The fuehrer stood impressively, tall, erect, and imposing as he looked out the window with his one remaining eye. He was a contrastingly dark figure in the impossible whiteness of the room, and when he finally spoke his words were just as somber as his shadowed form.
"So you're telling me..." King Bradley began, "that you don't know how you were resurrected? You have no idea what happened?"
"Yes, sir." Edward said in stiff reply.
"And I'm also to assume that you are also in the dark about why—out of all the bodies that had been reanimated—you are the only one that did not return to a corpse when Colonel Mustang sacrificed himself to kill them all?"
Ed shrugged one shoulder at the fuehrer, making his face completely blank and innocent. "I don't know why, sir... but my hypothesis is that it's because I had been dead for a much shorter time than most of the... others. I still had my mind and my soul when I was brought back while they were just empty. Maybe that's why I was able to hold myself together."
"I see." Bradley said, then turned away from the window and let his gaze land upon the figure in the hospital bed, adding. "You really need to teach him to lie better."
Mustang sat up a little straighter—although it clearly pained him to do so—and met the fuehrer's dark eye evenly, but did not say anything.
"Oh, give me some credit, Colonel..." Bradley said in an almost companionable way, "Don't think that I don't know what you did. And honestly, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do about it. I don't know whether to commend you or strip you of your station and throw you in prison. The latter would certainly involve less paperwork."
"I wouldn't blame you if you did, sir." Mustang said stoically, his voice warped slightly by the oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. "I know the penalties for my actions and I will dutifully accept them."
Bradley sighed and put his hands in his pockets, looking at the colonel with his head tilted slightly to the side. "Every time I think I have you figured out, you go and completely change my outlook." He paused a moment thoughtfully, then continued, "I'm not going to ask you what happened, nor do I want you to tell anyone else. As far as you're concerned, something else raised the dead and you just put a stop to it. That's all anyone needs to know. If nothing else, this incident proves to me what a valuable asset you are to this county. You are a powerful man, and I'd like to keep you that way."
"You flatter me, sir."
"I may not be an alchemist Mustang, but I am well aware that no one has ever performed a successful resurrection before." Bradley went on, his eye wandering over to Ed and examining him with such depth that a chill ran down the kid's spine. "He's perfect, and the fact that you were able to do that... and so much more... is reason enough to keep you around. So, if you shut your mouth about this, I'll shut mine and this whole fiasco will blow over in a week. Do we have an accord?"
"...Of course, Fuehrer."
Bradley's mouth twitched into a warm smile, although the warmth of it did not reach his dangerous eye. "Good! Then with that said, I'll leave you alone and let you get back to recuperating."
Mustang awkwardly gave the fuehrer a left-handed salute as the tall man headed for the door to the small hospital room. He opened it and was greeted by his guards. "One more thing, Colonel..." he said, half-turning before he stepped out the door.
"...If you ever pull anything like this again, I will execute you myself."
And with that, the fuehrer gave a little wave and stepped out the door, closing it firmly behind him.
Mustang exhaled harshly as if he'd been holding his breath and eased himself back down onto the bed, wincing as he accidentally put pressure on his arm-stump.
"He could have at least waited for you to get out of the hospital before calling a meeting and interrogating us like that." Ed mumbled, still glowering at the closed door that Bradley had just passed through.
"Well, it could have been a lot worse." Mustang replied tiredly, letting his eyes fall shut for a moment. "At least he's willing to cover it all up... although it's probably more for his sake than for ours. It can't be very good for his posterity to have long-dead military officials littering the streets of his city."
"Yeah, I guess so..." Ed sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. It had been nearly four days since he'd been brought back and—although he did feel much better—he still felt weak and tired all the time. He couldn't complain though, for Mustang was certainly much worse off.
By the time that Ed, Al, and Hawkeye had been able to get Mustang to the hospital, he had already stopped breathing. It was only through the miracle of modern medicine that the man was still alive at all, but even medicine can only fix so much. It was going to be a long time before Mustang could leave this hospital. Losing an arm is certainly a harsh thing for a body to go through, but when that body is already locked in a fierce battle against a deadly and unknown infection, the outcome is not going to be good.
Several of his organs had been damaged by the infection and the blood loss, turning his pale skin a sickly yellow color and gracing him with intermittent fevers that wracked his struggling body with chills. The doctors said that he was going to be fine in the long run, but his recovery was going to be a hard and winding road. Oddly enough though, losing his arm probably saved his life since it cut off the source of the infection and forced him to expel a great deal of tainted blood.
And then on top of everything else were the burns. Ed had tried to control the fire as he sealed Mustang's arm, but it had gotten away from him in spite of his best efforts. The colonel now had long, jagged burns across his chest that varied in severity and size—some of which had been so bad that he'd needed skin grafts to replace the charred tissue. Mustang's neck was also a mess of singed flesh, but luckily it was not as bad as his chest and his side.
To put it succinctly, Mustang was in pretty bad shape... but, god, it could have been so much worse. Ed had fully expected Mustang to be completely absorbed by the alchemic reaction, but in retrospect it made sense that he'd only needed to sacrifice the one arm; it certainly takes less energy to undo something than it does to do it... bringing something back to life is almost infinitely more taxing than just taking that life away again. It looked like, for once, Equivalent Exchange was in their favor.
"Stop looking at me like that." Mustang rasped.
Ed blinked. He hadn't realized that he'd been so openly staring at Mustang, his concerned eyes wandering over the colonel's sallow face. Mustang had opened his heavy, bloodshot eyes again and was returning Ed's gaze with a slight expression of irritation.
"Hm." Ed intoned, shaking himself and forcedly changing his expression from worried to playful, "I was just thinking that if you ever lost your left leg, we'd be a matching set. We could go on tour! 'Come see the Amazing Alchemist Amputees! It'll be an instant hit!"
Mustang laughed amusedly, but the sound was so weak and grating that it was almost painful to hear. "But that would never work, you'd have to grow a few feet taller before we could ever be considered a matching set."
"...Who are you calling small?!"
Ed snarled at him and the colonel laughed again, smirking as he closed his eyes. The nurses had come in to inject Mustang with various drugs just before the fuehrer came in, and Ed could see that the colonel had been valiantly fighting against the narcotic effects during the meeting. Now that the meeting was done with, however, the pull of the drugs was visibly becoming harder for him to resist. He would probably be asleep within the next few minutes.
"I should go." Ed said softly, daring to reach forward and brush away a few strands of hair that fever had plastered to Mustang's clammy forehead. The colonel nodded silently, but as Ed turned to go he spoke up.
"Wait... I have something of yours."
Ed turned back and arched his eyebrow at him questioningly. Mustang made a half-hearted attempt to sit up again, but failed and decided instead to point vaguely at a small pile of books on the bedside table. Ed picked up the top one and glared at it. It was the fire alchemy book from a few months ago that he'd tried without success to master.
"Alphonse gave it to me, but since you're alive you should probably have it back. You certainly need the practice."
Ed shot him a dirty look and cracked the book open, scanning his eyes over the pages. He'd almost forgotten about this thing... truth be told, he wished that he really had forgotten about it entirely. This dumb book was nothing but a source of frustration and multiple burn-scars. Still, he supposed that he could give it another try...
He flipped through and stopped when he saw his own handwriting on one of the blank pages used for working out theorems. Beside his own writing though, was another script written a little lopsidedly in red pen.
Wrong. One part said, scrawled beside an arrow pointing to an equation.
Nope, try again.Another bit encouraged patronizingly. Ed turned to other pages in the book and saw that similar messages were written wherever he had made notes in the margins or doodled transmutation circles.
Wrong, wrong, wrong...
Does this really make sense to you, Fullmetal?
Come on, kid, use your head.
The corrections were everywhere Ed realized as he turned to the back of the book. On the very last page, Mustang had written:
See me after class.
...and remember, Ed: you'll never learn anything if you don't ask questions.
Ed stared down at that last part, unsure of whether to be insulted or touched by Mustang's sidelong offer to coach him in fire alchemy. He raised his head, about to say something clever like "I don't need your help, you conceited old jerk!" but instead he shut his mouth and sighed.
Mustang was out like a light, his brow furrowed slightly in a gentle frown of far-off discomfort. Ed smirked at him, letting go of his brief, lackadaisical irritation and closing the book softly. He tucked the thing under his arm and opened the door quietly, taking one last look over his shoulder before he flicked off the lights and exited, still smirking.