There was something important he was supposed to be doing. But he couldn't remember what it was.
"You're here," a voice remarked conversationally. It struck him as odd, but he couldn't place why. He turned, and saw that it was someone he knew. A short blond boy, dressed in black. But when he tried to say the boy's name, nothing came out. He stared at him, puzzled. That's odd…he really felt like he should know him.
"Why did you come?"
"I had to get something back," he replied.
"What?" the boy asked, curiosity creeping into his voice.
"I…don't remember. But it was something important."
"What were you going to trade?"
The boy gestured towards the black doorway looming behind him. "Equivalent Exchange."
"Oh!" He put his hand in his pocket, and pulled out a watch. "I brought this!" He was happy to have remembered something, at least.
The boy looked at him skeptically. "I don't think you can get much for a pocket watch. But did you come out of the Gate, or are you trying to go in?"
"I don't…I'm not sure." He frowned, trying to concentrate on something.
"You would know," the boy assured him. "Unless," another thought occurred to him, "unless you've forgotten?" He looked at him more closely. "You seem…different," he said suspiciously.
"How am I usually? Do you know me?" he asked hopefully.
The boy's eyes widened and he took a few steps back. At that moment, the Gate opened, and several long skinny arms with small black hands shot out, snatching the pocket watch dangling from his hand and pawing at his shoulders. When it slammed shut again, they were both left in pitch darkness.
Edward woke up with a groan. What happened? He felt sore all over, as if he'd been pummeled. He blinked a few times; the light gave him a headache. He moved to put an arm across his face – at least his arm still worked. He experimentally wiggled his fingers on both hands…they didn't seem broken. But when he went to roll over, pain lanced his side. He hissed, and propped himself up on one elbow so he wouldn't have to move his midsection. It didn't help. That's when he saw the blood – he was drenched in it – it was spattered all around him on the sidewalk.
He looked around, but he seemed alone. No suit of armor hovered over him anxiously. It was…quiet. Gritting his teeth, he pulled himself into a sitting position, trying to survey his surroundings. The wound in his abdomen was letting its presence be felt, urgently, but he tried to ignore it. He wasn't alone. There was a body not twenty feet from him, face down and motionless. He winced – that wasn't his doing, was it? One of his trademark spears lay on the ground near the body, and there was blood on it. He looked up and down the side street, seeing evidence of his fight – broken columns of rock sprung from the ground and the walls, while everything was covered in black soot. A massive explosion? Must've knocked him out. Maybe the other guy was just knocked out, not dead. Military pants, white shirt and black hair were all he could see of the man with a small build. He scooted closer, doubled over from the pain in his side. When he moved, he saw that he'd been practically leaning on a transmutation circle, but he ignored it for now. "Hey, mister?" he rasped hoarsely. "You okay?" No response. But at that moment, a clatter of boots got his attention.
"I've found them! They're over here!" the man called, before several soldiers rushed over to them. "Major Elric, sir, are you okay?" the MP asked him anxiously.
"It's my side," Edward admitted in a whisper, pointing.
His shirt was stuck to his skin by the blood, so the MP only poked at it gingerly, not attempting to remove it and get a better look at the deep gash. Then he spotted the blood pool just behind Edward, and his eyes widened. "We should get you to a doctor right away, sir!"
"How is…the other guy?" he asked as he was loaded onto a stretcher.
The men glanced at each other. "I'm sure Colonel Mustang will be fine when he wakes up." Edward couldn't decide whether this was good news or bad news, but when he lay back on the stretcher, his eyes closed, and the voices around him slowly faded to a buzz.
"Brother?!" an anxious voice greeted his return to reality.
"Al, you're okay," he croaked groggily. "Wha-? Why's ev'rything so-?"
"Painkillers," Al grimaced. "For your side. You had a nasty cut, so they stitched it up. And a couple of ribs are broken."
Something wasn't right. Al sounded…guilty. "Not your fault," Ed mumbled. "Stupid homunculus."
"I should have been there, Brother. I was stupid, to let them draw us apart like that."
Ed shook his head, eyes closed. "Nah, I'm the one who ran off."
"If you weren't already hurt, I would hit you for that," Al accused.
Ed just smirked. "Wait till I'm better." He didn't hear whatever his brother said in reply, because he was already asleep.
The next day, Ed was eating with gusto, drinking down broth as fast as the nurses would bring it to him. Al encouraged him, knowing he had lost a lot of blood.
"So, Al, what aren't you telling me?" Ed asked lightly, reaching for another bread roll.
"N-nothing!" Al stammered, holding his hands up in front of him and waving them back and forth frantically. He looked very guilty, despite trying to appear innocent. Neither brother could hide things from the other for long. Ed looked at him, his expression clearly saying, Just tell me already.
"It's…it's the Colonel," Al said quietly.
Ed's hand paused, halfway to his mouth. "What happened?" he asked, horror written on his face. "Did he -?"
"No!" Al shook his helmet fiercely. "He's alive. But-" He stopped.
"But what? What is it, Al? Tell me!" Ed demanded.
"You'll…you'll have to see him yourself," Al said uncomfortably.
"Then take me to him!"
"He was here earlier, when you were asleep."
"Then, he's okay? He's not hospitalized?" Ed asked. "What'd you get me all worked up for?"
"You have to see him," Al repeated.
"Then go tell him I want to see him right now, and no smart remarks about how surprised he is by my saying so. He better get his sorry ass in here before the day is over!"
"Lieutenant? This is Alphonse."
"Hello, Alphonse. How is your brother?"
"He's doing better today. He's asking for the Colonel."
There was a pause on the other end. "I see. I suppose I could bring him by today."
"Oh, thank you! I don't know how to tell Brother…"
"I understand. We'll stop by in three hours and see if he's awake."
"Thank you, Lieutenant Hawkeye."
"Not at all, Alphonse."
Ed was asleep when Al returned from making the phone call, but it was just a light doze. He woke up in a couple of hours demanding more food. He was therefore alert and fed when Hawkeye knocked on his door. Al opened it, and both soldiers walked in.
"Hello, Edward," Mustang said, with his usual smug expression. Ed looked at him closely. Apart from being a bit greyer than usual, he looked fine.
"Hey, Colonel, they had me all worried about you, but – " his voice trailed off as he remembered something, and his face went white. "You were there! At…at the Gate!" He pointed an accusing finger at him. "Why?"
"You weren't breathing when I found you. Haven't you noticed that those stitches are on both your stomach and your back? The cut went clean through." He said this easily, as if he weren't discussing a crisis.
Edward gaped, his mouth opening and closing with a slight pop. "What? Are you telling me I died?"
"No, I don't think so, but it was a close thing." Mustang shrugged. "You were pretty far gone."
"But, wait, how? How did you open the Gate?" Edward asked uneasily. Human transmutation never went well – he should know.
"I transmuted myself," Mustang explained. "Using your trick," he nodded in acknowledgement. "I knew that would get me there, and then it was just a matter of Exchange."
"You…you were going to trade your pocket watch for my life?" Ed asked, enraged. "That was your brilliant plan? You cocky bastard!"
"Please, Edward, you weren't dead. At least, I don't think you were. Just in need of some emergency surgery. There was damage to the internal organs and not enough time to get you to a proper hospital. I thought it was rather clever of me to pull that off without losing any body parts."
Ed looked at the man suspiciously. All his limbs were accounted for, but that didn't mean he was okay internally. He narrowed his eyes, but Mustang didn't cough up blood or betray any other pain. "What…what did you lose?" Ed swallowed, suddenly feeling queasy. Maybe he didn't want to know. But he couldn't not ask!
"Just my pocket watch and my jacket." Hawkeye gave Mustang a dirty look, but kept her mouth shut.
"What?!" Ed exploded. "I gave an arm and a leg, and I didn't get my brother's body or my mother back, yet you hand over a lousy uniform and get what you wanted?" He would have leapt out of bed to throttle the man, but at that moment his stitches decided to remind him that he was still, in fact, very much injured.
"Brother – " Al warned.
"You can't cheat the Gate, Edward," Mustang shrugged. "I paid what I could."
"I'm sure you'll miss your uniform jacket," Ed said sarcastically. "They can whip up another for you by next week. Or do they not make medals for the Ishbal campaign any more?" he asked, rubbing his chin. Rather than being grateful that the cost was so low, he felt cheated that his life was worth so little.
"Colonel Mustang has resigned from his post, and will no longer be in the military beginning next week." Hawkeye could no longer stand quietly by and listen to Ed's unwarranted abuse. She knew it was the Colonel's job to handle this, but he was doing such a spectacularly poor job of it. It was time for her to intervene.
Ed looked back and forth between her and Mustang, trying to see the trick. But she seemed serious, and he had never known Hawkeye to tease - about anything, let alone something like this. And the Colonel wasn't denying her. Even creepier, he didn't seem the least bit upset about that.
"But that's…I mean…your career…your goal…we all know…what?" Ed babbled for a moment. "What...what did the Gate really take?" he asked quietly, knowing he didn't want to hear the answer this time.
"Just my jacket," Mustang answered just as quietly. "And, apparently, the ambition that went with it."
"You…you can still work without that, can't you?" Ed asked desperately.
"Apparently not," his superior answered with a faint smile, looking away from Hawkeye.
"But…but…you saw the Truth! You were inside the Gate. Can't you…"
"Truth alone is not enough to push you towards a goal, Edward. The Truth did not propel you forward to save your brother." He looked at Alphonse as he said it, not looking Ed in the eye.
"No, it didn't – you did! You were the one who showed me how to follow that path! You can't just give up on your goals now." But his voice tapered off into a quiet whine. He didn't know what else to say.
Mustang shook his head. "That drive was already there; I merely directed it."
Suddenly, Ed realized something. "But that's not all the Truth does. You saw inside the Gate, so you can transmute without a circle now, can't you?"
"It took my jacket…and my pocket watch," Mustang clarified. "I remember seeing what lies within the Gate, but…" his voice trailed off. "I'm sorry, Edward. I guess I really am useless now."
"You…no. You're not saying you can't do alchemy anymore?!"
"I remember how… it just doesn't…." He frowned. "But I'm glad to see you awake and well, Edward," he said, changing the subject abruptly. "I'll try to come by tomorrow if - ?" But he looked to Hawkeye, not Ed, for permission. She nodded to him. He said his goodbyes, but Ed just stared at him wordlessly.
Hawkeye turned in the doorway. "Get well soon, Edward," she said quietly. He just nodded mutely. This was…too much.
"Al?" he asked later that night. He'd been unusually quiet and subdued ever since Mustang left, barely picking at his food, and not sleeping, either. Al could tell when his brother was faking it, and he'd just lain there curled on his side all afternoon.
"I'm here, Ed."
"It's…it's all my fault. If I hadn't nearly died, the Colonel wouldn't have thrown his own life away."
"I would have done the same, Brother, if I had been the one to find you," Al admitted.
"No, Al! I don't want you to die so I can live!"
"But the Colonel's not dead. He's not even hurt, really," Al said doubtfully.
"Don't be a fool, Al. He gave up something that means more to him than this leg ever did to me," Ed twitched his left leg under the sheet. "And no surgeon can help him get by, either."
Ed scowled at the window, thinking as hard as he could. Al waited patiently, giving his brother time to work this out. "But…the goal was never really about Mustang, was it?" he asked after a long pause. "It was just to fix Amestris. It doesn't have to be him. Does it?"
"Are you saying you want to be Führer, Brother?" Al asked in surprise.
"Of course not! Only an egotistical maniac with a god-complex would want that job," Ed said with disdain. "But…"
"But you're thinking about it," his brother finished for him.
Ed nodded. "After we get your body back," he amended, looking at his brother. "We wanted to have a goal for afterwards, and I think I just found mine."
Al thought about it for awhile and then nodded. "Right. After we get both our bodies back, we'll make sure this country doesn't use its military to make another Ishbal."
"We owe it to him," Ed said. "And not just him, but Lieutenant Hawkeye, and Brigadier General Hughes, and everyone else who ever believed in Mustang's goal. If we don't…his sacrifice for me would just be a waste."
Author's Notes: I wrote this as a stand-alone on April Fool's Day, because the idea originally came from the image of Roy Mustang standing at the Gate and offering it silly stuff (like his watch). I want to continue writing about what would happen in this AU, but it's going to be difficult to write such an OOC Mustang. So, we'll see how that goes!