Wrath sat in his high-backed chair, effusing an aloof indifference befitting of his title. Servants moved around him busily setting delicate china cups and saucers on a round table. The other man seated there, in contrast, had not moved in quite some time. He stared fixedly into the pristine, gleaming tabletop with his arms crossed over his chest and an expression of deep worry in his eyes.
How pitiful. The great "Hero of Ishbal" cowed by just one threat, as indirect—albeit real—as it was. Wrath felt a stir of vengeful satisfaction at seeing this ambitious thorn in his side so soundly reminded of his place. He turned his eye to the ornate clock against the wall. Soon, there would be two more arrogant fools to join Mustang in his misery.
Father had sent word by way of Pride earlier: outsiders had somehow managed to trespass into Father's home itself. One was the serial killer who escaped Gluttony yesterday. Another had been chosen to replace Greed. And Envy was bringing up the Elric brothers, human sacrifices who had tested and overstepped their boundaries. Wrath was given the task of neutralizing them. He agreed to it dutifully, knowing that the reason he was assigned the task was his relative grasp of the human mind. Father and the others would never understand humans, and however loath he was to admit it, he was the one closest to them. He knew how humans thought. He knew how to break them.
None of the others could say as much, and their methods were crude and without finesse.
The door opened. Envy, disguised and uniformed, herded the brothers inside, blocking the exit in a stiff stance that might have passed for an act of military decorum.
"Colonel!" said the elder one. The man turned his head, and Wrath watched him attempt to hide his visible distress.
"Hello, Fullmetal." He'd failed. The fear crept into his voice as he grit out the words and despite his carefully controlled features, he'd failed to put up a brave front for the boys. Wrath scoffed.
The Fullmetal Alchemist's head snapped toward him, wariness obvious in eyes that so resembled Father's. "Have a seat," Wrath said simply, and the boy flinched. Ah. So he knew, or at least suspected, that the leader of his country was not the loudly-laughing family-man he appeared before the public. All the better for him to understand the consequences of his brazenness.
The servants finished filling four cups with tea and bustled out, shutting the door as the brothers approached the table. The elder one fired a barrage of questions at Mustang. The man explained in determined monotone, listing the new posts his loyal dogs had now been assigned. Comprehension dawned in the boy's face. A tinny gasp rang through his brother's armor. Mustang went on to explain High Command's collective involvement in the conspiracy they'd suspected. "Everyone is guilty," he said. Wrath took a sip of his tea.
The brothers took their seats and in the subsequent silence, Wrath heard the gears turning in their heads as the scope of the situation sank in.
And then Fullmetal began to bark. He launched into a speech about how he'd had them "completely fooled." Wrath had been acting this part for nearly four decades, had been schooled into this identity since his birth. A ripple of irritation ran through him at the asinine idea that he might fail to fool a fifteen-year-old, prodigy or no. And then the boy addressed their plans, using such naïve words as "evil"…he progressed into a righteous indignation, speaking with a young man's bravado. A fool's bravado. He pulled a battered silver watch from his pocket and cast it on the table, scratching the polished wood, smearing lines of blood across it as the watch skidded across the surface.
Wrath looked lazily at the watch and wondered where all the blood was from. Edward was glaring at him with a confidence and finality that Wrath thought was an obvious tell of his naiveté. He knew nothing. He stumbled upon more than he should have, was allowed to live knowing more than he should, and thus thought he had achieved something great. Did he actually believe he could thwart them? He did. There was determination in his face. But in reality, he was nothing but a young dog barking loudly. He knew nothing even, of the alchemy he was famous for—that was Father's realm, and Father knew all.
"The symbol of a dog…stained with blood." Wrath rested his chin on his fist. "Keep carrying it with you, Fullmetal Alchemist."
"I don't want it. I'm going to tell the other alchemists about this too, and foil your plans."
Fool. Young fool. That was a threat. He truly was ignorant of his position in the scheme of things. It was time to make it known.
"You will continue to serve the military…of your own volition." The boy scoffed, began to refuse, his tone scornful and dismissive. Wrath interrupted him.
"What was that girl's name again…?"
Winry Rockbell. Four syllables and the boy froze completely. The younger brother clanked with a sudden movement; his helmet rattled in his metal collar. With each progressive word Wrath spoke, he felt a fragment of the boy's composure shatter, and he reveled in it. Calmly, evenly, cruelly, he recited her hometown, her workplace, her profession, her interests. Her relationship to the brothers. To him. He listed evenly all these things he knew, making sure that the boy now knew that he knew.
Wrath had known of the girl for a while, had seen her in the hospital where Edward was recuperating and heard of her in passing through rumors among soldiers. It was not until the day before that he thought she might be of some use to them. Amongst the confused reports of Scar-sightings that came across the radios yesterday was the one true report of the Elric brothers engaged in battle with the killer, of a civilian girl caught up in the incident who was a close friend of the Fullmetal Alchemist and to be given special care and protection. "Special care and protection"—a strange command, unless specifically given by an officer to the military police, and State Alchemists were given the rank of a major. So he tracked down the girl on a whim and fleeting suspicion and spoke with her over tea that she barely touched. She talked only about casual things, but it was enough for him to suspect a viable weakness with which to humble an errant sacrifice.
And he knew he was right, when Fullmetal slammed his palms on the table and nearly upended his untouched tea.
"DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HER!" His voice was constricted with fear and a wave of rage Wrath could almost appreciate. "OR THE PEOPLE SHE CARES ABOUT!" And now the boy was trembling, muscles tensed and breathing hard. All traces of his prior confidence had gone, leaving only a desperate, blind fear for this girl's safety. The younger brother had clenched his fists and was equally trembling in his seat. Though Wrath could not discern Alphonse Elric's emotions nearly as well as his brother could, he saw the worry in his glowing eyes.
The Flame Alchemist's brow furrowed, his frown deepened. Yes, thought Wrath, you know the pain of having your woman dangled before you. The sniper, Hawkeye, would be his personal aide tomorrow, a development he had ordered on a cruel whim: instead of casting her into some war-torn battlefield or onto the ice mountains of Briggs, she would be held in plain sight in the very monsters' den itself. Surrounded by luxury, plush furniture and art, she would be well and truly in harm's way.
Wrath grinned. "You have a soft heart."
And the watch was swept up in the boy's reluctant hand, stuffed into a pocket with wanton force and clinking against its own chain that the boy hadn't bothered to fasten.
Wrath nodded. He left the sacrifices with some parting words to ensure they now understood their position. He was sure they did. There were no more brave speeches or threats. Only meek obedience. The brothers asked only that they be allowed to continue researching a way to undo their sins, and he found no harm in it. Mustang asked him if he had murdered Maes Hughes. Wrath pictured Envy in his mind as he gave him a cold "no" and deflected his second question. Neither the Elrics nor the Colonel would completely surrender their respective missions, he knew; they would keep fighting Truth for their lost limbs and he would keep clawing through High Command until he avenged his best friend's murder. But their confidence had been broken, even if their decisions had not. No more audacious traps and schemes to lure out the unknown specters that haunted Central City. No more attempts to escape the roles they had been so carefully selected to fill. Father would have his Promised Day.
As the door closed, Wrath let his one eye rest on the rusty stains caking into the new scratches in the table. Father ordered him to reign in the sacrifices, and he had pressed at all the right wounds. Mustang, even with all his ambitions and all the cunning necessary to pursue them, would relinquish his goals to protect the woman he had entrusted with his life. It was plain to see that their familiarity and loyalty could not have stemmed from any mere out-of-protocol affair alone; the bond was deeper than one of lust, and, as he'd suspected, more than strong enough to force Mustang into inaction. The Elrics were young, and boys young and naïve enough to campaign against "evil" were foolishly loyal and emotional to a fault. They would never abandon a childhood friend, especially one who was as good as a sister to them; one who restored broken bodies and shared with them the anguish of losing both parents; one for whom it was the obvious choice to leap in front of a murderer to protect. And perhaps, judging by Edward Elric's reaction, she meant more to them—to him—than he had realized.
Bradley had realized. For all that Wrath was a ruthless embodiment of anger and violence, Bradley was, in some recess of his being, still human. He saw—with his human eye, not the Ultimate Eye emblazoned with the crest of the Homunculi—in each of these men the emotions that could be exploited. He knew how to break humans, because he knew how humans thought…and felt. For in this fabrication of a life that was all he'd ever known, the woman he loved and married was the only choice Bradley had ever made. The Fuhrer King wondered briefly what he would do if his enemies threatened her to bring him down. But then Wrath closed his eyes with confidence that that would never happen.