to him and being stubborn and unafraid because it was all for Al, her sweet little brother who deserves so much more than she could give. But the other part knows this is Mustang. A smug jerk, sure, but also the one who gave them a chance, the one who keeps pulling more strings for them than he has to, even if he makes it all seem like selfishness. Mustang who knows about equivalent exchange and sacrifice and probably won't judge her after all.
So Ed takes a deep breath and enters the room the nurse showed her to.
Mustang is sitting up, his back heavily leaning against a pillow. His unseeing gaze is turned towards the window and Ed knows this look, it's the same that she must have worn back then in Resembool, before he came and grabbed her freshly crippled form by the collar to yelled at her, asking what the hell she had done in that basement. She's still more than grateful he burst into her bubble of desperation like this and made her listen to what he was suggesting. And she wants to return that favour despite everything, the roots of equivalent exchange are twined through the alchemist's mind.
But it seems Mustang isn't as far gone as she was, upon hearing Ed enter he turns. First his eyes widen, then they lower in shame and his whole form seems to slump a little. He swallows once but otherwise he doesn't move when Ed carefully sits in the plastic chair next to the bed. So they sit in silence for a while because Ed doesn't know how to act either.
"I'm sorry." It's Mustang who speaks up first, his voice quiet and his head lowering even more. "I never wanted to- I would have never- I just couldn't stop it, I'm so sorry I couldn't stop it." He looks at her from between his bangs, waiting for his verdict.
For a moment Ed wants to yell at him, ask him how he could have been that weak. But she can't. Not when she doesn't know how a homunculus inside your head feels and how strong it can be. Not when she is probably just as much to blame as said creature. So she says "It's okay. It's not like I didn't agree to that deal."
He shakes his head. It seems like he wants to say something, he opens his mouth but then closes it again, stopping to put his priorities in a different order. Finally, with that calming streak of authority she knows so well from hearing Colonel Mustang bark orders at his loyal dogs, he asks "Where is that thing now?"
"Still in the house, still in the buckets. We haven't decided on what to do yet, we thought it might be a good idea to ask you first, maybe you know more about it now." It's amazing how easy it is to go into work mode with him, to function like superior officer and subordinate is all they are. This ability to mask up and believe in what they are playing has brought them through the months without their deal ever being discovered and now it helps them solve the main problem, called homunculus. Personal problems can wait until they can crawl somewhere to hide, where no one would see their weaknesses.
"It's too weak to take on a physical form on it's own, there are no more souls to pay with left in that stone. All that's left is the homunculus' own... let's call it consciousness, I refuse to believe this thing has a soul." It was said with a bitter tinge and for a moment Mustang looks like he wants to kill something, preferable what is left of the homunculus. But then his face goes blank again. "Anyway, don't let it come near anything living and it will remain incapable of action," he says and Ed can see the metaphorical gears working behind his face as he is trying to think of a permanent solution.
"So it can only get dangerous again when it gets some physical power and for now its only weapon is just... willpower?" she asks.
Mustang slowly nods. "Yes, all it can do is latch on to us and try to break our spirit through its sheer will."
"How does it..." Ed trails off, not able to decide between "do that?" and "feel?".
Mustang decides for "feel?" when he answers, his voice quiet and forced. "It's like you're a puppet dangling from your strings. You can't feel your limbs yet you know they are moving because you can see it. You hear yourself speaking yet you're not saying a word, someone else uses your vocal chords. Eating is like getting fed, like someone else shoves food into you, no matter how much you know it's your own hand. And... when it took me out to have some fun..." he claps his hand over his mouth, staring wide eyed at the sheet covering his legs and looking like he might throw up. He doesn't though, as usual he catches himself fast, at least on the outside. Ed doesn't know what's going on behind his mask but she knows he's wearing one and isn't that calm at all. Unfortunately she also doesn't know what to do about this.
"I tried to stop it," he finally continues, "I could shove it back a lot, could keep it from meddling with the military or contact other homunculus, could control my body almost completely again. But it kept me from telling my people too and-" He swallows, shame on his face. "It was way stronger and much more persistent when it came to getting me to commit it's personal sin. I guess it hoped to break me that way. Or maybe it's just because it's made out of it. It said so, at least. Said it-... she is nothing but her father's discarded desire. Pure, personificated..."
"Lust." Ed finishes the sentence for him, mostly so she will finally completely believe it herself.
"Yes." Mustang says bitterly. "Funny how I build that womaniser reputation to distract my enemies from what is really going on and now it came back to bite me in the ass because no one thought anything about my behaviour."
Ed lowers her head, admitting that she too hadn't been able to tell the tactical facade from the monster. Mustang just sighs. It seems like he doesn't see any use in accusing anyone. He probably just takes the blindness of even those closest to him as his punishment for not being able to repress the homunculus completely. At least Ed knows she would do that.
They sit in silence for a while again, then she can't help but speak. "Did you- it...Hawkeye..." But she can't form the sentence after all.
"No." Mustang shakes his head, understanding anyway.
"Then why me?" Ed blurts. How come he'd been strong enough to not jump Hawkeye yet hadn't been resistant enough to protect Edeline?! She knew the lieutenant was probably the most important person on earth to Mustang, but still...
The colonel clenches the bedsheets between his fingers, his knuckles turning white while he tries to say what he wants to say but somehow can't. He's like a schoolboy about to stutter out his first confession of love but Ed doesn't think that's what he'll say.
"It went for what it knew I wanted anyway," he finally admits, swallowing hard and looking away.
Ed's eyes widen and she just stares. When she doesn't yell or scream or beat the hell out of him immediately, Mustang continues. "You're smart, you're strong and you are too damn pretty for your own good. You can't blame a man for wanting that... wanting you."
Ed now openly gapes at his huddled form. Somewhere something deep within tells her what he thinks of her might be the truth and she feels incredibly happy, but the bigger part of her knows she's also scarred, mentally and physically, is loud-mouthed and brash, sarcastic and bitter. There's no way that what Mustang listed could outweigh those flaws. Mustang has to be mentally ill himself to find her an attractive person in any way.
Yet... when in control he had touched her without fear or disgust, no hesitation in his moves apart from the fear of getting rejected himself.
Unable to deal with this for the moment Ed goes for the emergency escape, leading the topic back to her original question. "But so is Hawkeye!"
"She is, but not the way you are," Mustang admits, head still lowered, not daring to look at her for anything but a small peak to gauge her reaction. Funny how he could stare death in the face yet was unable to look at her right now. "She is strong, yes, but in a different way, she lacks your fire. She is smart but doesn't posses an alchemist's way of thinking. And I've known her for so long, her prettyness holds no attraction for me, she's a good friend, a sister maybe." A sardonic laugh leaves his lips. "Actually part of the damage control was to focus on her to turn me off whenever that thing tried to make me find you when it was not a god damn Saturday."
"So your dates during the week...?"
"Part of damage control as well. Because I would have never ever done this to you!" And she believes him for his eyes are wide and sincere, giving her a look that practically begs her to understand that it has never been him doing all that has happened. "And I would have never ever pursued you anyway, you are so young and you deserve better than me. Why-...did it really never seem strange to you that I would ask such a thing from you?!" He still isn't accusing anybody, his question is a question to himself as he doubts himself, doubts his strength, his resolve, his morals. This whole ordeal has thrown him over and it seems he's lost some footing in his believes in who he is. "Why did you even agree? Why did you never tell anybody?!"
"For Al. And I-..." She stops. She can't tell him those old, stupid, childish reasons. But this really seems to bother the man sitting in the hospital bed like he wants to pull his legs in and rest his head on his knees, so she takes a deep breath and rushes out "Ithoughtmaybeinareallyweirdwayyoutriedtoshowmeyoulikeme." She can tell he pulled off the incredible feat of understanding her jumbled sentence by the way his eyes widen and he utters a quiet "Oh."
She clenches her fists, bright red in the face. Mustang looks like he wants to laugh at this irony, at how he thought Ed would be disgusted if she ever knew his true thoughts about her when Ed had at one point actually hoped that he might think such things about her. But in the end he only shakes his head again. "Ed, no one tells you they like you by coercing you into such a deal!"
"I know now, I know I'm stupid!", she snaps.
He sighs, raking a hand through his hair, careful not to disturb the IV needle. "You're not stupid, you're just young and naïve."
"Not any longer," she states the bitter truth.
He finally gives in and pulls his legs towards him, wrapping his arms around them. It's the closest to curling up in himself that the remnants of his pride will allow. "I know."
For a while they sit in silence and Ed realizes that she really can't take the presence of a defeated Mustang. No matter how much she had hated him, even during the past month she had always counted on him to be the one who knew how to walk on, to dig up leads and push them forwards with his challenging smug smirk and a few words that were neither as hollow nor as manipulating as she always cursed them out to be. She needs that Mustang back, not only for her and Al but also for his team. And so she gives him something she had planned on taking with her to her grave.
"What?" He's startled, doesn't understand.
"For trying to make it up to me before shooting yourself."
He continues to stare. Ed looks back evenly. His service gun on the coffee table, the bottle of alcohol and his strange mood. You don't want to see this, he had said. It seemed he had hoped she wouldn't figure that out. And it had taken her a while but when she lay down in her bed to catch what sleep she could before having to deal with all this again, it had suddenly been very clear. "You were about to blow your brains out how ever many times it would take until the homunculus couldn't regenerate anymore and you finally could kill it along with you."
"It was the last weapon I had left against it," he admits quietly. Then chuckles darkly. "I knew it couldn't stop me, unlike Hughes Lust sucks at talking someone out of going down the wrong way."
"And you could have kicked me out to go down that way no matter all my protest. Yet instead you tricked Lust into letting you have enough control to try and treat me right for one night. And for that, I thank you." She bows her head to the still slightly surprised Mustang.
He shakes his head. "There is no need to thank me, I should have tried the gun long before I could have ever treated you wrong."
She slaps him over the head. "You idiot! I would have endured that much longer to give you the time to try and see if maybe you can find another solution! Sure, I would have hated you all the way long but I would have understood afterwards, like I understand now!" She stops in her revelation, blinks once, then smiles. Yes, she really does understand by now. Understands that it's neither Mustang's fault nor hers, understands that he's done all he could to prevent the most horrible outcomes. She's not angry at him anymore, it's only the homunculus that deserves her wrath. "No matter what a smug ass you are, I've always counted on you to march forwards so I do not blame you for waiting and trying to find another way through this. Nobody died and my wounds will heal eventually, I've gone through worse. So get your self pitying ass up and move on! There are people who need you!"
Mustang looks at her, baffled, head cocked to the side as he tries to understand and grasp the meaning of what she just said. "You forgive me?" he finally asks.
"I forgive you." She stares him down until she's sure he knows she means it.
Finally his gaze drops and he stares down at his hands in his lap, contemplating. Then his eyes close and slowly his hands turn to fists. When he opens his eyes again there is a familiar sharpness in his gaze that Ed welcomes and revels in. Mustang, scheming, plotting, cunning, smug Colonel Roy Mustang, is back. His eyes are set on the future and when he turns to look at Ed his back straightens. "Very well, I will move forwards then."
Ed feels her own back straighten as she returns the look. "Good." There is an unspoken promise between them now and Ed knows that no matter what will happen in the future, Mustang will make her move on just like she made him. She gives him a shit eating grin. "Heal your ass fast, Al and me need a new mission. The last one was a fail."
Oh she has missed the smirk that crawls onto his face. "Did you get chased out of town again because you blew up buildings?"
"No we didn't!"
And the bickering match begins. It doesn't last as long as the both of them would have liked because a nurse comes to shoo Ed away so she won't tire out the healing colonel, but it was refreshing none the less. Ed feels like something within her has been reignited and the world suddenly has become a bit better. For once they had won a fight.
She looks back at the hospital, making out the window to Mustang's room. The confessions made between them buzz around her head but she knows now is not the time to think about all of this. Her body screams for some more sleep but even when she wakes up the time will not have come. It probably won't come for a long while. Not until Al has his body back, not until they have completely defeated the homunculi, not until Mustang has decided that she is old enough. Only then whatever is simmering at the bottom of their souls might have a chance. Until then she will only have a hand full of memories of loving touches and trust. But that is okay.
Ed turns and walks into the future, which for now consists of a nice nap in her bed.
When she stalks into the office of the finally returned colonel a week later, she sees that Mustang has a very interesting paperweight on his desk. To the average eye it looks like kitsch, a very boring glass thing like those Ed sometimes sees the merchants in the tourist towns sell to those who don't know what else they should bring as a souvenir. But she knows this thing is pure diamond, transmuted from the carbon within all the blood that Mustang threw up during that horrible night, while the two red pearls within are what is left of the homunculus. The monster is imprisoned in clear sight so that they can keep an eye on it until they know what to do about it. And also as a reminder to never let down their guard. Ed grins down at it, hoping the bitch can see it. Maybe having to watch the people who work in this office will finally teach it about the strength a human heart can hold and that the homunculi will never win, not as long as Ed, Mustang and their friends are still standing.