Author: sapphyre_kikyo in collaboration with mfelizandy
Characters: Roy and Ed (Light RoyxEd mentions in later chapters)
Rating: PG-13, beware of Ed's mouth.
Author's Notes: Another long chapter. I'm hoping you all enjoy this chapter as we're having so much fun writing it. Please leave comments, we really love the feedback.
“Your mom's here?” Ed stopped and demanded an explanation with a puzzled glare at Colonel Mustang. When Colonel Mustang had picked him up, Ed had been expecting a trip to the military prison at Headquarters. Instead, he was standing on the sidewalk outside one of the “officer's quarters” bungalows that stood along the south and eastern side of the sprawling training field.
“So I've been told.” The Colonel met the eyes of the military policeman standing not two feet away. “We're here to visit my mother.”
The man raked his eyes up and down Roy Mustang, and then Edward Elric, clearly searching for a less-than-mirror-bright button or a wrinkle in the blue uniform that Mustang wore like a second skin and made the Sergeant Major beside him look ill at ease. “I need your name, rank, registration number, and the purpose of your visit.”
“Roy Mustang, Colonel, registration number 1906-8219-158,” Mustang answered coolly. “Flame Alchemist.” His tone managed to convey that any competent member of the military would have recognized him immediately. “I'm here to introduce the Sergeant Major to my mother.”
“Why?” The MP let the word roll lazily off his tongue. He was a large, beefy man, with the green collar tabs of a member of the Fuhrer's Elite Force. He could, if he chose, arrest even the Commander of the Army in the East, and freely bait even State Alchemists.
Mustang's calm face and level voice didn't acknowledge the challenge. “When I spoke to her on the phone yesterday, she mentioned that she was bored. The Sergeant Major has led a very interesting life. I thought a visit from him might help relieve the tedium for her.”
The burly man's eyebrow twitched, once, then went still. “I see.” He turned to Edward. “State your name, rank--”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. I'm Sergeant Major Edward Elric, I don't remember what my number is, and I'm here because the Colonel asked me to come see his mom. Are you gonna let us in or not?” Ed flexed his shoulders a little, sizing up the man. It had obviously been far too long since anyone had kicked his ass, and Ed was always ready for a quick little demonstration.
“Not without your registration number,” the MP said, just a little smugly. “It's regulations. We have to keep a log of everyone who goes in or out.”
“His registration's 1911-6832-154,” Colonel Mustang supplied before Edward could air his opinion of regulations. “Or just put down 'FullMetal Alchemist'. Everyone in the country knows who he is.”
“You're FullMetal?” The guard's tone dripped with skepticism. “The guy who started the rebellion in Lior?”
Ed stiffened. “I'm the one who exposed Leto as a fraud, yeah.”
“Which has nothing to do with the situation at hand,” Mustang broke in crisply. “Are you going to let us in, Captain, or should I go write my administrative complaint to the Internal Affairs Commission?”
The captain glowered for a moment, then growled, “No weapons allowed.”
“Understood.” Mustang took his service revolver from the shoulder holster beneath his jacket.
“And your gloves, Flame Alchemist.” The guard's expression was stony.
“So, you know who I am after all.” The Colonel took his embroidered gloves from his pockets and surrendered them.
Instead of answering, the big man turned to Ed. “Your weapons, Sergeant.”
“I don't carry any,” Ed growled.
“If you're the FullMetal Alchemist, you've got automail.”
“You're not suggesting the Sergeant Major remove his arm and leg just to visit an old woman being kept under heavy guard, are you?” Mustang's right eyebrow arched.
“Forget it,” Ed snapped. “I'm not letting you...” he bit back several insults and continued “...make me hop around while you play with my body parts and fuck them up so my mechanic will have an excuse to beat my head in.” He turned on his heel to leave before his pique overrode his better judgment and he kicked the captain where it wouldreally hurt.
“Edward.” Colonel Mustang's voice was not loud, but it halted Ed in his tracks. “Captain, I'm sure you're aware that it's not merely a nuisance, but excruciatingly painful to remove and reconnect automail. If you insist on forcing the Sergeant Major to remove his for a simple visit to cheer up a woman you're holding on hearsay and speculation, I'll be forced to give him two or three days to recover from the pain. Which means my new recruits will miss out on days of physical training that could be crucial to their survival on a battlefield. I'm not about to graduate recruits with less than perfect training—so I'd have to mention the delay in my report explaining why the latest group won't be ready for duty on time.” His tone was still cool, but there was no mistaking the threat.
The Captain thought about it for a moment, just long enough to appear unintimidated by the threat, then grudgingly conceded. “All right, keep it. But no alchemy. Just talk.”
“Of course.” Mustang swept by the man, and Edward found himself falling in at his heels, glaring at the annoying MP but trailing his commanding officer like a dog on a leash. A burly guard in the uniform of the Military Investigations branch opened the door and surveyed them both. He didn't salute, despite the fact that he wore only a lieutenant's shoulder tabs. Instead, he just waited until both Ed and Mustang crossed the threshold, then closed the door and pointedly locked it, tucking the keys back into his pocket. The Colonel ignored the open intimidation tactic and glanced to the left. He murmured something soft in a language Ed didn't understand, then left Ed standing in the hall. Ed got only a glimpse of the woman in the living room before she was obscured by her son's taller figure.
Mustang hugged his mother and said something clearly intended for her ears alone, then let go and carefully went to his knees, looking up into the face of a clearly Eastern woman. Her black hair was lightly streaked with white, though her face didn't look very old. She wore a blue wool tunic with wide sleeves over a black silk shirt with elaborately and snugly laced cuffs that reached halfway up her forearms. The tunic and her loose, flowing black pants were decorated with brightly colored silk fringe along the seams. Her shoes were a sort of ankle-high moccasin that Ed guessed she had made herself, pulling each stitch tight with her strong fingers. She wore half of her long, straight hair gathered up and clipped back with an enameled barrette accented by delicate fans of bird feathers that waved gently as she took her son's head in her hands and kissed him on the forehead.
Mustang closed his eyes, then half-turned to Ed. “Edward Elric, this is my mother. Her name is Saransetseg.”
Ed stood awkwardly for a moment, just studying the woman. Ed had been under Roy Mustang’s command for eight years, yet in all that time, he’d never once thought of Mustang as someone’s son. Someone’s baby. But his eyes were those of his mother, set a little further apart. He had her fine, pale skin. His nose was sharp where hers had soft curves, and her jaw was narrower. But as her eyes took Ed in, traveling from his bangs down his face to the collar of his uniform, Ed realized that she had given Roy more than physical traits--she had the same unnerving ability to make a person feel like she already knew all of his secrets. At Ed's bow, Saransetseg let go of her son, letting him get back to his feet. The woman placed her palms together, and bowed to a precisely chosen angle. She said something that rose and fell in strange ways to Ed's ears, and straightened back up. Mustang translated in low tones. “Mamiya says she is honored to meet the person she has heard so much about.”
Ed tried to keep from fidgeting under the effect of not one but two pairs of calm, weighing dark eyes. “Could you tell her that I'm equally honored to meet someone from such a vastly different culture?”
Roy translated, and Saransetseg's eyes brightened a little in what Ed strongly suspected was amusement. She waved to the coffee table, offered a small bow, and issued another stream of quick syllables. Mustang flashed a grin. “She's offered us both tea--and she apologizes for the inhospitality of the surroundings.” He took a couch cushion and plopped it on the floor, sinking to kneel on it. “We'll have to make do with what we have on hand. You don't have to drink the whole cup of tea, FullMetal, but it would be a serious insult not to take at least a sip.”
Ed nodded before coming to kneel next to Roy, then stared at the tea in disbelief as Saransetseg poured from a painfully plain teapot. The liquid was a vile bluish-purple color that Ed had only ever encountered in bruises or bubbling over lab burners. Ed gave the woman kneeling at the end of the table a hard look—had Mustang's sense of humor come from her, as well? “Um...what type of tea is this, anyway?” He picked up the cup with careful movements and inhaled a little of the steam rising from it. The tea smelled of earth, mixed with honey and some mint Edward wasn't familiar with.
Mustang answered in an entirely matter-of-fact tone. “Pahchtreya. 'Autumn Garden', roughly translated.” He took a small sip from his cup. “It's traditionally believed to help clear the mind and solve difficult problems.”
Ed took a small sip, decided that it didn't taste bad, just different. He took a second sip, then set the cup back on the table and gave Saransetseg a brilliant smile. “So--what's it like where you live?” He directed the question toward her, despite the fact that Mustang would have to translate. It seemed only polite.
Roy translated with a twitch of a grin. Saransetseg lifted an eyebrow, and offered a small smile herself as she answered, sipping her own tea. Mustang made a comment of his own to her before translating. “Mamiya says you have probably seen many homes like hers, traveling as much as you do. She lives in a house outside Garnet Town, and her horses and sheep live in a barn made of bricks.”
Ed nodded encouragingly. “Actually, that sounds more like home than a lot of places I've visited.” He glanced toward his commanding officer. “What have you told her about me anyway?”
Mustang grinned in that lazy, almost-mocking way that made Ed want to punch him in the mouth. “Quite a bit. She especially liked hearing about the time you broke up the slave-prostitution ring without even knowing you were doing it.”
Ed grimaced. “Yeah...well...” He turned back to Saransetseg. “I'm sorry you had to come here this way.”
Mustang lifted an eyebrow, but relayed Ed's comment. Saransetseg's face set into a serene, confident expression, and she answered smoothly. Mustang translated in tones that almost rang with suppressed defiance. “Mamiya is innocent, and this is a country with fair laws. She's sure she will be released. In the meantime, she's happy to visit me--and to meet one of the clever Elric Brothers.” He bent his head as his mother added something, then answered in quick words. “Mamiya is curious about your automail.” He sounded almost apologetic. “I sent her a book full of pictures, about how it works, but she wants to know whether you can do delicate things with a metal hand. She's talking about handling eggs and knitting.”
Ed blushed briefly at the notion of being a 'clever Elric Brother', but then frowned at the mention of his automail. “I can handle eggs. I don't knit, but I probably could if I needed to.” Then he shrugged and slipped his jacket off, revealing the dull gleam of his automail from the end of his short-sleeved uniform shirt to his wrist. For good measure, he pulled the white glove from his right hand.
Saransetseg's eyes widened, and she reached to touch the back of Ed's steel hand, just running a finger over it before withdrawing. She pressed her palms together and half-bowed, looking into Ed's eyes as she talked.
Mustang watched closely as Ed tolerated the touch. “Mamiya says thank you for indulging a woman's curiosity.” He paused, and frowned as his mother went on. He answered in the same language, his face and tone disapproving. Saransetseg's brows lowered a fraction, and she waved at Ed as she spoke. Mustang sighed. “She's proposing...a trade of questions, I suppose. It's a formal ritual--you both promise not to take offense at any question asked, and to either answer truthfully or refuse to answer at all. You take turns, and if one of you refuses to answer a question, whoever asked has to drop the topic, but can ask another question.” He gave his mother a quelling look. “I'm not sure this is an appropriate place for it.”
Ed didn't hesitate for more than an instant. “I accept.”
Mustang shook his head, narrowing his eyes a little. “Are you sure you want to deal with very personal questions just for petty nosiness, FullMetal? Do I have to remind you that this house is surrounded by and full of military police who will be listening to every word you say?”
Ed narrowed his own eyes at his commander. “Yes, I do. This isn't a military matter. Besides,” he clapped his hands together and let the alchemical energy crackle around himself. “I can make sure no one hears anything, and I can still refuse to answer any question.”
Saransetseg jumped a little, and asked a question of her son, putting a hand on his arm. Mustang answered in low tones, patting her hand, then said in a much sharper tone, “Do you think that little stunt wouldn't be noticed? This isn't a game, FullMetal--my mother's life is at stake.”
Ed let the energy flow back down through him and into the earth with a hiss of disgust. “You think I don't realize that?” He glared at Mustang and got to his feet. “She's a nice woman, but you aren't giving me the chance to find out more about the person you want me to throw away my life for.”
“Sit down, FullMetal.” Mustang's tone carried command, but he stopped short at his mother's touch on his arm. Saransetseg got up and carefully stepped close to Ed. Their eyes were almost on a level with each other. The woman took Ed's steel hand in both of hers, opened it flat, then reached up with one hand and released her hair clip with a flick of her fingers. She put the glittering thing in Ed's palm as her hair slid free, and said something solemn. Then she turned to Roy and spoke sharply. Mustang glowered, but translated. “Mamiya says she puts the honor of her family--which for your information includes only her and me--in your hands. Letting her hair down like that means she's treating you like a brother's son.”
Ed stared at the barrette for several long moments. “Thanks.” He met Saransetseg's eyes, and went on. “What's her first question?”
Mustang looked decidedly pissed, but he translated. “Mamiya wants to know--Why did your brother lose so much more than you did, when your transmutation failed?”
Ed stiffened. “You mean you told her about that, too?”
“Obviously. Are you going to refuse to answer?”
Ed let his eyes go distant, avoiding the penetrating, inscrutable gaze of Saransetseg and the hard eyes of her son. “No. Tell her, the only answer I can give is that Al was younger and smaller than me, so he couldn't control and deflect the energy as well as I could. Tell her my question is why she didn't want to go back to Xing.”
Mustang's eyes went to slits as he repeated the question. His mother sighed, then went back the table. She ruffled her son's hair, then took his chin in her hand and talked in low firm tones for several sentences. Mustang's military demeanor gave way little by little, until he turned his eyes to Ed, and there was an almost frightening uncertainty in his face. His voice was soft and deferential. “Because her family would send her to serve the priests in a mountain temple.”
“What else did she say?”
“Nothing you need to hear.”
“That's not how this deal works. You can't just refuse to translate.”
“You're welcome to go find someone else to pass your personal questions and answers back and forth.”
“Bastard.” Ed glared.
“Is that a question? It's not your turn.” Mustang stared back, professionally unruffled.
Ed rolled his eyes. “Fine then, don't answer it. Just give me my question.”
Saransetseg's eyes rested on Ed as she spoke. Her son translated without inflection. “Why didn't you wait until your brother was stronger, before you attempted a dangerous array?”
Ed sighed. “Because the longer we waited, the worse our chances of...success...got. We knew it was dangerous, but we didn't want to wait.” He glanced again at the Colonel. “Ask her what made her think Amestris would be a good place to raise her son.”
Mustang relayed that, though not without a twitch of a muscle along his jaw. His mother, unruffled, answered with sharp intelligence in that gaze. Mustang growled softly. “Mamiya says, 'Because here my son has no father, but he has no grandparents either.' If this is some kind of revenge for something, Ed, I'd rather settle it outside.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “She's asking nosy questions about me, so I'm asking nosy questions about her.” He turned back to match Saransetseg's eyes with his own. “Her turn.”
Mustang's eyebrows lifted as his mother asked her question. “My mother wants to know whether your father really is the Sage of the West. She's referring to a legend of a wise man who came out of the deserts west of Xing and more or less brought the entire country out of the Stone Age singlehandedly. For all anyone knows, Hohenheim might have been involved. The description of the Sage does have some points that could be interpreted to be Theophrastus van Hohenheim. Or almost any other six-foot man with amber eyes and brown hair.”
Ed inhaled slightly. “Yes. That's him.”
Saransetseg murmured something, and Mustang translated in subdued tones. “Mamiya says it can be a hard thing, to have a father so busy with public affairs.”
“I wouldn't know,” Ed answered gruffly. “I only met him once after he left us.”
Saransetseg's answer was soft and low, and Roy matched the tones as he translated. “That's what makes it so difficult. A son should love his father, but how can he, when he barely knows his face?” Mustang stopped short, despite the fact that his mother was still talking.
Ed stared into his purple tea rather than either of the other people in the room. “What else did she say?
Mustang didn't answer until his mother prodded his shoulder and said something in clipped tones. He sighed, and said, “She said she cannot love both her father and her son, and she chose to love her son. What's your question?”
“Why is she asking me this stuff? You know my whole life, and you've obviously told her just about all of it.”
Mustang didn't deny the accusation. He simply translated the question, and its answer. “She wanted to know how you would answer, more than what you would say. She says your face and voice tell her you are not lying to her or to yourself.” Saransetseg added something, and Mustang sighed. “Mamiya says it's not often that a man has the courage to see himself as he is, rather than as he would like to be.
Ed reached for his glove, and tugged it back on. “It's not courage. I've just had enough people lie to me that I won't do it to someone else. Her question.”
Saransetseg's question was an involved one. Mustang blinked, then started to answer and was waved quiet. The woman went on, then took a sip of tea, still watching Ed. Mustang took a long moment to translate. “This isn't an easy concept to translate, but to give you the idea, my mother thinks you and your brother are very old souls. In her belief system, people like you are born to move humanity back onto the right path, and that in order to do that, you have some very strange gifts, possibly even a way to talk to the ancestral spirits. Mamiya wants to know when and how you might use me to your own purposes. She wants to know whether you'll have to sacrifice me to do what you're on Earth to do.”
In almost any other situation, Ed might have fallen down laughing at the absurdity of the assumption behind the question. But it was Roy Mustang's mother asking, and the Colonel himself was sitting there without a twitch to indicate he saw anything funny about it. So Edward schooled himself into answering seriously. “Tell her...tell her I intend to protect both you and her. No one's going to sacrifice anything for me.”
Saransetseg listened intently as Roy passed on Ed's words, then looked Ed squarely in the eyes and lowered her chin. The small gesture said "Thank you" without words and without needing translation.
“Thank you, FullMetal.” Mustang's words were low. “Is there anything else you want to know?”
“I don't think so.” Ed got up, controlling a wince—the flesh of his left leg had gone to sleep—and offered Saransetseg's hair clip back to her. “Tell her thank you for the tea.”
“You never told me you speak Xingese.” There was a faint accusation in Edward's tone as he trudged along beside the colonel, but his tone was more subdued than was his custom when addressing his commanding officer.
“I don't recall your ever asking,” Mustang answered with a similarly muted version of his customary unflappable arrogance.
“What else don't I know about you?” Ed demanded with a bit more vigor.
“Would you like to hear what I had for breakfast this morning?”
“Don't start with the fucking word games, bastard. You know everything worth knowing about me and Al. Now that I think about it, that's not exactly fair.”
The corners of the colonel's lips lifted into a slightly mocking, somewhat grim smile. “'Fair' only exists in children's games—and not always then. I thought you'd learned that a long time ago.”
Ed gritted his teeth, but answered evenly. “Fine. Call it equivalent exchange.”
“You of all people should know better than to invoke that phrase.” Mustang's face, which had relaxed in the presence of his mother, slipped back into its neutral, noncommittal mask. He almost imperceptibly straightened his shoulders and back, and with the military bearing came the military pace. Edward found himself first lengthening his stride, then nearly trotting to keep up. Irked, he took a few quick steps and planted himself in Mustang's path, straight-arming the colonel in the chest with his right hand and fixing his eyes on the knife-sharp black ones that challenged his right to bar forward progress.
“I know better than a lot of people what equivalent exchange really stands for. It's not about the science of alchemy as much as it is the responsibility of the alchemist.” Ed brought his brows down low over his glaring golden eyes and spoke in quiet, measured words that all but vibrated with the leashed power of the FullMetal Alchemist. “The price isn't measured just in grams of matter or calories of heat. That's the real secret—if you use alchemy to change something, you're responsible for the results. All of them. Turn the streets to gold, and all of a sudden people are swarming out to kill each other over the cobblestones. A few weeks later, they're killing each other because gold's so common it's not worth anything anymore. They'll probably come after the alchemist who ruined everything for them. That's equivalent exchange.” Ed's eyes narrowed. “The families of alchemists pay a price, too. Just ask my mom, or my little brother. That's not fair, but it's equivalent. Instead of staying with his family, my old man took off to follow his research. Al and I spent what should have been our childhoods memorizing chemical equations and running all over the country risking our lives chasing a myth.”
“Very eloquent, FullMetal.” Colonel Mustang sidestepped Ed's hand, and moved on. “I suppose your brother helped you draft that speech.”
Color ran up from below Ed's collar and flooded right up to his hairline. In a quick blur of muscle and steel, he grabbed Mustang's upper right arm in his left hand and slammed him back into the brick wall of the storefront they'd been passing. “Damn you and your smart mouth, I should—wait a minute--” his eyes went to slits. “I get it. You're trying to piss me off.”
Mustang said nothing, though it was anyone's guess whether he kept his mouth shut because Ed had knocked the wind out of him or because he chose not to answer.
Ed waited only a few seconds, then tightened his grip on the colonel's arm, and added his steel right one to pin the other one for good measure. Mustang didn't struggle, protest, or acknowledge the eyes of the few passersby who stopped to stare at the small blond man holding a high-ranking military officer against the wall of the local watchmaker's shop. He simply focused his gaze on Ed's left pupil, and let the seconds drag by.
Ed's brows dropped still lower, and he raised his chin, resisting the colonel's silent, implacable stare. “Who are you?”
“Colonel Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist.”
“I know that. I also know you're a lazy bastard, you spend almost as much time chasing skirts as you do listening to reports from your spies, you're right-handed, and you can't throw a straight kick to save your life.”
“Sounds like you know me pretty well.” The Flame Alchemist was paradoxically a master of the cool put-off.
“As the arrogant pain in the ass who lured a twelve-year-old into joining the military and then used him as a lightning rod for four straight years, yeah.” Ed's glare softened a bit, into that combination of resentment and overwhelming curiosity that only Ed could muster. “But I just met your mother, and now I wonder--she's Xingese—how'd she end up here?”
“And why should I let you invade her privacy and mine?”
“How about because if you don't start talking I'll kick some of your teeth down your throat?”
“You can do better than a simple threat of violence, FullMetal.”
Ed frowned. “I could turn every file in your office into confetti.”
“And risk Hawkeye's wrath? You're a braver man than me. Suicidally stupid, but brave.”
The frown became a low growl. “Dammit, I trust you, okay? I've trusted you since you walked into Granny Pinako's. How about you trust me a little?”
Mustang didn't answer immediately, but a hint of respect lifted his eyebrows a fraction. “Better. A few more decades and you might be competent to haggle with a farmer at a fruit stand.”
“Quit changing the subject, Mustang.”
“Quit demanding friendship with your fists, Elric.”
Ed's eyes widened a little, and he let go, taking a step back. He watched Colonel Mustang straighten his jacket and tug his sleeves back into place. Ed's eyes traveled from one neatly-pressed cuff up the blue-clad arm and across the so-familiar starred shoulder tab to the bulwark of the starched jacket collar, with its gates of matching silver collar tabs. Above that wall of military formality rode a face that also hid any number of secrets. Its narrow black brows and thin-lipped mouth barred entry to the mind behind those well-trained dark eyes.
Ed took another step back. “I thought I knew you pretty well, but I just realized I don't know anything more than the girls in the typing pool. Less—they at least probably know how you take your coffee.” He turned and stalked off.
A longer stride caught up with Ed half a block later. “Two sugar, no cream.”
“That's how I take my coffee. The cream at Headquarters is almost always sour.”
“I've noticed.” Ed paused for a moment, then shrugged and walked on. “You'd think that if the military could move an army across the country without losing a single bullet, it could at least get fresh cream for the coffee.”
“Bullets don't go sour after two days. Not that I would care to find one in my coffee.”
“Beats some of the things Al leaves lying around sometimes. I swear, I'm gonna get him a refrigerator just for his specimens for his birthday.”
“I'm sure he'd be delighted to receive it.”
“How about you?”
“When's your birthday?”
Mustang didn't answer immediately. He slid his gaze toward Edward for a few steps.
“Hey, if it's too personal a question, I'll just ask Hawkeye or Havoc or something,” Ed said in disgust. “Shit, excuse me for thinking you were actually gonna trust me with something more than a mission briefing.”
“My personnel file lists my birthday as May 18, 1885,” Mustang said quietly. “But that's not entirely accurate. All I know is that it was the spring of that year.”
“You don't know what day you were born? What, didn't your mom ever tell you?”
“She doesn't know either.” Mustang's lips tightened a fraction.
Ed's brows drew together. “Were you born in prison or something?”
Mustang let out a short bark of laughter. “No.”
“You could just tell me instead of playing stupid guessing games.”
The colonel took a few more strides to answer. “My mother was the daughter of a northern Xingese merchant family. She's never told me what her family name was.” He let his eyes flick to a young couple pushing a baby carriage down the opposite sidewalk, and waited until they were out of earshot before continuing. “Her parents had arranged a marriage for her—her wedding was planned for the winter of the year she turned sixteen. She had met the boy she was supposed to marry, and liked him.” Mustang went on in an unemotional tone, as if delivering a report. “Unfortunately for her, Utar raiders attacked the town and carried her off when she was fifteen. The man who took her was twice her age, and already married. He kept her as a concubine, and I was the result. In Utar society, a child born to a non-Utar mother is the 'son of a wild horse'.” Mustang turned his head enough to look Ed straight in the eyes. “So you see, FullMetal, when you call me a bastard, you're only literally translating my name.”
Mustang left Ed at a crossroads in more than one sense. He'd paused at the foot of the wide boulevard that led up into his neighborhood, and offered to keep Ed company the rest of the way home.
“No, thanks. I need to think for a while.”
“I'll be in touch.” And Colonel Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist, had strode off up the hill, leaving his mother's fate in Ed's hands.
Ed could have caught a bus the rest of the way home. He could have detoured back toward the commercial district and hailed a taxi. Instead, he put his hands in his pockets and walked, brooding.
“I told her I'd protect both of them,” he muttered, watching his boots move forward in a determined, unyielding rhythm. “Whatever it takes.” Step, step, step. “But I'm not dragging Al into it this time. I'm gonna have to do it myself.” Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. “Dammit, why me? I haven't done more than warm up dinner in years!” He scowled, oblivious to the stares of the passersby—some of whom quickly crossed the street to avoid the compact blonde man who had taken his hands from his pockets and was pounding one fist into the opposite palm as he talked to no one.
Ed growled in frustration and kicked a can lying on the sidewalk. It bounced and rattled along the concrete, making a satisfyingly loud and irritating racket. “I'm gonna have to tell Al. He's not gonna be happy. But he's not going down with me. I won't let him.” He picked up his head and set his jaw. “That's my price. Colonel Bastard is going to keep Al from doing anything stupid.”
Ed turned a corner and started working his way uphill. “Al will understand. If I don’t help her, I’ll be sentencing the woman to death. Al knows I can't let that happen.” He kicked the can with his left leg, watched the can tumble through the air and land ten feet in front of him. “It's gonna really suck. I'll have to quit my real job. And find a tutor.” Ed gave the can one last hard kick, and sent it skittering across the street to the opposite curb. “Damn you, Mustang—you just had to fuck up my life again, didn't you? Bastard.” He narrowly avoided an elderly lady who was eyeing him curiously as he continued to talk to himself.
“But Mustang’s a good alchemist even if he is one hell of a bastard…” Ed hesitated, “No, I can’t call him that anymore. Cause he really is one. And it's not like I mean it like that or anything.” Ed’s voice was raised now to a normal talking level and more people stared as he continued walking.
“I need a new nickname for a jerk-off commanding officer.” Ed scratched his head in thought, ignoring the blatant stares and murmurs he received. “'Jerk-off’ isn’t enough. Nor is 'asshole'.” Ed flailed in frustration, attracting more attention, as he realized he couldn’t really think of anything else to call Mustang, “Are you kidding me? Do I really have to just call him by name?!” Ed’s face was flushed as he noticed how just about everyone on the street had stopped to stare at the young male screaming at himself. “Er…sorry…” Ed mumbled. He shoved his hands back in his pockets and hurried home, looking neither left nor right.
Ishbalan Murderer Strikes Again, read the headline. Al scanned through the story, and carefully circled it with a red marker. He folded the newsprint so the red ink stood out, then reached for the next paper.
The moment Ed had left the house that morning, Al had hurried through caring for his animals, then ransacked the house for the papers that arrived on the doorstep every morning and only rarely got thrown out. Not that either brother actually read the paper, but Al hadn't been able to resist the pleading look of the paper boy who'd come selling subscriptions, and the newsprint made decent bedding for wounded animals. It had taken until almost lunch time to find every paper in the house, and the better part of the afternoon to winnow out the sections he wanted from the sports, gossip, and advertising pages.
Alchemist Killer Strikes Again. Al circled the story, then made a neat note of the date on the map he'd sketched. The Amestrian countryside was crisscrossed with penciled lines and notes in red marker.
Al crouched in the center of a circle thirty feet wide and complicated enough to strain the control of a battalion of alchemists. Ed stood just outside the circle, screaming at Al to move, to get out of the way, but Al just stayed there with his metal palms pressed against the brightly-glowing lines. He could hear the terror in his brother's voice, but there was no stopping now. He lifted his head and met the blood-red eyes of the man who would have destroyed them both, and for an instant, he saw compassion wavering just beneath the impassive mask of the Scar of Ishbal. Ed screamed, and Al looked down to see the metal of his hands start to dissolve into the blue-white fire of the array.
‘Scar’ Spotted in Lior. Al made some more notes on his map.
“You were dreaming about the night you brought me back, weren't you?”
“It was only a nightmare, Al.” Ed hugged him, and stroked his hair out of his eyes. “I'm fine. Go back to sleep.”
“I wish you'd just tell me, Edward. It's horrible when you wake up screaming and I don't even know what you saw.”
“Don't worry about it. Just rest, Al.”
Scar Thwarted in New Optain Attack, Probably Heading South.
Even had Al wanted to stop the transmutation, he wouldn’t have. Ed—Ed had designed the array, he could feel it in the lines, in the way the power surged into the array, then flowed in a barely-controlled torrent into the runes. Ed hadn’t meant him to initiate this transmutation. He'd meant to do it himself. To sacrifice himself so Al could be whole. Al couldn’t look directly at the circle, so he didn’t know what it was doing to him exactly. But Ed was still screaming as Al continued to dissolve. The last thing Al saw before the memory ended in a wash of white-hot light was Scar’s arm. Its tattoos glowed the same bright red as molten iron, and they cast an eerie light up onto the hard planes of the killer who had chosen to help two people his God had condemned.
Search Expands for Wounded Ishbalan Murderer-- “Probably Dead” Says Head of Rescue Effort.
Scar Spotted Moving East
Al drew some more lines on his map, then sat back and followed the patterns with his eyes. “I know where you're going,” he said softly.
To be continued...