Chapter Four: The Little War

It was still dark when Havoc woke Edward. Scieszka wasn't up, so they spoke in whispers and there was only a solitary light on in the kitchen by which they ate their breakfast of fried ham, bread, and tea.

"I want to let her sleep," Havoc explained with a smile so sappy that Ed was tempted to roll his eyes and say, I get it, you like her. Still, it was sweet - letting someone sleep as love. It was what Al did for him before. Years before, he reminded himself.

She woke, however, just as they finished. "I couldn't let you go without saying goodbye," she said, even though she couldn't force her eyes more than half open. She kissed Havoc and smiled blearily at Ed.

"I hope I'll be seeing you again soon," she said.

"Oh, yeah," Ed said. "Food like that, I fully plan to visit with some frequency."

Scieszka laughed, though she sounded as though she was laughing because she had expected a joke rather than listened to one. Havoc grinned, though, and said, "High praise, Ed."

"Don't forget to call," Scieszka mumbled.

"Just about to do that," Havoc said. "Do you happen to remember where...?"

She bit her lip, looked upward and said, uncertainly, "Seelow...?" Then, more firmly, "Seelow. Right, because he just left Briggs; our good luck, he's in the East now. Oh, and you gave Edward his - " Her hands traced a befuddled circle. " - things?"

"I did not, actually," Havoc said.

"Oh," she said. "I put them in a bag. It's in our room. I'll go..." She yawned before she could finish her sentence.

"I'll get it," Edward said and suppressed a yawn of his own.

"Would you?" Havoc asked. "Where is it, Shez?"

"Bedside table," she said. Ed nodded and almost made it into the hallway before Havoc pulled Scieszka down for a kiss.

Their room was slightly larger than his had been. Its clutter, largely on the shelves and tables but spilling a little onto the floor, was an unsurprising mix of books and periodicals, pens and handwritten pages. Spotting the bag that Scieszka had mentioned was not difficult, sitting as it was on a tall tower of books. Ed went over and peered inside; his "things" consisted at first glance of heaps of clothing, a few peach-apple things, and several books.

"Thanks," Ed said to a considerably more awake Scieszka and a pleased-looking Havoc. They smiled in response.

"Well, I guess it's about time for us to head out," Havoc said, looking out the window to the lightening sky. "You try to get more sleep."

"Mm," Scieszka said, and nodded. "I shouldn't keep you any more."

"Yeah," Havoc said, and reached up for Scieszka as she leaned down. He gave her one last kiss on the cheek. "See you in a few days."

"See you then," she said, and waved at Edward one last time, then disappeared back down the hallway.

The car was hand-operated, the acceleration and brake operated by lever, something which Edward hadn't seen before.

"Not too many people in my situation to have this sort of thing," Havoc pointed out without much bitterness.

They went northeast, through farmland and forest, through civilization and beyond it. They drove for hours, stopping only to eat lunch beneath a dark tree in a brilliant field rippled by the winds of spring. And yet Edward enjoyed the drive, enjoyed it immensely, with the windows rolled down and the sun out and green country rolling by, with Havoc speaking sometimes, silent others. The only dark spot was how Edward found himself memorizing the path they were taking, to where Mustang was and how he found himself unable to stop.

Seelow was a squat town. The buildings all were short but each one was wide, and between each one there was a great deal of space, and once they drove into the town Edward kept expecting they were going to stop but they just kept on going. When Havoc finally parked and they went into a bar, the stools were low, and the people were short and broad. He climbed up with no difficulty.

Ed decided that he was a little in love with Seelow.

Havoc ordered a gin for himself and started to order milk for Edward -

"Not," Ed gritted out, "funny. Apple juice. Please."

The bartender looked between them, smiled a fleeting little half smile, and turned back towards the bar. When he passed them their drinks, he asked, "How's the weather out there? I've been stuck in here all day."

"A lot of people like it like this, but I don't know," Havoc said. "I actually like the rain. Weather like this, you have to worry about forest fires."

"Problem at this time of year," the bartender agreed.

"Problem year round," Havoc said, and took a tiny sip of his gin. The bartender nodded and half-shrugged, then turned to another customer, who was complaining about his glass not being clean.

Havoc barely even touched his drink, but Ed finished off his juice with enthusiasm. What could he say? It was good juice.

The bartender handed them their check, and Havoc overtipped.

"What do you say when it actually is rainy?" Ed asked on their way out.

"Still find some way to bring up forest fires, you want to say that a little louder?" Havoc muttered. As they got back in the car, he made a face. "I think Mustang makes us order gin to punish me, personally. Ugh."

"Never tried it," Ed confessed.

"Never do," Havoc said, wrinkling his nose. "Ugh, ugh."

On the back of their check was drawn a map that led them about five blocks down and maybe eight blocks to the right. Ed almost asked if it wouldn't be just as easy to walk it, then quickly shut his mouth and stared hard out the window. He was an ass sometimes.

The map took them to a (slightly less squat but still squatter than average) hotel with shutters that were painted but chipping. It was clear from the inside that once upon a time, someone had visited the Hotel Central and had decided to replicate it right there in little Seelow, except with crappier designs and materials. It was everything anyone could ever want: it was shabby, dirty, and pretentious.

The face behind the counter, though, was far from unwelcome.

"Lieutenant Havoc!" said Broche with a broad smile. But then his eyes flickered upwards, and his smile faded. "And...Edward Elric? That can't..."

"It's me," Ed said, and Broche looked at an utter loss for words.

"You've been gone so long," he finally said. "We thought you were dead."

"That's what I hear."

"Gosh," Broche said. "What've you been doing all this time?"

"It's a long story," Ed said, and thankfully Havoc intervened.

"Sorry to be a bother, but we need to see the General," he said.

"Oh!" Broche yelped. "Yes! Absolutely! Sorry. It's, uh, this floor - it's back there, the manager's office. Knock three times, then twice, then once."

"Thanks," Edward said, and smiled when Broche pointed them in the right direction. As he turned, Broche called after him -

"I'm really, really glad to see you again, Edward." He sounded so sincere, even fervent, that Ed had to turn back and smile before going on again.

"You don't want people to know? What happened?" Havoc asked as they passed the laundry room. Ed shrugged, and Havoc nodded. "Okay."

The back halls of the hotel, at least, were less pretentious. The door to the manager's office was flimsy plywood, from the feel of it as Ed knocked, and the knob simple aluminum rather than the gilded brass or what-the-hell-ever it would be on the rooms themselves.

It was Hawkeye who answered. Ed almost felt like cheering, because - don't get him wrong, Havoc was as trustworthy as they came, sort of, but Ed hadn't really expected to find Mustang. Maybe it was just his inherent pessimism. But if it was Hawkeye answering, the Colonel couldn't be far off.

Still, she looked old. She looked incredibly old. Still as pretty as ever, sure, but there were shadows under her eyes and wrinkles around her mouth. It seemed wrong that she should have aged more in the past three years than he had.

Her eyes fell on Edward briefly, passed onto Havoc. Hawkeye nodded to him. Then she seemed to think a moment; her gaze snapped back to Ed, and her mouth fell open slightly. Ed had never seen her so nonplussed.

"Edward," she said, then closed her mouth again. She stepped back to admit the two of them. "Please."

Inside, Mustang sat with a map and a stack of papers, referencing first then the other. If time had been tough for Hawkeye, it had been brutal on the Colonel. He looked exhausted, and he was pale beneath his graying hair. Thinner, too - he'd always looked healthy and vibrant when Ed had known him before, but now he was bordering on the wasted. The skin of his face seemed tightly stretched over the bones. He wasn't handsome anymore.

When he looked up, one side of his face was covered in a broad patch. So he'd lost something to his struggle, too; if it had started with him just wanting a prettier title, it didn't seem to have ended that way. For the first time, Ed felt a bit of sympathy for the Colonel.

"You look like shit, General," Havoc said cheerfully.

To Ed's relief, Mustang grinned at that, which made his face look less skull-like, more human. But when he spoke, his voice was reedy. "You look marginally better than you usually do."

"That bad?" Havoc laughed, then jerked his head in Ed's direction. "No comments on our visitor?"

Mustang looked at Ed, who waved, then rolled his eyes. His brow furrowed, and then his eye widened, and his mouth, too, fell agape. "Fullmetal?" he asked.

"In the flesh," Ed said. "And the not-flesh."

Mustang shook his head, coughed. He stood and bent and muttered something in Havoc's ear; Ed would have objected, but Hawkeye's hand fell on his shoulder. He turned to look at her.

"Edward," she said as Havoc was saying, "He's not a homunculus." "It's really been too long." Her smile made her look better, too. "You've grown up."

Ah, yes! Time had made him forget why it was he liked Hawkeye so, but now he remembered. He also took back his initial impressions. She was prettier and younger than she'd ever been before. Also smarter and more perceptive.

"Thanks, Lieutenant." He paused. "Is it still Lieutenant?"

"I'm actually a general myself, now."

"Being friends with the head honcho has perks, huh?" he said, and she laughed slightly. She sounded out of practice.

But then she had to ask, "But Alphonse..." Her brows drew together at what she saw in his face, and her mouth turned down a little, and her eyes softened with sympathy. But Ed shook his head furiously.

"He's missing," he said. "That's all." But her face was still so sympathetic. Ed turned away from her.

Just in time, too; the Colonel had just finished his conference with Havoc and jerked his head towards Ed. "Fullmetal," he said. Bastard's voice might have been thin, but it was much more authoritative than it had ever been before.

"Colonel," Edward returned.

"It's General, now," Mustang corrected.

Ed smirked at him. "From what I hear, all you did was make some dumbass speech on a table and walk out," he said, "but if you insist, General."

Mustang frowned. "I don't have any information on your brother," he said. Edward wasn't expecting the blow, and wasn't braced for it. He almost stumbled backwards. "I'm sorry."

"I - " Ed scrambled for his second watch, held it out to the Colonel. "Is this yours?"

Mustang took it from him and flipped the cover open, then closed it once again and handed it back, shaking his head. "Mine was inscribed. Better cared for, too." Ed decided he disliked Mustang's new, tired, thin voice, because it was way harder to tell what was a potshot and what was just a statement of fact.

"You did lose yours, though."

"I threw it away when I left, but that isn't mine, Fullmetal," Mustang said.

A knot formed in the pit of Ed's stomach, but he tried again: "Been in the West?"

"Certainly," Mustang said. "Why?"

"Anywhere near a town called Eriheim?" Ed persisted.

Mustang shook his head. "Name doesn't ring any bells."

"Oh," Edward said and turned his face away so that Mustang couldn't see his disappointment. "Fine."

Mustang waited, but there was nothing else. "That's it, then? No explanation?"

"Not good enough of one that you wouldn't give me shit about it," Ed said with as much venom as he could manage.

The Colonel sighed. "Hawkeye, will you set Havoc and Fullmetal up with rooms?"

She snapped a smart salute. "Sir."

"And Havoc - "

Havoc saluted much more lazily. "Got it," he said, and followed Hawkeye out. Mustang sat and nodded to the chair across the table.


Ooh, big powerful feared General Mustang saying please to him. He really was moving up in the world. The chair creaked dangerously when he leaned back in it, so he let all four legs settle to the floor again with a thump. "Bit of a shithole you're living in here, Colonel."

How refreshing. The Colonel didn't get all anal about his title, and he didn't purse his lips at Ed's foul language. He truly was the lesser of a couple of evils. "The owner is trustworthy, and it's in a good location." He laughed, slightly. "And Central probably doesn't think I'd ever stay here, so that's also a plus."

"Yeah, never thought I'd see ladykiller Colonel Mustang in a place like this. Never thought you'd go for it."

"Well, it's the nature of the war," Mustang answered. "What are they calling it back in Central?"

Ed shrugged. "Wasn't there long enough to find out. Why?"

"Just curious. It was still a criminal action the last time I heard anything, or terrorism. Which I find unfair. I don't fight like Bald does."

"Does, present tense?" Ed frowned. "I thought he was in prison."

"He escaped." Ed looked at Mustang, but Mustang looked right back. "You think I'd release someone like him? Someone who won't shrink from killing civilians?" The Colonel looked like he'd bitten into something sour. "No, he's an unpredictable variable in this conflict. Hates me almost as much as he hates the Fuhrer. He's a distant third in terms of military might, but that's not exactly something to sneeze at."

Ed smiled, pleased at his own cleverness. "Well, that proves it. Amestris is blind."

"What do you mean?"

"Two times is a coincidence, three times is a pattern, right? So when it was just you and the Fuhrer, both one-eyed men, wanting to be king, that was a coincidence. But now we have three one-eyed men trying to be king. Therefore, we live in the land of the blind."

"I think you have your cause and effect mixed up," Mustang said, but he laughed. Relief to hear that he still knew how.

Bit of revenge for the ambush earlier: "When did that happen, Colonel?"

"This?" Mustang asked, touching his eyepatch. "A few years back. Anyway, Bald has, in the past, shown himself to be belligerent in negotiations."

Edward stared a bit at the aggressive topic-change, but shrugged. "Fine. Well, I'm sure he's just jealous of your full head of hair." Ed chuckled - it was pretty clever - and then, when Mustang didn't say anything, prompted, "Because...Bald?"

"Oh, not getting the joke wasn't the reason I wasn't laughing," Mustang said, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. Ed pulled a face and mouthed "Oh, not getting the joke..." before Mustang looked directly at him. He was embarrassed a moment at the amusement on Mustang's face, but then scowled defiantly at the Colonel.

The Colonel, however, took even more amusement at that. "You've grown up, Fullmetal," he said, smiling a mocking smile.

Ed stopped and flushed, angry at the overwhelming irony in the Colonel's voice. He sputtered a moment, trying to come up with something scathing; all he could manage was "The butcher says hello, Mustang!"

Mustang's eye narrowed. "Good for the butcher," he replied.

Edward scowled. "I'll have you know that I've grown plenty over the past years," he ground out.

But the Colonel didn't rise to the occasion. "Where have you been, Edward? I won't mock you," he said when Edward hesitated.

"I'm just trying to gather my thoughts," Edward growled, then remembered that he'd admitted earlier that Mustang's mockery would be a factor. So he just closed his eyes and went ahead with it, figuring that the worst would come and then he could move beyond it: "I don't remember."

The expected "And here I thought you were smart" didn't come; there was no, "Going senile without ever having grown." Instead, when Ed opened his eyes again, Mustang was staring at him, his face back to its skull-shape, his mouth distorted in a frown.

"All right," was all he said. "What do you remember?"

"I remember - " Ed grimaced. Bad enough to be remembering Hughes' death as something fresh; worse still to bring it up to Mustang, who'd been closer to him than anyone. "Leaving Central," he finally said, and from the way Mustang's sunken eyes snapped away from his, he understood exactly what Ed was trying to avoid saying. "It was me and Al, and we were going south. And then I remember waking up a few days ago in some cabin in the woods standing on an array with - blood - all around me."

Mustang nodded, slowly. He looked a little troubled, but nothing more. "All right," he said again, like he was administering a damn test and Ed was giving answers that were just acceptable. "What was the array?"

"I didn't recognize it. It looked - " God, he didn't want to say this. "Sort of - like a human transmutation array."

"And Al was gone."

"No, I've come all the damn way out here because he got lost in a department store."

"What else?"

"The cabin was way the hell away from everything. I'd been living there a while. I had some food, a book, this watch - " Ed presented it. "And a uniform. Not mine. Looked about your size."

Mustang was silent a moment after that, then said, "What rank?" Edward didn't follow, so he elaborated: "On the uniform. What rank was it?"

"I, uh..." Edward frowned. "Didn't think to check." He closed his eyes and tried to remember. He was awful at keeping all the stripes and what-have-you straight. "Captain, I think?"

"Are you sure?"

"No, I'm not fucking sure, hence the..." A thought struck Edward. "But an alchemist is automatically a major."

"Maybe your watch and your uniform didn't come from the same place," Mustang suggested, steepling his fingers.

"Well," Edward said. "The mystery fucking deepens." Mustang raised an eyebrow; Ed frowned at him. "What? I'm enjoying my freedom of expression while I have it."

Mustang did not laugh at that. Humorless bastard. "And after that you found Havoc?"

"Yeah. I called up Central, trying to find you to talk to - and way to make yourself unavailable, asshole - " Mustang smirked. "And I kind of got dragged back to the city by Colonel Archer."

"Archer?" Mustang repeated, and pressed his lips together. "Ahh. So then you met with the Mice?"

"The - what?" Edward said.

"The Mice. Oh - Hakuro, Archer - " There was some significance to the last name. "Kimbley. Running the military while the Fuhrer's away. They're the mice because the cat's away, and there's three of them, and they're blind, and with any luck it'll be the farmer's wife that chops off their tails." Mustang's shrug wasn't quite apologetic, but it was getting there.

"That's gotta be the dumbest thing I've ever heard," Edward said.

"I never said I was proud of it," Mustang said, though there was something shifty in his eyes that made Ed think that he was very proud of it, indeed. "What did they say to you?"

"That - you know, I shouldn't've left, that you were trying to destroy the country and I wouldn't help you if I knew what was good for me." It sounded plausible. "It was refreshing, though. I never thought I'd meet the biggest asshole who ever lived, but there he was, a Colonel and everything."

"Oh?" Mustang said with a smile. "I thought I was the biggest asshole who ever lived."

"No, no, no," Edward said. "You're the biggest jackass. There's a difference. You make fun of any disability I might - possibly - have - " he spat, and dared Mustang to comment. "Archer, though, he took pleasure in the fact that Al was..." Ed found himself unable to finish.

There was a pause, but then the Colonel asked, "What are you going to do now?"

He thought a moment. "Go back to Central," Edward said. "The book I had, Scieszka identified it as coming from the Central library. I'm gonna look through the records. What?" he snapped when Roy shook his head.

"The Mice won't like it," he said.

"The Mice can fuck themselves," Edward said.

"I'd be very much surprised if they could, but that's neither here nor there. Fullmetal, if you go back now, they'll be suspicious, and the only thing keeping you out of a jail cell right now is their trust."

Edward scowled at Mustang. "You want to keep me here."

"I do," he admitted.

"You think I'll be useful to you. You want to use me again."

"Yes." He looked Edward full in the face. "But I don't think you should object to being used."

"And why's that?"

"Because it's a good cause," Mustang said, and held up a hand before Ed could scoff. "Don't say the problems of Amestris don't concern you. They might not, but that's not all that this is about." The Colonel's eye narrowed, and his face tautened, and for one moment he looked ferociously alive, young again but infinitely more vicious. His finger and thumb pressed against each other like he was imagining burning someone's flesh from their bones. "I'm going to make them pay," he breathed, and there was real joy in his voice, a real sadism that Ed never expected from the fake-sadistic Colonel. Then he settled back again, mild again, tired again, and Ed was just left to gape at what he'd seen.

"What did they do to you?" Edward finally managed.

Mustang laughed softly, wearily. "You know what they did," he said quietly. "You remember that much."

It was hard to believe. All this was about Hughes? Mustang, dispassionate Mustang, doing all this for revenge and nothing more? "I..." At the last moment he changed his question. "Colonel, why hasn't Lieutenant Havoc been healed yet?" Mustang looked away, and Ed continued, "There was a man I knew - Dr. Marcoh - "

"He's gone," Mustang said, still not meeting Ed's eyes. "We looked into it. He disappeared shortly after the - incident. No sign of a struggle."

"Oh," Edward said, then felt obligated to add, "I didn't mean to sound like I was accusing you. I'm sure you did everything you could."

Edward's apology did nothing to cheer Mustang up. "Well," the Colonel said. "In any case, you can't go back to Central for a while, and you're welcome here. So think about it."

Somehow, Ed managed to stop from snorting "Fat chance." "Sure," he said. "I'll think about it."

Mustang's little army really had taken over the entire city. It was just a random restaurant Ed had happened to wander into, one of probably dozens in the city, and even at an odd hour like this he saw at least four faces he recognized. No one he could talk to - no one he could even put a name to - but if he were to be presented with photos of them, he'd be able to definitively identify them as members of the rebellion.

No, that came out wrong. That wasn't what he meant.

In any case, he ignored them and got his food and sat in a corner table. It was good enough that he was focused on the food, not on who was coming in, so Breda took him by surprise when he clapped Ed so hard on the back that he started choking.

"Edward Elric," Breda marveled, sitting opposite Ed without even so much as a sorry or an are-you-gonna-die, should-I-call-an-ambulance. "Been some time."

In response, Ed failed to breathe. Breda laughed.

"Just back from the dead and already I've killed you," he said. "I feel bad."

"You should," Edward gasped. He downed his entire glassful of water as Breda laughed some more - bastard.

"So, what's been going on in your life?" he asked.

Then again, maybe the choking and the dying was a good thing. It gave him a moment to collect his thoughts. "Not much," he finally said. "Been doing some research."

"Hm," was Breda's comment on that. Ed looked over; it was pretty clear from Breda's face that he didn't believe him, and Ed was left to wonder when asking somebody not to spread something around turned into "No, it's okay, tell everyone, please." Goddamn Havoc.

"How's the war?"

Breda shrugged and frowned and took Ed's roll. "Better some days than others. General's pretty good at what he does, but he needs to be more decisive. He talks big, but he's often afraid to take an advantage when he sees it."

Ed raised his eyebrows and took his roll back. "You allowed to say that?"

Breda took the roll back, split it in half, and tossed half of it back on Ed's plate. "Course I am. Serving General Mustang, not General Bradley, aren't I?"

"Regular little utopia you've got going on here," Ed said. He grabbed the bread from Breda's hand right before he took a bite of it, then spat in it and offered it back. Breda looked at it appraisingly, and then stole Ed's apple.

"Well, Mustang's a good man. I know what you think of him, but he's a good man." He took a bite and then offered Ed back the apple, then laughed when Ed grabbed it and took his own defiant bite right on top of Breda's. "Fine, you win."

Damn right he won. He invented this game. He celebrated with another delicious, crunchy bite. Then he swallowed and said, "Say, Lieutenant - "

"Not a lieutenant anymore," Breda announced with a grin.

"Oh. Say..." Ed grimaced and squinted and guessed, "Major?"

"Lieutenant Colonel."

"Nice, congratulations," Ed said. "Say, Lieutenant Colonel."

"Yes, Major."

Ed threw Breda the sloppiest salute he could manage, and he'd invented the sloppy salute. "Why'd the Colonel, the General, whatever, leave Central in the first place? His career seemed to be going just fine."

"Dunno." Breda shrugged. "I'm hardly the General's confidante. I can only speculate."

"Well, and what do you speculate?"

Breda looked for a moment like he was going to shake his head, but then he frowned, looked to the side, and nodded an I'm game. "Gonna sound corny."

"Any time you get to talking about the Colonel, it always does."

Good old Breda! He didn't frown, didn't get offended, just allowed a sheepish snicker. "Truth is, I think he did it for us. Think he was just tired of seeing us - Havo, Hughes - getting hurt for his sake."

Well, Scieszka and Breda, two of the smartest people he knew, both were agreeing here. That didn't count for nothing, but Ed was still skeptical. It seemed just so un-Mustang, to be so sentimental. "And he's doing that by having you guys fight in a full-out war."

No laugh, there, no "Yeah that is stupid, man you're smart." Instead, Breda frowned and looked down, so that the light hit his face wrong and he looked old, too. God, was Ed the only one here who hadn't aged? "At least we're out of Central," Breda said quietly. "At least we're not vulnerable like we were."

Edward looked away, remembering what Scieszka had talked about - how after they'd caught Havoc, they'd done terrible things to him. The thought that they were ever in danger, and the thought that Ed had never even considered it, had never done anything about it, was...Well, pretty shit, frankly. He preferred not to think about it.

"I don't know," Edward declared, and decided, yes, it did feel better, moving away from that subject. "I don't buy it. I mean, Mustang? That cold bastard? We're all just pawns to him, in some giant chess game."

"Oh, I don't think we're pawns," Breda said. "I think we're definitely pieces of value. Now, you, little man, you're a pawn," he said, and reached over affectionately to tousle Ed's hair.

It was only because Edward wanted information out of the man that he blocked the gesture with his left arm, and it was only because Breda was trying to distract him that he didn't explode at "little." He settled, instead, on a bitter "Thank you, so much."

"Hey, don't be pissed," Breda said. "Game I play, and game the General plays, pawns are the most important pieces, you know? But, I mean, it doesn't take a genius to figure it out," he added. "And since you are a genius...You don't send the king out to rescue a knight. That's just bad chess. Yet the General risked himself to save Havo, and didn't come out unscathed. So let's look at that. The move the General made, that'd be bad chess. Me, I've played Roy Mustang, and let me tell you, he doesn't play bad chess. And since those two statements can't coexist, genius, the conclusion is...?"

Ed humored Breda and said, "It's not chess. But come on, I've heard Mustang talk. There's a number one in his book, and it's no one whose name doesn't start with an R and end with an Oy Mustang. He's an egotist through and through."

"Well, think what you want to think," Breda said, standing. "But remember, the only parts of the General you've ever seen are the parts he wants you to see."

"Where are you going?"

"Got work," Breda said. "Turns out there's a war going on. Just glad to see that you're okay."

So Breda had come by just to see him? That was...incredibly, incredibly nice, and Ed was touched in spite of himself. Of course, he waved it off pretty well.

"Bye," he said, and watched the other man go.

Ed was moved by what he'd heard from Breda, he really was. And he knew that the man truly did trust in Mustang, and he was touched by that trust. As such, he went back to the manager's office to give the General a very different answer than he originally thought he was going to give: he was going to tell him "Hell no," instead of, "What, are you out of your goddamn mind? Hah hah hah hah hah!"

But when Ed knocked, there was no answer. He pressed his ear against the door and listened; no noises inside. So he hesitated, and bit his lip, and took a moment to convince himself that the reason he was doing this was because it'd be funny to see the Colonel's face when he came back and found Ed in his chair, and then he transmuted the lock out of the door.

The overhead light seemed dimmer, now, than it had been, and loud besides. The shadows it cast were long and jerky. Edward could hear his breathing. He swallowed, and that was louder than it should have been, too.

The table where Mustang was sitting had been cleaned off, all the papers returned to the desk sitting in the corner of the room. Ed drifted, slowly, over to that corner, running his finger along the wood surface and picking up precisely no dirt along the way.

Thing was, he wasn't going to abandon Al. He needed to know what had happened out in Eriheim, but his only lead was back in Central Library, and Archer and his cronies weren't about to let him just walk into the place empty-handed. What he really needed to find was some utterly useless piece of information, something they wouldn't have already known but which would get them precisely nowhere in their quest to quash the rebellion.

The top drawer was filled with personnel files. That wouldn't do at all.

The second drawer had a list. Ed tilted it towards the light to read it. About halfway down was Seelow, and under that was written Thomas Schulz, Seelow Grand Hotel, and then a telephone number; running up and down each side of the three pages were the names and addresses of those who, as far as Ed could tell, had ever given shelter to Mustang and his army.

The list was laying on top of a stack of photographs. These caught Ed's eye. They were good quality, though a bit distorted, as though taken through a strange lens, and each one was of the Fuhrer or one of his generals or some combination of the above. There was one in particular - it was the Fuhrer, meeting with someone in what looked from the architecture to be a hotel in the south, maybe the southeast - somewhere in the desert regions, in any case. There was nothing outwardly wrong with the picture, but something that left him unsettled.

He moved onto the third drawer and found a handgun, a bottle of whiskey, and a deck of cards, but then opened the second drawer again and went back to that very same photo.

What was it? Maybe he was just horrified by how cheerful the Fuhrer looked, laughing and clapping like the dour man to whom he was speaking had just told the best joke in the world. The people around him had been captured in various states of uncertainty, each of them with awkward half-smiles like they weren't quite sure yet if they were supposed to laugh along. All except for one, who -

Ed felt, suddenly, like he'd been seized about the chest, lifted, and dropped again. He felt like he'd tried to chew his food but ended up with his tongue; he felt like he would either cry or dance; because there in the picture, between a bellboy and a potted plant, his lips parted and his eyes sparking in good humor every bit as vibrant as the Fuhrer's, his round fleshy face the picture of good-natured innocence, young as before, sweet as ever, was Alphonse.