Title: Come What May
Series: Part one of Our Sinner's Redemption
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Author: Batsutousai
Rating: Mature
Pairings: Darius/Edward Elric/Heinkel, pre-Edward Elric/Roy Mustang
Warnings: Ed's potty mouth, spoilers for FMA:B ending, canon-typical violence, pile 'o OCs, survivor's guilt, angst, original character death, slow build (btwn Ed & Roy), referenced underage relationships, off-screen violence against women
Summary: After the Promised Day, with his alchemy still intact thanks to Hohenheim's sacrifice, Ed finds himself and his chimera team getting dragged into the shadowy world of military secrets in an attempt to keep Bradley's legacy from causing a civil war.

Disclaim Her: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Arakawa Hiromu and various publishers. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
The first scene is pulled from the SquareEnix sub for episode 63 of the Brotherhood anime. It's not exact – I changed some of the wording because the translation's actually quite clunky, but the dub just sounds false to my ears ^.^" – and I changed part of it for the plot, but, yeah. Not mine. XD

A/N: Sometimes, you just need that headcanon where Ed didn't lose his alchemy after all, and I wasn't going to actually use the idea I had for why Ed kept his alchemy, mostly because I knew it would probably have to be Ed's PoV and I prefer Roy, except then my muse shoved the scene with Grumman (happens near the end of this chapter) in my face and wouldn't back off until I gave in and started writing it.
So this is it, and I have no idea where it's going, except that Ed is fucked with so much survivor's guilt and he decides to deal with it the same way he's always done, which is to help other people.

This was originally intended to be one long run of fic, but I was complaining to my mum about how long my NaNo fic was (took a break from this to write that) and she suggested splitting it, which wouldn't really work for the NaNo fic, but I realised it would work for this one. So part one is the first 20 chapters of what I had written. Part two is probably about a third done, and will probably remain that way until my NaNo fic is done. (Sorry, not sorry.) I have some tentative ideas for a part three, but you'll have to wait until I start posting part two to find out if that's gonna work out or not.

There's a fair bit of travelling around in this fic, and I ended up using Rairyuuken's map (found in their scraps folder on deviantArt) for most of my city names, because I'm too lazy to create my own map to keep track of which names I used for where.

Note about the pairings can be found in the second chapter's A/N, to keep this one from becoming any longer.

This fic of the series is complete and I will be posting one chapter every other day (with some potential oddities during my con over V-day weekend, sorry; more on that closer to that weekend). For those of you who refuse to read a fic until it's done, come back on the first of March.

You can also read this at Archive of Our Own, tumblr, or LiveJournal. All links can be found in my author bio.

-0-

Chapter One

-0-

"Edward," Hohenheim called, and Ed looked up at where Teacher was supporting him, pulled from his panicked thoughts, his panicked searching for what he could possibly use to bring Al back. "Use my life, and bring Alphonse back."

The world just sort of...froze. Hohenheim couldn't possibly...

"There's exactly one person's worth remaining."

He was. He fucking was! And after he'd just said he and Al had promised never to use a Stone. "Idiot!" Ed shouted at him. "There's no way I could do something like that! It's our fault, as brothers, that we lost our bodies! I absolutely will not use human lives to get Al back! And why should you need to put your life on the line?!" he added, pointing a shaking finger towards the bastard, a distant part of him still surprised to see flesh where once there'd been steel.

"Because I'm his father," Hohenheim interrupted, said it like it was the most obvious fucking thing in the world.

Ed swallowed, his hand falling back to his side. This wasn't– He wasn't–

Why?

"This isn't about need, or reason," Hohenheim continued. "You're both dear to me, and I want you to be happy."

Happy?

"By neglecting you, I do bear some responsibility for your bodies ending up the way they are." His head dropped, his expression changing, looking almost like he was going to cry, like he– Like he cared.

No. No, he couldn't. How could this bastard, this man with his cold fucking eyes who had walked away from them, who had left them, who had–

"I'm sorry."

No.

"I've lived long enough," Hohenheim said, holding up a hand between them, it shook as much as Ed's had, more. "At least let me act like a father once before I die."

And, like it was trying to prove his point, the marks on his skin, of alchemy done with no finesse, no time for finesse, multiplied over the skin on the back of his hand; the sign of an alchemic construction falling apart.

Ed's mind, traitor that it was, was already going through the calculations: the rate of decay, the amount of damage Hohenheim had been repairing, his age, the way he couldn't even fucking stand up on his own.

Hours. Hohenheim had...hours.

Ed met those eyes, gold as his own, read the desperation in them, the need to do something, do anything, because this was all he had left to give, because he couldn't live with the knowledge that he could have helped, that he could have saved someone, and he hadn't. It was the same desperation that had once led Ed to sacrificing everything to bring Al back as armour, had kept him fighting against corruption, had made him the People's Alchemist, had brought him back to Central in spite of...

Ed swallowed his anger, knew Al would probably never forgive him for this, and closed his eyes. "Okay," he whispered.

"Thank you."

Ed opened his eyes to the sterile white of his hospital room, the scent of antiseptic tickling his nose. Hohenheim's gratitude was still echoing in his ears, following him from his dreams, and Ed reached up carefully to brush away the tears in his eyes. He should have argued, should have insisted Hohenheim had to be there to hug Al when he was back, should have– Should–

Ed took a deep breath and forced himself to sit up, gritting his teeth against the ache of his body, the pull of a dozen healing wounds. He didn't want to think about Hohenheim any more, dammit. He didn't want to remember that he'd traded his own fucking father–

Ed clenched his fists, let the shock of pain from the hole in his left arm and the reminder of the surgery to remove the automail in his right shoulder centre him, drag him back from that slippery slope. He needed a distraction. Desperately.

He glanced over at the other bed, gave himself a moment to watch the gentle rise and fall of his brother's chest. It was easier when Al was asleep – he often was, recovering from almost six years of exile to the other side of the Gate – because then Ed couldn't see the disapproving twist of his mouth, the reflection of gold eyes so like Ed's own, so like Hohenheim's. But, still, the silence between them was heavy, a living thing built of too much time living in step, of knowing Al would always be there, awake and understanding, sharing Ed's shame, his sins, but now...

At least Ed had never had to explain where Hohenheim had gone, what he'd done; they'd all three been on the other side of the Gate, staring at each other across the expanse between Ed's Gate and Al's. Al's eyes had widened, showing he'd understood, and Hohenheim had touched Ed's shoulder, a silent 'thank you' that Ed couldn't never be grateful enough that he hadn't said aloud. And Ed had forced himself to turn, to watch as his Gate opened, as Hohenheim stepped calmly past that smiling, smirking, fucking

Ed ground his teeth together and forced himself to stand, slipping into the hospital slippers that had been resting just under his bed. He didn't fucking care if he was on bedrest, his legs were fucking fine and he couldn't just sit there and continue to–

Who else was in hospital that would be willing to serve as a distraction for Ed? Major Armstrong had been released not long after being admitted, and if Ed bothered the major general, he was as likely to get stabbed as he was to find someone willing to distract him. Ling, Lan Fan, and May had already left back to Xing, refusing more than the most basic of medical care, and Teacher and Sig had followed their example, heading back to Dublith as soon as they were sure Ed and Al would be okay (and would come visit once Al was strong enough to get thrown against a wall, because Teacher had a weird way of showing affection).

He supposed there were the chimeras. He didn't know much about the toad and the boar, but he could pester Darius and Heinkel. Darius was especially fun, given how snarly he got when Ed called him Mr Gorilla. (Which, seriously, hadn't the idiot figured out by now that Ed only did that to get a rise out of him?)

Which reminded Ed of someone who got a kick out of pissing him off, which, well, it took being stuck with Greed, who was far less subtle about pissing Ed off to get him to do what the bastard wanted, for the whole winter for Ed to figure out why Mustang was always pushing his buttons. Because Ed probably wouldn't have bothered with writing any reports if Mustang hadn't brought his handwriting into it, would have refused a handful of missions if Mustang hadn't started commenting on his height before Ed could get all the information, might have actually found out more about his billion sources of information if the bastard hadn't taken such pleasure in dangling his near omniscience over Ed's head, mocking him about how 'it's so hard for anyone to miss you, despite being so tiny'.

Ed clenched his fists, old irritation brushing away the sick sense of guilt that had been clinging like a limpet at the bottom of his windpipe, and he knew he'd found his target for the day.

Right as soon as he found the bastard.

It took almost half an hour, dodging at least a half-dozen medical staff that would have sent him back to bed, and almost running straight into Fuery, before Ed found out where Mustang and Hawkeye were, sharing the same room only two rooms down from Ed and Al's, which was... Okay, so, if Ed had gone the other way when he slipped out of his room, he'd have found them a lot faster, but he'd seen a nurse stepping into one of the rooms that way and had gone the other.

"Edward?" Hawkeye recognised first, after Fuery had left him outside the door – he'd apparently just been visiting and needed to get back to helping with the clean-up efforts – and Ed had pushed his way in. She was sitting up in her bed, white bandaging stark around her throat, and had a book in her lap, which Ed suspected she'd been reading before he'd stepped in.

Mustang's head turned towards the door, his eyes closed, and Ed felt a little bit of guilt climbing back up his throat at the reminder that the bastard was blind and being a jerk to him was just... "Fullmetal?" he called, frowning.

"Yeah," Ed got out, his voice rough. He cleared his throat, tried to force the guilt back down, even though he already knew how tenacious it was. "Hey, Lieutenant. Colonel."

"Edward," Hawkeye said, her voice disapproving, and Ed saw her looking at the bandaging wrapped...well, Ed had a lot of wounds in spots that the hospital wear didn't cover. Sue him. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"

Ed huffed. "My legs are fucking fine."

"You're never going to heal if you're always pushing yourself," Mustang pointed out, his voice flat.

And, just like that, a flash of irritation shoved the guilt out of the way again. "Oh, don't even fucking start with me, bastard. You'd be out of bed same as me, if you could actually see–" And then his brain caught up with his mouth and he snapped both it and his eyes shut.

Ah, guilt. Lovely to see you again.

"Thank you for that wholly unnecessary reminder," Mustang said, his voice still flat. "Did you want something?"

Ed looked toward Hawkeye, admittedly a little weirded out by the colonel's complete lack of emotion, but he found her watching Mustang with very obvious concern. "Lieutenant?" he whispered.

She looked over at him, her eyes tired, and shook her head.

"Go back to your room, Fullmetal," Mustang said, turning back toward the window. There was a hint of emotion in his voice that time, and Ed tensed when he recognised defeat.

"What the fuck?" he heard himself say, starting across the room, towards where Mustang was tensing. "What the actual fuck is this? Are you actually fucking–"

Mustang turned back towards him, his face turned just a little too far to Ed right, and he said, "Get ou–"

Ed grabbed the front of the bastard's hospital shirt with his left hand, his wound screaming, and dragged Mustang forward and up, even as Hawkeye shouted, "Edward, stop!"

"Don't you fucking dare give up on me, you bastard," Ed snarled into Mustang's face. "Weren't you going to fucking fix this country? Weren't you going to the top?"

Mustang smiled at him, edged with something broken. "A blind Führer?" he asked quietly.

No. Ed would not– He was not going to sit here–

Rage made Ed drag Mustang from his bed, ignoring Hawkeye ordering him to stop and the way Mustang's eyes finally opened, going wide with panic as he found himself with no bed to support him and had to scramble to get his feet under him, his bandaged hands grabbing Ed's shoulders for balance, not quite gentle enough, and Ed gritted his teeth against the scream of his right shoulder. "Get up," Ed ordered, the words coming out a little too tight from pain. "You've got two fucking legs, that's more than me, and you don't see me fucking wallowing. Get the fuck–"

"Let me go, Fullmetal," Mustang ordered, and there was a hardness in his voice, something like a spark of life.

Ed bared his teeth in a parody of a grin. "Make me," he challenged, and dragged Mustang back a few steps, away from his bed. Notably, Hawkeye had fallen silent, and he caught a glance of her watching him, her eyes intent, but otherwise impossible to read.

"Fullmetal," Mustang said again, fear under the steel in his tone, and the hands on Ed's shoulders tightened, making Ed clench his jaw. "Stop this nonsense right now."

Ed let go and pulled away, ducking the hand that reached after him, and he knew it was mean, but this was pathetic and his shoulder fucking hurt. Mustang was left standing in the middle of the floor, the wall within easy reach to his right, if only he knew to reach for it, the feet of the beds well out of reach. "Now what?" Ed asked. "You can probably shout for a nurse, get one to lead you back to bed. Take the easy road. Because, you're right; after a fucking monster, who could possibly want a man who has to ask for help back to bed–"

Okay, in all honestly, the last thing Ed had expected was for Mustang to lunge at him, right hand fisted enough it had to hurt. He took the hit, which landed against his chest, figured he deserved it, and he didn't really want the bastard to actually hurt himself because he'd missed Ed and overbalanced. He caught the man's shoulders as Mustang hissed, "Shut up. I don't need to be lectured by a child."

"Yeah," Ed returned, "you kind of do. Are you done being pathetic?"

"I was not–!" Mustang started, and there was life in him again.

Ed grinned, felt a little like he'd managed to defeat a part of his guilt. "Good," he declared, before forcefully spinning Mustang around until he was facing the end of his bed, keeping a tight grip on the bastard's shoulders while he regained his equilibrium.

"Fullmetal!" Mustang shouted.

"Yeah, yeah. Five– No, sorry, four abnormally long steps forward is the end of your bed. The top rail's just below hip-height." He squeezed Mustang's shoulders. "You got that?"

Mustang took a deep breath, held very still for a moment, then gave a quick nod. "Four normal-length steps," he offered as a correction, and Ed didn't have to look to know the bastard was smirking.

"I will push you," Ed threatened, not that he actually meant it.

Mustang snorted, then started forward, leaving Ed behind. His steps were careful, measured, but steady. He stopped after four, reached down to touch the railing of his bed, then followed it to one of the corners. From there, he took two easy steps down the length of his bed, left leg pressed tight against the mattress and bed frame, before turning and sitting down.

Ed glanced towards Hawkeye and found her smiling at him, looking honestly grateful. He shrugged, embarrassed, and looked back at where Mustang was shifting carefully across his bed, his fingers reaching for the edge of the small table on the other side and – Ed assumed – the glass of water sat in the centre of it. "Colonel," he called, and Mustang paused, looking towards Ed. "You made me a promise. Break it, I'll punch your lights out for real."

Mustang gave him a quiet, helpless smile, the same one Ed remembered from a conversation in his car, held over a handful of loose change. "A blind Führer, Fullmetal?" he repeated, and while he sounded less defeated, more alive, it was clear this was going to be a hang-up for him.

Ed considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "About as likely as a twelve-year-old State Alchemist with two automail limbs, wouldn't you say?"

Mustang blinked, and then his smile eased and he straightened. "It seems," he offered, and there was a hint of the familiar sarcastic lit to his voice, "that I'm being challenged to one-up a rather small–"

"Oh, fuck you, I'm a perfectly respectable height!"

Okay, so, acknowledging that Mustang used his height against him didn't actually keep Ed from responding to it.

Hawkeye let out a very loud, very obvious sigh. "How is Alphonse?" she asked, bringing a very obvious end to their bickering.

Guilt tickled at his throat, but Ed swallowed it down and shrugged. "Okay. He's sleeping a lot, making up for lost time. Sometimes, when he first wakes up, he just sort of sits there and pets his sheets or the bed frame or whatever. It's kind of funny." He forced a smile, hoped it didn't look as false as it felt. "Doc says, once he's awake more than he's asleep, we can head back to Resembool. Eat that apple pie Winry promised she'd have waiting for us." His smile came easier, thinking about the pie.

"Have you called her?" Hawkeye asked, and it was clear from her tone that she knew he hadn't.

Ed cleared his throat and scuffed his hospital slipper against the floor. "Not yet," he admitted.

"Go do that."

"I was going to–"

"Now."

Ed sighed, giving in to the inevitable. At least calling Winry meant he didn't have to go back to Al so soon, he guessed. "Yeah, okay. I'm going." He glanced towards Mustang, found him looking in his direction with his head tilted to one side slightly, expression wiped carefully clean. "Don't make me come back here and drag you out of bed again, Mustang," he ordered.

Mustang's mouth quirked at one side. "I shall endeavour to keep your threat in mind," he promised.

Ed rolled his eyes – pompous fuck – then left with a faint wave, which he actually sort of regretted when his wounds twinged, and he really hoped he hadn't reopened anything while dragging Mustang around.

Actually, no. He was okay with having opened something, just so long as he got his point across. Just so long as the bastard stopped fucking whining about his lot in life and got on with it. Because Ed had got used to the idea of Mustang as Führer, of him turning their country into a democracy, of making this somewhere to be proud of coming from. And then maybe Ed could shove that in Ling's fucking face next time he started singing Xing's fucking praises. Fucking 'pillow-talk' his dick.

Ed sighed and refocussed his thoughts as he reached the closest phone. He picked up the handset and gingerly settled it between his cheek and left shoulder as he quickly dialled the familiar number.

"Rockbell Automail," Granny said when she picked up.

"Granny!" Ed called, and he hadn't realised how much he'd needed to hear her voice, to know that they were okay, out there in Resembool. Fuck, it was like a massive weight off his shoulders.

"Ed?" Granny recognised, and Ed heard a clatter through the connection. "Oh, thank god. When you didn't call..."

"Sorry," Ed offered, slumping back against the wall and staring across the floor blankly. "I didn't–" He sighed. "Al and I are headed home soon as we're released from hospital."

" 'We'?" Granny repeated, and there was a world of questions in that word.

Ed felt himself smile, but it ached, ached like he didn't have the right to smile, to be happy, to be proud. "Yeah," he said, and he was glad the word came out so easily. "Al's sleeping right now."

"Thank god," Granny said again, and the relief in her voice just made Ed's chest clench.

She'd understand, he realised. Granny had been Hohenheim's friend, but she was old enough, had seen enough, that she'd understand why he'd given in to that bastard's plea. And he desperately needed someone to tell him he'd done okay, that Mum – that Al – would forgive him. Because Teacher had tried, had said she understood, that he just had to give Al time, but it was hard when Al lay there so silent. "Granny–" he started, before he heard Winry's voice, at a distance and too garbled to make out the actual words, but it still cut him off because he– Because–

He cleared his throat. "I'll ring you when we're ready to leave, let you know when we'll be back in Resembool," he offered, then quickly hung up.

He knocked his head back against the wall and turned to stare up at the ceiling, a part of him expecting Granny or Winry to ring back, to tell him off for just hanging up. But they didn't, and he was left again with a crawling mass of guilt in his throat, unable to help remembering, again, every minute shift of Al's expression as he realised what Ed had traded for him, as they returned to the real world and Al had opened his eyes, had stared at Ed for a long moment, then turned away.

He was startled from his thoughts – fucking nightmares – by someone falling into him. Ed caught them on automatic, opened his mouth to snarl at them that they needed to fucking watch it, but he found golden-blond hair, the same shade as his own, and wide, half-panicked eyes just as gold. "Al?" he breathed, tightening his grip as he felt his brother's unsteady legs giving out. "What the fuck? You're supposed to be in bed!"

"So are you," Al told him, but he sounded completely exhausted, and Ed could make a pretty good guess what the trip from his bed and down the hall had cost him.

With a distant acknowledgement that he was going to regret this later – hand-in-hand with the knowledge that there was nothing that Ed wouldn't do for Al – he shifted his grip on his brother and picked him up with a grunt.

"Brother!" Al hissed, clinging to Ed's neck for dear life. "You're not supposed to be–"

"Shut up, Alphonse," Ed ordered through gritted teeth, and Al obediently fell silent.

Thankfully, it really wasn't that far back to their room, and while Ed's arms would probably never forgive him, his legs were just fucking fine, in far better condition than Al's, so it took him very little time to make it to Al's bed and carefully set him down on it.

"You're bleeding," Al informed him as Ed carefully straightened the blankets and pulled them back over the frail form.

Ed glanced at his left arm first, which looked fine, then to his right shoulder and, yeah, there was blood showing through there. He shrugged, biting back a wince as pain snapped at him. "It's nothing," he insisted, and ignored his brother's frown to ask, "Why were you out of bed?"

Al went from disapproving to hunched in on himself in record time, and Ed felt a thrill of very real fear as he sat gingerly on the edge of his brother's bed and covered his hands, which were huddled together in his lap, with his own hand. "Al?" he prodded gently, and he didn't fucking care that his voice shook.

Al took a shuddering breath, then quietly explained, "I had a...a dream, and it was– You didn't– It wasn't...Dad. It was you, who walked through the...the Gate. And I woke up and you were–"

Gone.

Ed closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Al," he offered. "I was just–" Just what? There was no way he could possibly tell Al he'd been feeling shitty and decided to go piss off the fucking colonel, because Al would remember right off that the bastard was blind and Ed really didn't need to deal with that disapproving silence on top of the Hohenheim one, so, second option: "–calling Granny and Winry, you know? Figured we should probably let them know we were okay, that we're coming back soon as we can."

Al's hands twitched under his. "That's...unlike you, a bit, Brother," he offered, and his expression, when Ed peeked up at him, was somewhere between surprised and proud, and Ed was really fucking glad that he'd left out visiting Mustang.

"Yeah," he agreed, and barely remembered to only shrug his left shoulder before he moved his right shoulder again. "If they start checking me over for alien abduction or some shit when we get back, I expect you to protect me."

Al blinked once, then let out a laugh that sounded a little rusty. "Idiot," he said, and it sounded so fucking fond. It was the break in the silence that Ed had been desperate for and he felt–

That mass of guilt caught in his throat, choked him even as tears sprung to his eyes. "I'm sorry," he got out, and it dragged through him like serrated steel.

"Brother?" Al whispered, and his hands twisted in his lap, caught the hand that Ed had covered them with. "Broth– Ed, I–"

"I'm sorry," Ed said again, and it came out a little easier, slipped through the ruin the previous words had left behind.

Al pulled away from his hand, shifted along the bed and leant forward, wrapping his arms around Ed, and it was the first fucking hug – the first warm hug – between them since...since...

Ed choked on a sob and wrapped his arms back around Al in return, pressed his face against the crook on his neck and didn't even fucking care that he was supposed to be stronger than this, because this was Al, and he'd fucking missed him. Apart for months, not even getting a fucking chance to really talk because they were throwing themselves back into danger, watching Al fucking sacrifice himself for Ed, and then this...this empty silence between them.

Ed wasn't strong enough for empty silences. Not when then were between him and Al.

"Teacher told me," Al whispered, once Ed didn't feel quite so much like he was drowning in guilt, "that you tried to, that you turned down Dad, the first time, but he...he made it his dying wish, and you–"

"Agreed," Ed finished quietly, gathering himself as he pulled back, tried to hold around himself that strength that had got him through too many tragedies. "Yeah." He met Al's gaze, was grateful when he didn't find anything to flinch away from save the colour, the reminder of the man he'd sacrificed, the parent he'd killed. Because, despite how much of a shit father he'd been, no matter the fact the Ed would never forgive him for abandoning them, there was no denying that Hohenheim had been Ed and Al's father.

"Do you...regret it?" Al asked.

Ed frowned. Did he? Did he regret trading that good-for-nothing bastard for Al, the light of his fucking life? Did he regret trading the relief that he hadn't killed Mum a second time, for the knowledge that he'd knowingly killed his father? Did he regret breaking his word and using another's life to bring Al back? "I don't know," he settled on, because, as guilty as he felt, he wasn't sure it outweighed the simple fact that he hadn't lost Al.

Al considered that for a moment, then nodded. "Good," he decided, before drooping slightly.

Ed knew that body language, was familiar with it in himself, and he gently pushed Al back down to his pillows. "Go back to sleep, Al," he ordered.

Al pressed his mouth into a stubborn line and struggled to sit back up. "Not until you call for a nurse," he insisted, then set about flailing his hands at Ed when he gave up playing nice and forcefully shoved Al back down.

"For fuck's sake, Alphonse," Ed complained, rolling his eyes. "I'll go get a nurse, but only if you stay laying down. Deal?"

Al huffed, but stopped trying to shove Ed's hand away. "Fine. Go. Now."

"I'm gonna fucking trade with Mustang and you can mother-hen him," Ed muttered, and Al flailed his hands at him again, but there was a smile in his gold-gold eyes, and Ed felt his own mouth twisting with a smile that felt unfamiliar as he went to wave down a nurse.

-0-

Sometime the next afternoon, while Ed was helping Al manage his flatware – and stealing bites of his food, earning him smacks and irritated complaints in equal measure – Fuery poked his head in the door. "Hey, Ed. Al," he called, smiling a bit tiredly.

"Hey, Fuery!" Ed called.

"Are you okay?" Al added, before smacking Ed's hand as he tried to sneak a bite of his peas.

Fuery let out a laugh. "Yeah. Tired. Colonel's got me running errands for him. Wanted to see you, actually, Ed."

Al sighed. "What did you do, Brother?"

"Nothing!" Ed insisted, and he knew he'd said it too fast, knew Al knew he'd said it too fast, and realised he was going to have to make his escape now, or he was going to be telling Al everything and that was–

Right, so, escaping.

He jumped to his feet, even as Al warned, "Brother."

He tapped Fuery lightly on the shoulder as he slipped past him. "Tag. Watch Al for me. Take a nap on my bed. Something," he insisted, and Fuery's laughter developed a grateful edge as it trailed him down to Mustang and Hawkeye's room.

Ed pushed his way inside, only keeping from kicking the door because he wasn't fucking repairing it and because Hawkeye was in there too, and declared, "I'm not your fucking do–" He stopped, staring at the piles of books that had appeared overnight in the space between Mustang and Hawkeye's beds. "–the fuck?"

Hawkeye let out a breath that sounded suspiciously relieved, then held out a book to Ed, her finger caught between the pages. "Read to him. Please," she requested, and her voice sounded like it hurt.

Ed took the offered book, frowning, and opened it up to the page Hawkeye had been marking while she reached for a half-empty glass of water on the small table next to her and drained it. He glanced the book over, eyes catching on a couple of familiar words – farming, irrigation, soil health – from his childhood. Nothing a colonel in the military – a man reaching for the Führership – should be interested in. Had he misjudged Mustang's mood when he left the day before?

"Any day now, Fullmetal," Mustang ordered, and Ed glanced up to find the bastard sitting up straight in his bed, his arms crossed over his chest, expression imperious.

"Fuck you," Ed snapped, looking back down at the book. "I'm not your fucking–"

Ishval.

Ed snapped his mouth shut, staring down at that word, realising...understanding... "You're going back," he murmured, raising his eyes and stepping closer to the stacks of books, seeing titles of law books, books on Ishvalan culture, books about their food, about how to safely build buildings in the desert, and how to find water. "You're going to rebuild Ishval."

Mustang was tense when Ed looked back up at him. "Yes," he said when Ed just kept staring at him, waiting for an answer, because he was learning the strength of silence. "We never would have managed without them, without Scar. It's right, giving them their homeland back, and Führer Grumman already agreed."

Ed blinked at that; he hadn't realised they'd promoted someone to the seat, though it made sense that they'd want a Führer as quickly as possible. And, given he was the highest ranked general who'd survived the Promised Day, he would be the best candidate. That he'd been working as an ally to Mustang and the rest of them meant Ed was actually...pretty okay with that. He'd met Grumman in East Command a few times and didn't mind him, though he wished the man hadn't developed that irritating habit of referring to Ed by his assumed military rank, rather than his title, given that Ed had never had any sort of military training and held very little stock in his rank.

"Good," he decided, slipping a finger between the pages of the book he held and closing it around it. "Lieutenant, your glass?"

Hawkeye looked momentarily surprised, but handed it over with a small smile even as Mustang demanded, "What are you waiting for, Fullmetal?"

"I'm getting the lieutenant more water, you impatient bastard. Hold your fucking horses," Ed snapped back, and he was kinda sad that Mustang couldn't see the grin on his face, because, oh, Ed had been saving up that line since the first time he'd heard about the breed of horses called mustangs.

Hawkeye coughed into her hand, very obviously hiding a laugh, and Mustang sighed. "Cute. Thank you. I've never heard that one before," he said drily.

"Do you want me to read your book?" Ed demanded as he brought the refilled glass back to Hawkeye.

"Thank you," she whispered, and he offered her a smile.

Mustang let out an irritated sigh. "Fine. Ha-ha."

Ed rolled his eyes. "Have I mentioned today that you're an absolute bastard?" he asked as he opened the book back up. Before Mustang could respond, he started reading, and the bastard let out a huff before settling in to listen.

It was...strangely soothing to read the book out loud. A little slower than Ed would have liked – he processed things far quicker than he could verbalise them – but he'd always had very little interest in learning about farming, no matter the culture, so he didn't have the urge to skip ahead. Instead, he found himself falling into a headspace that pushed away his guilt, the faint ache of his shoulder and arm, the fear that Al might still be angry with him for sacrificing Hohenheim. There was nothing but the flow of words.

So it really wasn't a surprise, when he'd reached the end of the book, to find that most of the day had passed. His throat felt a little rough, but someone had clearly brought him water at some point – there was an empty glass on the floor next to him, not that he remembered either sitting down or drinking the water – and if it weren't for his stomach's pointed demand for food, he might well have picked up the next book in the stack and kept on, because that had been...nice.

He cleared his throat and carefully pushed up, wincing as his body complained about the change in position after so long sitting unmoving. "Yeah, so, bit dry there, Colonel," he commented, keeping his voice quiet because Hawkeye had apparently fallen asleep at one point, and waking her would be asking to be shot.

Mustang blinked in his general direction. "I expect most of these will be dry," he admitted, following Ed's example in keeping his voice down and motioning towards the piles of books, nearly knocking into one of them. Then he grimaced and offered, "Thank you. I hadn't meant to keep you from Alphonse for quite so long–"

"Nah." Ed waved it away. "Like I said yesterday, he's sleeping most of the day. Wake him up for meals, maybe talk for a bit–" well, okay, that part was new, just like Al actually letting him help with his food, rather than asking a nurse to do it "–then he's right back to sleep. Little boring, honestly." He tapped his fingers against the cover of the book in his hand. "Didn't think about asking someone to run by the library for me."

Mustang snorted. "I'm sure you've already read everything in there."

Ed grinned. "Not everything. Not these," he pointed out, before glancing between the stacks and Hawkeye's sleeping form. "I guess it's useless to ask you if there's any organisation to these stacks."

Out of the corner of his eye, Ed saw Mustang's mouth tightening, and he couldn't help but feel a little bad for his callousness, but he also didn't think tiptoeing around a disability did anybody any good, and he should fucking know.

"No," Mustang bit out. "But as Second Lieutenant Falman wasn't involved, I don't expect there to be any sort of order."

"That's true," Ed muttered, looking over the mess of titles. "Fine. You got a pile for finished books?"

"...No," Mustang decided, frowning. "Hawkeye reads slower than you do."

Ed huffed and walked back to his spot against the wall to set the finished book down there. "News flash, blind man, she sort of has a neck wound."

"I know that," Mustang hissed back, his expression twisting with something very familiar to Ed: Guilt.

He stood there for a moment, staring at Mustang as he collected himself, replaced his blank mask, and Ed had to wonder what had happened between when he'd been dragged down to the Dwarf in the Flask's inner sanctum and when Mustang had been forced down after them.

He shook his head. "I'll come by after lunch again tomorrow," he offered, and surprise flashed across Mustang's face. "Don't fucking look at me like that, you bastard. I told you, it's boring staring at Al all fucking afternoon, and the lieutenant needs a break from being your reader. Just pick a less tedious book next time. Unless you're aiming to put her to sleep in the afternoons, in which case–"

"Be quiet, Fullmetal," Mustang ordered, and Ed flashed him a grin the bastard couldn't see. "Go back to your brother."

"Yeah, yeah. Ask for a pitcher or something when they bring your dinner by."

Mustang frowned. "Why?"

"So she doesn't have to wait for someone to come by and refill her water for her."

"I–" Mustang stopped, blinking a few times. "Ah. Right. I'll do that."

"Night, bastard!" Ed offered, before leaving the room back for his own.

Fuery had left at some point while Ed had been gone, but dinner was in the process of being delivered around, and he found Al awake and fighting with his flatware on his own, while another tray sat next to Ed's bed. Ed paused for a minute, debating, before giving it up as a bad job and walking over to take the fork from Al's shaking fingers. "Hey," he offered.

Al blinked at him. "You were gone a long time," he pointed out, before accepting the mouthful Ed held out to him.

"Yeah, sorry about that. Colonel Bastard's got Hawkeye reading to him, 'cept you know her throat's not the best right now, and it's really fucking hard to read a book and refill your water at the same time, 'specially when you kinda can't tilt your head forward, right?"

Al dodged the next mouthful, his eyes practically dancing with laughter. "You were reading to the colonel?"

"Yup," Ed agreed, and Al finally accepted his food. "All about fucking Ishvalan farming, of all the shit to waste my afternoon with. Told him he's gotta pick something more interesting for tomorrow."

Al blinked at him and brought up a hand to stop the fork so he could swallow, then ask, "You're going back tomorrow?"

Ed swallowed. "Yeah, if that's okay? I mean, if you'd rather I stayed here, I can totally do that, but–"

"No, it's fine," Al was quick to assure him. "I'm okay with that, really. I know I'm kind of boring right now. Just, please, please promise me you won't antagonise him."

"Can't make that promise," Ed admitted, and Al sighed before accepting his next bite. "I can promise, though, that I won't go overboard. I'll try." Except for yesterday, but Mustang had clearly needed that push. Fuck, even Hawkeye had seemed to agree by the end.

Al rolled his eyes. "Just don't get court-martialled," he muttered around a mouthful.

Ed let out an exaggerated gasp. "Alphonse Elric! Don't talk with your mouth full! Were you raised by wolves?"

Al just pinned him with a flat look.

Ed grinned. "Do as I say, not as I do?"

Al grabbed his fork away from Ed. "Go eat your own dinner before I throw my milk at you," he threatened, and Ed made a strategic retreat, deciding Al could figure out his own fucking flatware.

-0-

The next day, Ed found himself reading about Ishvalan culture, which was actually pretty interesting. He finished it well before dinner, and settled onto the stool next to Mustang to quietly debate some points with him – Hawkeye had fallen asleep again, and Ed couldn't help but wonder how much it must suck to have a roommate who couldn't tell time – while he attempted to organise the piles of books a little bit.

The following morning, the nurse who came to collect their breakfast trays was accompanied by Grumman, and she quickly scurried about her business while Grumman offered a cheerful smile and a, "Major Elric, Mr Elric. It's good to see you both looking so well."

"Führer Grumman," Ed returned in his blandest tone possible, and Al hissed, "Brother!"

Grumman's smile just widened a bit. "Do you mind if I sit?" he requested, motioning to the uncomfortable hospital chair that Ed usually sat in to help Al eat, while the nurse scurried out with their empty food trays.

Ed shrugged. "Be my guest."

Al sighed, and Ed wondered why he actually bothered trying to make him be polite to the ranking members of the military. Also, Mustang. (Okay, being honest, it was usually Mustang. Because Ed had rarely had opportunity to be rude to anyone higher ranked than a major, other than Hughes, which he suspected was Mustang's doing, and a damn good strategy for someone who was aiming for a promotion and had a particularly rude subordinate.)

Grumman settled easily into the chair, looking for all the world like it wasn't nearly so uncomfortable as Ed knew it was, and turned his focus on Ed. "Given some of Brigadier General Mustang's comments–"

"Of course he got a promotion," Ed complained, mostly to hide how weirdly pleased that fact made him.

"–I would have expected to see your resignation on my desk, Major," Grumman finished, seeming not to notice Ed's interruption.

Ed blinked at that. "My resignation?" he repeated. Because...what?

Grumman nodded. "Indeed. I was under the impression that you'd got all you'd wanted from the military. Mustang certainly thinks you intend to resign; he was quite surprised to learn that you haven't submitted anything."

Ed blinked again, his mind scattering in a thousand different directions. Quit the military?

Well, yeah, okay, so he'd got Al back. That was the only reason he'd joined the military to begin with. If he'd met his goal a year ago, he'd have turned in his resignation before going to hospital, wouldn't have cared about the bloodstains he might have left on the paper. But now?

He wanted to see Mustang to the top. Felt like he needed to be there, keep pushing him when everyone else tiptoed around his disability. He didn't want to lose the friendships he'd formed with Fuery and Breda and Havoc (even if staying with the military meant nothing in terms of his friendship with Havoc), didn't want to walk away from his arguments with Mustang, or Hawkeye's way of making them shut up.

Too, there was a sense of responsibility: the Dwarf in the Flask had been born from Hohenheim, same as Ed. Hohenheim and the Dwarf in the Flask were both gone, but the scars from their centuries-long misdeeds weren't so easy to wipe away, and Ed wanted to help fix it. He wanted to keep helping his people, keep making things better with his own two hands, because maybe then his sins would sit a little lighter on his shoulders; it had always worked in the past.

But then there was Al. Al, who had no ties to the military – who Ed didn't want to have ties to the military – and who had to be Ed's priority.

Al, who could clearly read Ed's fucking mind, because he said, "Could Brother be on an extended leave? I mean, he's got to have some saved up, right? He's never taken any of it before, not even when he should have."

Ed rolled his eyes. "Get off my back about that, already." Fuck, you break a couple ribs on a mission and everyone seems to think you need to take fucking leave to heal back up.

Grumman gave a considering nod. "I can't give you anything more than a year," he cautioned, and Ed shrugged; he didn't expect it to take a year for him to figure out if he needed to stay with Al or join back up. "Either choice, you'll have to return to Central Command."

Ed frowned. "Not wherever Mustang is? Ishval, I'd guess; it's closer to us than Central."

Grumman shrugged. "If you're intending to resign, you can certainly file the paperwork through Mustang, though it may take a couple months to make it back to Central, and I wouldn't want to see your name on the list of defectors again because you cut it close."

Ed winced. "Right, sure. But if I stick with you lot? I should just be able to go back to Mustang, right? Get whatever shit job no one else wants to touch?" Al sighed, but didn't comment on that.

Grumman's mouth twitched. "Normally, yes," he agreed. "However, given recent events and your very necessary part in them, you're due a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel."

Ed stiffened, while Al breathed out what was almost assuredly a curse. "I'm a State Alchemist," he pointed out, forcing the words past his suddenly dry throat. "I'm not a fu– I'm not an officer. I've never been–"

Grumman's gaze was steady as he pointed out, "If you return to the military, Major, it's not to use our resources for your own means any more, it's to be a part of us. You're an officer."

"I'm not–" How could he possibly explain that he wasn't officer material? Ed didn't work in groups, didn't order people around. He just–

"Second Lieutenants Darius Wright and Heinkel Potez seem to think you have what it takes to be an officer," Grumman added. "Though, Wright did comment that you have a problem with remembering names."

Ed huffed. "Darius doesn't know how to take a fucking joke. Greed was like...a thousand times worse than me." Well, okay, so he'd made a point to use Darius and Heinkel's names, but he only ever used Ed's name when shit was serious, and he had other...habits that caused hang-ups.

"Brother," Al moaned.

"Anyway, those two didn't need me. All I ever did was get them into more trouble."

"They seemed to think that you saved their lives at great risk to your own while they were still your enemies."

Ed set his jaw; he didn't want to talk about the mineshaft or using his own soul as a Philosopher's Stone, had no interest in letting Al find out how close he'd come to death. (Though, if he was being honest, the first time he took off his shirt and Al saw the matching scars, he was going to be explaining it. But that wasn't now.) "So what?" he asked, and his voice came out tight. "I don't like killing – hell, I'm gonna bet that's in my fucking file somewhere – but that doesn't make me fucking officer material. Ask Mustang."

Grumman's smile was irritatingly knowing. "Be that as it may, you have earned a promotion, and that requires officer training. It's a twelve week course, held three times a year, starting the first Mondays of January, May, and September."

Ed shook his head. "What if I refuse the promotion?" he asked, because he knew that was always an option, and as willing as he was to stick it out with the military – to hold onto that one little bit of familiarity left over from before – he really couldn't see himself as an officer. He didn't lead people, couldn't lead people, not when he knew all too well the sort of dangers he'd put himself and Al through; he could take it, had already walked through hell, and Al had been more than durable enough, but others?

Grumman considered him, and Ed felt a little like all of his concerns were written across his face. "Nothing will change," he allowed at last. "However, if I might be frank?"

Ed blinked, surprised and intrigued, and leant forward. "Please."

"You are going to do Mustang a lot more good as an officer than you will as a wild card."

Ed sat back, feeling that comment like a slap in the face; Grumman was a lot sharper than he'd thought he was. "Right," he heard himself say, his voice a little faint.

Damn. He was going to have to go through officer training, wasn't he? And that meant–

Ed rubbed a hand over his face. "Uniform. Ugh."

Grumman and Al both let out chuckles, and Ed shot his brother a glare, the traitor.

"Major," Grumman called, and Ed turned back to him with a scowl. The man's eyes practically twinkled as he commented, "No matter your rank, if you return to the military, you will be picking up a uniform and wearing it in all command buildings."

Ed stiffened, shaking his head. "They don't fit–" he started, citing what Mustang had originally told him when Ed had, with much distaste, asked if he'd have to wear one.

"We have always cared a uniform in your size," Grumman interrupted, and Ed's mouth snapped shut as his eyes widened; Mustang had...lied to him? "Brigadier General Mustang put in a request that you be exempt due to your age and your habit of travelling with a civilian, and Bradley granted it."

"Oh."

Grumman chuckled. "Did you honestly believe the military unable to accommodate varying sizes? You're familiar with Major Armstrong, I believe?"

And Ed was an alchemist, perfectly capable of resizing a uniform on his own, if it had been necessary. He'd just been so angry at Mustang commenting on his size – manipulating bastard – and fucking grateful that he didn't have to wear the damn thing, that he'd never questioned the fact that he was exempt. Fuck, Fuery had only been a little taller than him, and built much slimmer, and Ed had never thought to question the fact that he'd had no trouble getting a uniform that fit.

"I'm aware that the uniform doesn't suite your fighting style," Grumman added, "and many of the missions you've been sent on in the past were better served being given to someone out of uniform, so getting you a uniform has never been a priority and, should you return, I have no qualms about you continuing to wear civilian clothing on missions, but you will be required to don the uniform while on base. Even if you're only coming in for a briefing."

Ed sighed and nodded. It made sense, he supposed. He'd always known he stood out while walking through various military compounds, and fuck alone knew how much easier it would be to get other members of the military to listen to him if he actually wore the fucking thing, rather than having to dig out his pocket watch and wave it in their faces. Still, the idea of wearing a uniform was as distasteful to him as officer training, and he knew that was because he disliked the military, was only willing to stick it out so he could push Mustang up.

What was it that Ed had told himself when he'd decided to join the military five years ago? 'Sometimes, the only way to fully clean your hands, is to use more dirt.'

Grumman stood with a dramatic groan. "A productive talk, Major Elric," he declared, pinning Ed with a smile that left him just a little bit concerned about his future. "I expect to see you some time before next spring."

"Yes, sir," Ed agreed, resigned. And then he grimaced at how much like a good little soldier he had sounded.

Grumman chuckled and nodded to Al. "Mr Elric."

"Führer," Al replied politely and they watched as the man left the room. Once the door had closed behind Grumman, Al said, "You want to stay with the military."

Ed closed his eyes and dropped back onto his bed. "Not until you're better."

Al was quiet for a long moment, doubtless turning that response over in his head, trying to find some untruth. "I want to travel to Xing, when I'm strong enough," he said, and Ed glanced over at him. "Visit May. See her home. Maybe learn alkahestry." He looked at Ed, then, expression troubled. "I want to see the world."

"Good," Ed heard himself say, without even realising he was going to. Al's brow furrowed, something that looked suspiciously like hurt darkening his eyes, and Ed pushed himself back up into a sitting position, hurrying to explain, "You should go to Xing, Al. Spend time with May, learn alkahestry, irritate Ling for me."

"Brother," Al complained, and Ed knew it was more because of the 'irritate Ling' bit than anything else.

Ed shook his head. "Whatever. See the world," he settled on. "Live his legacy." Al's eyes widened, and Ed had to look away. "I'll be here, with Mustang and them. Give you somewhere to come home to."

"You're going to live Mum's legacy," Al suggested quietly.

Ed shrugged his left shoulder. "Sure. Except I'm still going to be here when you show your ugly face again." He flashed Al his best shit-eating grin.

Al rolled his eyes. "Your ugly face," he shot back, and they both laughed.

After they'd both settled again, Al laying back like he was going to sleep some more, he asked, "Brother?"

"Yeah?"

"You have to write."

Ed grimaced and looked down at his hands. He hated writing things for other people, knew it looked like chicken scratch because he sucked at writing with his left hand. But he had his right hand back now, and this was Al. "Okay," he agreed. "Monthly letters. Both of us. You tell me about Xing and everywhere else you go, I'll keep you updated about Amestris."

Al held out his hand between their beds, fist clenched. "Deal," he agreed.

Ed reached out and knocked his brother's fist with his own. "Deal."

It wasn't until after Al's breath had evened out into his sleeping rhythm that it really occurred to Ed that, yeah, he'd just decided to keep on in the military, and Teacher was probably going to kill him, assuming Winry didn't get to him first.

Strangely, he couldn't feel anything but relieved.

.