Disclaimer: I don't own!
Here we are chaps.
A huge thanks to my amazing beta, Kalirush who also happens to be a fabulous writer. Go look! Thanks also to those of you who have listened to me moan throughout, in particularly AntigoneRex and DisasterGirl, the former having been subjected to emails on the minute. Sowee!
On fanfiction. One of the frustrating things about reading fanfiction, is we don't have the same sense of length that we do with a book. The screen doesn't help us manage our expectations of what's to come. So, imagine this. You're holding the book Here Dead We Lie. The majority of the pages sit heavily in your left hand, so much so, it's almost awkward. In your right fingers, you are holding the last few pages. Maybe two more chapters, tops. Another hour or two's reading, and you'll be finished. That's where you are.
Sion Mills, Eastern Region, 16th August 1901
Poor, practical Riza. No funny business. A fine a thing as he had ever known.
Summer was at an end. The grass had dulled a shade and the nights were no longer stifling and full of wet heat. The last of the great summer storms had raged its worst and there was nothing left now but to prepare for the cold Eastern winter. Autumn was short in this part of Amestris and it was no joke when the locals said: Go to bed in your swimsuit, wake up in your scarf.
Roy Mustang sat alone in the Hawkeye study. Under his right hand lay his notebook, while under his left sat the largish, neatly bound treatise, Our World and Its Elements. His task was to copy the original – word for word – into his notebook. It was a punishment. He'd been caught sleeping the day before when he should have been re-ordering the chemicals cabinet. Hawkeye was a man of traditional values, and so, while he could have asked Roy to write a reflective essay, examine the qualities of Marcus Hutton's theory or even mow the lawn, he'd given Roy this. Copying was a very, very effective punishment for a boy like Roy Mustang. Boring and without any value, it edged towards torture.
He dropped his pen and watched it roll awkwardly into the central trough in his notebook. He groaned and stretched upwards, feeling each tired bone in his back pop and settle. He reached his right hand outwards and made easy circles with his wrist, whinging a little when strained muscles pulled sorely. Puffing his cheeks out and scowling through the wall at where Master Hawkeye was surely working, Roy picked up the treatise with his right hand and the notebook with his left and swapped them over. He began copying with his left, each stroke and fluted letter as perfect as they had been when he'd been writing with his stronger hand. He smiled to himself. Copying! He felt like a naughty six-year-old, not a sixteen-year-old master apprentice.
"That cranky old, ba-"
Roy squealed and spun towards the door, successfully smudging his last three lines as he did so. "Master Hawkeye!"
The older alchemist pushed the door open, and stooping, made his way into the room. With eyes wetted from intense reading, Hawkeye surveyed the scene before him. He seemed satisfied, at least, that Roy had been writing and not sleeping. He coughed into his shoulder then spoke in his low, thin voice. "What progress are you making, Roy?"
"Yes," answered Roy stupidly before he belatedly understood the question. He shook his head and replaced the pen on the table. "I'm just over halfway, sir."
Hawkeye's eyes narrowed at the smudged paper, then at Roy. Goddamn if Riza hadn't given him the same deeply suspicious look when she caught him in the pantry that time. The similarities between father and daughter, superficially at least, were startling. Creepy even. The man raised his chin a little, gesturing to the notebook.
"Interesting, is it?"
Roy's eyes narrowed in return. This was one of those Hawkeye tests. The family specialised in codes. Codified elbows to the ribs, glances across the room, a door left ajar, a door fully closed... Everything in the Hawkeye house seemed to carry some other, deeper meaning. One had to tread carefully with questions of this nature.
Roy was something of an expert by now. Or so he believed. "In what regard, sir?"
"Hutton's fourth rule, for example."
With a shy smile, Roy ventured forth onto the proverbial eggshells. "The rules are interesting if at times inaccurate and outdated." He checked Hawkeye's response. The man was impassive. "But no, sir. This is not interesting. I'm copying his work when I could be analysing it."
Hawkeye sighed. Roy flinched a little. The man said: "Go on."
"The value of this task is not alchemical."
"Is there any value to this task, Roy?"
Roy looked back at his little notebook, its pages wrinkled with still-drying ink. Inside were hundreds and hundreds of someone else's words, someone else's thoughts. He wanted to say, "No, there bloody isn't." But he knew what Hawkeye wanted.
"Yes. Academic value. Moral, even. I slept on the job. It was... immature." The final word stuck in his throat like a troublesome apple pip. He swallowed it with some effort.
Hawkeye considered his apprentice for a long time, his deeply-set eyes glinting powerfully in the murky dark by the door. He nodded at last. "I have another task for you."
Roy blinked back at his master. Something else! Something besides Hutton's muttony old language and a sore wrist. "Yes?" Roy leaned back in his chair a little, feigning studious disinterest. "Yes sir?"
"I sent Riza into town some time ago for supplies."
Riza. Riza in her oversized summer jacket and silly country cap. Riza whose shoulders were more toned than his, who could chop twice as many logs as he, and who had taught him how to split sugarcane. Riza would be fine. She was always inexorably fine. "Sir," said Roy.
"I appear to...," the man paused to cough, this one different. This was not a real cough but a fake one. Roy was an expert on fake, delaying, prideful coughs as much as he was at navigating the Hawkeye-code-factory. Hawkeye retrieved a crumpled envelope from his pocket. "She has the wrong envelope. She doesn't have enough money. She won't know any better until she gives it to Mrs Lagan."
She has... she doesn't... she won't...
So Master Hawkeye had given her the wrong envelope. He was at fault and she would pay with deep embarrassment. It was well known that the Hawkeyes, while not destitute, struggled for their own keep. Only three weeks ago, Riza had had to return a sack of grain as the fee had been short. She was teased around town and bore it sensibly. She was well accustomed to it by now.
It would have been too much to expect a mea culpa from the father – it was his way. And Riza – silent, noble Riza – was much too easy to frame. And for such a small matter, too. What a shame.
The man passed the envelope to Roy, his mouth tight. Well, Roy supposed, at least his master had the moral wherewithal to save her the humiliation of being short of money again.
"Forget your work for now, Roy, and be sure to catch up," his teacher said, distracted. He was so often distracted when he spoke of his daughter.
Hawkeye grunted and made his way through the door. He paused at the threshold. "Roy?"
"Sir?" Roy asked, standing. He squeezed past his desk and took his jacket from the back of his chair.
"No funny business," said Hawkeye before shuffling back to his own study.
The boy laughed quietly into his chest then shook his head. Master Hawkeye had been telling him 'no funny business' since he arrived, yet had never once left his study to see Riza to bed, light the stove in her room or pull to her curtains. If saying 'no funny business' was the beginning and end of fatherhood, then Bethold Hawkeye was a sterling example of paternity. Roy slipped into his jacket and his smile disappeared with the closing of his study door.
The air was dry and pleasant as Roy Mustang made his way into town, half running and half sliding on loose gravel. Still dressed in shorts, his bone-white legs looked like crockery against the vibrant blue of the still-blooming cornflowers. He sucked in a breath and ran with arms outstretched, laughing as the cool air whipped against his face and pushed his fringe from his forehead. He'd forgotten what the outdoors smelled like. His nostrils stung with cool, fragrant air.
It wasn't often Roy was sent on errands. Usually, Master Hawkeye was quite content to let him slave away undisturbed in the study, sometimes for days at a time. Roy slept there and worked there, and only left his little warren of learning to eat and for his ablutions. Arriving at the Hawekeye home some two years previous, Roy Mustang had grown paler as he'd grown more well-read. He'd been a robust boy; not brawny, but burnished with a coppery energy that showed itself in the tan of his slim arms and freckles on his cheeks. He was vain too, though, and as his skin paled he began to celebrate the way his eyes shone beneath his glossy black fringe and how the girls in the town would sneak appraising glances at him when they could. On his visits home, his Aunt and sisters called him sickly and more than once slapped a raw steak down in place of his dinner, joking that he looked like a porcelain pepper shaker. He didn't mind. He laughed with them. He wanted to look driven and studious. He didn't want to look like the farmer boys. He didn't want to look like poor, practical Riza.
He reached the town and found it unusually quiet for the time of day. It was nearing sunset and everyone would be finished work or school by now. Only a few locals dotted the unpaved street and already, shops were winding in their awnings and rolling down their shutters. Roy trotted along the pretty store fronts, so different from Central, keeping an eye out for that floppy great cap Riza insisted on wearing. A city boy, he was still a clear subject of suspicion in the town. His eccentric tutor and his Eastern looks only added to the out-of-towner image. He didn't mind. The danger gave him an edge with the ladies.
Not that he'd gone very far to that end, of course. It had to be understood that while Roy Mustang had a near encyclopedic knowledge of all things blue, the practical application of that knowledge was wanting. Just like his alchemy.
There was Lucy Tuckett from the corn mill. They'd kissed and he'd even copped a feel of a delightfully large breast, but in the moment between the deepening kiss and the widening of her legs, fear had taken him. He had a reputation to uphold; namely, that of the panther-like city boy with the knowing cock. When Lucy sank against the floor sacks and tugged her knickers off with one pointed toe, he had realised that he wasn't expert at all! Lovely Lucy, in turned out, was more experienced than him, and he wasn't about to let go of his well-earned mystique so easily. He knew what would happen when his own trousers came off, or what wouldn't. It was an unthinkable embarrassment that he absolutely had to avoid. He'd said a horrible thing, then and he had said it because he was ashamed. "Put your pants on, would you? Have a little self-respect."
He'd come home teary and red-faced, unable to meet Riza's eye. What a nasty thing to say. For God's sake, he'd brought her out to her father's grain store in the first place. He had a fool's pride and a wicked tongue when it came to that. When it came to 'it'.
There were others before Lucy, but she was his last. What followed were phantom girls - fabricated girls from Central, Xing and the next county over. They were safer. They squealed at his masterful skills and swooned at his dry wit and romantic advances. No danger with an imaginary girl. None at all.
Anyway, he had been over the moon when Lucy Tuckett's familt relocated closer to East City. Praise be for growing markets!
From one missing girl to another; where had his master's daughter gone? He checked one shop after the other and Riza Hawkeye was nowhere to be found. He checked the post office, the chemist's and the fruit cart behind the town hall. No sign of her.
He fingered the loose change in his pocket and pondered her whereabouts. She was usually very economical. She'd hardly have gone for an ice-cream or some other treat, and she certainly wouldn't be mingling with the tatty members of Sion Mills' teenage population. With that, Roy decided that ice-cream was a very good idea indeed and jogged back to the general shop to buy one. Well, two, if he had enough money.
Minutes later and Roy was lapping at his ice-cream. His wanderings took him back towards the Eastern edge of town. He passed dark window after dark window, and still there was no sign of Riza. He was wandering past Johnny Ogan's hardware store (a man the local children called 'Johnny Onion' in respect of the man's unique scent) when he spotted her. Or rather, he spotted that bloody big jacket.
She was crushed between two giant tin containers, her back to the street and her cap pulled down so far over her face that the band rested at the crown of her head. She was shaking. Roy licked one ice-cream and then the other while he considered the bent body. Despite his hard work, a stream of melted cream spilled from the cone and onto his knuckles.
"Damn," he muttered.
Through the huge jacket, Riza's back tightened. "Go away!" she cried.
Taking another (strictly preventative) lick of his cone, Roy started towards Riza, his feet crunching on the roughly surfaced road. He mounted the curb and frowned at his shoes. Bright splashes of blood dotted the dusty pavement. "Riza?"
The girl turned sharply on her haunches, and glared at him. Her eyes were wild and red with crying. The bottom of her face was crusted with blood and one eye was swollen shut. She spun back towards the wall. "I said 'go away!'"
Roy laughed, an uncomfortable, squirrel-like chitter he'd had since boyhood and was desperately trying to shake. "I can hardly go away now I've seen you. You look a bloody state... in a very literal sense."
Riza groaned deeply in her throat and two strong hands emerged from the giant sleeves of her coat to tug her cap down further over her face.
"Besides, I've got two ice-creams here and honestly, trying to keep them both from melting all over my shoes is hard work." He toed her coat. "You know how much I can't stand hard work."
With cat-like speed, Riza spun up to face him and snatched one cone from his hand. She flung it at him with all her might. He stumbled back, horrified, and coughed a mess of vanilla from his mouth and nose. He explored the outcome of the assault with his now free hand. It was in his ear and everything.
"Miss Hawkeye!" he squealed, shaking sticky cream from his fingers. It flew to the ground, adding tone to the blood already splashed there. "That's a little inconsiderate, don't you -"
"Oh, shut up! Shut up!" the girl shouted. She struck him on the shin. She had played football before leaving school and had an excellent left foot. "You silly boy!"
"Just leave me alone!" She pushed him and he stumbled backwards onto the road, utterly flummoxed. Riza's coat swung like a drunken pendulum as she threw her arms this way and that. "Leave me alone! Leave me alone!"
A few people farther down the street looked on sadly before going on their way.
Roy grunted, trying to dislodge ice-cream from his ear like a dog shaking off water. He'd tried to be light. Lightness was all he knew with Riza, but as the girl bent at the waist and began sobbing again, he realised how lost he was. She fell to her knees and pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. "Go, go," she continued to mutter.
"My God, Riza. I'm so-"
"Go!" she moaned, drawing the word out like a sad dog's howl. She hiccoughed then, and snatched for breath. She was starting to hyperventilate.
Roy, wearing his ice-cream like a beard, didn't have one single idea what to do or say. His master's daughter was inconsolable at his feet and there he was standing dumbly with one un-eaten - or un-thrown - ice-cream in his hand.
He tossed the cone aside and crouched beside Riza. She turned sharply from him. He chuckled and coaxed, but every time he situated himself in front of her, she turned away. All the time, that stupid cap was covering half of her face. He really hated that cap.
As she turned again, he snatched it from her head and sent it flying after the discarded ice-cream cone.
"You!" she screamed and lunged at him, wild with upset.
Lacking courage somewhat, Roy screamed as she flew at him, her fists thumping his shoulders and chest. He tried to catch her, shouting her name, but she was too fast and shockingly strong. Conscious that one of them - most likely him - was bound to lose an eye sooner or later, he did the only sensible thing he could.
"Right!" he said resolutely, falling into a crouch. In one swift but decidedly ungraceful movement he took her by the waist and charged forwards, propping her up on his shoulder in an undignified fireman's lift.
Her prior rage intensified to the point where she was senseless with anger. She was no longer capable of forming words, just a string of howls and squeals that made Roy feel like he was taking a cat to the butcher rather than an angry girl home. Face after blurry face rushed past the pair as Roy charged down the street with her hefted on his skinny shoulder. All the while, she struck him around the back and head, and kicked at his thighs and knees. One particularly advantageous strike of hers met his softer regions and had him retching momentarily by the side of the road while his load yelled victoriously on her perch.
When they were clear of the town, Roy turned off the main road and started up an overgrown cart trail. He didn't quite know what he was going to do when he reached Tysoe's Fields, but he knew one thing at least: if he was going to be beaten up by a girl almost two years his junior, then it was going to happen where no one could see.
When he finally reached the gate, Roy took a deep breath and staggered up onto the sty. It was just as he was swinging his leg over it that Riza jammed her own leg between his knees. They fell to the ground in a heap of limbs, one face red with old blood, the other white with ice-cream. Riza sprang to her feet like a deer and was off, racing through grass that was high enough to reach her armpits.
"Oh, piss," said Roy and struggled to his feet.
The grass whipped his bare legs as he tore after her. She was an excellent sprinter, darting this way and that, minnow-fast and sure. Roy stumbled a few times and once fell bodily when his foot caught a knot of thick grass. Still though, he had height on his side and after some long, hard minutes, he finally gained on her. She screamed back at him and he screamed at her; two teenagers, angry and confused like any teenager anywhere.
Roy made a grab for her and caught her by the sleeve of her jacket. In a moment she had slipped out of it, leaving him with nothing but the imitation potato sack he detested as much as he did her stupid cap. He swore and ducked his head, his lungs burning with exertion. At last, he was close enough to risk tripping over her racing feet. He opened his arms wide and took her in one swipe, dragging her down with him into the mess of grass, cornflowers and falling evening damp.
She squirmed under his weight and kicked out at him. Deeply, deeply troubled now the adrenalin was seeping from him, he fought to restrain her. Her nose had started bleeding again and her teeth were red with it. Her right eye was a disaster zone and he saw now that an earring had been torn loose too.
"Riza!" he cried, distressed. "Riza! Miss Hawkeye! Please!"
"Get off! Get off! Get off me or I'll tell-"
"Who?!" Roy screamed back at her. "Who?!" She wriggled under him, her one eye fierce and wary.
"Who?! Tell your father? You'd be better off writing him a bloody letter! Or better yet, a book! There'd be some chance of his opening it then!"
She stilled completely while her breath rattled noisily in the back of her throat.
Roy huffed and settled himself back on his behind so that he was sitting on her shins. He bent his forehead to wipe it on the sleeve of his jacket. His sweaty skin came away covered in burrs and torn grass.
He shook her by the arms weakly. "Who?!" he asked, his voice hoarse. "Who are you going to tell if not me?"
Her lip trembled. Her anger sank into something darker; a lonely, wronged throb of emotion.
"Tell... tell me," Roy pleaded. "We tell each other things, don't we? Why... what happened to you?"
The girl sobbed as she lay pinned and unable to move. She couldn't even hide her face. "They said..." Her breath hitched in her chest.
Roy shook her again, gently this time. "Who said?"
"Everyone! Everyone from the whole cruddy town! Everyone we know!" Seeing he hadn't understood, she sobbed again. "Michael Yurly and the others. All the boys and girls you meet at the weekend." She shook her head and breathed deeply. Roy felt her chest expand against his thumbs. "Eve- everyone."
The alchemist's apprentice chanced removing one hand, and reached into his pocket for his handkerchief. He was about to spit on it, but thought better at the last moment. "Here," he said and held it to her mouth. She spat like a farmer into the clean cotton. He started wiping at the blood around her nose. "About you? Your father? What did they say, Riza? I've never seen you like this." He shrugged and invited another dose of spit. "I've never seen anyone like this. Human or animal."
She laughed a little at that. Roy was inexplicably pleased at the sound and felt himself grow red under his beard of sticky ice-cream.
"What did they say?" he repeated. He continued his ministrations, watching her carefully. Riza shook her head and bit her lip.
He sighed and unfurled the hanky. He swung his arm out and slapped her lightly on the cheek with it. "I'll have you know, that in Xing there are fourteen ways to torture someone using only a wet cloth." He rolled his eyes and pursed his lips. "Well, fourteen ways to torture a man. I'm sure the number drops a little for women."
"Stronger pain threshold," murmured Riza.
"Less danglies," Roy corrected.
The girl turned crimson.
Roy licked his thumb and smoothed away the blood at her earlobe. It looked like it was just a scratch. Thank God for small mercies, he thought. There was so much blood, anyone would have thought she lost the whole ear.
Deft fingers stopped his wrist. He glanced down but she wasn't looking at him. She was looking past him, back towards the town.
"It was about you," she whispered.
Roy frowned and resumed work on her cheek. Once again, she stopped him with those strong fingers of hers, rough with calluses. She'd started tearing up again.
"They said the most wicked things about you." She shook her head and breathed deeply through her nose, a childish way to block the tears. "The most... wicked... nasty things. Where you're from... what you look like..." Her chest expanded grandly with another huge sob. "About you and my father. Nasty, horrible things."
Roy was aghast. About him? "Riza," he began, dropping the handkerchief at his side. He took her face in his hands. She looked mournfully back at him, her face a state, her nose running and her one good eye swollen with tears. "Riza... did you..."
She shook her head roughly.
"Were you defending me? Did you say something to them? Did they do this?"
Crying still, the girl continued to turn her head from side to side then finally, overcome, she nodded.
"You...," Roy paused, hands halfway to her shoulders. "You... what?" he muttered. He really didn't know what Riza Hawkeye was. There were plenty of things she wasn't. She was no Lucy Tuckett, and she certainly wasn't like any other girl in town. She probably wasn't like any other girl in Amestris or the whole world. She was an anomaly. She was something that could only have come from that house and from that father. She was like a meteor in a field of stones. "You idiot," he said, settling at last on something vaguely appropriate for the occasion. "Come here." At that he snatched her up and into a fierce hug. Her mouth rested against his neck and her legs still poked out from under his backside. His skinny, pale appendages shot out in the opposite direction. If anyone could see them through the thick grass, they would have looked like some bizarre insect crushed on a windshield.
"Riza," he whispered. "Miss Hawkeye... you don't have to defend me. Those people... they're idiots. Dinosaurs. Fossils. They don't know anything about me." He pulled her closer. Without her jacket now, she'd started shivering. "You don't have to defend me," he repeated.
"I do," she whispered back, her wet breath warming the space behind his ear. He wondered if he smelled like ice-cream. The girl continued in a hushed voice, fragile with upset. "I do because if I don't, who will?" He felt her tiny smile against his neck. "Who? My father?" She stopped and caught her breath. "Yours?"
Roy frowned. "You know my-"
"You don't have anybody to stick up for you, just like I don't have anybody to stick up for me. So you do need defending, Mr. Mustang. Because nobody else is going to do it. Only me."
He had no response, no obvious answer to such a statement. He'd never considered both of them a pair. But now, twined together in the tall grass, it made perfect sense. Except-
"And what about me? Can't I defend myself?"
She laughed. She laughed! He pushed her back by the shoulders. She looked at him, full-sure that he was joking and seeing that he wasn't, she laughed even harder. She flung her arms around his neck and laughed into his shoulder.
Pouting, Roy prodded her back with one finger. "It's not- hey! It's not that funny! I happen to be very handy with a yard brush."
She laughed harder still. He pushed her sideways into the thick grass, wincing as her hair, which had stuck to his cream-caked cheek, pulled away. She landed with a light Oof! And seconds later, dragged him down with one mean hook of the arm.
"See?" she cried, delighted at besting him so easily.
Roy rubbed the back of his neck and pulled a seedpod from his mouth. "Show down!" he decreed. "The Lonely Lad versus the Drab Daughter!"
"Drab?" the girl complained, and to her credit, sporting a black eye and bloody nose, she looked anything but drab.
"There is the cap," reasoned Roy.
Her hands flew to her bare head. "My cap!"
Roy jumped to his feet and reached down, mussing her hair. "It's in a better pla-" he never did get to finish his sentence as Riza leapt to her feet and darted for him.
She gave chase, panting and full of joy as she pursued him through the harvest-full grass. Mist cooled their faces and made their chests burn with a youthful flame that neither child had ever known before that moment. When Roy finally surrendered, they fell back together into the safe net of thick, damp grass. He kissed her. She pulled back and looked at him with her battered face, one brown eye dancing in confusion. In the next second, she fell against him and they tumbled through the long grass. She was glorious, alive, wounded and bruised. With the errand money forgotten in his pocket, Roy Mustang explored and worshipped every inch of his strange, suffering companion. Riza Hawkeye, he discovered, was as fine a thing as he had ever known
Back in his study, Master Hawkeye would be working on oblivious, and more, uncaring, for hadn't he already instructed his apprentice that there should be 'no funny business'? The supplies could wait until the morning and Riza's crisply made bed would remain untouched. That night, they slept together there. Both of them unsure and unpracticed, they drew from each other's uncertainty. Roy and Riza hadn't known it until that moment in the fields, dusk falling on them like rain, how together they were in their absolute aloneness.
Central City, 21st November 1915.
Shame. The last they saw. A pair of blackened dog tags.
The day had arrived at last. Bormann made sure Ed was present at every possible moment of the dismantling of Roy Mustang. Ed was there when they woke the Colonel, slipping a sedative into his arm before he'd even managed to force his eyes open. Loose and uncoordinated, they'd led the man to a large, tiled space where they stripped him of everything and showered him thoroughly from a distance with a hose. Ed shrank when the Colonel looked his way with large, confused eyes, and he couldn't bare to see how he slid on the wet floor, unbalanced by his new arm. They spilled white powder on him from above, as though he were infested- as though all that goodness in him might infect them too. It was all part of the show, Ed knew. It was all part of the process of breaking a hero into pieces. But still, the boy watched on, horrified by everything: the animal howls, the slight frame, the ruined body and all. How could he not watch- when this would be the last they saw of each other?
Now, in the operating room it was just the two of them. Bormann was outside the small theatre, talking with the other alchemists. Roy Mustang – his commander – was strapped down to a porcelain table, horribly vulnerable, naked but for a towel. He shivered the bone-deep shiver of the condemned, though his face was fixed with an expression too sophisticated for one word alone. Strength, nobility, martyrdom, meaning, aloofness even; the sublime face of someone who believed they were supposed to be punished somehow. Saintly, venerable knowing...
"Not at the price of my men, Edward," the Colonel said suddenly. His voice was thick, full of exhaustion and drugs. His black, sharp eyes canted upward and struck the boy like a fist. "I know what you're thinking. I'm... I'm not a fatalist. Wouldn't have chosen this. Not at the cost of my people."
Edward adjusted a strap on the man's wrist and huffed. "You're high."
Smiling, Mustang shifted his weight as best he could and spoke through an amused grunt. "And thank goodness for that."
Ed didn't smile. Couldn't.
"Have you ever heard of Ada Eichmann, Ed?"
Edward shook his head. His eyes met Bormann's through the glass and the secretary signalled that he should prime the array. Edward gave a petulant thumbs up in return. Mustang tugged at the boy's sleeve with his fingers. The action was so unnervingly boyish, so unlike Mustang. Mustang didn't tug. He demanded... he compelled. Edward wanted to flee, to die- anything to escape that room and the half-man, near-saint on the porcelain slab. Pious, vulnerable, accepting.
"He was an Amestrian scientist during the Tennet War- not in our field, not an alchemist. He was a fantastic mind, though. Efficient... imaginative. A real servant of Amestris. He would do anything for the country he loved."
Edward stopped fidgeting with his notes. He didn't want this conversation to go where it was so clearly going. Edward was not accepting. He didn't welcome eternity the way Mustang did. And he couldn't give it to Mustang. He couldn't. He wasn't Hawkeye... wasn't any of them. He was just Fullmetal, a boy. For once in his life, he yearned for Mustang to speak to him like a child. He just couldn't give Mustang the death that he so dearly wanted.
Mustang continued in his same easy tone. "He was loyal, like I was loyal." Their eyes locked, then disengaged. Mustang went on. "He never once thought to question whether anything he was doing was morally correct. It never occurred to him – he was only interested in the science of it and the love of his homeland. He was so very, very efficient, Edward."
Edward shook his head. "I told you. I haven't decided." But he had. He had decided and all day he carried the lie in his heart. He would allow Mustang hope, right until the last. Because after that, the Colonel wouldn't know any better. It turned out that Ed was just that kind of coward.
Mustang continued in his strange, drugged lilt. "You have no idea... what I am. What kind of horrors I've committed. You have no-"
A scalpel embedded itself in the opposite wall. "I haven't decided, alright!?"
Shocked, the men on the other side of the window, including Bormann, looked up. Bormann's eyes cut through the glass and straight into Ed's frightened soul. It was a warning in no uncertain terms. Still, Mustang talked and still his face remained untouched by the emotion that thrummed through the rest of his body in wave after wave of trembling. Ed could see clearly the goosebumps on the man's arms and legs.
"I often thought which of us would be the first to go. Now I have my answer."
That gave Ed pause. He collected himself, just. He replaced the scalpel on the ransacked tray and spoke to Mustang without meeting his eye. "You mean the Lieutenant?"
Mustang closed his eyes. Like a southern sunset, composure dropped from his face suddenly. His Adam's apple bobbed in his throat and the knuckles of his right hand shone like the porcelain beneath him. "Yes," he said.
Ed supposed he would never know what the Colonel meant; whether he believed he would be the first of them to be deleted from the world.
Both men gasped as a knock came at the window. Bormann stood there smiling and held up a finger. One minute.
"Edward," Mustang said, and tugged at the boy's sleeve again. His eyes were alight with desperation now. It cut through the drugs and through all that devastating fear and drove right into the centre of the Fullmetal Alchemist. "When this is over, leave. Leave Amestris. Go to Xing... not Drachma. Not Aerugo. Go East, far away from Amestris. You and Al both. They'll try to detain you. Kill if you have to. If it means getting out. Consider it an order. You're next, Fullmetal."
Ed's eyes flitted from the window to his commander. "Mustang-" he whispered.
"You're next, Edward. Whether you kill me today or not. You aren't safe. You nor Hughes. Nobody."
"Edward! Think of Al," the Colonel whispered harshly, his expression indignant almost. As if Ed could sacrifice the wellbeing of his brother out of fear or misguided loyalty. But on that point, the Colonel had assumed wrong. Waking that morning, knowing what lay ahead of him, Ed had no illusions that his life in Amestris could continue. He knew it was all over now. The game had probably been up before he'd even set foot in the hospital for the first time.
"Colonel," he said, squeezing the man's good arm. "I know. I know. We're going to. Th-"
"Boys!" Bormann entered the room, his trademark smart suit covered by an ill-fitting lab coat. "Together again. Inseparable, you two." He smiled at Edward, then at the Colonel. "Are we ready to go, Edward?"
Ed said nothing. He nodded, and took a surgical marker from the tray. Mustang flinched when the cool tip touched his shaved head. Ed murmured an apology and began drawing the array.
"What about you, Colonel? Ready for 'the next great mission?'" Bormann asked, tapping one ringed finger off the automail arm. The noise bounced happily off the cool theatre tiles. "You look fit for the part. You look like a dead man already. This'll be an improvement! You won't even know what you're missing." His smiled deepened. "I'm looking forward to our drink."
Bormann looked at Edward, his eyebrows asking: are you ready? Edward responded with a terse, "Almost."
The secretary continued in his light, airy manner, circling the table and inspecting Mustang like a prize insect pinned behind glass. "It is rather a shame, though - on the point of our tipple together. My favourite bar- sorry. Edward?"
Ed froze and took a deep breath. He answered, louder this time, with an aching jaw. "I said almost. I'm not about to make a mistake."
Bormann's mouth bent down in a wounded upturned 'U' before he faced Mustang again. "Anyway, yes." He clapped his hands, frowning more theatrically now. "My favourite bar isn't available any longer. Tch, pity."
Mustang scowled. "What are you talking about?"
Edward rose from where he was crouched. The array was finished. It marked the crown of Mustang's head like a brand. "Okay," he said. His hand lay on Mustang's shoulder. He squeezed it hard enough to hurt.
Bormann rubbed his hands together. "Fantastic! When I give the signal, Edward, please commence."
Edward sighed. "What signal?"
"What are you talking about?!" Mustang spat, demand thundering from the back of his throat. He wasn't tugging on people's sleeves any longer.
The secretary looked down at the damned Colonel. "I believe you were a fan of the establishment too, Colonel." He looked at Edward. "Okay, Edward."
"I'm sorry, Colonel," Ed said, his heart breaking in his chest. His lungs strained inside his ribs and his stomach plummeted with the betrayal. "I can't do it. I can't give you what you want. I'm sorry."
"Edward, wait!" cried Mustang. "Wait-"
"I'm sorry," said Ed, bringing his hands together. The array flashed before him, a perfect match to the one drawn on Mustang's scalp.
"Madame Christmas's," Bormann said with a sing-song. He stood at the bottom of the slab and leant forward, curling his long fingers around the cool lip. "A gas explosion apparently," he said.
"Edward!" Mustang was frantic now, pulling against his restraints. "No!"
"Christmas's... Such a festive name, too. Shame."
"You bastard!" the Colonel bucked where he lay. His head connected with the hard surface but it didn't register at all. He screamed, totally unable to move or fight. Unable to die because Ed wouldn't give it to him. "Edward, Edward wait... Goddamnit!"
Energy pulled at the boy's hands and they were wrenched against the colonel's scalp.
"Everyone dead, so I hear," Bormann lamented. "A few less whores in our city, at least."
"No-!" screamed the Colonel, but the thought was erased the second it left his mouth.
It felt to Ed like falling into an uncovered well and plunging into the freezing waters of an unknown, frightening world. Thoughts spilled through him. Wave after wave of them tumbled through and round and over Ed. He saw everything. Knew everything. Every moment from every angle. Roy Mustang, the history of a human being, lay open before him.
There was a childhood, a dead father, a cold house, countless drill sergeants, a war, a breakdown, nameless women, new cars, lost keys, lost battles, lost men, promotions, celebrations, and everything in between.
There was Havoc, grieving in Mustang's arms.
There, Breda, drunk and love lorn. Intelligent as only Breda was intelligent.
There, Falman, fastidious as usual but the most solid, immovable man on the planet.
There, Fuery, nervous but brilliant.
Then Hughes. Bright, dazzling Hughes and all the hurt that came with him, in the end.
Ed felt compelled to reach for his chest when a great hollowness opened up where his heart was. Then her, Hawkeye. Hawkeye as a child, drowning in a shapeless coat and an old-style cap. Hawkeye as an adult, with those very special, clever eyes of hers. Seeing her as Mustang saw her, Ed loved her too. He never knew love until he saw Hawkeye through Mustang's eyes and it hurt him. His body rang with the frightening intensity of the non-couple; the anti-lovers. He stumbled inside his commander's head; felt like he might be consumed by the alchemy, the will, the soul.
Then saw her pregnant and felt Mustang's fear and regret, but excitement too. He had the strangest sensation that they were both weeping, man and boy, inside and outside. Throughout, the feeling followed him that she was watching. In a moment though, it too was gone as Ed was thrown forward by the array.
Tolven. Dark, wet, set upon by nature. Mustang knew. He knew he was part of something greater. Paranoia laid its cloying weight on Ed's heart and a moment later, disappeared – replaced by a bold 'Nothing'. As the array sped on, there was more Nothing than there was Something, but still the thoughts came.
A hulking mass, shrouded in rain.
"Get her off me!"
A lowering pressure in the centre of the mine-ridden field.
Aerugonian soldiers pulled inward by a ferocious wind.
Exploding mines; men and horses fountaining upwards; organs spewed like streamers.
"Take her from me!"
A barricade of fire. A crazed vacuum, plucking men from their saddles and exploding them in the sky.
"Someone take her from me!"
A wave of white hot death, hot enough to melt mud-buried boulders. Hot enough to turn people to dust, despite the rain. Mud that sucked disintegrated bones into its warm wetness. An entire battalion, destroyed in minutes.
"This woman is with child! With my child!"
A lone soldier planting dogtags like seeds.
A half-buried soldier. Dark skin and green eyes. How could she have survived when everyone else had been turned to cinder? Her eyes shone beautifully and for a moment, he didn't notice her missing legs. Her missing pelvis and arm. How could he have let her live... like this? He didn't notice the click of the pin and the tumbling, acorn-round grenade until it was too late.
There was a flash, and white noise. Green eyes. Mud everywhere. The flash.
An empty field.
When Ed came to, he was no longer in the theatre. They'd removed him to a private hospital suite. Ed breathed sharply and folded his arms around himself. It was the same suite that Mustang had occupied. The Colonel was right. It was clear he was next.
Bormann came to his room some time after sunset. He was ecstatic. The procedure had been a success. Ed had been warned that there was to be deviation from the plan, that no stone should remain unturned within Mustang's memory. They were right to suspect him: Ed had long considered planting a trapdoor of sorts in the Colonel's mind. Though when Bormann's allusions started orbiting Al and the Rockbells, Ed knew that he was cornered. They had him, just as they had Mustang: because they were good. Because they grew close to people and cared for people. So long as Ed was human, he would always be weak; liable to be held at ransom at any moment for the lives of those he loved. It truly took a monster to kill a monster- the hero stories of his youth were lies. Valour was a dream.
The other alchemists swept in after Ed to check that everything was as it should be: that all that remained of Roy Mustang were those attributes most necessary to the State. Bormann congratulated Ed on his thoroughness. Edward tried to spit at him, but he found his mouth was too dry.
After Bormann left, Ed lay spent on the hard mattress. His back ached, his head throbbed and his heart felt leaden in his breast. Mustang in those final moments: what had happened? What further evil had Bormann committed? And what was the extent of Ed's own complicity? That lie- saying that he hadn't decided, stringing Mustang along until the end. He offered the man some hope of release through death, and now the altered Colonel wouldn't even know any better. He would remember how to shave, where he kept his keys and how to tie his shoelaces, but anything, anything, that made him Mustang was gone forever. He wouldn't even know if he liked olives or not, or what his favourite radio programme was.
Stretching, Ed hooked his fingers under the mattress and sighed. There was one final thing he could do for Roy Mustang. It might come too late for the Colonel, but it was the right thing and it was the only thing.
He would go to Xing, together with Al and with Winry too, but before he did, he would show Bormann how thorough he really was. For he knew something no-one else in Central knew, not even Mustang.
The team lived. Somewhere in his broken mind, Mustang had known, after all.
Ed pulled his hands from the mattress and jumped when something shifted to his right. The sound of light metal filled the otherwise silent room. Rolling onto his right shoulder, Ed looked for the source of the noise. His eyes fell on the floor. There lay a pair of blackened dog tags.
Next update shouldn't be too far. Scared.