Down the Trodden Path of Destruction
A Fullmetal Alchemist fan fiction by Hitokiri-san
A/N: this is a further spin-off from the "Ed goes to war " idea, and sort of a side story to Kill or be Killed. I was inspired by a number of random images (including one of Roy and Ed, dressed in military uniform, sitting across each other on a train) that refused to turn into a complete story; thus, the separate scenes. Character death warning beforehand.
It was plain to them that the boy was restless. For the last half hour he'd been crossing and uncrossing his legs repeatedly, the stiff military boots thudding loudly on the compartment floor every time he did so. He also kept smoothing non-existent creases on the cuff of the uniform with his flesh hand, golden eyes glancing at everything and nothing at once. Ed's posture communicated a certain distress that was highly contagious among the already tense soldiers – Breda was furrowing his brows at the child prodigy, vaguely irritated; the others, save Hawkeye, were shifting uncomfortably and trying to hide it. Unable to tolerate the tension any longer, Roy turned to Edward sharply.
"Enough." He barked, more harshly than he intended, then remembering to soften his voice. "Settle down, Fullmetal."
Ed shot him a resentful look; and for once, didn't argue. The boy rose from his seat, making a beeline for the exit. The colonel could feel Hawkeye's disapproving glare at the back of his head even as the compartment door closed with a soft snap.
"That is unnecessary, Colonel." Riza chastised levelly as Roy turned to face her. He closed his eyes, lips turned down in a grim line.
"His fidgeting is highly distracting." He replied, in way of self-defense. Riza's glare sharpened, and the colonel was hard pressed to avert his eyes from the accusing gaze.
"Edward is understandably nervous about - " being sent to war. " – the assignment. He is probably thinking about his younger brother. Don't be too harsh on him, Colonel."
"Point taken, First Lieutenant. Thank you." Roy crossed his arms in a show of indifference, shoulders hunching as he relaxed into the train seat. He had little wish to continue this argument further, especially since the rest of his faction was listening to the argument with rapt attention. Jet black eyes shifted to the passing scenery, contemplating.
It wasn't Fullmetal's restless behaviour in itself that had irked him. Rather, it was the easily readable thoughts emanated through the boy's actions that had the colonel on edge. While the others could only make general guesses about the concerns on Edward's mind, Roy could read them as clearly as if the boy had spoken outright to him. This skill – unwelcome in the current situation – had probably been perfected from years of dealing with the wayward alchemist.
Roy wished the boy's quirks weren't so readable – or, to put it the other way round, that he himself wasn't so adept at reading his subordinate. Edward's every movement conveyed emotions that he wasn't sure he wanted to understand; what good would it be to know of Fullmetal's mental state, after all, without being able to console the boy afterwards? He'd sat patiently, the very figure of composure; waiting for Edward's fidgeting fit to subside. Of course, he had no such luck; the boy's nervousness extended from morning to afternoon, and Roy had little choice but to observe him out of the corner of his eyes.
Edward had his head leant against a glove-clad palm, making no attempt to dislodge the stray bangs hanging over his golden eyes.
I wonder how Al is doing in Rizenbul. Well, I bet Winry and Granny Pinako are taking good care of him. Jeez. Why am I even worrying?
He'd shifted, right leg crossed over the left, the flesh hand drumming absently on his alleviated knee.
How long until we arrive at that hellhole? Trust the bastard Colonel to send the lot of us to some dismal, miserable wasteland where people try to kill you and you do your best to return the favour. Stupid Colonel.
Though Roy could perceive the slights against him in Ed's mind, he couldn't perceive any real heat behind the insult. Another fidget; Edward had leant back, toying with the end of his braid thoughtfully.
Those Drachma soldiers…they are really going to try to kill us, aren't they. And in return, I'll have to kill them. With alchemy. Dammit.
He'd closed his eyes with a sigh, obviously agitated. When he opened them again, it was to look up at the cloudless skies out of the window – as if in search of the divine enlightenment that the alchemist never believed in in the first place.
I don't want to kill people. I don't want to be killed.
It had been at this point that Roy's control snapped.
"Still." Hawkeye eyed the door with furrowed brows, as if she could somehow see Edward through the solid surface. She didn't elaborate, but Roy understood the gist of the single word. Still, something could have been done. Something could be said to put him at ease.
"Fullmetal will be back in due time – after he has sulked enough on his own. There is no reason to be concerned, First Lieutenant." He flashed her a smirk that was meant to appear genuine; he wasn't exactly sure. One thing he is sure about is that they do have sufficient reasons to be concerned about their youngest member's mental welfare. Another thing he is equally sure about is that they have no real means to alleviate Edward's worries, without lying to him. Roy resumed his observation of the wild fields, heart heavy.
There wasn't a single rain cloud within sight. He wondered, then, why he felt as useless as he usually did on rainy days.
Edward scowled at the sheet of paper in front of him, absently brushing one of his bangs off his face with his pen. He'd conceded, after half an hour of serious contemplation, that he had absolutely no idea how to approach this task. He hadn't even been able to start off the letter properly, knowing that Al wouldn't appreciate it – if he did have to receive it - no matter how well it was written. The boy sighed, feeling the urge to give up and transmute the blank letter into tiny paper planes.
It was earlier that day when an officer had come to his tent, politely asking the Fullmetal Alchemist to "file in your last will". At Edward's incredulous look, the officer had explained, hastily, that every soldier in the troop was required to write a will to their relatives in case they should "perish in the course of battle". The man had made an obvious attempt at glossing over the wordings, as though he was deathly afraid of upsetting the young alchemist. Perhaps, like many people in the troop, he'd thought that the boy was too young to belong to the battlefield. Sensing his discomfort, Edward had reached out for the paper, flashing an absent smile to the man as he did so.
Minutes later, he was ready to tear his hair out in sheer irritation. Various scenarios of the will being delivered to Alphonse's hands played themselves out in his mind, and he found himself wondering how on earth he could make the letter less hurtful.
'Hi, Al. If you see this letter, I'm already dead' would certainly not go over well. Nor would "Al, I love you. Now that I'm dead, do not attempt to bring me back via human transmutation" be a sufficient consolation. Writing a will as though one was already dead was a nervous-racking experience, as Ed was quickly finding out.
At this moment, Mustang let himself into the tent, looking rather displeased. Registering the presence, Edward glanced up indifferently, still turning over some phrases in his mind.
"Fullmetal. I believe I asked you to attend the briefing fifteen minutes ago. You will explain your absence now."
Slightly bewildered, the boy looked up at his superior. Realizing what the man had been talking about, Edward blinked. "Sorry, sir, I guess I was sort of distracted by…" he waved the blank paper at Roy, "…this."
At the boy's explanation, the colonel looked like he was thinking of snapping his fingers. "You are expected to follow your orders, Fullmetal, as opposed to forgetting them whenever it is convenient."
Edward glowered at him. He was already in a rather edgy mood today; the bastard colonel lecturing him was the last thing he wanted to hear. "Can I help if I'm distracted with writing my own damn will?"
"Will?" Mustang was momentarily distracted from his annoyance. He stepped up to his subordinate, lifting the sheet of paper under his nose. Skimming through the official statement at the top that marked it as the Fullmetal Alchemist's last will.
Ed looked up at his commander, golden eyes unreadable. "Tell me, Colonel. What did you say in your own will? I could do with some inspiration on mine."
Mustang's black eyes fell on him, assessing. Then he folded the will up neatly before setting it aflame with a snap. Taken aback, Edward opened his mouth to protest; Roy beat him to it before he could get a word out.
"I did not write it." He told his subordinate, his voice calm and steely. "The will is for the deceased, and I fully intend to come out of this war alive."
"Last I checked, you can't "intend" to stay alive, Colonel. If you're dead, you're dead. Unless you have some fabulous reviving skills that I haven't heard of till now." Edward returned, his smile sarcastic – but tiredly so.
"That's partly a matter of will, Fullmetal – no pun intended. You can achieve something when you strive hard enough, even in the decision of life and death." He paused, a taunting smirk rising to his lips. "I'm disappointed. Surely a mule-headed brat like you should be able to understand it."
On impulse, Edward made to assault his superior officer, but decided that he was in no mood to do it. Instead, he fell back to his seat and crossed his arms indignantly. "The fact that you're too arrogant to die doesn't give you the right to burn other people's will, you bastard."
Roy just smirked at him, his expression was one of self-assurance. "In fact, I believe I do have the right to. You will not die in this war unless I allow it. The will, therefore, is absolutely unnecessary. Do you understand me, Fullmetal?"
The boy tilted his head at him, grim amusement apparent on his features. "Yes sir. I understand that you're a manipulative bastard unto the end."
Mustang huffed; for a moment, Edward could have sworn that he saw a small, genuine smile lighting up the older man's face. The man turned, military jacket whipping behind him, and turned to the exit.
"Now that this is taken care of, Fullmetal, you have a missed briefing to answer for. I suggest that you brace yourself before you face the wrath of our Major General." The last line was said with an evil glee.
Edward visibly cringed, and spent the trip to the commanding quarters absently cursing his malignant, unfeeling superior.
His blade was mere inches from the other soldier's chest when his will wavered.
Honestly, he had no one but himself to blame for this failing. He had been told, many times over, that to look into the enemy's eyes when landing the killing blow was the absolute taboo on the battlefield.
Don't look into their eyes, those people had said, their eyes dull and flat with experience. Sitting across the scarred soldiers around a campfire, Ed had a fleeting thought that he didn't want to be like them, not ever. Just do the damn job, kid – you'll be better off this way.
Better off, in the sense that he'd be saner, happier, and less likely to wallow in self-hatred. Maybe he might even be able to survive longer, if only for Al's sake. If anything, Edward was a smart kid - He understood the logic behind the advice, and for the most part, he heeded it.
It had to be some sort of warped, ironic fate that made him do this. Or maybe he just had a suicidal affinity to break each and every taboo he happened to come across in his seventeen years of life. Whatever the reason was, he found his gaze meeting with a Drachma soldier's in a moment of heated combat. The soldier had stared back, eyes widened, paralyzed with fear at the prospect of imminent death. Arms locked in a contest of physical strength, they were mirror images; children caught in the grown-ups' antics of war and destruction.
Don't kill me. The enemy soldier had pleaded, almost brokenly as he struggled over the Amestrian vocabulary. My brother, my younger brother…
Suddenly seeing a parallel between himself and the soldier before him, Edward had hesitated for a second. He immediately regretted it; a bullet tore through his side the very moment he lowered his automail.
He knew he should never have looked. What they didn't tell him was that he should never have listened, as well.
The medical tent reeked of blood and death. It was an underlying stench that clung to every single thing in the tent; even the overpowering smell of antiseptics did little to cover it. Brows scrunching in slight distaste, Roy made his way across the area, side-stepping caretakers and patients alike with practiced ease.
It would figure that, despite Roy's discreet orders to the medical staff to put Fullmetal where I can see him, Fullmetal himself had taken the liberty to move to the farthest end of the tent. The colonel felt a slight stab of irritation as he considered this. For reasons he couldn't name (couldn't name, but could sense all the same), the boy had taken to avoiding Roy and his crew entirely, preferring to isolate himself from those he'd once trusted. The colonel's efforts to seek him out during free time were suspiciously futile; it was as though the child was outright hiding from him. And when they met in mission briefings, Edward hardly ever met his eyes.
This behaviour was somewhat worrying, but there was little Roy could do to change that. He'd had his hands full with the warfare; the only thing the colonel could actually do was to ensure that Fullmetal stayed alive during it.
It seemed, however, that he was failing at that as well.
It had come as a shock when, in the midst of battle, a corporal breathlessly reported that the Fullmetal Alchemist was critically injured. Roy honestly hadn't seen that coming – or maybe he should have, since he was the one bringing the boy into this war. He'd fired off a series of command, ordering his remaining soldiers to regroup and attack while the injured were taken care of. He would win this skirmish; until then, Fullmetal would have to hold on.
"Fullmetal." The colonel glared at the boy leaning stiffly against the military-issued cot, making a point that he knew Edward was trying to avoid him all along. The boy, literally swathed in bandages from the waist up, only met his gaze with a level stare. As if he didn't understand what the glare was about.
"Sir." he addressed Roy, as if on autopilot. "Your order?"
Roy suppressed the urge to demand, sarcastically, how the boy was thinking of acting on his orders – if there were indeed any – while lying injured on a cot. He was no longer sure how Edward would react to such a comment, these days, and having to deal with an unpredictable Fullmetal was not something appealing. Sighing slightly, he laid a hand against Ed's shoulder. Ed flinched slightly, but did not pull away.
"You've been careless, Fullmetal." Edward, as Roy gathered, had apparently been distracted by something an enemy soldier had said in battle. The colonel didn't need three guesses to figure out what had been said, to distract Fullmetal so. It had nearly cost Edward his life; Roy didn't want a repetition of such an incidence. When his subordinate made no immediate reply, Roy switched tactics. "Alphonse –"
Alphonse would never want to see you hurt.
"I understand, Colonel." Edward cut in, smoothly. As if he hadn't heard Roy mentioning his brother's name. The blonde child, Roy realized, was getting good at ignoring what he didn't want to confront. It wasn't like him, not at all; Edward used to face his fears with an intensity that was admirable and frightening in equal measures. Now though, it was as if the boy's soul was being consumed, bit by bit. The notion was eerily disconcerting, and Roy had no desire to dwell on it.
"Fine." Roy snapped, feeling a rush of annoyance at the dismissal. He closed his eyes, conceding defeat, and softened his tone. "See that you take care of yourself properly…Edward."
"I'll be careful." A cold, curt promise.
Roy would have said more, if he didn't know it would be in vain. He turned to exit the medical tent, already making plans to exempt Fullmetal from combat duties for as long as he could lobby for. It wasn't enough to protect the boy – nothing would ever be enough - but maybe it would keep Fullmetal one step further from his own destruction.
Edward was true to his word. The next time he came face to face with an enemy soldier, Ed stabbed him in his guts before he could utter a single word.
It shouldn't have ended like this. He'd promised that it wouldn't end like this, and he'd gone all lengths to ensure that his promise was kept. The colonel honestly couldn't understand what had gone wrong in his plans, to lead to such disastrous results.
Perhaps his arrogance had offended Death itself. He'd thought he could keep his youngest charge safe with his limited power, and Death had eagerly decided to prove him wrong. Perhaps his arrogance was why Fullmetal was sprawled out on his lap, bloody and torn, every breath a desperate struggle against something he could not win. No matter if it was the case or not, Edward was still dying and it was, in many aspects, his fault.
Mustang had sent the young alchemist on a surveillance mission on Drachma grounds, a simple scouting of the landscape. It was a mission that he'd deemed impossible to go wrong – Fullmetal had faced entire platoons of Drachma soldiers and emerged without serious harm. He shouldn't receive a single scratch on a scouting mission, of all things.
Mustang would have been right if not for the dozen snipers awaiting the Fullmetal Alchemist's arrival.
There were traitors in his troop. Roy would blame himself later for not being able to detect it sooner. Somehow, words had leaked out about the boy's latest mission, and Drachma had reacted accordingly. By the time Roy realized and rushed to abort the mission (his subordinates, startled, followed him with hasty questions of what's wrong, Colonel?), heart hammering in his ribcage, it had been much too late. Edward was lying in his own blood when Mustang found him – alive, but obviously not for long. The injured boy had fought his way out of the area, survival instincts on full gear; but even that had been a futile attempt. He was already doomed the instance he set out on his mission.
The medical team was on its way there, Roy knew. He also knew that it would be too late to do anything when it arrived. Numbed, he turned his attention to the dying child, one hand smoothing over the bloodied locks comfortingly.
"The doctors are coming." He told Fullmetal, smiling softly. Edward opened his eyes with palpable effort and stared up at him, his gaze unusually bright.
"You didn't say they are going to save me." Edward's face was strangely intense; it was almost as if he was boring into Roy's eyes. Roy felt his throat clenched tight, and had to fight to keep his voice level. There was no point lying, to the boy and to himself; Edward understood his demise very well, and it was time he admitted it as well.
"They…probably can't, Edward." It was beyond painful, having to crush the remaining hope by his own hands. The colonel cradled his subordinate closer, resting his chin against the crown of golden hair. Letting the truth sink in.
"Tell Al…" Fullmetal paused, sighing gently. "…I still don't know what to say to him, Colonel." His breath hitched, and he slumped back against his superior, eyes glazing over drowsily.
"Sleep, Edward. I'll take care of that."
Ed had already drifted off, his small frame slackening against Roy's embrace. Calmly, he gathered the child up and began walking back the way he came. He ignored his subordinates' horrified expressions as they came upon the sight, not daring to approach him. He ignored the common soldiers' bewilderment and the General's condolences and the shots ringing loud and clear in the distance; the warfare that went on with the loss of one more life.
Later, he would tell the remaining Elric that his elder brother's last words were for him to live and be happy. Using Edward's voice, he would forbid the boy's future attempts at human transmutation and put the boy in his care. He would exploit a dead brother's authority, deliver last words that were never said.
If he ever found out, Alphonse would never forgive him. Roy only hoped that - somewhere, somehow - Edward would.
A/N: Because there isn't always time for well thought-out last words, and because dying wishes could be expressed without words.