Through the dank, twilit silence of the dorm room, the phone sang out, ringing a chilling melody that echoed off the still, wet showers, the vacant lockers, the long corridors ending in darkness.
A second ring, and the boy finally reached out to it, cradling it between fleshy cheek and metal collarbone as his hands slowly finished polishing the metal arm that glinted coldly in the wan light of the moon. He waited a moment in the eerie darkness, until the honeyed tone of the operator dripped to his ears.
"You have a call waiting from Colonel Mustang," she purled.
He stiffened his upper lip, contemplative, annoyed. "Patch it through," he finally commanded her with practiced authority. The was another moment's pause, deadly quiet, until the rich murmur reverberated from the speaker.
"Fullmetal?" it asked wearily.
Edward Elric's brow rippled. "Who else?"
A heavy sigh at the punk comeback.
"Listen. I know it's late, but there was an alchemy-related murder on the premise of the city, Edward, and our whole team has been selected to show up there."
Edward groaned from his gut, a truly homicidal sound. "It's almost midnight!"
"Enough, Fullmetal," the colonel's voice snipped shortly. "If you are going to be a dog of the military, you must obey when commanded. You must follow your leash. I warned you."
"What if I'on wanna!" he snapped childishly, his voice and temper flaring in a battle he knew he could not win.
He was met with more quiet, quiet that felt hushed even though he was the only person in the room. The phone's earpiece was inanimate, unwavering, and completely dead. Not a soul was on the other line.
Edward deflated promptly. "Be there in a minute," he promised hollowly into the empty mouthpiece, drowning in unanswered solitude.
The streets of Central were uncharacteristically empty, a gloomy haze slinking through the blackened alleys. Fog shrouded the buildings as if it were a billowing cloak, swirling absently through the cold air. The pallid luminescence of the moon was Edward's only guide as he stomped down the deserted road, shivering in the dead frigid air and cursing each step he took that echoed into bitter nothingness.
A faint winter breeze slapped his cheeks teasingly, and they stung. He raised his head to the icy caress. At rest, unmoving.
And he smelt it. It reeked of a silvery scent, a waxy fragrance underneath, amongst a sweet, decaying perfume that glazed his organs with slick ice. Shuddering, he drew his cloak around himself. Still. Listening.
Something echoed, reverberated from the far-off alleys. The hair on the back of his neck stood straight up, and he slunk low, innate, animalistic impulse intensifying his brisk pulse.
With renewed dignity, he straightened, pressed the palms of his white-gloved hands together, poised to strike. Exhaling in a cloud of white smoke that curled upward, he lashed out boldly to the delicate equilibrium of silence that so ceremoniously lingered through the night. "Who's there?"
A low hiss murmured through the blackest of alleys, hushing his loud proclamations. "Quiet, Fullmetal," it whispered harshly, "quiet or people will come."
Edward gnashed his teeth together, slowly lowering his hands in surrender. "Mustang. You'd better have one hell of a reason for dragging me out here so late," he snarled ominously.
An unfriendly silence reigned, before the Colonel softly spoke again. "Come back here…and see for yourself," he whispered darkly.
Ed moved forward in a quick motion, bravely and blindly stamping through the darkness, granting no heed to the flimsy "Do Not Cross" tape that neatly fenced the scene of the crime. Ducking under it with ease, he watched the scene unfold, come to life.
Lieutenant Jean Havoc was finishing the much-loathed task of covering the body, and Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye stood on guard, her hand flitting to the holster of her gun as she heard his footsteps. He nodded to her once, and her hand lowered immediately. Colonel Roy Mustang watched like a silent spectator, his arms crossed firmly on his chest, a look of apathy dulling his onyx eyes.
"You found us," he muttered monotonously, a tinge of regret barely audible in the rich baritone of his voice. Edward's frowned deepened, a gut feeling of cold foreshadowing making him shiver with dread. Mustang pursed his lips and spoke reluctantly, each word a blow to the chest. "We need you to take a quick look at the body and see if you recognize any…methods of human transmutation on it."
Edward's blood ran cold when mustang dehumanized the corpse, granting it the epithet "it", and chills marred his skin when he caught a whiff of that sweetish, rotting smell that mingled with the strong, omnipresent scent of blood. Smoothly, Mustang handed him a light to survey the damage, the demoralized recklessness of the incident.
Lieutenant Havoc sidled from view as Edward knelt by the motionless, plastic covered thing. With a sick scruple that caught in his lungs, he peeled off the body bag and flicked on the flashlight.
The harsh light illuminated something red, absolutely soaked in blood, stringy and splattered over what must have been the chest cavity. He extended a hand, reached for it boldly. Upon contact, the material made a grotesque squelching, wet-sounding noise. He pulled his hand back quickly, only to find it scarred by the eternal crimson that formed a thick, stagnant puddle around the monster. Slowly, he traced the beam along the thing.
Something morbidly white, paler than death, snagged his vision. He slid the beam across…this must've been an arm. In a fascinated horror, he observed the torn ligaments of pink, the skin with so many bleeding cuts and lacerations. It was baby soft, smooth to the touch, but marred, laced with gossamer ribbons of red. He swallowed thickly, repulsion jumbled in his throat, as the beam trailed across the still skull. But when he captured something charred, something faintly birthing steam into the icy night, his mind drew a complete and total armistice.
Something was etched by fire into the sliver of skin that drooped across the chest. The world ceased to move as he squatted in closer, clutching the flashlight until his knuckles faded to white, his heartbeat throbbing audibly. What he saw paralyzed him in terror.
It was the transmutation circle.
The same transmutation circle he had used to recreate his mother. The same transmutation circle that destroyed her as it pulled her from the clutches of death, morphed her from someone beautiful to something hideous and twisted. The transmutation circle that had stolen his arm and leg, replacing them with cold, unfeeling prosthetic automail…
Oh God, he screwed up so badly. So, so badly.
A thousand sights, sounds, and smells slammed his senses, hurling him into an epiphany.
"Chief?" The voice seemed to come from a million miles away, through a tunnel with no windows, no light. "Kid? You okay?"
He tried to speak, but his voice cracked hoarsely, an inaudible whisper that choked past his lips dryly. Words would have failed him, nevertheless; nothing…no single word in the universe…could name the gurgling horror that churned an abscess into his stomach.
"Chief!" The voice grew frantic.
He swayed, the bittersweet blood clouding into blurs of macabre red, its fragrance putrid and filling his nose. The raw horror wore thin, misted into numbness. Something burning crept up his throat.
"Edward!" it cried.
"God…Colonel! Help me get him away!"
Two firm, strong hands gripped his underarms, hauled him away from the mangled corpse. He shivered feverishly, his lungs constricting. Both hands squeezed with the passage of strength as the foamy, acrid bile leaked past his lips. His stomach heaved, his head whirling relentlessly, as if trying to purge of the memories of undeniable pain.
He retched on and on again, trying so desperately to focus on the warmth of the hands as they roamed to touch his back and forehead. With a shuddering breath of an injured creature, he finally collapsed on his side, the pressures of life grinding him into the murky ground.
"Ed? You all right now?"
He dared to crack an eye open, his strength loosely washing over him like delicate wves in a tide. The concerned faces of Mustang and Havoc greeted him. He blearily reached to scrub the blurriness from his eyes.
"Yeah…I'm fine," he answered, only half backed in honesty. With a guttural grunt, he tried to push himself upward, but there was still a sick, lingering leech in his chest, sapping his energy completely. Black clouds fogged his vision.
"Easy. Easy!" Mustang coaxed. Ed noticed that his arm twitched as if he were to rest a supporting hand on his back. But the colonel restrained himself, his brow furrowed.
Havoc scooted over to gaze upon his subordinate with his own eyes. "How you feeling?"
Edward mustered his feeble strength and shot Havoc an impish grin. "Like hell." Havoc rolled his eyes, but a smile was present in their forget-me-not blue depths. The colonel's expression, however, was not lighthearted. It was sullen and contemplative, as if there was a real mess in his hands. Edward averted his eyes back to the…thing, sprawled lifelessly on the ground.
He bit his lip. There was that.
As if reading Ed's panicked thoughts, Mustang looked at him, scrutinized him carefully through apathetic eyes. Edward's inside froze solid, his hands beginning to shake with revelation. "No…" he croaked, growing weak all over again.
Mustang sighed, shook his head in tangible regret. "Edward, please, just have another look. We need you right now."
Edward moaned as his nightmares came true, each drifting on to him gently, one by one. Agonizingly slow. "Nononono…" he breathed in a mantra.
"Edward…" Mustang warned harshly, and Edward could scarcely imagine what horrible, sick things could render the colonel with such cold apathy.
It was too much. The underage alchemist buried his head in his hands, cradling it shakily as if protecting himself from the turbulent stabbed at his heart in jabbing blows. His breath became ragged as his gruff sorrows threatened to escape him. "Please," he begged pathetically, seizing the wrist of the stunned colonel. "Please…no more. No more!"
"What the hell is going on here?"
The staccato bark rang like a gun shot through the night, and in a fluid movement, all of the soldiers rose into a brisk salute…all but Edward, who remained doubled over on the ground, clutching his stomach. His long, blonde hair obscured the view of Brigadier General Basque Gran.
Gran eyed the boy with perpetual nonchalance, intensified apathy that once shone in Mustang's face. The muscular alchemist turned to the colonel, then back to the shuddering boy on the ground. "Did you examine the corpse" he asked, his eyes glinting with mean eagerness.
Ed shook his head, trying to regain his composure. "I…I can't." Cold sweat beaded his forehead. He felt oddly sick.
Gran narrowed his eyes, his frown carving deep into his dark skin. "You worthless scum. You're a soldier, and soldiers follow orders. Brats like you…"
In a flash, he swiftly kicked the boy straight in the stomach with the toe of his boot. A strangled cry of pain brushed past Edward's lips as he flopped uselessly to the ground, like a toy rag doll. Like the thing that lie on the ground with him.
Quick footsteps pounded his eardrums, and he rolled for cover from another blow, scrunching his eyes shut tightly. But when he peeped an eye open, he saw Mustang confronting the general, his arm locked in a salute.
"Sir! I told Fullmetal to withhold from examining the corpse," Mustang defended boldly.
Gran shot him a glare full of hatred. "And why would you do that, Mustang"
Mustang's voice dripped with equal loath in his answer. "Why does human alchemy concern you? In any event, we can't risk any of this information from getting leaked to the public. We can't risk the safety of one of our valuable state alchemists for forbidden knowledge." He gestured to thing on the hard ground. "In any case, it's a waste of valuable time. This attempt, obviously, failed."
Gran sneered at the colonel, and his voice slunk down ominously. "You're hiding something, Roy Mustang. Someday, I will find out what."
And with that, the general stormed off, faded into the blackness.
A collective sigh of relief escaped the tense party. Ed lowered his head into the crook of his elbow, but sensed someone sitting by him. He moaned again, his voice full of fatigue. Someone nudged his shoulder. "C'mon kid, up and at 'em. Up. Now."
Mustang's voice rang through his throbbing head. The colonel slid a hand under Edward's shoulder and carefully helped him rise off the ground. Edward swayed precariously, and Mustang kept a steadying grip on his shoulder, his thumb rubbing Ed's shoulder, his thumb rubbing Ed's shoulder in small circles as the young alchemist's breathing slowed. "Are you okay?"
Ed took a shaky, life-restoring breath. "Yeah."
Mustang patted his shoulder once, and the two of them watched as Havoc and Hawkeye wheeled the twisted, dead body away, where it would do no harm.
Sitting there, with the colonel planted at his side, mounted realization on to Ed. Maybe the colonel could life his veil of apathy. Maybe he could let the burdens of others in, help shoulder the weight. Maybe he could choose who to help.
Maybe the colonel to help him.
Turning into the thick, blue fabric of Mustang's uniform as he had once done with his own father, Edward Elric felt truly grateful.
Yes, I'm alive. The plot bunnies bit, so I thought that I would share this pleasant (riiiight) little story with the fanfiction world.
As always, reviews and comments are much love. Thank you so much for reading this, and happy belated holidays. :)