The fight was long and loud, with neither side willing to yield. Al, such a large suit of armor, was sitting on the couch, hands folded in his lap. His metal shoulders were slightly hunched, his head ducked a little. Such a soft-spoken person didn't much appreciate the shouting going on. Sitting at the desk was Colonel Roy Mustang, the generally cool and collected superior in this office. Now, however, his righteous anger was getting the better of his normally tightly controlled temper.
"You idiot! Why can't you be more careful?" His shout was returned in kind by the third person—the real problem, by Mustang's figuring—in the room.
"It's not my fault!" Ed yelled. This was about the fourth time they'd gone around the circle of this argument, and they would continue to until someone finally gave in.
The subject of today's argument, unlike usual, was more than just a short joke. This was not a simple slight. And Mustang had made a promise to protect his subordinates, all of them, even if they were fools bordering on suicidal.
Edward Elric was leaning heavily on the arm of the couch, not quite able to stand on his own. His flesh ankle was in a cast, which apparently Al had one heck of a time convincing him not to tear off his leg—though the crutch had been left behind due to the sheer pig-headedness of a certain alchemist. Mustang was slightly surprised Ed had even managed to shout for so long; the medical reports he'd received of his subordinate said he'd broken his ribs, and the winces as the blond had moved throughout the day gave him no reason to doubt the claim.
"You're health—or lack thereof—is your fault!" Mustang shouted "You're going to get yourself killed—"
"Ahem," a voice interrupted from the doorway.
Riza Hawkeye stood there, face carefully expressionless, as though she were trying to ignore the heated shouting match. She looked straight at Mustang, and Mustang only, with her back rigid.
"Sir. These papers from yesterday need to be filed. Perhaps you could give your voice a rest and—"
"Al can do it," Mustang dismissed with a growl, still glowering at Ed with narrowed eyes.
"Don't you boss my brother around, you—" Ed snarled.
"N—no, brother," Al said quickly, climbing to his feet. "It's fine, really, I don't mind!" He escaped the flying sparks through the door; Riza slowly followed him, casting a look over her shoulder that clearly said she was already regretting the wreckage she would have to clean up after the battle ended.
The door closed.
Eyes glared—gold and black—both unwilling to back down, both utterly sure they were in the right.
Ed was silent, waiting to retaliate to Mustang's newest attack. The Colonel rubbed his forehead, weary of the argument. Wanting to end it already, he went straight for the killing blow.
"How are you supposed to restore your brother's body if you die?"
Ed's face, if possible, went even angrier; he stood straight up, apparently going for an indignant look, but Mustang caught the flare of pain in his eyes as his damaged body forced him to again use the arm of the couch to support himself. Mustang took advantage of the momentary distraction.
Ed gritted his teeth. "Why should I—"
"Fullmetal. You can't even stand. Get your backside onto that couch."
For a long moment, Ed didn't budge. Finally, perhaps a little defeated, the blond alchemist limped around and sank into the cushions of the couch, his jaw clenched and his face a mask of suppressed pain. Mustang waited a while for Ed to regain a little composure.
He asked again. "How are you supposed to restore you brother's body if you die?"
Roughly: "He'd figure it out anyway. He's smart."
Mustang clenched a fist on his desk. "So it's your conscious intention to leave Al to fend for himself?"
"What? No!" Ed protested. He almost moved forward before his ribs reminded him that he was to stay still. Ed fell back against the cushions with a hiss. "I wouldn't do that, and you know it, you jerk."
"Hmmph." Mustang leaned back in his chair, eyes still on his subordinate. Ed seemed to be trying not to breath, not that Mustang blamed him. Broken ribs were nasty; what the kid was doing out and about at all like that was a mystery. Sitting down probably did help a lot. And of course, there the other reason Mustang had him sit down: it was a bit harder to participate in a full-on shouting match when you felt more like a little boy in trouble sitting in his father's office than an alchemist defying his superior. Judging by the growing sullenness in Ed's expression, he'd picked up on the vibe.
"Sometimes you make it really easy to forget that you're just a kid," Mustang noted contemplatively. "Except"—his voice grew sharper—"at times like these, when you act every bit as immature as your age suggests. Seriously, Fullmetal, how did you manage to get this beat up? Do you have a death wish that just broadcasts itself to everyone in the immediate vicinity?"
"Shut up," Ed grunted.
"Just because you are thirteen doesn't mean you have to act like it. That mission was almost purely political and you managed to turn it into a brawl and almost got yourself killed."
"So don't send me out on political missions," Ed griped.
"What, and let you get into even more trouble?"
"Then just give me time to research the philosopher's stone," Ed said quietly.
"I have and I will," Mustang asserted. "But when the owner tugs the leash, the dog has to respond. As your superior, I have to give you missions. I have to tug your lease because of the one around my own neck. Don't let it choke the life out of you. Be more careful next time—getting yourself killed won't help you find the philosopher's stone any sooner."
"Yeah," Ed muttered, "but sick leave is a really nice time for research."
Mustang's eyebrow ticked. "Fullmetal," he growled, "the next time you get yourself hurt, if you go do research with your time off so help me I will assign you paperwork."
"What, to get your own lazy backside out of having to do work?"
"You want your brother back enough to become a dog of the military. You'd better go through with what you signed up for."
"I'm going to restore Al," Ed insisted forcefully.
Mustang hummed noncommittally. "Sure, so long as you stop being such an idiot. Just go away." He waved his hand in vague dismissal. Ed glared a moment more, even as Mustang deliberately moved on to his paperwork. The blond alchemist sighed quietly and began the arduous task of getting up off the couch. Mustang pretended not to notice numerous hisses of pain, though he nearly decided to give the boy tomorrow off before realizing that there was zero chance of the day actually being used for rest.
Ed was almost at the door when the thought occurred to Mustang.
The retreating back halted, and a haphazard blond braid flipped over one shoulder as Ed turned his head.
"What is it, you jerk? Not done chewing me out yet?" he spat scathingly.
Mustang paused only long enough to raise an eyebrow before asking the question that was on his min.
"What does Al look like?"
Ed blinked. "What do you mean by that?" It was a reflexive retort—Mustang saw recognition in Ed's eyes, but he clarified anyway.
"I've only ever seen a suit of armor. What does your brother actually look like?"
Once again Mustang was looking at the back of his bland head. Ed's hand was on the doorknob—he was going to leave without answering. Well, okay then; Mustang could deal with not knowing.
"Kind of like me," Ed said slowly. He still rested his hand on the doorknob, but he had yet to turn it. "Except his hair is darker. Still blond, but it has more brown than mine…" Ed's voice had gone distant, slightly wistful. "And his eyes are green, not gold. He has mom's eyes. He's got her smile, too. He looks more like mom overall, really, while I look more like—"
His voice had taken a bitter turn in the last phrase before he broke off, not finishing his sentence. But Mustang could guess anyway. He wondered vaguely why Ed apparently hated his father so much; the only thing he really knew of the Elric brothers' parents was that their mother had died, leading to the human transmutation, and they were orphans being cared for by their neighbors. Mustang didn't know their father's name, much less if he was alive or not.
Ed still hadn't opened the door. The air hung heavy between them, and Mustang could feel the almost tangible pain Ed was experiencing just thinking of the face of his brother. The weight of the silence pressed down, and Mustang felt the urge to get rid of it.
"Out of curiosity, was he even shorter than you?" Mustang quipped.
The comment jerked Ed away from his nostalgia. "Who're you calling so short he has to jump to reach a doorknob?" The blond wrenched open the door and stormed out.
"I expect your report tomorrow!" Mustang called after him. He heard cursing as the door banged shut again.
Mustang chuckled. That kid was too easy to rile up.
"Scary as it is when they're shouting," Havoc commented, "it's a lot more worrying when they get all quiet."
Al had to agree. Riza hadn't actually made him do any work, but he hadn't gone back into the war zone. He agreed with Mustang, actually; Ed had to be more careful. But he still didn't like those two fighting—he was sure there would an alchemic explosion soon, like that one four months ago that Ed almost got court-martialed for…
"Who're you calling so short he has to jump to reach a doorknob?"
The shout was almost a relief. Ed stormed out in a flurry and Al heard the amusement in Mustang's voice as he called out about the report. Immense relief made metal shoulders relax: the tension of the fight seemed to be over, which meant they wouldn't end up killing each other.
"Al, let's go," Ed said, already limping toward the exit. Al noticed he seemed dispassionate in the order, but the suit of armor clanked after the diminutive alchemist anyhow.
"I'm coming, brother!"
In the hall, Ed had to stop and lean against the wall after only a few steps, arms wrapped around his middle as he grimaced.
"Brother, I can carry you if it hurts too much…"
Ed shook his head, denying the offer. "I'm fine," he insisted through gritted teeth. But by the time they'd reached the end of the hall, Ed was leaning heavily on Al's arm.
"Hey, Al," Ed said slowly, "I'm sorry. About getting so banged up and all." Al was surprised by both the sudden apology and the subdued tone of voice. Ed continued, "I'll be more careful. I will. I mean… how am I supposed to get your body back if it always hurts to move?"
Al would have grinned if armor could. "Thank you, brother. I want you to be safe." And sure, it was risky, but he went for it—"Mustang wants you to be safe too."
The sound Ed made could best be described as a growl. "He's a jerk."
"Sometimes," Al allowed. "But not always."
Ed gave a noncommittal grunt. A few seconds later: "Okay, I guess he's got something intelligent to say once in a while."
Al nodded happily, satisfied with the concession. "Brother, since you agree that we're right…" Ed gave him a wary glance, so he finished quickly, "Will you use the crutch? Please?" he added.
Ed looked like he would very much like to protest, but maybe he realized he was in no position to do so, clinging tightly to Al's armor as he was just to keep his feet.
"Fine," he muttered reluctantly.
Again, Al wished armor could grin. "Thank you, brother."
The next day, Mustang wasn't sure if he was surprised or not when Ed swung in with his crutch. One side of him gaped that the proud alchemic prodigy would take this indignation, while another side of him completely expected for Al to have convinced him to use it.
But either way, the fact was that it seemed Ed had actually processed something from yesterday's fight—ahem, he meant yesterday's intensive discussion.
Ed limped to Mustang's desk, glaring the whole way, just daring the Colonel to poke fun at the crutch he was forced to use.
"Nice to see you're taking care of yourself," Mustang commented neutrally.
Ed flushed angrily but didn't retort. He leaned on his crutch and pulled a folder out of his overcoat with a little difficulty due to his broken ribs. He tossed it onto Mustang's desk with an ill-tempered huff. "Here you go, you jerk. Have fun with your paperwork."
Mustang hummed nonchalantly, not bothering to reach for the report until after Ed had left his office. The door closed behind the blond as Mustang sighed and opened the folder.
The report was nothing special, just an average one; Mustang found himself shaking his head at Ed's foolhardy antics. It wasn't a shock that he'd gotten beat up, though it seemed quite the miracle that he hadn't been killed. With a frustrated sigh, he tossed the report to the side, wondering why he'd let such a temperamental kid become part of the military force.
Something caught his eye; a white envelope poking out of the folder Ed had thrown on his desk so haphazardly. Mustang slid it out of the folder and stared. There was no address or name, just a blank white envelope with no indication of who it was from or where it was going. It wasn't too thick, but not thin either, probably with several sheets inside. Now unable to ignore his curiosity, Mustang opened the envelope and turned it over, emptying its contents.
Pictures. Confused, Mustang examined them—they were of children, mostly of two boys but sometimes with a third child, a girl, with them. All three were blond. With a start, Mustang recognized one of the children as Ed. His hair wasn't yet long enough to be braided, and shorts and short-sleeved T-shirts revealed that he still had all his limbs. The girl must be Winry Rockbell, then. And the second boy, the other constant of every picture…
Mustang blinked. He was seeing Al for the first time.
His hair is darker. Still blond, but it has more brown than mine.
Al's hair was short in all the pictures, its color exactly as Ed had described.
And his eyes are green, not gold. He has mom's eyes.
Big, emerald orbs seemed to take up half his face. Happy, dancing eyes, bright and without a care in the world.
He's got her smile, too. He looks more like mom overall, really…
Al's smile was as carefree as his eyes. Kind and happy, exactly what a child's smile should be.
While I look more like—(that unsaid word, father)
Looking at the two brothers, Mustang could see what Ed had meant—they were similar, undeniably so, but they had visible differences. It was easy to believe they took after different parents. All the same…
If Al had their mother's smile, Mustang rather thought Ed did too.
Thoughtfully, the Colonel set the pictures down. A single sheet of paper had come out of the envelope with the photographs, and now Mustang picked it up to read.
Hey, jerk. You wanted to know what Al looks like? Well, here you go. Me, Al, and Winry. These are all the pictures I have of him from before, well, you know. So, does this answer your question? I guess it makes sense for you to ask—now you see what I'm trying so hard to get back. And I will. Don't you dare doubt me, you jerk.
Don't tell Al I have these. Winry has some pictures of us, but he thinks I burned all our copies along with our house. But anyway, don't bother giving them back. I won't take them. I don't need them.
Your Always Reluctant Subordinate,
Mustang stared at the letter, feeling a mix of surprise, confusion, and understanding. Ed had burned their house? Why? And these were all the pictures he had of his brother, apparently, but he wouldn't take them back—
But Mustang understood that one.
What was the point of shooting for a goal you couldn't envision in your own mind? Ed would remember his brother's face, or else this wasn't a battle worth fighting. He might as well get himself killed on his next mission, if it were going to come to that.
Mustang tucked the paper and photographs back into the envelope and set it in the bottom drawer of his desk, resolving to never look at them again.
Maybe he could remember too.
I don't know how this idea came to me, but I hope it turned out alright. Please review and tell me if it was any good or not! XD Thanks for reading!