"In the name of the Amestrian Military, this Medal of Valor is awarded to Colonel Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, for distinguishing himself with gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in action against the enemy of Amestris."
Mustang pinned the medal to Edward's chest. He was so relieved the Fuhrer didn't give him a smug look. Instead Mustang maintained the same stony expression that was there for everyone else who had received a medal that day.
Edward stepped back and saluted, stiff, tall and straight. It was the proper, by-the-book salute, reserved for occasions such as this. He had Havoc show him earlier that morning then practiced until he got it right without having to look in the mirror. To salute a superior officer was second nature to him now. But the precise line and angle of his arm had to be done just right, especially in front of so many people who were there to see the grandeur of the mighty military.
His heart wasn't in it though but he tried to act like it was. He saw a look of concern reflected in Mustang's eyes; it was obvious to him something was on the Fullmetal Alchemist's mind.
Edward was still finding it hard to accept this ceremony and being treated as a hero. He wanted to feel proud; knew there was nothing wrong with it but he couldn't find it in himself. But the moment of silence that started the ceremony for the fallen soldiers, and then each name read off before the unveiling of the memorial statue in their honor; it just depressed Edward. He knew too many of the fallen. They had died honorably and had done their duty knowing this could happen. He wouldn't let it drag him down; he knew the men who had died wouldn't want that from him or anyone else. Also, if Mustang noticed his moodiness, then Havoc and his brother would too and he wasn't going to burden anyone else with it.
He walked off the stage, back where his own officers were standing and cleared his mind. He reminded himself he should be grateful it was all over; that the loss of so many men would not happen again. That is, until he went to Xing but he had a feeling that would be nowhere near the devastation the war with Drachma caused.
After the ceremony and parade he was finally let loose. He found Al and Gloria, along with everyone else who had been in attendance for their wedding. They admired Edward in his dress uniform and teased him a bit. Having his family there helped lift his spirits. There was a cause for celebration. There was a lot of rebuilding to do for Amestris but at least it could be done without the threat of neighboring countries trying to invade or creepy homunculi trying to kill everyone. He wouldn't worry about his next mission into Xing. He would celebrate and take the time to enjoy the peace he had fought for until then.
However, all good things must come to an end for a soldier of Amestris. Two days later he was saying his good byes as one by one, Al, Gloria, Winry, Henri, Izumi and Sig each got on their separate trains to return home. The time for celebrating was over; at least for him. He would miss them all but there wasn't much time to think about it when he was immediately called to meet with the Fuhrer. It was back to business.
"Hello, Fullmetal," Mustang said, sitting back in his chair, smiling with that smug look on his face when Edward entered and saluted. "I'm sure you know what this is about."
"My official orders to go to Xing."
"No orders. I'm giving you a choice again."
"Like you offered me much of a choice in the first place," Edward said glaring at Mustang, understanding how he was manipulated four years ago and likely now.
Mustang's smug look just got worse. He pushed his chair back and opened up a top drawer in his desk, taking out two sheets of paper and laying them flat on his desk, side by side then sat back again in his chair.
"One is a letter of resignation," he said indicating the one on his right, "the other your official orders putting you under the command of Brigadier General Breda as his second in command, to assist Lin Yao in his bid for Emperor of Xing," he added looking to the sheet of paper to his left.
"I think you know what I'm going to choose but before I do I want a guarantee."
Mustang's eyes narrowed and the cool, calm superior look on his face turned into suspicion. "And what would that be?"
"That you no longer hold Jean responsible for me," Edward said. "In fact it should be the other way around."
"Alright," Mustang said looking relieved, probably expecting something more complicated.
"And..." Edward continued.
"And what?" Mustang said in a disapproving tone, the higher ranking officer in him not approving of a subordinate making so many requests.
"I want to be promoted to Brigadier General when I return from Xing."
"Isn't that reaching a little too high?" Mustang asked, still sounding like he disapproved but with a little amusement. "Do you really want the problems that will come with that? Not many people will like someone so young - no matter if it is well earned - receiving such a promotion."
"If that bothered me so much I never would have become a State Alchemist when I was twelve."
"We'll, see," was all the answer Mustang would allow.
"No," Edward insisted. "If I don't get a guarantee then I'll resign now."
Mustang hesitated, knowing Edward wasn't bluffing. "Fine," he grumbled, not wanting to lose his best officer. "But don't come complaining to me if you don't like the rumors this will cause."
"I've dealt with rumors before. I think you know what to do with the letter on your right," Edward said.
"Are you sure?" Mustang said picking up the resignation letter. "Do you want to think about it some more?"
Mustang smiled. His hand slipped into his pocket and reappeared with his famous white glove. He snapped his fingers under the paper, producing a small flame that leapt up; blackening the ends then quickly spreading until the fire consumed the thin sheet of paper. Mustang blew the flame out before he was burnt and his old smirk settled back once again.
"Symbolic, isn't it? You're freedom going up in flames."
Edward rolled his eyes. "I'm only doing this to keep you in check. I have to make sure your ego doesn't get any bigger."
"A challenge but you were always one for a challenge," the Fuhrer said as he picked up the other sheet of paper and held it out to Edward who snatched it away, glaring at Mustang. He turned to leave but heard a disapproving throat clearing. Edward, sighing as he turned around, snapped to attention and saluted.
"No, that's not what I meant," Mustang said sitting back. "You're more than entitled to leave without bothering with the proper protocols. I just wanted to talk to you about something else."
"And what's that?" Edward asked, his turn to be suspicious.
"You've gained a reputation as a good officer. You should be proud of it but you've also acquired another reputation along with it. I've ignored it at first but I think something should be said."
Edward felt a smirk forming and tried to repress it. "I don't know what you mean," he said innocently.
"Don't play dumb with me, Edward. So far it's only known within the military but it could get out."
"So," Edward said shrugging, no longer playing the innocent.
"So you don't mind tarnishing your good reputation with a footnote that you drink and sleep around."
"Not really," Edward said smirking. "If it doesn't affect my work, why should it matter?"
"Do you really want Al to find out?"
"That won't work on me, Mustang," Edward said with a bemused smile, knowing he would try it.
"Don't you think trying to get back at me is a little childish then?" Mustang asked, understanding Edward's motives.
"Yes. I don't trust leaving you in control of the military alone and it's not in me to not do a good job while I'm here. You built me into this great hero. You've used me and it's not the first time and I know it won't be the last. But if I'm going to be used it'll be on my terms and I think I deserve a break from the hero role once in a while."
"Don't you think you deserve better than what you're allowing yourself?" Mustang asked with the same look of concern he had during the medal ceremony.
"Maybe," Edward said, softening his tone, "but going to Xing or staying in the military doesn't help… and yes I know it was my choice."
"You can be the most frustrating person…" Mustang began shaking his head.
"Takes one to know one," Edward said petulantly.
"You're dismissed, Colonel," Mustang said trying to hold back a smile.
Edward saluted and left the Fuhrer's office.
"Captain," Edward said approaching Havoc who was chatting with a cute secretary as he waited for his commanding officer. Havoc ended his conversation looking disappointed opened the door for Edward.
"Let me see that letter I gave you to hold," Edward said once they were out of the office and further down the hallway.
Havoc reached into his jacket pocket - knowing Edward meant the letter he had written to Al long ago, intended for his brother if he were killed in action – and handed it over.
Edward took it. Reaching into his pocket he took out his lighter and flipped it open, igniting a yellow blue flame. Holding it to the letter it caught fire. Edward held onto the letter with his right hand watching as it slowly disintegrated into ash. He could have easily rid the letter using alchemy but inspired by Mustang, this seemed a more fitting end as well; to go down in flames. He no longer feared his own death. He was confident he would survive this next mission. He may be emotionally damaged by the war but like physical scars they would heal and fade with time. He closed his hand over the remaining, smoldering corner, extinguishing it.
"You sure you want to do that," Havoc said.
"Please, this succession war will be a piece of cake," Edward said confidently.
Havoc smiled at his confidence. "It reminds me of something Hughes used to say to Mustang."
"What's that?" Edward asked curiously.
"The ruder you are, the longer you'll live."
"Funny," Edward said thoughtfully. "He said that to me too, once."
"You'll probably end up outliving us all," Havoc pointed out. "If you do, make sure I'm buried with high honors."
"How would you know the difference between that and me leaving you dead in a ditch somewhere in Xing?"
"I'm touched by how highly you think of me," Havoc said irritably. "Remember not to turn your back on me the next time we're in a sticky situation."
"I wouldn't worry about that. You're a lousy shot," Edward said with a smirk.
"And your alchemy designs suck."
"No way! They're totally bad ass!"
"Yeah, for someone with zero taste!"
Edward stopped and scowled at his Captain who continued walking, looking very proud of himself for getting the last word. Then Edward smiled.
"Captain Havoc," he said officially, stopping the older man in his tracks. Edward stalked up to him. "I will expect my things to be properly packed and ready to go when we leave Central. If anything is out of place or missing, I will confiscate yours."
"Yes, sir," Havoc said gloomily.
Edward continued past his officer with a smug look thinking it really wasn't all that bad staying in the military.
I can't believe I just posted the last chapter! I'm seriously going to cry because I loved writing this and I'm going to miss writing about the Drachman War. But.... I do have another story in the works! It will be a sequel to Elysia and the General so keep an eye out!
I'll be including some background info on this story in my profile. It will contain what inspired me and where I got some of my ideas from.
Thank you to all my great readers and reviewers! It was a blast and I hope to see you all when I post the first chapter of the sequel!