Kill or be killed
A Fullmetal Alchemist fan fiction by Hitokiri-san (Beta reader: Nekotsuki)
A/N: This is my first attempt at an FMA fic, a one-shot based on a very commonly used idea: war breaks out in Amestris. (which is to be expected really, provided that nearly all of Amestris' neighboring countries seem to hate her). Mostly Roy and Ed-centric and non-yaoi, just pure angst within the military. Please enjoy!
The whole Central headquarters, he observed with grave curiosity as he made his usual way through the packed corridors, was crackling with an intangible tension today. One didn't have to be a prodigy in alchemy to identify the change in atmosphere; to him, the place that had usually sported a warm, casual ambience was now saturated – literally speaking – with lead. The weight of the hidden metal was causing each person's shoulder to sag in a way he never recalled seeing in the past - it was almost as if they had each been dragged down by an extra automail limb.
He wondered to himself what the matter was.
Usually, the entrance of the Fullmetal Alchemist would be greeted with either enthusiastic welcome or due respect of his status; the officers being long since accustomed to his irregular reports to the colonel every two weeks to a month – and to the resounding shouts every time he entered the colonel's office. Today, however, it seemed that most officers were too engaged in a sort of intense discussion to notice him, much less hear his morning greeting. The few responses that he got seemed merely an attempt at courtesy – as if he wasn't an object worthy of attention at the moment. Feeling baffled rather than offended, Edward frowned slightly, golden eyes narrowing in contemplation.
The bastard colonel might have referred to his height as the reason for this neglect, quoting certain keywords such as "midget" and "shrimp" and referring to him as "hard for anyone to notice"…and thus succeed in infuriating his pint-sized subordinate. His eye twitched at that notion.
No, his height was not a deciding factor in the current situation.
"Nii-san, is something the matter?" Alphonse's soft, timid voice almost startled him in his musings - as always, any change in his emotions did not go undetected by his younger sibling. Edward spared a small smile at the suit of armor, not wanting to worry his brother with trivial matters such as…weird military atmospheres and annoying colonels.
"Iie. Let's give the bastard Taisa his report, and then we'll be off." The young alchemist grimaced with characteristic disgust upon mentioning his superior, tapping the aforementioned report with his knuckle. Meanwhile, he made up his mind to consult Mustang for this strange behavior. Ed hated to admit it: but when things seemed too amiss for comprehension, the wisest thing to do was to turn to the Colonel for an answer. A pompous ass though he was, Roy Mustang was, after all, resourceful.
As Fullmetal made his way past various military personnel, he failed to notice the numerous glances lighting on the silver chain that hung in an arc from his belt - as the men finally registered the alchemist's presence. They ceased talking, simultaneously stricken by the same thought.
"Would Elric-san be going too? I mean, he's only a kid…" The whispered question was left hanging in the air even as the object of inquiry moved further down the corridor.
A humorless guffaw was the answer. "Kid or no kid, he's a State Alchemist, and one of the most powerful living weapons of the military. Wherever they choose to put him, he himself has no choice in it."
As if that single word concluded their discussion of the youngest State Alchemist in history, the soldiers went back to their previous discussion, dismissing Fullmetal from their thoughts as they did so.
Who were they, anyway, to pity others when their own fates were already at stake?
It was to be expected.
It was nothing alarming, at first. A few minor skirmishes at the borderline had probably reminded Drachma of Amestris' threatening existence. Ashes of enmity were rekindled, insults were exchanged, and soon both countries were issuing official death threats. Half of it was just pure bluff and face-saving, though. As long as the Mountain of Briggs stood between them, neither was capable of doing much invasion on its account. And this was probably why the Fuhrer hadn't thought of annexing Drachma before now, given his endless aspirations of expanding the country's borderline.
All of the above must have meant absolutely nothing to Fullmetal, who couldn't care less for national affairs unless they were directly related to the Philosopher's stone; but the Colonel had observed a trace of desperation in his usual searches, a growing amount of irritation when given a new mission, the degradation of his handwritten reports from scribbles to scrawls – as if he was instinctively hurrying to reach his goal before any state business threw him off his tracks.
He had to admit it – Fullmetal had ample reasons to hurry.
Wordlessly, Roy stared down at the official document laid on his desk, his head resting on the back of his hands as he leant forward in meditation. Somehow, the given circumstances forced him to recall the boy's sardonic comment on receiving his certificate as a state alchemist.
"For such a significant title, it's surprising that they issue only a single sheet of paper to you."
The petite alchemist had said it in a most ironic tone, one automail arm settled defiantly on the side of his office couch. It was interesting, how the irony could be carried four years into the future, and still be as applicable as before.
A man is declared State Alchemist with a single sheet of certificate.
War is also declared with a lone sheet of notification.
It wasn't as if the Flame Alchemist hadn't seen war before. In fact, one could say that he'd seen more than enough in Ishbal. Who was he kidding? He'd seen death. He'd caused death himself, with a simple snap of his fingers. Mustang was a soldier; war was a soldier's destiny. And of course, it was war that earned him his current status. But somehow…
…somehow, he didn't quite know what to do this time.
His own condition was not the thing that troubled him. He would go, and his team was sure to follow his every step – this wasn't a point for consideration. But unlike the time of Ishbal's insurrection, he now had a new charge to look out for – who, to him, was both an irreplaceable asset and a burdensome liability at the same time.
His code name was Hagane no Renkinjutsushi - the Fullmetal Alchemist.
With the official declaration of war, the second thing that came to the colonel were papers from various high-ranking frontline commanders requesting "assistance", as they called it, from the Fullmetal Alchemist. Their reason was that Edward Elric was famed, skilled and highly utilizable as a National Alchemist, and they needed all the help they could get. Roy, of course, knew them too well to buy this as the sole reason. Added to the above qualities, Fullmetal was also a little kid; smart though he was in the field of alchemy, he was painfully blind to any power struggles and trickeries behind his back. Edward, as Roy knew from previous times, could be awfully naïve.
And that meant he was easy to manipulate and his outstanding alchemical skills could be exploited and put to their selfish uses. Mustang didn't trust them enough to entrust any of them with Hagane. More accurately, he trusted the handling of the teenager to himself and no one else.
Ever since Fullmetal came under his care, he had made sure that the youngster was free from harm – not physical harm, mind, Edward could take care of that pretty well – but from all the sugar-coated plots, backstabbing and various other dirty schemes that was part of an army life. Roy had familiarized himself with the game; Ed was worse than an amateur in this.
The colonel hadn't bothered attempting to explain that to him. The boy had plenty enough to worry him without adding this in. To Edward, having to deal with power struggles might be more complex than transmuting the Philosopher's Stone.
Upon receiving the papers, he had retaliated with several letters of reply (those bastards were going to pay dearly for burdening him with more paperwork!), stating – no, the Fullmetal Alchemist was under his direct command and wasn't going anywhere without his consent; and well, if anyone had a problem with that he could go straight to the Fuhrer and report against him. If someone of a higher rank wished to claim the young alchemist by status, the colonel could still cite the fact that it was him who discovered the little genius from the start. Until then, the Hagane no Renkinjutsushi remained his to manipul… under his command.
The colonel's office was silent, his five subordinates standing at erect attention as their chief continued his pondering - the occasional taps on the document in front of him the only sign of his movement.
Hawkeye started at the abrupt mention of her title before saluting. "Yes, Taisa?"
He straightened, midnight eyes regarding his second closely. "When will Fullmetal be reporting in?"
She lowered her eyes, knowing full well why he wanted this particular information, and sharing with him the same sentiments. The colonel obviously didn't anticipate the moment of the blonde teen's entrance.
"He should be reaching the headquarters this morning, Taisa. There is no need to…summon him with the document," she reported, her tone a notch softer than her usual professional, stern one. Acquaintances though they were, Hawkeye always had a soft spot reserved for the Elric brothers.
"I see." Roy laced his fingers, his voice heavy with gravity. There was a pregnant pause as the colonel noticed a straw-colored braid lurking near the office door.
"Fullmetal, are you going to stand there all day? Come on in."
Embarrassed at being caught eavesdropping, Edward entered in a huff; scowling openly, meanwhile, at the person he'd generously dubbed "bastard". He was about to throw in a couple of acid remarks when he noticed the presence of those beside Mustang. He smiled at them in greeting, deciding to settle his feud with his superior at a later date.
He immediately realized the inappropriateness of his demeanor, for the five officers concurrently avoided his eyes as he looked upon them. Nonplussed, he turned an enquiring gaze upon Roy, half expecting him to turn away in the same manner.
He didn't. Onyx eyes met his unflinchingly, and that was when Ed knew something was seriously wrong. Roy's features were deprived of his trademark smugness; even that smirk – which, to Edward's annoyance, usually hung about his lips as he addressed the younger alchemist - was mysteriously absent. He should have rejoiced at the fact; yet faced with such a sudden change in attitude, he found himself struck nearly speechless.
"Um…Taisa? Here's your report." Feeling highly nervous, Edward found himself acting on impulse, handing Roy his report instead of thrusting it towards him, as he normally would have done.
"Thank you." Even Mustang's voice carried no hint of the taunt he'd grown so accustomed to. No smart-aleck comments directed at his height; no sneering on how he was constantly wasting the army's budget with his aimless travels. The colonel merely accepted the report, and then swept it to the side of his desk without a second glance.
It was starting to scare him.
"I need to speak to Fullmetal in private. You're dismissed." Five pairs of boots clicking in response, and the officers filed out of the door. Somehow, Edward dreaded the outcome of this confrontation.
Dreaded it almost as much as Roy dreaded the moment of revelation.
"Fullmetal…" He hesitated. Why was it so difficult to say it right in front of the boy? It was but a fact. It wasn't as if the whole ordeal was his fault. Notionally speaking, Edward should have braced himself for this the first day he became a "dog of the military" – it was in his job description, whether he chose to notice it or not. Roy sighed; uncharacteristic though it was, he couldn't bring himself to state the blatant truth. "…the state has a mission for you."
"Which would be?" Mustang was trying to avoid the subject, Ed could tell as such. He had a certain feeling that he did not want to know what the mission was.
Roy held the previous document in hand, debating internally whether he should let the boy read for himself. No, he could not evade it any longer. That would be downright cowardly. He exhaled deeply; the words did not seem like his as they poured forth from his mouth.
"…You are going to war."
How terse and simple it was. And yet, he knew full well how he'd murdered an innocent soul with that simple statement. He'd watched himself shatter a spirit forged of fullmetal and stubborn passion, watched as the radiant hope faded bit by bit from the teenager's face.
It was one of those times when Roy Mustang hated himself enough to attempt suicide via a pistol.
It had been tolerable for the boy, at first. The promise to return to his brother had kept him anchored to what little pieces of sanity he had left - that and the pure desire to protect his comrades from harm. Somewhere in the deeper recesses of his mind, he had still remembered Hughes; that was probably why he said that he didn't want to see another chance of Alicia losing her father ever again.
His first kill had traumatized him to the point of near-madness. In a moment of desperate frenzy, Edward had run a man through with his transmuted automail blade. It wasn't intended – it was animal instinct, an attempt to preserve his own life. It was simple in process - a gasp, a large spurt of blood; and, as Scar would have put it, "another soul returns to God's embrace".
The young alchemist had been frozen immobile after that; if Roy hadn't been there to whisk him off from harm, he would probably have allowed himself to get killed.
Touka Koukan, as he had often quoted. One life for another.
Time and experience had hardened the once idealistic youth, however. Understanding came to him in a bloody form as the war dragged on: in order to protect, he had to kill. He had to keep his promise with the blood of others. Such was war; such was equivalent trade.
The Fullmetal Alchemist had been ruthlessly efficient. On the battlefield, he annihilated by masses; killing no longer brought him hesitation - a clap was all he needed to clear the land of enemy soldiers. To the Amestris soldiers, Fullmetal was a prodigy and a definite godsend. To Roy, Edward was retracing his steps at the war of Ishbal. It horrified him, to see the animated alchemist degrade gradually into an emotionless weapon. Edward seemed to drift from him further and further each passing day, growing more sullen and reserved as the killing took its toll on him.
What horrified Roy further was the undeniable knowledge that it was him who had brought the boy to this disastrous end.
"Edward." He walked over to the younger soldier, who had laid himself against a stack of supply crates to rest. Edward Elric had then reached the age of seventeen, his blonde hair having lengthened tremendously to trail down his lower back. Not bothering to keep it in a braid as he once had, the boy had it fixed in a loose ponytail; it swept across the crates as Fullmetal turned cold, calculating eyes at his superior.
"Your order, sir?"
Roy shook his head in frustration. It was getting worse now; every time he addressed Edward, the boy would automatically presume it a command. Effort at small talk would have little to no effect while jokes would be directly ignored. He decided to get straight to the point.
"You've been avoiding us, Edward. I, Hawkeye, Havok, Breda, Fury and Farman; you have us all worried. You know what I mean," he added impatiently, as Edward simply looked away, staring off into the smoke-clouded plains. Those dull, hollow eyes, so deprived of life, were painful to behold.
A pause. "Or do you think you're so pitifully tiny that we can't find you even if we scanned the grounds with a dozen microscopes?"
Edward gave him a rather dry look before resuming his scrutiny of the landscape. Mustang sighed at his anticipated lack of reaction, before plopping himself beside his inferior. "You never let any comments on your height go unpunished before, you know."
A wry smile formed at Edward's lip at this observation. "Taisa?"
"Kill or be killed…which is better?" It was said in an impassive monotone.
Roy was caught unaware by the question - but his answer, though not strictly intelligent, was prompt. "I would recommend neither."
It wasn't to the point, really, but Edward was in no mood to rebuke him. "Killing I've done in plenty. But the latter choice seems so appealing at times."
Mustang blinked; he had, obviously, not expected such a candid admittance from Hagane.
"If that is so, what keeps you alive to this moment?"
Fullmetal closed his amber eyes – they both knew the answer. Roy was simply reminding him of his promise. It was his commitment, to return to Alphonse and finish their earlier quest. He promised. And he meant to keep his promise at all costs.
Al. His only brother in this world. The sight of a golden-eyed boy with short-cropped hair flashed across his mind. He would not have Alphonse's soul trapped inside a suit of armor forever, he had vowed to himself so long ago. He would reverse the wrongs he'd dealt his brother. He had to.
It was his responsibility as a older brother.
"Yes, Al. Remember, Alphonse-kun is waiting for you at Rizenbul. He wants his elder brother to return to him." With that, Roy pushed off from the crate to return to his quarters, knowing that his purpose had been achieved.
He could be at peace knowing that he'd saved the boy from himself for one more day.