Title: The Missing General
Author: SageSK (LJ: mintysage; FFN: sagesk)
Characters/Pairings: Multiple/Canon pairings; hints of Havoc/Rebecca
Warnings: Mild violence
Summary: Years out of the military, after the Promised Day, Edward Elric has settled down and embraces the challenges of raising two growing kids. As far as he is concerned, life is peaceful... until his past comes back to ask the former State Alchemist for help.
General Roy Mustang has gone missing, and with no one able to find any clues on his whereabouts, Ed (with Alphonse in tow) sets out to trace the General's steps back to the very places the brothers visited while in the military.
Meanwhile, Roy Mustang has an inexplicable run-in with a past he didn't know he had, a past that could spell trouble for the Xingese and the Emperor himself!
Comments: This story was one of the longest and probably toughest projects I've ever had to participate in. It tested my patience and my willingness to finish a story and not leaving it halfway done. What I loved about it was getting to toss Ed and Al into another adventure after the manga and Brotherhood ended, what with having them embrace their new found lives with their new families in the process. It also let me explore Roy's past and who his parents might have been, and given me more ideas for the near future based on his childhood. At any rate, I do hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I had writing it.
Much thanks to my beta reader, Kristen Sharpe, for the pointers, the late-night encouragement, and her Red Pen of Justice that killed those horrible typos and grammatical errors. And, many, many thanks to my wonderful artists for their gorgeous contributions to this story. Ladies, your artwork kept me going to the very end. I am forever grateful!
The Missing General
Book 1 – Amestris
The Annual Sheep Festival marked the start of Spring in the sleepy town of Resembool. Farmers had arrived early, already congregating in the area around the local train station, where curious outsiders were welcomed with the sound of morning chatter, laughter and the exchange of local gossip.
Before it was attacked by terrorists over a decade ago during the military conflict with Ishval, Resembool was well known for its woolen exports used in the manufacturing of military uniforms. While the town got back on its feet, it remained a quick stop on the way to East City and all the other connecting cities. It was here that people came from the hustle and bustle of the city. Green pastures extended for miles on a cloudless day, and it gave those born and raised in the country a welcome feeling of nostalgia.
Few houses adorned the countryside, but perhaps one of the most well-known belonged to Pinako Rockbell, owner of Resembool's only automail shop. While people could take the train to Rush Valley for an automail job, why bother when they had a talented mechanic right there in their town? Not only was Pinako's granddaughter, Winry, talented, she had a maternal and patient air about her that made any customer feel welcome in her home, regardless of where they were from.
And, why wouldn't she? She had two children of her own. Well, three, if she counted her husband.
While the town was peaceful, "quiet" wasn't the word used to describe the Elric household. The children were five and three, respectively, the latter already speaking in full sentences that would make any parent proud.
Or drive them insane, Edward Elric mused, as he listened to the detailed explanation via his eldest, Elias, on why the mud bath he'd taken earlier would only lead to a repetition of actual bath time throughout the day.
He'd only get dirty again, Elias continued as Ed scrubbed out his hair, since the day was barely starting.
"And, this is why your mother was yelling earlier," Ed returned, toweling his son dry. "You got yourself and your sister dirty, and right before breakfast, too."
"She followed me," Elias said defensively. "She likes mud, too." He then made a quizzical face. "That makes no sense, Daddy. I thought girls hated gettin' dirty."
Ed burst out laughing. In their family, neither parent had any qualms about getting dirty. His wife was a perfect example, considering that a good majority of the day she was up to her elbows in automail grease.
"Some of them," he said. "Though... who knows? Maybe your sister will be the odd one out in this family when she gets older and start treating herself like a princess." He wrapped the towel around Elias and helped him out of the tub, sitting him down on the stool next to it. "And then, maybe she can teach your mother a thing or two about cleanliness."
No sooner had those words left his mouth than a well-aimed wrench embedded itself in the back of his head, causing the blond to lurch forward with a yelp. He barely braced himself against the tub, the muddy bath water now splashing around the bathroom floor.
"You're no ray of sunshine yourself," came the voice of the woman he married.
Holding the back of his head, which now sported a swelling bump, Ed turned to her with a snarl.
"What is with you and that blasted wrench?"
"It's the only way you learn," returned Winry, their daughter in her arms.
"Or you're just trying to kill me!" Ed pointed a finger accusatorially. "One day you're going to hit me so hard that I'll end up with brain damage!" He then fell to the floor dramatically, much to the delight of their giggling children. "It's starting already! I've forgotten how to stand up! Oh, what have you done to me, woman?"
Winry rolled her eyes goodnaturedly. "You see, Kaitlyn? Remember this when you grow older - all men continue to be children, no matter what age they are."
"Right!" Their daughter managed to sober enough to return a nod as Ed continued to writhe on the ground in false agony.
"I can already see the light!" Ed extended a hand towards the ceiling. "Tell Al that I died a brave man! Tell Amestris that the Peoples' Alchemist died a hero!"
"On the bathroom floor?" Winry returned dryly.
"Of course not." Ed finally stood up. "Knowing my family, they'd write that on my epitaph." Nose to the air, he picked up his towel-clad son, then turned to give both his girls a well-pronounced raspberry. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to dress Elias so he can play in the mud again and track it all over your nice, clean floor." He ended this with a hearty cackle that he usually reserved for causing mischief of his own.
Winry chuckled as she watched her husband head back to their son's room, then turned to carry Kaitlyn downstairs. There was no doubt that both of her children would be covered in mud before lunchtime. Maybe for now she could have a quiet brunch with her family while she read to the kids.
Well, that would have been the plan, until she heard their old dog barking. It was odd to hear Den so uptight, as he was friendly towards most strangers. Peeking out the window, Winry barely made out the two figures walking towards the house. When one of them cowered behind their companion at the sight of Den, she immediately realized who they were.
"I saw them," came the reply as Edward walked down the stairs with Elias, who was now dressed again in play clothes.
"Den knows better," said Winry. "He should know him by now."
Ed chuckled as he went to greet the newcomers. "More than anything, I think he loves to watch him squirm."
"You're pathetic." Jean Havoc sighed as his companion all but climbed onto his shoulders to escape the "vicious beast" that had come to greet them when they arrived at the Elric household. "He's barely even moving."
"He's faking it!" yelped Heymans Breda. "Just look at him! Look at the way he's staring at me!"
"He's asleep." Sure enough, by the time Breda was done ranting and raving, Den had settled down next to the front porch staircase, head resting on his automail paw. Havoc bent down to pet the black dog's head gently while his friend stayed at a safe distance. Den in return nudged his nose into his hand appreciatively, his tail wagging. Havoc chuckled. "Nice to see you, too, boy."
Both men turned in time to see a small, blond ball of energy run out the door and down the steps. Breda was the first to snatch Elias up when he bounded towards him.
"Look, Havoc! I caught a mini-bean!"
"Seems they're getting shorter every year, too," laughed Havoc.
"Whose son are you sayin' is smaller than a bean sprout?" Ed's announcement echoed across the porch and onto the small walkway where the men were standing.
"Yours!" Breda shouted back, as he settled Elias on his shoulders.
"I'm still growing!" Elias mimicked his father's pout perfectly. "It's just gonna take me longer... just like Daddy!" He then grinned. "But I'll be faster! I'm drinking my milk every day!"
The two men roared with laughter as Ed hunched over in embarrassment. "Thank you, Elias."
Regaining his composure, Ed went to shake hands with two of the men that had gone from allies to family during his time in the military. While several years his senior, Lieutenants Havoc and Breda regarded him with the utmost respect, their formality always reserved for when it involved matters within the military. Outside of Central Headquarters, however, their casual conversations and constant joking always had Ed grateful for the friends he had gained, especially when they had done all they could to help him and his brother, Alphonse, restore their bodies.
"What brings you clowns all the way over here?" he asked. "Don't tell me the General's letting you slack off? Unless, of course, you snuck out while he was taking a nap. Oooo... I'm telling."
"You would, too." Havoc returned the smirk as he shook hands with Ed, but the smile quickly faded. "But... we wish it were that simple, Boss."
Ed quickly noticed the worry in the taller man's voice. "Meaning what?"
"You mind if we come in? It's a long story."
"Preferably somewhere away from that beast," added Breda, who had now resorted to holding a giggling Elias up against himself as he walked around Den. The dog in turn continued to ignore him.
With a half-shrug, Ed waved them inside.
As the rays of the morning sun poured through the windows, Ed for the first time saw the tell-tale signs of sleepless nights and downright frustration on the soldiers' faces.
Breda sat upright, coffee cup in hand. "Since last week."
Ed arched a brow. "Maybe he's out of town on business."
"Which is what we figured," said Havoc. "But the General doesn't leave without telling us, or at least someone we'd know, where he's going."
"What about Riza?"
"She hasn't slept," said Breda. "Well, she does if we manage to convince her to take a break."
Frowning, Ed leaned back, arms folded across his chest. "Did he look like he was wanting to leave? Was he under a lot of stress?" Still, regardless of what he may have wanted, for Mustang to disappear off the face of the earth without a trace couldn't have been attributed to work. Roy Mustang was probably one of the calmest people Edward knew. The only time he'd ever seen him lose his cool demeanor was on the Promised Day when he nearly killed the homonculus Envy.
"Doubt it." Havoc put out his cigarette. "He's loved every minute of the job. Ishval's finally going in the right direction, tensions aren't there anymore... We get a report from Scar and Colonel Miles weekly."
"It just makes no sense, Boss. We were hoping you had an idea."
Ed rubbed back at his hair in thought. What did he know so far? Nothing, really. If there were ever any phone calls, it was just casual conversation and asking how the kids were doing, and the kids spoke to their 'Uncle Roy' more than he could get a few words in.
One thing he did notice was that Mustang always called from some part of Amestris - Liore, Youswell, places that Edward had been to during his time as a State Alchemist. "Checking up on things," had always been Roy's reason for visiting, even if said stops were out of his jurisdiction. But, as General, he probably had more pull. That, or it was a casual visit as a civilian. Gifts always came after those visits. So far, Mustang hadn't missed a single birthday, and had even sent a little something to him and Winry for their most recent wedding anniversary.
The last place Mustang had called from had been Xing, where he'd gone to exchange a few documents with the Emperor. Even so, he should have been back in Central by then.
"He did come back from Xing, didn't he?" Ed asked.
It was there that Breda and Havoc exchanged confused looks, and for the first time Ed could tell something was wrong.
"He never said he was going to Xing?" Ed queried cautiously, almost afraid of the answer. As Breda and Havoc shook their heads, the frown on his face deepened. If Mustang hadn't bothered to call Central and tell his most trusted subordinates of his whereabouts, then there was something else going on. But, what was it?
"Daddy?" A tiny voice had all three men turn towards the blond boy that had stepped into the dining room where they were seated.
"S'cuse me." Edward smiled warmly as he stood. "What is it, Elias?"
"The rope tangled." Elias held up the Xingese toy he'd been playing with. "Fix it for me?"
"Sure thing, kiddo." As he took the mess of rope and toy in his hand, Ed ruffled his young son's hair. "Why don't you go outside and join your sister and Den? I'll be done soon."
Watching the young boy run outside, Havoc chuckled. "He's your spitting image, Boss."
"Only when he's not being a brat," Ed returned, as he sat down to work on disentangling the toy. "The rest of the time he's Winry's."
"Spoken like a true parent," said Breda with a laugh. They all then sobered and went back to matters at hand.
"Xing," Havoc muttered once Ed told them of the reason Mustang was in the country. "Of course, it's easier to travel there by train nowadays. Still, he could've asked for at least one of us to go with him. That's not like him."
Breda nodded assent. "Then again, if he really was going there as a civilian, maybe he made a quick stop to hand those documents to the Emperor."
"That'd be something we'd have to ask Ling himself," said Ed. "He would've been the last person to see him."
As far as the Amestrian military was concerned, respect and proper manners were the key elements in keeping peace between their country and its neighbors. Ever since former General Grumman became the Fuhrer, this was repeated over and over to the upper brass, and it was what kept them out of any further conflict with neighboring Drachma and Aerugo. This was also true for the Xingese empire. There had never been any reason to go to war with Xing, and ever since Ling Yao became emperor, friendly relations between the two nations increased tenfold, with a railroad track built to ease travel and trade. And, while the emperor was young, Fuhrer Grumman made it clear that he was to be treated with the same amount of respect.
Unfortunately, Edward never got the memo, considering he left the military around the same time Ling Yao returned to Xing to claim his birthright.
"You're Emperor now, you idiot! Pay for your own meals!... No, I'm not going to contribute to the Foundation for the Hungry Emperor!"
Breda arched a brow as Edward continued screaming into the phone. "You know... that could be considered an international incident."
Winry sighed. "To them, it's a normal conversation."
"And, considering this is the Boss, he can practically get away with murder," added Havoc.
"At least he's kept the cursing to a minimum. He's afraid the kids are going to overhear him."
"No, I don't know when I'm going to come vi - YOU ARE SO NOT CRYING!"
"Do you ever go to Xing?" asked Breda, trying to talk over the bellowing.
"We went last year for Ling's birthday."
Catching the tired look on Winry's face, Havoc was almost afraid to ask. "What... did the Boss give him?"
"Ed made him soup," Winry replied.
"That doesn't sound so ba-"
"Out of his own boots." At their look of disbelief, Winry added, "Ling thought it was hilarious... and he still ate it. He even said Ed outdid the cooks."
"I don't think any of us expected the Emperor to be normal. He did hang around with the Boss, after all," said Breda with a chuckle.
The trio turned to see Ed walk back into the living room, rubbing away at his bangs. "Ling says 'hi'."
"Any luck?" Winry asked.
Ed gave them all a grim look. "He never met up with Mustang. Not even once."
"So you're heading back to Central?" Ed asked.
"We're actually heading towards East City next," said Breda. "This was just a quick stop. Thanks for your help, Boss."
"The minute I find something out, I'll let you know. Ling said he'd be on the lookout."
"Anything at this point would help," said Havoc, lighting yet another cigarette. "The sooner we get the General home, the sooner I can go back to my own life."
"That's right. How is Lt. Catalina anyway?"
"Took a while to convince her that this country boy was worth it." Breda clapped a hand on Havoc's shoulder. "In the end, his charming personality won her over. That and asking her out four or five times 'til she finally gave in."
Ed snickered as he followed Havoc and Breda out of the house. They were then greeted by the younger Elrics, who were now doing all they could to make them stay a little longer.
"Uncle Breda! Uncle Havoc! Stay for dinner!"
"Dinner! Dinner!" Kaitlyn echoed her older brother's request, tugging at Havoc's arm.
With a chuckle, the taller man bent down to her level.
"Love to, Little Kate, but Uncle Breda and I have to head back to work." At her pout, he ruffled her hair. "Tell you what. Once I'm on vacation again, I'll come back and stay as long as you'd like."
"Promise?" Kaityln held up a pinky finger.
With a grin, Havoc hooked his own with hers. "Promise."
As they waved good-bye and headed down the dirt road, Ed once again focused his attention on the toy he was disentangling for Elias. The mess was proving to be more difficult than he expected as the knot seemed to get worse the more he tried to untie it. It meant that he'd have to ask Winry for a tool as he didn't want to risk breaking the rope.
He sighed. Years back, before he'd given up his ability to do alchemy in exchange for Al's body, he could've easily fixed the mess with one simple clap of his hands. While he got used to the idea of doing things by hand, every now and then he would stop and wonder what he'd be doing now if he could still do alchemy. Edward chuckled as he sat back on the steps and watched his children play on the grass. Alchemy had always been a quick-fix out of messy situations. Fixing a toy for his son wasn't one of them.
He went back to the task at hand, examining the toy. The Xingese had created a form of entertainment that consisted of a wooden spool, two sticks and a string. Instructions had come with the letter Mustang had written when he sent it, and Elias was still trying to figure it out. The spool was wooden, its sides engraved with Xingese letters.
As he admired the craftsmanship, Ed thought again of the conversation he had with Mustang a week back. His family was doing well, Ishval was back on its feet, and negotiations with Drachma were slowly but surely coming into...
He stopped, his eyes fixated on a side of the spool. Frowning, he looked a little closer, making sure he wasn't just seeing things. The signs were faint, but they were there. The telltale signs that only those who had dabbled in the science could recognize.
The sides of the spool had been sealed with alchemy.
- Continued -