Written as a thank you to
the men and women who
have volunteered their time
and very lives to protect
Memory of the Fallen
Twelve-year-old Edward Elric walked beside his brother, head bowed against the pouring rain. It was early morning—far too early for any sane person to be awake—but their train had arrived hours early, and so there had been nothing for it than to get off and make the walk back to the military dorms half asleep.
Ed shifted his grip on his large and heavy suitcase with his automail hand and felt, more than thought, the frustrated complaints about having accidentally left his umbrella on the train. By the time he'd realized it, the train had already left.
"Are you sure you don't want me to carry you, brother?" Alphonse asked loudly. The rain itself was loud enough, but it drummed hollowly against Al's empty, metal armor, drowning out any possibility of hearing other sounds.
Ed shook his head stubbornly and trudged on. He didn't mind being carried when people he knew couldn't see, but they were back in Central now and the thought of being teased for letting Al carry him was too humiliating.
He heard Al mutter something that sounded like, "Stubborn," but it was hard to tell over the noise. They continued on for some time, Ed staying awake by counting the cracks in the sidewalk by giving each a prime number.
When he reached nine hundred sixty seven, Al said, "Hey, isn't that Major Hughes?"
Ed stopped and slowly lifted his head. Rain pelted his face and he had to wipe his eyes and blink a couple of times so that he could take in his surroundings. They were standing near the military cemetery. The heavy iron bars of the tall enclosure that surrounded the place seemed more forbidding and foreboding in the rain and the heavy gloom of the early morning than it normally might have. Had the sky been clear, the sky would just be lightening; but, as it was, the tombstones were dark shapes in a dim and colorless world.
It took him a moment to locate Major Hughes, but when he did, Ed didn't understand how he could have missed him. Taller than the headstones, Major Hughes stood a stone's throw away from them. His body was turned so that he was almost facing away from them; yet, despite that, and the fact that he was wearing the military issue overcoat, there weren't very many people with the combination of haircut, facial hair, glasses, and over all facial features that set Maes Hughes apart.
"We should probably leave," Al said, his voice held a note of embarrassment, as if they were interrupting a private moment. But just then, Major Hughes caught sight of them. He seemed startled to see them, but recovered quickly and gestured with his hand to show he wanted them to join him. With a weary sigh, Ed trudged further down the sidewalk until they reached the gate, then turned into the cemetery and headed down the small path to where Hughes was waiting.
When he saw them, Hughes walked forward to meet them, then stood next to Ed so that his umbrella covered them both. "It's a little early for you boys to be out, isn't it?" Hughes asked.
"Train came in early," Ed grunted, then frowned at the hat Hughes was carrying under his arm. It was a military dress hat, usually worn with the dress uniform. Though he couldn't be completely sure with the coat, Ed was pretty confident that Hughes was wearing his dress blues today.
As if reading Ed's thoughts, Al said, "What about you, Major? Is something special going on today?" Hughes smiled slightly and glanced out over the sea of headstones, which were becoming less dark and foreboding as the sun rose behind the gray clouds.
"Today is a day set aside by the fuhrer for us to honor those who have died for their country. That's why I'm here. I've come to pay a visit to friends and comrades..." He trailed off and looked out over the cemetery again.
"But why so early?" Al asked. "Wouldn't it be better to wait until later?"
Ed saw a wry smile flit across Hughes's face. "It would be lighter, warmer, and possibly dryer, but we wanted to come before the crowds of people arrived. Most of these headstones are for people who died in the Ishbal war. I had a desk job so it wasn't as if I really knew a lot of people who died. It didn't really take me very long..."
Ed's lips pulled into a frown as he thought about the Major's words. He'd said 'we', not 'I'. Opening his mouth to speak, Al beat him to it and said, "Then why are you still here?"
"I'm waiting..." he said, sadness threaded through his tone.
"Who did you come with?" Ed asked, really studying the expanse of the cemetery for the first time since they'd come to talk with Hughes. His eyes fell upon a lone figure among the rows of tombstones. The person was tall, wearing a black overcoat, and holding up a dark umbrella. His hair was black and he was holding something under his arm—his hat, Ed presumed.
"A friend of mine," Hughes said sadly. "My best friend... He saw a lot of people die. He lost a lot of friends and comrades. He was in the thick of the war... I don't envy him..." The last was said so softly that Ed almost didn't hear him over the pattering of the rain against Alphonse's armor.
Ed looked back and saw that the man moved from grave to grave; sometimes stopping at each for a moment, sometimes skipping a few. The way the man walked seemed a little familiar, and it only took a moment for Ed to piece together who it was.
"Lieutenant Colonel Mustang?" Ed asked slowly, and by Hughes's silence, he knew he'd guessed right. He glanced back at Mustang and studied him more closely. He and Mustang didn't really get along, but seeing him out there among the graves made him think about himself and the loss of his mother.
It wasn't the same, but it was a loss... He'd seen her die. It had been horrible, but how much more horrible would it be to see countless friends and fellow soldiers die? Ed really couldn't even imagine it.
Without thinking, Ed set his suitcase down and started forward. He heard Al calling for him, telling him not to bother the colonel(1), but he waved him off with a hand. Ed had the strongest urge to do something, to say something—anything—that might help. It wasn't like he hated Mustang; it was just that they didn't get along most of the time. He knew the sadness that came with death, and he didn't like seeing the man out there all by himself. Later, he would look back and realize that perhaps Mustang wanted to be alone, and that's why Hughes hadn't been with at his side, but at this moment, Ed couldn't bear it.
As he drew close, Ed slowed, then stopped. His mind was blank and he couldn't seem to think of anything he could do or say that would help. Nothing short of having those people back would really, truly, make the pain go away. But, he'd found out the hard way that nothing could be done to bring back the dead.
Ed shifted his weight and the ground squished wetly beneath his boot. At the sound, Mustang turned slightly and glanced at him. His expression was one filled with sadness and loss, one that was weary beyond anything Ed could really understand.
"I..." Ed stuttered, suddenly thinking this had been a bad idea. "I don't know much about war or anything like that, but... well..." Ed shifted his weight again and fidgeted nervously. He knew he must sound really stupid. "My mom... I was there when she died, and so I think I kinda understand... a little."
He waited, sure that Mustang was going to make some pronouncement about his twelve-year-old brain not being capable of the level of understanding an adult brain was, but such comments never came. Instead, Mustang simply stared at him, then looked down at his own boots for a moment, before motioning Ed over with his hand.
When Ed was beside him and under the shelter of the umbrella, Mustang lifted his head to stare down in Ed's eyes. "Walk with me?" he asked simply.
"Uh, sure..." Ed said, falling in beside Mustang as he began walking to the next gravestone. Mustang stopped at it for a moment, then moved on. They continued on that way for almost ten minutes before Mustang spoke again.
"Did you know," he said mildly, "that most of the graves in this cemetery are actually empty?"
"What?" Ed asked, feeling shocked.
"There were times when we lost so many that we had to bury them in mass graves. Our soldiers; their soldiers... It didn't matter. We had to get rid of the corpses to avoid disease. At the beginning of the war, the Ishballans tried to take their dead. They have a strict code in how they believe their dead should be buried, but there came a time that they had to think more about the living than the dead."
They stopped at another grave and they stood there for a moment, neither of them speaking, but when they moved on, Mustang continued.
"War is an ugly thing, but in dark times like that, you see the most amazing acts of bravery and courage... The names of these men and women that you see on these stones, many of them were heroes in their own right. They were brought into a war that wasn't noble, that wasn't right, that wasn't just in any way... but they did their duty..."
Mustang stopped walking and looked around the ever-lightening cemetery. His eyes were shining with unshed tears and his face was one of grief mingled with pride.
"I won't lie to you, Ed. Some of the orders they—we—were given from our superiors... they were despicable. I'm ashamed to have followed some of them myself, but these people... these soldiers... they were good. They were strong. They were full of courage and the desire to do right. They were proud of being soldiers, of being the defense for our country... They knew that if it ever came down to it, they would be the ones to fight for the lives of their wives and children, for their friends and neighbors..."
A single tear trickled from Mustang's eye and his lips pressed together, giving his face a fiercely thoughtful look. "Even as many of them were despised by their countrymen, the same people they were all willing to give their lives to protect... they continued on..." The last was said in a near whisper, and Ed knew that even though Mustang wasn't including himself in that statement, he was—and had been at the time—a state alchemist, and Ed knew how much many people hated them. Most likely, Mustang had suffered under the same hatred that he spoke of.
"I know that to you," Mustang continued; and when Ed glanced back up, he saw that the tear had been wiped away. "The names on these stones are just that—names. But they lived once. I knew them. They were as real as you standing beside me. Most of them were young, with their whole lives ahead of them..." He trailed off, then shook his head as if he were unwilling or unable to say more.
Shifting his hat under the arm that was holding the umbrella and putting his now free hand against Ed's shoulder blade, Mustang guided him back toward the cemetery entrance. Apparently their talk was over.
They walked for a moment, then Ed stopped and glanced up at Mustang. "Do you think I'll ever see a war like the one in Ishbal?" He wasn't afraid, not really, but it hadn't been something he'd really thought about when he'd become a state alchemist.
Mustang gave him a thoughtful look, then said, "I hope not." He paused, and put his hat on his head. "But if it ever comes to that, I would be proud to serve with you." He gave Ed's shoulder a small squeeze, then walked away, leaving Ed to stand, once again, in the downpour.
He felt a surge of pride well up within him at the words Mustang had spoken. His commanding officer didn't think he'd be a drag or worthless. No matter how much the man teased him, in this moment he'd made it clear that he knew Ed was trustworthy and capable—not exactly light praise coming from Roy Mustang.
Ed began to walk again, but Mustang reached Hughes and Al first. There was a brief greeting between the colonel and Major Hughes, then the two men left the cemetery.
"What happened?" Al asked, when Ed reached him.
Silently, Ed picked his suitcase up where he'd left it and jerked his head toward the gate. "I'll tell you when we get out of the rain." As they left the cemetery and started down the sidewalk once again, Ed glanced at the headstones through the heavy bars and said a silent thank you to the brave men and women who had signed up with the military to defend their country and its citizens, and who had paid the ultimate price for that willingness.
1 – 'Colonel' is an acceptable form of address for a lieutenant colonel.
A/N: Given that the war in Ishbal wasn't one where Amestris was trying to defend herself, but was, instead, attacking another country in order to annihilate the people, I didn't really feel it would be right to say that these men and women died to defend their country and her people, but I think that they would have done so if Amestris had been attacked.