Disclaimer: I own nothing (applies to all chapters)
"For now we see through a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)
He stands before a sleeping city in the dark of the night, feeling too warm in his heavy military uniform. The night in silent like a well and there is no moon as if it has decided to hide behind the clouds, rather than witness the wickedness that will take place tonight. The only lights coming are from the dimly lit lamps inside the mud houses. Only soldiers are awake at this unholy hour because of unholy orders.
The houses are so simple with thatched roofs and no electricity and there are so many of them. Such a simple civilization without modern conveniences like electricity and running water, why would the government want it annihilated? Sometimes he can see the silhouettes moving about inside the rooms and he feels an inexplicable urge to and warn them of what is about to happen. Kimbley and Gran have their positions on other sides of the city to stop anyone from ever getting out. Maybe he could do something now...
Instead he looks at the ring with a gleaming red stone that he has slipped on under the orders of his superiors, and his eyes narrow and harden with determination that he has to do this, no matter how much it hurts, no matter how senseless it is.
Then he raises his hand, sheathed in rough white ignition cloth and snaps his fingers and watches the city light up like orange-red flames in a fireplace.
"She did what?"
Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye winces at the force of the bellow coming from the dark-haired man seated before her and she shifts uncomfortable under his obsidian gaze, feeling like a child telling on her sibling to their parents.
"She refused to transmute the holding cell when General Harrison commanded her to do so, sir," she says to the floor. "When he asked her why, she told him that she wouldn't kill, no matter who ordered her to."
Colonel Roy Mustang's eyes harden as he looks back at his desk, lacing his fingers on his lap, jaw clenched in controlled rage. "I see," his voice is edgy and for once, Hawkeye is afraid of him.
"Luckily, the general decided not to have Edward court-marshaled because she's so young. She is waiting outside to hand in her report, sir," she says quietly. She holds her breath and shies away a little, afraid of what he'll say next.
"Send her in," he says grimly and she quickly leaves, flushing.
He looks out the window. Central is usually noisy and stern but it is such a quiet and beautiful day outside in the wake of the end of another war and the trees are shedding their reddish brown leaves to blanket the ground in the autumn chill and for a moment, he thinks it's unfair that he should be made to stay cooped up within these four walls to deal with wayward subordinates while Black Hayate runs around happily in the grass with a bone in his mouth. He can see people shuffling the dry leaves on the dull stone pavements beneath their feet and the sound reminds him of fire cracking. Something is wrong with the electricity in this building today and the ceiling fans aren't working, which makes his blood boil in his veins even more than a certain blonde –
Who is being quietly ushered into his office by an anxious-looking Hawkeye, who is undoubtedly afraid of what he'll do the younger officer in the brunt of his anger, like a mother who is afraid how her husband will discipline their naughty child.
Said younger officer, on the other hand, seems to have to fears whatsoever and looks up at him calmly, defiantly, like a criminal who has received the death penalty but refuses to apologize because in his mind, he is some sort of savior, pure and righteous, fighting against a world that does not understand him.
"Fullmetal," he regards her with fiery coldness and she looks back, unflinching. There is hate and rebelliousness in those ocher eyes that are now fixed on him and he remembers that of all his subordinate officers, she is the one who is the least afraid of him, like a child who is not afraid of monsters hiding under her bed because she knows that there are no such things as monsters or ghosts, and if there are, then she'll battle them bravely until they are slain and she can get a good night's sleep. She says nothing. After handing in her report, she just stands there as stiff as pole and waits for him to pronounce judgment on her.
"I heard something very displeasing about you today," his gaze does not falter.
Neither does hers.
"I'm told that you disobeyed General Harrison's orders to transmute a certain prison at Drachma," he keeps looking at her. "Is this true?"
"It is," she says, voice husky and unflinching. Such admirable courage, to not be afraid in the face of certain danger when other soldiers would be wetting their pants because of the consequences.
"How do you defend yourself?"
"I don't." She looks away from him then, eyes filled with pain, just like a martyr so willing so die for what he believes is right. "I'm not a killer."
"But you're a soldier!" he raises his voice then as he gets to his feet and slams down his fist on his desk, rattling the penholders on the smooth wooden surface. She flinches and maybe at other time, he would have been reveled in getting such a reaction from her but he is too angry now to take pleasure in such petty things. "You disobeyed a direct order on the battlefield, from an officer superior to you by several ranks!" He takes a deep a breath and tries to calm himself down. It's no good to scream at her, there's no point...what are you trying to achieve?
There is silence in the room, heavy as a blanket and as warm as the fire that he set on Ishbal so many years ago and he feels that maybe if he reaches his hand out now, he can touch the silence and feel its density against his fingertips, fingertips that took so many innocently lives by creating a single spark.
She meets his gaze right then, her eyes heated with the fury of the sun and again, he sees flames rising in a tranquil city.
Buildings falling down, people running out of their houses, screaming while they blaze, mothers uselessly trying to put out the flames from the burning bodies of their children while he stands and witnesses the horror that is taking place just from a simple snap of his fingers.
Fullmetal's eyes are like fire, he observes and through them, he sees that infernal past, which becomes even more vivid as she glares at him unwaveringly and says in a strained, hate-filled voice, "I won't kill! I don't care who tells me to."
Roy freezes right then and he feels a cold shiver down his spine as though the temperature in the room has suddenly dropped and hell has just frozen over. He stares at her, flabbergasted; he has been doing that a lot lately when she comes to his office to rant or hand in a report and for a moment, he allows his gaze to linger on her blond braid and slightly roundish face before he swallows and says in a voice stern with suppressed rage, "That is not an option, Edward. You agreed to become a dog of the military when you became a State Alchemist and I don't think I need you remind you that all dogs have to obey their masters whether they like it or not."
But why do they want to kill these people? What did they do?
"You are my subordinate," he continues, "and what you do reflects on me, as well."
"Oh, so this is about you now!" she exclaims furiously, taking a step forward, her clenched automail fist raised as though she would like nothing better at that moment than to take a swing at him.
He tenses, finding that he can't blame her. "I've overlooked your...shortcomings," he begins, ignoring what she has just said.
And she bursts out, "Who're you calling so short that you can't see them in a ten-meter radius?"
He glowers at her. "That's not what I said, Fullmetal. I've overlooked your slipups long enough because you were looking for the Philosopher's Stone – "
"Which we still haven't found!" she interjects but he motions her to shut up.
"Stop interrupting me!" he says irritably. "You have take responsibility for your thoughtless actions at one point, Fullmetal." He takes a deep breath to stop himself from trembling and he briefly closes his eyes, feeling like he's about to step off a precipice and plunge to his death.
People on fire, arms flaying in a way that is helpless and comic at the same time, jumping off the roofs in a desperate attempt to extinguish the flames...that didn't require much thought.
He opens his eyes and looks at Edward. She is looking at him distrustfully and this time, there is a trace of fear in those fiery eyes. He holds out his hand, hoping that she can't see he's shivering even though the room has started to feel hot and stuffy again and a trickle of sweat runs down his spine...
"Give me your watch," he says levelly.
Her eyes widen in surprise and horror and she takes a step back as if she has been put face-to-face in a boxing ring with a giant cobra. Her lips part and for a moment, no sound comes out of them. And then, those rosy lips form a single, defiant word, "No."
"Give me your watch, Fullmetal," he says more firmly this time, his patience running out like the heat of the sun drying up the water in the wells of desert cities.
"You're discharging me?" she cries like a little girl whose favorite toys are being taken away because she refused to 'behave' the way her parents wanted her to.
"You're lucky you aren't being court-marshaled!" He explodes. And then, he smirks slightly. "I'm suspending you for a fortnight." He pauses for effect before he says, "Without pay."
"WHAT?" Edward bellows. "You can't do that – "
"I can't do that?" Roy echoes with a mirthless laugh. "Watch me."
She pauses and stares at him in panic and disbelief. "But...what am I supposed to eat? How am I supposed to pay the rent? How do I take care of Al?" she sputters. She isn't really saying this to him. Rather, she's mumbling them to herself, trying to understand what she will do now and for the briefest of moments, he feels sorry for her.
He recovers quickly with a resigned shake of his head. "You live in the dorms, Fullmetal – you don't pay rent. Now give me your watch. That's an order."
She visibly grits her teeth and stomps up to him, her footfall uneven as she reaches into the pocket of those tight-fitting leather pants, – her legs are slender and shapely – pulls out a silver watch and slams it into his outstretched hands. "Here you go, you fucking bastard," she spits hatefully. "Hope you're happy now."
A child having a temper tantrum.
Which is why he should not be looking at the curves of her breasts against her short black jacket.
He raises his head, hoping that she didn't notice him staring at her for all the wrong reasons, and he smirks. "Perhaps in future, you will think before you decide to disobey a higher-ranking officer, Fullmetal," he says to her coldly.
She narrows her eyes disdainfully at him and if looks could kill, then he would be a charred corpse right now, just like the innocent civilians he slew at Ishbal.
"I'll see you in two weeks, Fullmetal," he says impudently as he watches the younger alchemist throw a final glare over her shoulder and slam the door shut.
He sighs and leans back in his chair, trying to calm down. He looks out the window just in time to see her storm out of HQ and the other officers quickly get out of her way as they notice her angry expression. The words he said to her earlier still ring in the room.
Perhaps in future, you will think before you decide to disobey a higher-ranking officer, Fullmetal.
But Fullmetal has never cared about rank and never will.
He smiles sadly. That's what makes her the smarter one.
Russel is lying beside Ed on the bed as she looks up at the shadows on the ceiling, her mind drifting back to Drachma and this morning. She has been seeing him for a few months now, on and off. It is nothing serious, although she suspects sometimes that he would like it to be serious and he seems to have missed her while she was away at war for a month. But now the war is over and under different circumstances, she would have been happy to see him, she would have kissed him fiercely and clawed at his clothes as soon as he entered her apartment but now, she is troubled by other things that she witnessed during her time away, even more so by this morning.
You agreed to become a dog of the military when you became a State Alchemist and I don't think I need you remind you that all dogs have to obey their masters whether they like it or not.
Her jaw clenches again and her eyes harden in rage. And then she starts as she feels soft lips delicately kiss her jaw line. She turns back to see Russell looking at her in concern.
"Are you okay?" he asks quietly. "You seemed pretty...distracted tonight."
She keeps looking at him for few moments and then she sighs and leans back in his embrace, trying to relax. "I'm fine," she lies, keeping her gaze fixed on the wall beside their bed.
He nods. "How's work?"
She grimaces at the way he says the word "work," as if he has no idea (and he doesn't) about the implications of that word. Work is stressful and severe, filled with generals demanding her to kill innocent people against her will and handsome colonels suspending her with a smirk just because she didn't do as she was told.
But you asked for this, she reminds herself.
If anyone should endure the shame of becoming a military dog, then let me be the one, Al.
Her fists still clench with rage as she replays the earlier scene in Mustang's office and she can't seem to block it out of her mind no matter how hard she tries. It is like the horrifying scenes she witnessed at Drachma...
Soldiers gunning down women and children, looting at plundering under the orders of higher-ranking officers while she stands there, trembling in shocked rage, witnessing war for the first time...
"Ed, are you listening to me?"
She turns to Russell. "I'm sorry, what were you saying?"
He sighs in irritation. "I was saying that I need to get going."
She frowns, surprised. "You're not staying?" Inside, she can't bring herself to care much, at least, not tonight when all she wants to do is take Mustang by the back of his neck and smash his smirking face into his desk or the wall.
"No, Fletcher's sick, I need to get back to the hotel." He gets up and starts buttoning his shirt. "Jeez, Ed, you sound really bothered about something."
"It's nothing, I told you." Now she is annoyed. He just got to Central this morning and he intends to go back to Youswell tomorrow. She can't say that she was looking forward to spending more time with him because right now, she prefers to be alone and not go through the humiliation of him laughing at her because she got suspended.
Ok, so maybe he wouldn't laugh at her but he might be smug because he keeps saying that she has a bad temper.
As if he doesn't.
She waits until he is gone from her room and then she fixes her clothes. Her hair is loose from his prying fingers (she hates it when people touch her hair, even worse, when they stare at her automail). She isn't too fond of Russell and sometimes she wonders why she's going out with him if she doesn't like him. Then again, he is the one who made it sound like a good idea in the first place...
She is rummaging through the cupboard looking for something to eat when the door opens and Al comes in, looking as meek as possible in a suit of armor. "Is he gone?" he asks.
She nods and waves him inside. He walks as quietly as he can so that he doesn't wake up in the other soldiers in the dorm. There were enough complains since they started living here and Al had to hold her back from maiming those soldiers for calling him a chunk of metal and her a dwarf.
She hasn't seen much of Al all day because she was too busy wandering out in the streets after getting dismissed from that bastard Mustang's office (Mustang who spends too much time smirking and staring at her like he owns HQ and she's just another one of his dogs, or even worse, his admirers). Al sits at the table, the metal making a loud noise against the wood of the chair. She's used to it by now. She has no right to complain. After all, it is her fault that he's in this body of steel.
You have take responsibility for your thoughtless actions at one point, Fullmetal.
Which reminds her.
"Hey...Al?" she speaks up.
He looks at her expectantly. "Yeah?"
"There's something I need to tell you..." she momentarily gives up her search for food (her confession is more important now) and she settles on a chair beside him and fidgets under his steady gaze.
"What is it?" he asks in immediate concern. "Is something wrong? Did anything bad happen?"
"Uh, kinda," she glances away before facing him. "Colonel Mustang...suspended me today."
"WHAT?" Al nearly jumps to his feet but she holds him back, urging him to calm down. "He suspended you? He can't do that! We need to talk to him, sister..."
She shakes her head and looks down to the floor, dejected. "I don't think there's anything we can do, Al."
"But what did you do?" asks Al. "Why would he suspend you?"
"You remember that I didn't want to transmute the prison at Drachma when the general ordered me to?" she sighs as she watches the helmet nod. "Well...that's why I got suspended."
"But – but," the boy sputters and she exhales heavily.
"I know he ordered me," she goes on quietly in the darkness. "But I just couldn't do it with all those prisoners inside. And I'm not sorry." She sounds determined. "I just couldn't take their lives knowing that..." she trails off and looks up as she feels a comforting big hand come to rest on her shoulder.
"I understand, sister," the boy says sympathetically. "And I thought the Colonel would, too. I mean, didn't he fight the war at Ishbal?"
Ed shrugs and leans forward on the table. "Yeah," she says. "I guess he didn't have much of a choice."
"And what about our..." he starts.
"Don't worry about it," she explains. "It's only for two weeks. Then I'll be back in duty." She smiles and tries to shrug off the sinking feeling in her stomach from remembering the cries and the explosions and ruined buildings back at Drachma. She still has nightmares about those images...maybe she really did expect Mustang to cut her some slack.
Instead, he just yelled at her and took away her watch.
She looks up at Al with a sudden bright smile on her face. His shoulders are slouched in depression, depression over something she did and while she herself doesn't mind feeling upset, she can't stand to see her little brother suffer because of her. He suffers enough already in that suit of armor...
"Hey," she grins, "wanna make me pancakes?"
"Uh, sister," he says hesitantly, "you finished the flour this morning, remember?"
"I did?" she echoes, frowning.
He nods. "And then I didn't see you all day so I assumed you ate out...I couldn't tell you that we have no food here..." he trails off and winces, waiting for her to explode like a grenade.
Figuratively speaking, of course.
"We have no food in the house? Why didn't you tell me?"
"You weren't home, sister!"
"Damn you, Mustang!"