A.N. Sheesh, I'm not capable of getting ANYTHING done! Here I am with a ton of free time thanks to some of my classes being over and I haven't been working on my multi-chapter stories at all! Instead my mind's hovering over little ideas like this. Writing oneshots is far easier than ironing out the plotholes plaguing my multi-chapter stories.
And for some reason my muse seems determined to make somebody cry today. It must be the rain outside. I have loved rain all my life and now it has a way of reminding me of all the sad, but incredibly beautiful scenes in Fullmetal. Mustang's feelings of powerlessness comes to mind, as does Ed and Al's failure to revive their mother and so many other moments where everything seems to be falling to pieces.
Ed always wondered how the sky knew to rain on days like this, how the clouds knew the time had come to roll in and unleash their mournful load on human heads bowed with grief. It had rained like this on the day he and Al tried to transmute their mother and rain had also been also a vivid spectator on the day Nina Tucker was murdered. On both occasions the sky had gone dark hours and hours before the actual events took place, rumbling with unspeakable wrath and a deep, harrowing sadness.
Somehow the world just seemed to know. Especially when it came to children.
Lieutenant Hawkeye's pregnancy had come as a shock to everyone. Ed had literally heard about it over the phone while reporting to the colonel from fifty miles away. Hughes had been the one to make the startling observation, right in the middle of Mustang's lecture.
"Riza, you're pregnant! You have to be! It explains why you've been feeling so tired and queasy. Gracia went through the same thing. Oh don't look at me like that, it's wonderful! But I'm sure you two will want to keep the child's parentage from the military. Fraternization and all that, right? Don't worry, I won't say a single word!"
Of course Hughes had been the one to figure it out first, even before Hawkeye herself knew. And it was only to be expected that he had worked out who the father was about two seconds later.
And in that moment, Ed had known as well. Because in the wake of Hughes' announcement, he had heard Mustang's breath catch and the distinct clink of the phone dropping from his hand. While the entire office besieged Hawkeye with questions and congratulations and the occasional 'what the fuck?'comment, Mustang hadn't made a peep. From the sound of it, he hadn't even moved.
Mustang was the father. He was going to be a father, and Hawkeye a mother. The thought was almost too bizarre to comprehend and it took Ed a long time to finally wrap his head around it. Once her belly began to show, Hawkeye opted to take a long vacation away from East City until the birth and Ed and Al's neighbors were the first to offer up their home once they heard of the situation. Fraternization wasn't exactly against the law, but it was still frowned upon and neither parent had been eager to broadcast the existence of this new life to those who would take advantage of such a weakness. Hawkeye would claim she had adopted an orphan, easily bypassing any sticky questions about parentage.
But now here they stood nearly eight months later. Mustang's command, along with Hughes, Ed and Al, even Winry and Granny Pinako. And of course Hawkeye and Mustang.
Here they stood gathered around a little gravestone in the Risembool cemetery while all around them the world wept as if its own heart had been broken.
Ed swiped at his face with one drenched sleeve uselessly, deafened by the rush of falling water. It was too noisy, somehow. Too dramatic for such a quiet ceremony. No words had been spoken as Hughes and the others filled in the grave, and any prayers for the child's soul were made in silence. The world should have been silent as well, not bawling its eyes out.
But maybe it was a good thing it was raining. There was no telling how many tears would have been held back if not for the rain to disguise them. Winry made no show about hiding her sobs in the downpour, lank hair plastered to her face and the hem of her long, black skirt stained with mud. At least she had made the concession to wear sensible boots, but Ed's coat around her shoulders was soaked through. Al was stone silent, icy water sluicing off his armor in torrents, but Ed knew better than to think he was unaffected.
"That's quite enough standing in the rain for one day," Pinako murmured, barely audible above the storm. "Back to the house, you lot, and leave them in peace. I'll make something warm for dinner."
The soldiers were sluggish in their movements, shuffling away with some murmured words and an occasional somber glance at the motionless couple standing before the grave. No one knew what to say to the colonel and the lieutenant, the impromptu parents who hadn't even wanted a baby at first.
Now it was clear they would have given anything to have that child back. Their feelings were reflected plainly in Hawkeye's slouched shoulders and Mustang's clenched fist. Only one fist. His left hand was clasped around Hawkeye's right, keeping her at his shoulder. All they needed was a pastor before them instead of a grave and Ed could have sworn they were about to take their marriage vows.
Hawkeye stirred when she noticed the others leaving. "I can't stay here anymore."
Mustang didn't make any sign that he'd heard, but after a moment he released her hand and she stepped away. Winry and Pinako immediately fell into step on either side, linking arms with her as Hawkeye trudged down the hill. Everyone had tried, even Mustang had tried, but the lieutenant's despair went above and beyond anything the men could grasp. Winry had assured Ed that they should leave it to her and Granny, but it was so hard to see Hawkeye like that and not want to do something. There should have been someone to blame, someone to punish for her pain and for the cold emptiness in her belly, but there was no one. No one at all.
Ed followed his brother to the edge of the graveyard where Hughes held the gate open for everyone. He was the last in line, but just as he reached the gate Hughes swung it shut. Ed blinked at the waist-high iron bars blocking his way.
"Stay with him," Hughes said, nodding at the colonel. "He shouldn't be left alone now."
"But…you two are friends," Ed said in bewilderment. "Shouldn't you be the one to stay?"
The lieutenant colonel leaned over with an apologetic expression. "I've never lost a close family member. I can't understand where he's at right now. He needs someone to get him over the first hurdle before I step in. Someone who understands what he's going through."
Ed frowned and looked back at Mustang's defeated silhouette. It was true. He had been through this and he remembered well the muddle of broken thoughts and emotional agony it brought. He had believed from the bottom of his heart that the world was blind and deaf to his and Al's suffering, that no one could ever understand what it felt like.
"What am I supposed to say to him?" Ed muttered. "He's not going to accept anyone's advice right now, especially not--"
The words died off. Hughes was gone already, vanishing into the mist like a ghost. Ed grumbled some choice curses and started slogging through the mud back to Mustang, thinking hard on what to say to the colonel. Dozens of words and half-formed phrases jumped out at him, but not one of them sounded genuine. In fact, Ed was pretty sure he'd heard them all at his mother's funeral and they hadn't brought him any sort of comfort. He would have to wing it and hope he didn't say something that would make Mustang punch him in front of his kid's grave.
Ed's thoughts ground to a halt when he reached Mustang, stopping just a short distance behind him. Had the child been a girl or a boy? He hadn't even had a chance to ask. He'd only caught that one glimpse of the infant in the colonel's hands before everything went to hell…
The lieutenant went into labor suddenly and too early. Ed and Al had already been in Risembool for repairs and it was they who made the frantic call to Mustang to tell him to get his ass out there, fast. Thirty agonizing hours of labor ensued, giving the colonel just enough time to hop on the nearest train and get to Risembool right before the birth. Hawkeye hardly made any sound during her labor, but that didn't stop Mustang from prowling around the house like an angry wolf, gloved fingers rubbing together like he wanted to set the whole place on fire.
And then the moment came. An exhausted Winry sagged against the door with a relieved smile on her face, beckoning Mustang inside. The colonel entered the birthing like he was going into battle while Winry set off down the hall to get herself a drink of water. Technically Ed and Al were banned from the room until the clean-up was done, but Ed found himself drawn to that little crack of light like a moth. He could only see shadows at first and hear Hawkeye murmuring something in a sleepy tone. She would have to be tired after all that effort.
Ed leaned in a little more and spotted Mustang in a chair at the head of the bed. Pinako was in the process of handing him a squirming bundle with a tuft of messy black hair. Ed could have laughed at the stunned look on the colonel's face, a bizarre hybrid between 'Wow' and 'What the hell do I do with this thing?!' Pinako sharply lectured him on the proper way to support an infant's head and then moved out of sight.
Those few seconds were the ones that Ed remembered most vividly. Mustang laid the child in his lap carefully and pulled back the blanket to check over its body, like he didn't trust Pinako when she said the baby was healthy. The infant coughed and gave a shrill cry, small hands plucking at the sleeve of his jacket. Mustang ran his thumb over the tiny fingers gently, reverently, wide eyes taking in everything.
And despite the fact that it was the bastard colonel and his--literally--bastard kid before him, Ed couldn't help but think that he had never seen anything so sacred.
Mustang looked up, seeing Ed watching him through the door. The colonel offered up a sheepish smirk as if to ask what the hell Ed thought he was looking at. Ed began to smile as well when suddenly the baby's hand went limp. Mustang's happy look slipped as his eyes darted down to the child. He shook the pale body a little, seeking some sign of life or movement, but there was none.
"S-Something's wrong," Mustang gasped, his breath coming up short as Pinako bustled over to help. "Something's wrong! What's wrong with him?!"
Him. A son.
"Twenty-three seconds," Mustang whispered, each word sounding like it took a lifetime of effort. "That's how long his heart was beating for. How many heartbeats is that?"
Ed shoved his hands in his pockets, just now beginning to shiver. Mustang didn't seem to even notice the rain.
"Don't know," Ed said finally. "But it can't be that many."
Mustang looked around quickly, eyes widening in surprise when he saw Ed behind him. His lips twisted into a frown and he went back to staring at the grave. "Fuck…I thought you were Hughes."
I only wish I was Hughes, Ed thought helplessly. The lieutenant colonel always seemed to have the right words for these situations, and yet he thought Ed was better equipped to handle this? The man was out of his mind.
"Why do you want to know about the heartbeats?" Ed asked lamely.
The colonel lifted his head up toward the sky, mouth pulled in a thin line. "I read a theory somewhere that human beings are born with a set number of heartbeats. That even if you can avoid accidents and sickness and the like, you still aren't immortal because the heart will eventually stop once that number is up."
"That's crap," Ed informed him.
"Can you prove it wrong?" Mustang retorted. "How else do you explain a brand new heart just…just shutting down like that?"
Ed looked away from the colonel's furious glare. "The lieutenant didn't carry him all the way to term…"
"This is not her fault!" Mustang snarled, whirling around so fast that some of the mud from his boots got splattered on the headstone.
"Then whose fault is it?!" Ed shot back. "Who exactly are you planning to blame for this? That idiot theorist who doesn't know shit about biology and thinks he can get away with a shit theory? You know as well as I do that's not going to fix anything."
The colonel turned away from him, pacing around like he had in those final hours before the birth. "You don't get it, Fullmetal. How can I walk away from here without some kind of explanation?! There was no reason for…he deserved to live just as much as any of us, and he still…"
Ed dropped his eyes to the puddles of water around the grave, overflowing into the grass in little muddy rivulets. And he found himself reflecting on just how lucky that kid really was. Not to be dead, but to have a father that would stand over his grave in a rainstorm and rant at the universe for taking him away. Mustang had almost seemed annoyed by the pregnancy at first, but it hadn't taken all that long for his true colors to show. More than once Ed had caught him in his office on the phone with Hawkeye, a content smile tugging at his lips and a soft look in his eye. He would hide it of course, but it was there all the same and it left Ed in awe every time he saw it.
Yes, Ed thought dully. That little baby was lucky. So very lucky.
"He deserved just as many heartbeats as anyone else," Ed agreed. "But that's not something we as humans are allowed to decide."
Mustang snorted cynically. "And you're one to talk to me about breaking the rules?"
"I am," Ed said evenly, letting his eyes be drawn to his mother's grave only a few rows away. "I've broken them before, remember? I spent months after Mom was gone trying to work out why she had to be taken from us. It only got worse once me and Al started studying human transmutation because that gave me an excuse not to get over it. I even…"
He sucked in a lungful of cold air, fighting back the nausea and shame that came with the next admission.
"…I started to convince myself that she died for the sole purpose of being brought back by me and Al. Like we were destined to be the heroes who defeated death or something. What a load that was."
Ed crouched down in the mud and clapped, transmuting a runoff so the water would drain away from the grave rather than into it. Mustang watched at him vacantly, a far cry from the bliss that had carried him these past few months. Twenty-three seconds of contact and a lifetime of grief was a poor reward indeed for so much affection.
"But there was no purpose to her death," Ed said as he straightened up. "Not that I can see anyway. I'm telling you right now this is not the kind of thing you can just explain away by saying it was an accident or fate or whatever. It's a mystery that's going to stay a mystery and you'll just drive yourself crazy by looking for an explanation. Someday…someday you'll have to accept that he's not coming back and that there was nothing you could have done to change it."
For several long seconds the only voice in the cemetery was that of the rain. Mushrooms would probably be sprouting up all over the place once this storm was through. And flowers. He would have to remember to come back and put some on the graves of his mother and Mustang's son before he and Al left.
"I never thought I'd see the day when you would be giving me advice," Mustang muttered, sounding more like his sardonic self. "If we wait awhile, I bet it'll start raining cats and dogs."
"Shut up, bastard."
Mustang cast one more vulnerable look at the grave and finally started down the path with a drained sigh. Ed held back a sigh of his own. If Hughes had been worried about Mustang pulling something stupid, he didn't have to anymore. Ed knew better than to think that little bit of sarcasm meant he was alright--it would be a long time before the colonel would truly be alright--but he and Hawkeye would both get through this. They had each other and that was more than a lot of people could say.
"Well, look on the bright side," Mustang said at last, sounding almost regretful. "Now I don't have to worry about him living up to his name."
The colonel threw a mirthless look over his shoulder. "Did you even look at the gravestone, Fullmetal?"
Ed turned back to the mud-splattered grave, only now noticing that there was a name etched into the headstone. He had never overheard Mustang and Hawkeye discussing a name, not even right after the baby was born. He crouched down and swiped the muck away, heart thumping painfully when the name came into view.
Edward Roy Mustang
Mustang paused with one hand on the gate, looking back. Ed leveled one automail finger in his direction. "Next time you have a kid, I expect it to be named Alphonse!"
The colonel gave him a helpless shrug and something that could almost be called a smile. "You'll have to take it up with Hughes. He almost knifed me when he found out I wasn't naming my first son after him."
He started walking again and Ed kept an eye on the colonel's back until the rain swallowed him up completely. Looking back at the grave, Ed found his mind returning to the sight of the tiny bundle of life in Mustang's arms, small hands reaching up for his father. Ed held up his own hands before him, cradling an imaginary baby that possessed his own blond hair and gold eyes.
Or perhaps blue eyes?
"Maes isn't all that bad a name," Ed concluded, letting his hands drop. "And…neither is Roy."
"Aw, who am I kidding?" Ed chuckled bitterly, biting back a sob as his eyes swept over the headstone again. "Roy's a terrible name and we both know it. Right, Edward?"
He made to follow Mustang, boots squelching through the wet earth and leaving footprints that were erased seconds mere after they were made. Far in the distance he thought he could see the lights on in the Rockbell home, bright orange dots flickering like candles in the humidity, and he broke into a sprint that left him breathless and made his heart beat faster in his chest.
His family was waiting for him.
A.N. Yes, I came back and changed the ending a little. The outright humor was bothering me and I couldn't leave it like that. As one or two reviewers pointed out, it didn't mesh with the story. But I'd like to point out that I'm one of those weird people who laughs hysterically when I hear bad news. I think it's a defense mechanism to keep myself from crying. I'm sure that's happened to everyone at some point. Right in the middle of a tragedy or a funeral, you notice something small that's a little funny and for some reason your mind decides it's a LOT funny and makes you crack up when you should be crying. That's kind of what I was going for with Ed's last line.