- mirage -
Central Command's most anticipated annual event, was known as Weapons Week, bringing idle auxiliary weapons out for firing practice. It was every soldier's dream. Even if you had never been on the battle field you could be sure to fire off an M240B, and the 1919, as well as the ever popular Mk19. For one week a year all ground troops and alchemists were encouraged to participate in what Amestris considered a vital part of maintaining their militia.
Five days of combat demonstration and open training seminars, was well received and welcomed. Soldiers turned out in the masses, studying the nation's weapons, destroying designated sections of the parade grounds with them, and then retreating to shower before eagerly repeating the next day. For most it was the first opportunity to fire a weapon you'd otherwise only seen in books, and spirits were high. With the military for only three weeks, Ed had signed up every Weapons Week event he could as soon as he was informed.
It seemed a surreal experience that the tiny plastic weapons he and Alphonse had as toys back in Resembool were becoming real weapons he could discharge. Appropriately he had gotten filthy with dirt, much like the rest of the men. Allowed to shoot anything that didn't fire him in the opposite direction with recoil, Ed had grass and soil down his front from where he had practiced with M40s. The training fields were kept sandy, and Ed was certain at least some of it was in his hair from the MK19. They didn't even try and keep its bombing civil, and if you were anywhere near the targets it was raining dirt.
When the day ended, and it was time to shower and leave, Ed returned to the locker room riding a high that only came from pulling the trigger of weapons twice the size of your body.
Then he stopped dead in his tracks.
The locker room was a long rectangular space tiled from floor to ceiling. Showers were to the right and two aisles of lockers were on the left. Expectantly it was crowded. Everywhere there was laughing, yelling, conversing soldiers, and it wasn't the over population, close quarters, damp air, or soup pot smell of cologne and soap, that stopped Ed, it was the stark and rude reminder that showers were not done with your clothing on.
Alongside the soldier love for firing artillery, came an indifference to modesty, and the shower room was filled with handfuls, if not dozens, of half-dressed or entirely bare soldiers.
Ed hadn't anticipated the blow to the head this caused. Initially the concept of showering with the other soldiers had been a bit odd when he first considered it, but he had assumed it was due to his lack of exposure. He knew from books this was what a locker room should be like, and in every book no character had a problem joining in. Ed was confident it would be the same for him. If they could do it he could do it. These were just soldiers after all, guys who at the right age joined the service. He had managed both human transmutation and his state alchemist title well before these wet clowns were ever handed their first state firearm.
Ed studied the crowed room with uncertainty. It's just...if it wasn't for the…if it wasn't…why did everyone here have to be so big? And not just big, muscular! Towering in height and intimidating in girth with deep voices capable of loud booming sounds, and well-developed capable bodies. Good god, wasn't it enough they ran about with pistols all day long, they had to carry them twenty-four seven between their legs too!
Ed kept his eyes about the soldiers' faces, but they continuously bobbed lower, into unfamiliar territory. Even to his own mind he felt like a freak admitting he was curious. It was a horribly betraying feeling to want to look when he came from the same blueprint but, holy crap this was different! He hadn't anticipated this. Now, with it right here, he felt the nudity of the room ganging up on him. Ed's gaze swept over the scene and it brought the unsettling feeling of inadequacy. Everything about these foot soldiers was bigger. Everything.
Lieutenant Chris Samson strolled into the locker room and stopped on sight of Ed in front of him peeking around the privacy barrier. This was the new recruit he had seen on the field firing weapons with plenty of zeal and zero skill. The obvious questions might have been where the boy came from and where he belonged, but for Samson, everyone's favorite in Delta Unit, he saw only one thing: NEW RECRUIT. He did not notice Ed's age, or size, or even the fact the boy was an alchemist. Upon first glance the only thing he saw was a noob, and that gave him a sadistic thrill.
"Well well," Samson said, breaking a wide ear to ear grin.
Ed straightened up and turned a slow cold glare towards the tall figure smiling down on him. Samson gave a playful shrug and placed his hands on his hips. "Going to just watch?" Ed was disgusted and let the man see it on his face. "It isn't a show."
Ed turned his gaze back to the crowd and ignored the annoyed soldier. "Go away, I am busy," he said." He knew if he was going to join in and actually shower, he should do so soon or get out, but he just wasn't ready yet! Leaving with his tail between his legs bothered his pride the same way it did to get naked with his physical state being, well, what it was.
"Do you need help finding your locker?" Samson asked, stepping to Ed's side and leaning down. Ed bristled, and gave Samson a filthy look, and once over.
Samson was also blonde, with playfully spiky hair a bit longer than Havocs. Owning the same lanky and developed body as most twenty year old men, he had to bend over just to become eye level with Ed's growing self, but he did so with a smile. In an overly kind and sarcastic tone he asked, "Need help untying your boots?"
"Will you get lost!" Ed snapped. "I wasn't talking to you, and what I am doing is none of your business." Ed thrust an arm forward to indicate the locker room. "Get your grunt ass in there and follow your orders."
Still sounding as if he were enjoying himself Samson asked, "And leave you all by yourself?"
"Will you shut up and get lost!" Ed snapped. He couldn't stand this guy. "Just get away from me!" Angrily he left the entrance and stomped his way into the locker room keeping his gaze either politely on the floor, or upwards in quick glances so he could see where he was going. He had also been assigned a locker. Mustang had told him so, and written his locker number down for him.
Irritably Ed stuffed his hand into his pocket and pulled out the small scrap of paper the colonel had given him. In Mustang's scribbled penmanship it said: Locker 1921.
Samson followed Ed with his hands resting in his pockets and a wide, pleased smile. "Don't think you're showering with the rest of us," Samson said, matching Ed's quick and angry pace. By the time Ed found the aisle of 1900s he was steaming. He ignored Samson the best he could and began weeding his way down the body-filled locker sandwich. Thankfully they were several aisles into the back of the room, so most soldiers were dressed.
"Didn't know I'd get a personal escort," Ed said, tone supercilious. He shot Samson a smug grin, but the soldier didn't respond, and he soured. "I have just as much right as the rest of you to shower here," he said, before lowering his breath for a discrete, "if not more so."
There were top and bottom lockers. Locker 1921 was a top locker. Ed stood in front of it, glaring up at the tiny numbered dial he'd have to stretch to reach. That's right colonel, a top locker. You think you're funny. You think it's great fun to make the short jokes, like all those before you never thought of the easy short jokes. "What an ass hole," Ed whispered, crushing the paper in his fist. He crammed it back into his pocket with disgust and turned sharp eyes to Samson who was leaning into locker 1918. He'd had enough of the man.
Samson looked comfortable, the way Ed did not feel comfortable, and this infuriated him. Samson didn't bother glancing about the locker room to see what was going on, because he knew what was going on. He was one of the collective. He shared all the jokes, he'd mastered all the mannerisms, and because he did, he knew the right things to say and the right way to say them. Ed felt like the odd man out. As if everyone was staring when most didn't care.
Ed glared at Samson with dagger eyes. "What are you, my maid or something?" he asked rudely.
Samson responded to this with a cold gaze of controlled dominance. In his eyes you could see he was waiting, with confident anticipation, for the next arriving step, and Ed felt the phrase "I order" as in "I order you to get away from me" rise up his throat. Hawkeye had told him clearly it was something he could say if he ever felt he needed to say it. When and why hadn't made much sense at the time, but suddenly, that phrase was sounding really nice.
"I said..." Samson said, tone soft and condescending. "You are not showering with the rest of us." Ed didn't understand, and it wasn't until Samson's smile turned into something hungry, and exited, that things changed quickly from mildly inconvenient to something which bloomed a cautious sinking feeling in Ed's stomach. "And you're not showering with us," Samson elaborated, "until you become one of us."
"What?" Ed asked, in a clueless fashion. Mentally he reassured himself he was wearing his state alchemist's watch. Were they actually confused with the fact he worked there? Wasn't Mustang a big shot? Shouldn't they know about all this? Soldiers weren't really this stupid were they?
Samson could see Ed's bewilderment and he explained quickly. "Until you pass initiation you can't show your face in here," he said, taking a few steps back to the main artery of the room. It ran down the center separating the rows of lockers to the right and left.
Samson looked off towards the showers and nodded into Ed's aisle. Ed felt the small jut of Samson's chin mentally jab him. It was as if a neon sign had just been pointed his way, and his body stiffened. "Hey guys," Samson called into the room, "fresh meat!"
Ed felt his stomach become heavy, and he told himself not to be intimidated, not to let stupid statements like this bother him. Samson called out again and there was the sound of approaching military boots and the slap of wet bare feet on a wet floor.
Several soldiers joined Samson in the aisle entrance, leaning in with curious skepticism before curling their expressions up with mixed responses. Chatter broke out at once.
"Whoa, who the hell is that? There's a kid in here!" The first soldier to arrive was wearing a towel.
The second was almost entirely in uniform and with a comb paused half way through his hair. "Holy shit Samson, I heard about this kid. He's a state alchemist."
"What the hell is he doing here?"
"Samson, you know that chump?"
"That kid is not an alchemist."
There were at least six of them, but their comments were the same: confusion meeting slow acceptance. A seventh came and he was protesting everyone standing in front of his locker and said clearly that he didn't give two flying shits who the kid was because some girl named Stephanie was going to chew him a new one if he was late to pick her up again!
"Hey come on, everyone shut up a second," Samson said, raising his voice over the collective, and stepping aside so the single fully dressed and thoroughly pissed off soldier could get to his locker. "I am telling you, two very important things!" Ed couldn't imagine what they were. "First, that this kid does work for the state! Alchemist or soldier, I don't care. And second!" Samson raised a hand to keep the collection of guys silent. Two in the back were cracking jokes, and one was yelling to the front of the room. "And the second, is that he thinks he's showering in here." Samson said, this with the mocking tone of the intelligent to the ignorant, and Ed glanced between his much older co-workers.
The new collection of soldiers silenced and Ed felt the weight of their critical eyes. In their identical shinning boots, with their uniforms half on and half off, they flowed together like one pack. They were all on the same page now. He was the only one who wasn't getting this, and their silence felt like an eternity, until one topless soldier with a shoulder skull tattoo said flatly, "That little fool."
"F—forget it then," Ed snapped, kicking himself for stammering. "I have other things to do." He took a step forward. He wasn't going to retreat out the back of the aisle; he was going to walk out the front!
"Oh no," Samson said, throwing his arm out so his palm slammed down on the locker across the aisle and seemed to create an impenetrable border of grinning soldiers. He came forward, growing larger and taller. Ed hated the fact he felt his head tipping back to keep eye contact. Samson stopped at locker 1918 and in a casual happy tone said, "Hygiene is important, and we're not going to tolerate some slacker making the rest of us look bad." Samson glanced over his shoulder for the thoughts of the men, but they were nodding and smiling. Yes Hygiene was important. Very important. Super important.
The soldier with the skull tattoo supported Samson saying, "That shit is no joke."
Followed by a teasing, "We take these things very seriously," from a soldier who had a neck as fast as his bicep.
Ed was mute. In a moment where he thought he wouldn't know what to do, he realized he knew exactly what to do. He kicked the slightly ajar locker door of locker 1920 outward and directly into Samson's shin before bolting for the back of the aisle.
Samson cried out and grabbed his shin in surprise before yelling, "Hey!" Ed ran around the locker aisle, sliding and skidding in the water, before gaining traction. He jumped onto the benches outlining the 1800 lockers and was running like a mad man before jumping off the end of it and into the main passageway. "Get that kid!" Samson called out from behind him. "Get that Alchemist!"
Ed was running as fast as his feet could carry him. Crazy ass soldiers and their dumb macho games! Ed thought, racing for the door. He felt success approaching the same way he felt the threat of capture behind him.
Almost victorious, and just a few feet from freedom, something wet found its way below Ed's red and black boot and instead of running out the door, Ed collided directly into the wall alongside it. The cold tile was like a frying pan to his face, and he fell flat on his back.
Ed broke out coughing, and his right metal arm sent a vibrating hum through his side the way it always did if it took a solid blow. Samson appeared like a giant overhead. He leaned down into Ed's foggy vision wearing a shit eating grin
"Don't act so anxious to get away," Samson said. Samson's posse joined the man laughing and talking. "Looks like you've worked up a sweat," Samson teased. With one arm he balled a fistful of Ed's jacket and shirt and hauled Ed to his feet so fast Ed couldn't make sense of it. His vertigo was out of control before suddenly there was water pouring over him.
Samson crossed the small fifteen feet needed to reach the shower heads dragging Ed, and pushed Ed forward and under one with the same ease of someone holding their fist under a faucet.
Ed responded violently, and yanked to the side to escape the running blast of water before yelling. "What's your problem!" Ed cried, grabbing Samson's hands and trying to wrench them free. "Let go! Get your damn hands off me!"
Ed's bangs were plastering down the front of his face in the water, making it impossible to see the rest of the soldiers who approached. Those who were showering and those who were in locker aisles closer to the right of the room were now involved. Most of them were murky skin colored blobs to Ed, but they were all talking.
"Hey, what the hell is this! You're bullying a kid Samson!" They sounded pissed at first, and several approached Samson's side. "Where the hell did you get him! What the fuck is going on here?"
The posse explained quickly. "That's not a kid man, that's a state alchemist." Brief sentences came from several different voices. "Yeah, he's just getting his initiation, relax!" Then "He's probably not even that young, just real small, like all brain and an underdeveloped body." This received several laughs, before someone said, "Scott, you're a retard."
Samson's hand felt like an automail part to Ed. It was immobile, and tense with strength. He shoved at Samson's wrist with all he had before lifting his hands in an unconscious gesture to spark alchemy in self-defense, but this caused a strong reaction in the room. It was no secret that state alchemists were under Central Command orders never to use alchemy against their fellow soldier, and never unnecessarily inside the building. This second clause was to help combat avoidable injury and fiscal damage, but the first carried intense weight and severity.
Ed felt Samson's arm jerk backward, dragging him forward. Samson responded as if his hand was near something dangerous, but didn't let Ed go, and out of the water's brutal deafening stream Ed could hear the response his move had made.
A soldier very close was yelling, "Woah! Woah! Woah!" in a warning tone, before continuing with, "He just moved to transmute!"
"Are you out of your mind kid!" A soldier cried angrily. "Don't be a prick about things, just take your initiation like a good doggie, and keep yourself from getting court marshaled for destroying the place!"
Samson responded immediately, sounding frazzled for the first time. "Dude, grab his hands!"
Ed's wrists were grabbed and pulled in either direction. He was furious he couldn't move, but also reluctantly coming to terms with the beginning sensation of fear there wasn't much he could do to free himself without alchemy, and he couldn't use it. That was one thing Mustang had been very clear on. Mustang's exact words were, tarnish your otherwise shinning record before you get your feet on the ground and I will drop you with the same speed I used to make you.
"I could do a lot more than destroy this room!" Ed cried, feeling panicked. "Let go of me right now!" he ordered fiercely. "I am serious you assholes! What the hell do you think you're doing! I'll report all you lame-brain bastards!"
"Do you even know any of our names?" Samson asked, leaning into Ed's line of sight. "Aren't we all Grounds Men? Cap Heads? Foot soldiers? Pawns?" Samson reached back to the group and snapped his fingers a few times. "What else do those alchemists call us?"
Ed was shocked. It was one thing to think it, and another to know that soldiers were hearing it. His own team was part of this room. All of Mustang's men except for him were soldiers. The colonel was the only other alchemist, so as much as Ed didn't truly understand it, he knew they must be good.
"And what are you going to say?" Samson continued. "That a bunch of Grunts and Empties were picking on you?"
"Fuck you," Ed whispered.
Samson narrowed his gaze with a tickle of irritation. He reached to the running shower head behind Ed. "You know what I think," Samson said, bringing a fat green bar of soap into view. "I think you need that mouth of yours washed out."
Ed threw his head to the side, but the soldiers were laughing and cheering the minute they saw their game moving forward. Samson grabbed at Ed's chin, forcing his head up and prying his mouth open with the other two soldiers keeping a tight grip on Ed's arms. Ed struggled venomously, but he was almost suspended by his arms. "Come on!" Samson chided loudly. "That a boy!"
Ed did his best, but Samson won and jammed the bar into his mouth so far he was gagging. Frantically he tried to kick the man but Samson jumped back hooting with a near miss.
"This kid wants to shower and now he'll do it!" Samson announced loudly. "Let his official initiation begin!
Lieutenant Breda entered the locker room and ignored the commotion around him. He went to his locker opening his uniform jacket before popping the buttons on his dress shirt. He had spent the day firing an MG42 and M2-2 Flamethrower, and it gave the warm and full satisfaction of a good meal. With plans to shower and hit the road, he ignored the unusually chaotic atmosphere of the room until the cheering became excessive.
Breda stepped from his aisle and called down to the showers. A mass of men were congregating along the entrance as if on the outskirts of an arena watching a show.
"Hey, what's going on guys!"
"Initiation!" came a collective call.
Breda tossed his uniform top and dress shirt to the bench before his locker. "New recruits already?" he asked, giving a chuckle and heavy sigh with memories of his own hazing.
Listening to the animated banter he stripped down to a towel and gave himself a once over the mirror. Another day of his stubble growing and he was going to have to shave or a higher-up would start noticing.
Idly scratching his chin Breda strolled up to the edge of the showers and paused behind the large group blocking the entrance. A few of the soldiers up front were laughing hysterically.
"Samson! Samson! Stop teasing him, he's too short for that and you know it! Give him something he can reach!" Breda took to lazily scratching his chest. Samson, that guy took initiation serious. "Holy shit, that kid is pissed off!" There was a loud cheer and Samson gave a curse when it sounded as if he took a quick blow. "Watch it or he'll catch you!"
Breda gave heavy sigh. Unfortunately it appeared he'd come for the beginning and the end was nowhere in sight.
"How long has this been going on for?" Breda asked Lieutenant Rizdel, a good natured soldier whose only downfall was his love for car racing.
"About ten minutes. The little guy just won't submit," Rizdel said, giving Breda a humored elbow in the ribs. "This one's got a fast mouth on him. He's hysterical, but he was getting so pissed Samson taped it up."
"Get out," Breda said, beginning a soft laugh. A few soldiers with front row seats continued reoccurring calls for Samson to un-tape the recruit's mouth in the name of comedy. "What unit is this one from?"
"No unit," Rizdel said, giving his eyebrows a quick hike. "He's an alchemist."
Breda rolled his eyes. "Royalty," he said sarcastically, before hiking invisible suspenders and stepping forward. "Well excuse me gentlemen," he said, pushing his way to the front and leaning an elbow onto the half wall.
With the showers running the air was full of steam and the tiles had a constant flow of water, but even with the poor visibility Breda was shocked at the sight before him.
In the empty shower room, Samson stood in a towel taunting a short boy who was trying to knock his block off. "Ed?" Breda blurted. Although Ed had only been in the office for a little while, and certainly looked different than he did stomping around in his red coat, Breda was sure that was who he was looking at.
The kid was dripping with water with his loose hair plastered about his face and shoulders completely naked. Wrapped around his eyes and mouth was adhesive tape. The sight was shocking, and with Ed's thin and little body slipping and struggling to keep his fists up and ward Samson's far more powerful self away, Breda found himself objecting before he could stop himself.
"Hey, are you kidding me?" Breda said, speaking with a mild opposition. "I think that kid is a state alchemist." Maybe not enough of them knew.
This wasn't the case. The group knew.
"He's this year's winner!"
"He works up on fourth where that really hot chick works."
"Where? In archive?"
"No, no," Breda said, giving his head a slow correcting shake. "He's under Mustang, he's not in archive." Breda hooked a thumb towards the showers where Ed was constantly trying to peel the tape off his eyes and mouth, with no success. As soon as he began making progress Samson would step up and lightly tap the side of the automail shoulder, snapping all of Ed's attention to defense. The metal leg wasn't making any traction on the wet tile and Ed was terribly unstable and staying as still as possible.
"I am telling you idiots, he's under the Flame Alchemist," Breda insisted. "The colonel could get pretty pissed with us messing in his jurisdiction." Breda was hoping these words would have some effect. While he wasn't against initiation and standard hazing, Ed didn't seem to fit the bill. He was a scrawny little boy sandwiched by teasing adults, and the game wasn't fair.
"Hey, hey, hey!" Samson called to Breda. "Don't get all mushy on us B-Man; all we want him to do is a simple initiation, okay?" Samson said. "Is that so wrong? We're trying to be gentlemen about this, even though he is an alchemist, we're cutting him serious slack. He has the lightest sentence we've ever given!"
Breda felt his brow drop with confusion. How was this slack? "Chris, he looks a little messed up. What's he supposed to do?" Breda asked, indicating Ed with an open palm of his hand. Ed was tearing at the tape weaved into his wet hair, before giving Samson the finger. Even while blind Ed still understood where the man was, and the soldiers loved it. A few threw up their hands cheering Ed on with calls to "get him alchemist!" and "Keep it up!"
Breda set his head in his hand with a deep sigh. It was obvious this was going to take several minutes, and he wasn't going in there to shower until some of this nonsense cleared out.
Samson frowned when Ed flipped him off, and looked to the group with an expression of bewilderment. "Do you see him flipping me off?" Samson asked. Ed moved his hand angrily to flip off the group, and the soldiers were laughing. "He's flipping you guys off too!" Samson said. "That is just not very polite at all!" Breda rolled his eyes. "Listen short alchemist," Samson said. Ed had a fit, and gave a few stomps and aggressive steps towards Samson but Samson was on his way across the showers to grab a bottle of body wash. "All you have to do is take a shower. Cut this out now, no one wants it. Just take your shower, and agree to sing your little song." The soldiers thought this was hysterical.
"What song?" Breda asked dryly.
"I Am A Little Tea Pot," Samson said flatly, in a report only tone. He returned to Ed's side where Ed was fuming deep angry breaths with his hands balled into fists and opened the body wash. "Here, let's get you all ready." Samson began drizzling the wash into Ed's hair and Ed didn't notice at first, before wildly slapping at his hair and the space above it to get Samson away from him.
"Careful of his reach!" Rizdel called. Breda sent a lazy eye to the man.
"Rizdel, you still dating that sweet honey over in whatever unit that was?"
All the joy of initiation drained out of Rizdel's face immediately and he shook his head, "No I am not, and I am not because she's a liar, and a cheat, and a horrible devil of a woman and she'll break anyone's heart she gets!" Breda began laughing. "A sinful evil woman, and I should have known from the start, but she tricked me." Breda was still laughing when Ed managed a good right hook into Samson's thigh when the guy tried to get more soap in Ed's hair. Rizdel pushed closer to the wall and leaned into the showers pointed in a scolding fashion. "Chris, what did I say! He's got a reach dammit!" Rizdel was beginning to laugh. "Hard to believe he's only ten or whatever."
Samson was rubbing his leg with his right hand wearing an exaggerated wince while laughing. His left was still struggling to flick strings of body wash into Ed's hair before he gave up and said, "There, doesn't he look pretty?" Several of the guys gave dramatic thumbs-down, but Samson began the intimate snickering of one hatching a new idea. "Yes, I think he looks very pretty," Samson said, dropping his tone to a dramatically hot and lustful breath. "Just makes me want to…yeah…" He hissed in a quick breath and a silence began filtering through the watching soldiers as they caught on and restrained their laughter. "I just can't…ah…help myself…so…hot…"
Breda had no idea where this was going, until Samson turned the body wash bottle towards Ed like a squirt gun and continued making hot panting noises. "Oh, come on," Breda said. He hated to be the voice of reason, really hated it. He'd always maintained a leisure respect towards others to let them do their own thing, but this was getting a bit distasteful, even for them.
Ed had his head tipped down and was listening intently to understand what was happening around him. About the tape he was growing a horrible look of confusion before Samson reached forward and ripped Ed's tape off his mouth. Ed startled violently and gave a right jab into the space before his face before yelling, "Get the fuck away from me you assholes! I am not kidding! I will kick your asses! All of your asses!"
Breda lifted his head with a bit of interest when Ed regained his ability to speak. Although Ed had only been in the office a few times, and Breda wouldn't by any means say he was familiar with Ed's voice, what he did recognize was the legitimate sound of a person past the point of a joke. Ed was panting fiercely and wiped at his mouth where the tape had been. He was slowly attempting to back away from Samson to escape the man's cheap porno noises, looking frantic.
Feeling as if he should speak up Breda glanced around to gauge how much support he might obtain, but the soldiers were cringing in suspense for Samson's finale and deeply engrossed.
Samson finished his joke with a throat squeaking fake orgasm, before squirting a lump of body wash directly at Ed's chest. Breda left for his locker when Ed slipped to his butt looking so uncertain and frazzled he didn't even respond. Sitting in the running shower water, Ed curled his legs inward as if afraid, before screaming a slew of swears and threats.
"Sir." Breda saluted before Mustang's desk in his sloppy uniform.
Deep in his work Mustang glanced up at Breda for only a moment and then returned to his writing. "Your dress is inappropriate Breda," Mustang said, pen scrawling away. "This is the first time ever I believe."
"Sir, I just came from the showers," Breda said. "And, well don't get the wrong impression sir, but I thought it necessary to report that Ed is downstairs and the other soldiers are hazing him in."
A wry smile grew up the right side Mustang's face. "Good," Mustang said firmly. He cleared the papers before him into his out-bin and pulled the top pile from his in-bin. "It will do that punk some good to have his face rubbed into the floor." Breda held his tongue and continued to wait at attention while Mustang worked. Mustang read through the first page of his new pile and flipped inward three before pausing and lifting his gaze. "What?"
"I think things are a little out of hand considering his age sir."
"Correct me if I am wrong but Elric does want to play with the big boys now, doesn't he?"
Breda fell silent. Mustang dropped his pen and sat back in his chair with a look of growing intrigue. "You left the locker room and came up to inform me of this?" Mustang asked, almost smirking. "They must be mopping the floor with him."
"You should go see it," Breda said flatly. "You might want to intervene." Mustang smirked skeptically. That was the last thing he planned to do. He felt very comfortable with the idea of Ed's helium balloon of a head getting kicked to a smaller size.
"It has nothing to do with initiation, or his age," Breda said, frowning with uncomfortable irritation. He was outside of his element intervening. "I sound like a sap, but you got it wrong. It's my own principles about an unfair fight." Mustang's eyes narrowed with vigilant caution. Surely their soldiers would never decide to hammer the kid mercilessly, would they? "I am just not going to watch a fixed one." Breda turned and left without a solute and Mustang felt his eyebrows rise with surprise.
He left thirty seconds later and took the stairwell down to the locker room to investigate for himself. He slammed the door behind him and stomped in ready to frighten a bunch of half toweled men monkeying around, but the place was vacant.
It was silent, with nothing but a few dripping shower heads, and a single cracked window letting in the sound of the evening song birds. The room carried a warm thin steam, but otherwise was desolate and in acceptable order.
Casually Mustang approached the showers and glanced about but there was nothing so incriminating as a large puddle of blood on the floor. So, he had to assume Fullmetal was now on his way home, head hopefully much smaller.
With an irritated roll of his shoulders Mustang turned to leave. He would chalk this interruption up to Fullmetal's obnoxious presence, which seemed to constantly inflict situations like this ever since he'd brought the boy on three weeks ago.
On his way out Mustang's boot caught the lip of a towel and he lost his step for the few inches necessary to kick a metal mop bucket.
The sound of it rattling echoed, and following it came a small soft, "Alphonse?" from somewhere in the room. Mustang froze and looked toward the back lockers. "I am over here Alphonse!" Ed's voice was muffled, before he could be heard knocking on a locker.
Mustang stalked down the main aisle towards the 1900s. He remembered where Ed's locker was. He had personally come down and picked out a top locker to make the boy's life difficult.
Ed's locker aisle was nothing more than an empty hall of damp floors and stray towels before Ed revealed himself with another soft, "Alphonse, hurry up!"
Mustang approached the source of the sound: Ed's Locker, and studied the transmutation circle taped to the front of it. It was a military vacuum transmutation. Used mainly in training exercises, its sole purpose was to cancel out any other transmutation performed. So the soldiers had used foresight, and crammed an alchemist small enough to fit in his locker into it, and kept him from transmuting his way out. Mentally, Mustang commemorated them. The soldiers had placed a simple Allen wrench, something most of them had for cleaning their own guns, into the hole made for lock loops.
Mustang slipped his glove off and ripped the transmutation away before opening the locker. He was expecting to meet the sight of his youngest alchemist as angry as a bee trapped in a box. Instead he was met with something he would have described as a sad sight. Ed was indeed crammed in his locker, but not in the comedic way you think of stuffing something big into something little. No, Ed was fitting in his locker. The boy was curled up, hugging his knees to his chest, wet, cold, and possibly naked, with something adhesive wrapped over his eyes. It looked as if Ed had tried to get it off, but with limited movement of his arms and hands had not been able to.
"Help me get down," Ed whispered, reaching out with the automail. Mustang took the metal hand firmly, and supported Ed's weight as the boy scooted to the edge of the locker. "Help me quick, before someone sees me." Ed's voice was soft with a fragile tone Mustang was surprised to hear. "Where have you been?" Ed whined. "You won't believe what happened." Ed was uncurling slowly to climb out, and when he extended his flesh hand forward for support Mustang took it.
The impact of flesh on flesh was intense, and faster than Mustang would have thought possible, Ed sucked himself back into the locker. He looked violently startled the aid he thought was his brother was instead a stranger, and Ed threw a mean right hook that missed Mustang's face by inches.
"Get the hell away from me!" Ed snarled, lifting a large bar of soap from his side and throwing it forward. Mustang caught it and looked down at the fat brick with a tooth mark rainbow printed along the far end. "I am an alchemist, and I will blow this place the hell up!" Ed screamed, lifting his palms but keeping them several inches separated with his threat.
"What is the meaning of this Elric?" Mustang asked firmly.
Ed's head jerked back in shock with the sudden baritone of Mustang's voice. "Colonel?" Ed whispered.
"I see the soap has not helped to clean up your language." Mustang lifted his eyes to Ed's shivering form. "Let me help you out of that locker. Before someone sees you."
Ed bristled. "I—I am perfectly c—capable," Ed said, sounding nervous he was not perfectly capable. "S—sir."
"So you've been accepted into the military it seems," Mustang said, beginning a soft chuckle as Ed squirmed forward keeping himself discreetly covered with his thighs. Mustang felt a bit of dismay. "They aren't usually this rough," he said, stepping back and shoving the aisle bench flush to bottom locker 1920 before leaving to get Ed a towel.
Ed slid out of his locker with a wincing hiss. Keeping a tight grip, he stepped off the bench carefully. Once free he was immediately trying to remove the tape from his eyes.
Mustang returned with Ed a tiny skin pencil peeling strips of it from his hair. As he approached he studied the boy and was surprised Ed's coat hid how frightfully scrawny he was. The boy's automail was viciously sterile in comparison to his gentle form, and Mustang hadn't expected it.
Mustang stopped politely at Ed's back and nudged him with a towel. Ed startled, hunching his shoulders forward for privacy and snatching the towel away with the automail palm covering his groin.
"Relax," Mustang ordered, plopping down on the left section of the bench he had not disrupted.
"I don't know any of their names, but I can tell you what they look like," Ed said, frantically wrapping his waist in his towel. He sounded more upset than angry; his entire back was branded with the triangular pattern of the locker's metal interior.
"For what purpose?" Mustang asked, reaching forward and plucking a thin piece of twisted tape from Ed's wet hair. It never would have held if they had not used so much. Wrapping Ed's head the way you wrap string quickly around a ball.
"So they can be punished," Ed snapped. "Duh."
Mustang snorted. "We don't punish soldiers for hazing each other." Ed's head snapped up with immediate surprise. Across Ed's nose and upward into his forehead was a fat strip of tape. Mustang gently peeled it off to reveal one wide golden eye staring at him. It was a bit pink from being locked under the adhesive in a tight squeeze, and Ed's skin was turning red with irritation everywhere it was peeling up. "You were treated as any other soldier."
"That's—that's a lie!" Ed cried, aghast. "They took advantage of me!" Ed slapped his hand down on his chest. "Of—of my age! And my…"
"And your height?" Mustang asked smiling.
"I highly doubt they do that to everyone," Ed said angrily.
Mustang gave a casual shrug. "You aren't special Ed," he said. "It's high time you learned that. You're a soldier, a dog of the military, and be thankful the men initiated you in instead of ostracizing you." Mustang wadded up the tape and tossed it playfully at the boy's chest.
"Ostracizing me!" Ed repeated furiously. Ed turned to Mustang, and with a tone of pure honest confession said, "I didn't do anything to them!"
"That doesn't mean they can't ignore you," Mustang said, offering a quick shrug. "Last month we had a new recruit. He was odd. None of the soldiers could relate to him." Ed gave Mustang a death glare with his story-telling tone. "It presented a completely different playing field. They didn't have anything in common. No topics of conversation they could talk about and nothing they could understand about each other. Would you like to meet this new recruit?"
Ed scowled and continued gently peeling his right eye free. Almost all of his face was clear. "No," Ed said, disgusted.
"And why is that?" Mustang asked patiently.
"Sounds like a loser." Ed dropped a hunk of tape to the floor before shaking his hand to get a few sticky fingers free. "'Sides, we'd have nothing to talk about and nothing to do as you explained it. So..." Ed trailed off and scrubbed at his left cheek which looked sticky and irritated.
"We had another new recruit this month," Mustang said.
"Really," Ed said dryly. He stepped up onto the bench and looked into his open locker. There was nothing inside it and he was furious. Mustang watched Ed hop off the bench and walk to the end of the aisle with the towel a wedding gown about his bottom half. It was the size appropriate for an adult, and Ed would have needed to tuck it under his arms to keep it off the floor. Instead, he had placed it gender specifically at his waist and was ignoring all the excess about his feet. Indifferently, Mustang stared at this with thoughtless contemplation. Somehow, this disrupted towel hinted to the mess he had gotten himself into with Ed.
Ed left the aisle and Mustang was patient. After a few minutes Ed came back shaking his shirt viciously before snatching his boxers up from the floor and doing the same. With a single clap of alchemy he dried them, and trying to step into his boxers and hold his towel at the same time he almost fell over. He saved himself with the automail hand. It shot out and grabbed the flat surface of locker 1924's face. Any normal person would have managed no purchase and slipped to the floor, but Ed's metal fingers increased in strength and bent the metal inward for leverage to keep him standing the same way an animal extended its claws.
In a daze Mustang watched Ed cover his head with his towel and scrub at his scalp to dry it before muttering, "Same scenario."
Ed dumped the towel on the floor and said, "That sucks." He wiggled into his shirt and looked content half-dressed when Mustang finished his story.
Ed stared at Mustang with no immediate response, and then his expression crumbled. It was anger, but it was also devastated sadness.
"How come!" Ed cried, stunned. "I! I! I can't fit in here!"
Tenderly, Mustang said, "No you can't, not yet."
Ed looked slapped with Mustang's confident statement. "You're," Ed muttered softly, before finding strength. "Ha! You're just saying that to test me!" Ed declared. "To keep me on my toes, and challenge me!"
"No I am not."
Ed was crushed. "But that stuff you said about the other guy is not true about me!" Ed pleaded. "I—I am—I can—I know what's—what's up." Ed pressed his flesh hand back to his chest. "I am an okay guy!"
Mustang gave a humored snort, and Ed's eyes widened. It was clear: Ed did not want to be the loser.
"Soldiers like women, and alcohol, and cigarettes, and parties, and guns, and a good time," Mustang said. "You don't fit into any category they understand. You don't do the same things, you don't want to do the same things, and you're miles apart in conversation." He broke this news as kindly as he could. "You're polar opposites. One is the average run of the mill soldier, and the other a grade school child." Mustang held up his hand to silence Ed's argument when Ed took a large breath. "I am not criticizing," Mustang said, rising to his feet. "I am the one who hired you, aren't I?" He walked to the next aisle. Ed's pants were strewn on top of the lockers with one black leg hanging down the side. "I simply thought I'd come in here and point out the obvious." Ed fumed when Mustang freed his pants from their skyscraper entrapment. It was a reach, even for the colonel.
"I could have easily gotten those," Ed said angrily. Mustang returned to Ed and let the boy yank them from his hand.
With a smile Mustang said, "No you couldn't have."
"You didn't have to come in here and rescue me. I could have gotten out! I could have transmuted this entire place to rubble!" Ed declared, preparing to step into his pant leg.
"And they could have ignored you and let you take a shower." Mustang countered. Ed closed his eyes and let this seep in. "Now according to me, this afternoon my fellow soldiers welcomed the youngest state alchemist into their group rather than ostracizing him." Mustang looped his thumbs into the lapels of his uniform with a pleased grin. "I call it a success."
"A success!" Ed screamed. "They pushed me in that locker!" Ed pointed to his locker fuming. "And! And! And put…" Ed was turning in a small circle searching for the soap he had thrown at Mustang. "And put that bar of soap in my mouth!" Ed located it lying on the floor and pointed at it. "And harassed me to sing stupid childish tunes!"
"Childish tunes?" Mustang asked, lifting his eyebrows in mock insult with a tone that sarcastically said, how dare they.
Ed was outraged. "They humiliated me."
"That was thoughtful."
"No it wasn't!" Ed yelled before silencing when Mustang dropped a hand into his hair. It was sudden, and Ed quieted with the weight and stared up at his very tall commander. Colonel Mustang was much bigger standing than he was sitting, and Edward Elric was much smaller half-dressed and half wet. With a small chuckle Mustang removed his hand and stepped around Ed to leave. "Where are you going!" Ed cried, utterly confused.
"Unless you need help dressing…" Mustang said, pausing at the exit and looking back over his shoulder. Ed threw his pants to the floor in an absolute fit with all the teasing. "…I'll see you in office tomorrow."
"Fine!" Ed screamed, swiping his pants up and angrily jamming a leg in. "Get lost!"
"And tomorrow at this time you're ordered to come here and shower with the men."
Ed fell over tangled in his pants. Mustang watched the boy scramble up looking horrified. "Yes you will," he said, when Ed opened his mouth in a mute plea with eyes three times their size. "And if you don't, I'll think of something worse."
"Yeah, but!" Ed found his tongue and crawled forward before managing to get to his feet with his pants about his ankles. "After all this? Just give me—I'll come back day after tomorrow! I'll show you I can! I—I—I just!"
"Tomorrow," Mustang said firmly, stepping out and striking an upbeat whistle in route to his office. He felt good about his talk with Ed and barely noticed Havoc approaching. The man was heading to the locker room and gave nothing more than a quick solute as he passed.
Mustang stopped in his tracks.
Curious Mustang turned around just as the locker room door opened and Havoc backed out of it laughing.
"You're pretty fast when you're angry Ed!" Havoc said, holding both hands up as if at gun point. "You know what you should do. You should come down and try some football with us guys."
Mustang felt a rush of alarm with the idea of his most aggressive soldiers charging towards his youngest two limbed alchemist. It was Ed's brain, and not body, that placed stock in his future promotions.
Havoc ducked when a bottle of shampoo was sharply flung at him, before laughing out a, "Okay, maybe baseball then." Ed was livid and Mustang could hear the boy's angry voice prattling on from where he stood. "Sure," Havoc answered Ed, grinning into the open door. "But you know you can't just play, we'd have to haze you." There was a silence, and Havoc gave an elaborate shrug as if to say, what are you gonna do, before Ed was screaming obscenities.
Mustang said and did nothing when Havoc closed the locker room door, laughing, and began a quick suspicious walk down the hall. Ed charged from the locker room seconds later and began following the man while pulling his red coat on and flapping his gum the entire time. The tone was inappropriate and the vocabulary was worse. As the two traveled toward the far exit a few office doors opened, and one receptionist wandered out with a phone to her ear and the cord pulled taunt.
At the end of the hall Havoc met up with Breda who had his jacket tossed over his shoulder and looked ready to call it quits. Havoc indicated Ed by hooking a thumb towards the boy and Breda broke into laughter and referenced the locker room with a single pointing hand. It was obvious he was citing Ed's previous hazing, and Ed's fury rekindled in a wild outburst. Havoc found this amusing, and gave Ed's back a playful swat, before the three of them began leaving together. Ed's yelling echoed all the way back to Mustang, and Mustang found it perplexing Ed could actually manage a volume to accomplish this.
"Sir?" Hawkeye called, approaching Mustang from behind.
He turned to her and offered a greeting smile. She was still in uniform but wore a light jacket and carried her purse. She was leaving for the day, but arrived looking confused, and glanced about him as if expecting him not to be alone. "Did you hear that?" she asked. "Was that, maybe Havoc yelling?" she looked absolutely puzzled and Mustang found himself at a precipice. Unlike them he felt certain she would find the concept of Edward's hazing horrifying and most likely try to stop it.
Breaking a wide grin Mustang said, "I didn't hear anything."
There you have it, thank you for reading!
The purpose of this story was to show a tough, but plausible life event for Ed after recently being accepted into the adult world of the military. It's not meant to condone or even discourage bullying or hazing, it's meant to show it how it happens. Life happens, it's hard, and what you need to learn is to survive and surpass. You may think Mustang is heartless in this piece, but he does Ed no favors sheltering and coddling him. Mustang's advise is kind, he is letting Ed experience lift, and making sure Ed saves face and gall by returning to the showers. (You have to climb back onto the horse when you fall off).
More people have been upset by this story then I could have imagined, but still I want your thoughts. Please leave a review and tell me what you think. Can you see what Mustang is trying to do in the end, or does he appear as a cold merciless dictator?
Be nice to the colonel, and remember, Ed is much tougher than he looks.
Based on some of the reviews I have received, here are a few things I'd like to clarify:
1. Mustang was not meant to be a jerk in this piece. If you think he was, please consider his character.
2. Ed survived this ordeal! He will now be stronger because of it, so calm down. This story was specifically made to be hard to watch, so to speak. I didn't pull any punches, this stuff happens in real life, and some people would not cut Ed slack for his age like your or I might. If this was hard for you to read, that's okay, it was supposed to be. People will be better at rising from indifference when they first gain the practice and courage to stare injustice in the face.
3. As a side note, I almost find too pointless to make, I (the author) have personally never been bullied like this. I am a bit confused by the implication some of my readers have made by implying I may have been. Come on guys, I am not trying to overcome some wacko childhood memory, I am writing fanficion, lol.
A special thanks to my beta reader: Rogue Alice, she was a big help (and so nice!). This story is old folks, and you know the old ones suck.
As always here is a reminder of my upcoming stories, and a few recently posted. Please continue reading! (They're not all like Hazing, I promise, lol) I am super excited to be posting "Christmas," I got a few good laughs while writing it.
12/14/12 – OHSHC: One shot:Smoking Is For Poor People
12/24/12 – FMA: One shot:Christmas
01/01/13 – FMA: Completed Multi-Chapter Story: The Silent Heart
08/18/12 – OHSHC: One shot. Without A Rubber
08/20/12 – FMA: Complted Multi-Chapter Story: Another Run of Events
11/17/12 – FMA: One shot:Office Conduct