Pairing(s): Past Roy/Ed; Al/Winry
Rating: Hard R
Warnings: Past major character death, future!fic, Ed's rather extensive and occasionally offensive vocabulary.
Word Count: ~37,000 total
The heat of the tent is stifling. Occasionally a breeze will move the flap that cuts them off from the rest of the camp but it's like an oven. No cots for them, blankets spread out over the sand instead, despite Edward's protests about grit in his automail.
That's the furthest thing from his mind right now, palms on strong thighs, legs spread wide, back arched to the ground. They have to be quiet, no matter how noisy he wants to be they're in the middle of base camp. Roy had been smart, stuffed a rolled-up sleeve in his mouth for him to bite down on to stifle his groans.
Roy looked tired, fresh lines around his eyes, shadowed with lack of sleep and fatigue. Still, worn and dirty like this, Edward is smitten, feels like he could be burned alive by those smoldering dark eyes watching his every move like he would never see him again.
Bent over him, sweat dripping off his nose, a groan in his voice as he cupped Edward's face and turned it up to him. "I love you so much-"
* * *
Edward was woken unceremoniously by Alphonse kicking him sharply. "If you're going to make noises like that, brother, you can go sleep on the couch," Alphonse said groggily from the other side of the bed.
* * *
Fletcher woke the second time at the blue flicker of transmutation. He hadn't been able to free his hands, or find anything workable for drawing a transmutation circle in order to get himself free, so after several hours of rifling through things by touch alone he had given up, exhaustion overwhelming him. He had fallen asleep leaning against the wall, legs crossed in front of him.
The blue light of an alchemist's transmutation against the darkness was enough to rouse him from a light doze. The sudden muted burst of light confused him - why would someone use alchemy to work the lock, instead of using a key like everyone else? There were a lot of things here that didn't make sense, though, and Fletcher was starting to just go with it.
The door clicked open and bright light spilled in. He winced, eyes far too accustomed to the dim light of the storage closet, and the door clicked shut behind the figure before he could focus on them. Fletcher blinked away stars and waited, but the quick shot to the head that he figured would end this never came.
"I am sorry you got dragged into this," Ioana voice was soft in the darkness. "I did not expect you to overhear so much."
Her accent was lighter now, not so pronounced. Fletcher scoffed verbally. "Didn't expect me to get involved, huh?" he said. "I can't believe you're a terrorist, Ioana. I thought you came to this country to get away from this sort of shit!"
"You have no idea," she murmured quietly. "We need to get you out of here."
That was not the response he was expecting. "What?"
"Before they come back, Jakob and that accursed general," she said, stooping in front of him. Now that his eyes were adjusting back to the dim light, Fletcher could see that Ioana was dressed to move quickly and unobtrusively. She put a hand on his shoulder tentatively, but Fletcher didn't flinch, and allowed her to push him a bit aside so she could work at his bonds. A small knife slid from her sleeve and she used that to saw through the rope.
"Which general?" Fletcher thought to ask while she worked.
Ioana's eyes seemed to reflect the wan light like a cat's. She gave him an interested look. "It doesn't matter," she murmured. "You just need to get out of here, my dear Fletcher. Go back to your girlfriend and keep your head down."
"They know who I am," Fletcher said. "It won't be hard to find me. I have to know who is behind this, Ioana." The rope fell from his wrists and Fletcher brought them forward, rubbed them tenderly. "I have to be able to protect myself."
She smiled at him, a sad smile but a knowing one. "Men," she said. "Always wanting to be the big strong protectors. Did you ever stop to think that maybe we're trying to protect you?"
Fletcher gave her an odd look and she shook her head quickly. "Never mind. I promise I'll take care of this, this won't follow you back to Aquaroya."
"I can't just run away from this, whatever it is," Fletcher argued right back. "There are other people in danger here, what are they planning to do?"
Still crouched in front of him, she pulled a hand gun from the waistband of her pants and pressed it into his hands. "I promise," she murmured quietly. "I'll protect you, you just need to get out of here."
There was the sharp click of boots on tile outside the room and they both froze, but the foot steps did not slow and passed the door with no hesitation. they were still undiscovered. Ioana's attention was on the door and Fletcher captured her wrist. "Tell me what is going on," he hissed. "Why are you helping me?"
"Because you weren't supposed to get involved, why is that so hard for you stupid men to understand?" Ioana shoved his shoulder angrily, eyes flashing. "This was all supposed to go off with no hitch and you show up and throw everything all to hell, you understand how much you and your godforsaken brother have screwed things up for me?" Fletcher blinked and stared at her in surprise, but Ioana got to her feet. "I will get you out of here," she said. "We have to go now, though."
"Come on," she looked back at him, still seated on the floor against the wall, gun in one hand. Fletcher stood reluctantly, warily ... then presented the gun back to her. "I don't use guns," Fletcher said slowly. "I don't trust them. You have any chalk?"
She looked at him a long moment, then smiled, tucking the gun back into the waistband of her pants and fishing in a pocket, before handing Fletcher a broken piece of chalk. "A true alchemist," she said appreciatively. "Let's go."
* * *
It was somewhere in that hazy time where late transitioned into early, before the sun started to rise, but after the birds had started to sing that the phone rang. Edward had his face buried in the space between pillow and mattress, and he snarled ineffectively at the ringing of the phone from the bed.
Then, to his not-awake surprise, the mattress shifted and Alphonse rolled over, reaching blearily over Edward to fish the phone off the nightstand and answer it. "Elric."
Edward glowered up at Alphonse as his younger brother looked down at him in surprise, then held the phone out. "It's for you."
"I would hope so," Edward said blearily, taking the phone from Alphonse, who had a strange expression on his face. "'lo?"
"I don't even want to know why your brother is answering your bedroom phone at four in the morning," Russell said, sounding far too awake on the other end of the line.
"How do you know my phone's- wait, I don't even want to know," Edward said. "This better be damn fucking good, or I'm going to wring your tiny neck."
Alphonse, who was sitting up on the edge of the bed, gave Edward a look with one eyebrow raised, Edward made a face at Alphonse and rolled over so he couldn't see him.
"Well, I hope it's good enough for you, boss," Russell said. "The Drachmians are planning on taking the interviews hostage today."
Edward sat up. "And you're planning on stopping this, how?"
"I've got it under control," Russell said calmly. "I'm more worried about what will actually go down on the personnel front. There's only seven Drachmian candidates, and only four of them interview today. They've got to be planning something else, there's no way that they could think four passable alchemists and some firearms would be enough to take the entire building hostage. Especially knowing YOU would be there-"
Edward actually puffed up a little at that, it was rare that Russell would acknowledge Edward's superior skills even if the proof was right in front of them. He heard Russell snort on the other end of the line. "Don't get a big head, I’m mocking their Intelligence more than anything else."
"Yeah, yeah." Edward threw a pillow at Alphonse because Alphonse was staring at them intently. "As much as I hate to defer to you, this is your ballgame, Tringham. How do you want to proceed?"
He raised a finger at Alphonse and said, "if you even think it I'm going to transmute you into the bathtub and YOU can explain to your wife why you won't make it back in time for the birth of your child."
"We want them alive, brother," Alphonse said. "Make sure Russell knows that."
Edward held the receiver out toward his brother. "Do you want to talk to him?"
Alphonse shook his head. "I don't have clearance in this mission, this is all Central Command's doing."
"No, it's not," Edward said. "This is me an' Russell and about three other people. Central Intel has no idea what we're up to."
"We hope," Russell said on the other end of the line.
"Oh, I should have thought to ask, you did secure this line, right?" Edward asked Russell.
"I swept it for bugs when I got here," Alphonse said.
"You should be fine," Russell murmured.
"Wait, what do you mean, we "hope" Central Intel has no idea what we're up to?" Edward said sharply. "Sedition is a big word for "spending the rest of your natural life in a hole somewhere."
Alphonse snorted and Russell sighed. "Now you're just being paranoid."
"I'm being careful. I worked hard to get this far, I don't want to get my ass handed to me by YOUR faulty intel."
"I'll let you know if I find out that there's more to it," Russell promised. "As much as I want you to take a long walk off a short pier, you're useful to me in the position you're in."
"I dread the day you no longer find me useful," Edward said sardonically. "Oh wait. That'll be the day I let Hawkeye use you for target practice."
Russell hung up the phone on him, and Edward blew out a breath. He glanced over at Alphonse, who was giving him a considering look. "What?"
"You two fight like an old-"
"Fuck off and die, Al."
* * *
They got dressed quickly - there was no going back to sleep now, especially when Edward realized the origin of Alphonse's strange looks. "You thought I was Winry," Edward yelled from the bathroom as Alphonse shuffled around the kitchen looking for various food items that didn't look like an experiment in higher life forms.
"You have a science experiment for an icebox," Alphonse yelled back. "Do you have anything in here its natural color?"
"Fuck off," Edward said for the third time in fifteen minutes as he walked into the kitchen. "If the phone didn't wake you was I going to get groped as a good morning? Because, Al, you're my baby brother and all but I would have had to kill you."
Alphonse held up a plate with cheese on it. "Brother, this has FUR."
They glared at each other for a long moment. Edward waved a hand at the fridge. "Just, dunno, transmute off the ick."
Alphonse looked completely horrified. "I know you have a stomach of cast iron, brother-"
Edward crossed his arms and glared defiantly at Alphonse. Alphonse sighed and dumped the cheese into the waste bin, plate and all. "It's no wonder you're having a hard time finding someone to date you," Alphonse muttered darkly. Edward ignored him and started some coffee.
"I don't eat here much," he said simply, rinsing out some old stained coffee mugs in the sink. "I usually eat at the office, or there's some kind of officer's dinner or the like. No real need to keep food in the icebox when it just goes bad."
Alphonse looked over at Edward a touch guilty. They both knew that for the most part Alphonse came home to a cooked meal, unless Winry was too busy with her own work or caring for Thomas. Edward ignored Alphonse's guilty look. "Okay, so you're here," he said, leaning back against the counter as the coffee thought about brewing. "What am I going to do with you? Everything's so complicated to begin with."
"I don't like this idea of you going into a situation that's going to include hostages," Alphonse said.
"Someone has to act as bait," Edward pointed out.
"And what about all the innocent State Alchemist candidates? What about Sheska, and the generals, and the other military personnel who are involved in this against their will?" Alphonse shut the door to the icebox. "I don't know if I like the person you're becoming, brother."
"If there's another way, I'd be glad to hear it," Edward said sharply.
"Move the interview."
"Can't," Edward said. "Not this late, no one would ever approve it."
"Not even if there's terrorists plotting to blow it UP? I thought acting-Fuhrer Dalton was supposed to be present. That's assassination, conspiracy, treason-"
"Okay, so I go raise the alarm. The Drachmians drop off the face of the earth, everyone freaks out about the security breach, it disrupts everything for weeks and I look like a fucking idiot. Yeah, that totally sounds like the plan I'd like to go with." Edward looked to the side, watched the coffee drip. "You think I WANT to put innocent people in danger over all of this?"
"You're going to."
"I've done worse." Edward said softly. "So have you."
Alphonse grew quiet. "Brother, that's not-"
Edward sighed and Alphonse trailed off. The silence in the kitchen grew awkward as the coffee pot hissed and burbled cheerfully. "If we don't nip this in the bud soon, I'll be doing worse than putting innocent people in danger," Edward said. "I'll be sending them off to die in the north when Drachma attacks us for real." Alphonse met Edward's eyes, and nodded his head once.
"We'll stop this," he said. "We will, brother."
"I know," Edward said. "I plan on it."
* * *
It was still slightly chilly out as the sky lightened along its edges. Rian sat on the roof of the military dorm and watched the sun come up, hands tucked into his jacket and nose buried into his scarf. He had run back to the dorm to sleep, but after staring at the ceiling for way, way too long he finally wandered upstairs and out to the roof, surprising two soldiers who were smoking.
They left soon after, and Rian sat himself on the cold concrete and just thought. That was all he was doing lately, so much so he felt like he would drown in these thoughts. What was he DOING?
Thoughts of his parents, dimmed by the passage of time. His father's bushy brown hair and kind eyes, his mother's quiet demeanor and firm but loving hand. His older sister sitting in front of a mirror and brushing her long straight hair, counting each stroke in two languages.
Then there was choking fire and hatred stirring in his belly. He'd never forgotten that mocking laugh, those pinched eyes, the click of that gun. But over top of that-
The shouting at the large dinner table in the small kitchen of the Hargrove's home. People shoving for spots on the bench because there were always children over. The six kids that belonged to the Hargroves - seven, if you counted Rian - fighting over the chores, filing off to school. The open laughter of his adopted mother, the stern tones of Mr. Hargrove - Rian could never think of the man as anything but that - as he discussed the news and the military with other members of the town.
Rian rested his forehead on his hands, knees hugged to his chest. He had been so SURE, he thought - but clearly that wasn't the case, maybe, just maybe this wasn't the right path for him.
But if that was the case, what was he doing here? About to enter the military that he hated, that he loathed beyond all reasoning for some misguided sense of revenge. How could he live with himself wearing the Amestrian military blue?
It was tearing him apart. Maybe he should just skip out of the examinations, hit the next train and ride it until he was far away from all of this, Howard nothing but a nightmarish memory put behind him. It was an option, Rian had put away some cenz just in case - but that was running away. He had to face Howard, he had to face this murdering monster on his own terms or else he'd never escape him.
And that meant the interview, today. That meant not throwing up on his shoes like he wanted to, standing in front of those officers and professing that he was in fact smart enough, fast enough, clever enough to be deserving of a State Alchemist's title. And if Howard was there, like he was supposed to be -
Rian would face him. And if he had to, to get out from under this, to finally gain his peace, he would kill him. And run. It would be harder than the suicide mission, surely, but....
There was this backup plan he had half-formulated and sat on, mostly because he never thought he'd lose his nerve like this. The backup plan that had him acing the State Alchemist examinations and making it into the military, and working his way straight to Howard's side, so he could slide a well-timed knife between his ribs.
That was still a possibility. A much harder, much riskier possibility, but it was still there.
And he could do it.
The wind was starting to pick up, when Rian actually looked up, the sky was rosy along the horizon, edges of clouds painted red like spilled blood. Rian hoped it wasn't an ill omen.
* * *
Fletcher didn't recognize this place. He recognized the type of place, certainly - it was definitely a military facility of some kind, there was no mistaking the uniformly painted walls and the plain tile floors - but he had no clue where they were, or even if they were still in Central City. He had been unconscious for a very long time, that was plenty of opportunity to throw him in a car or on a train and shuffle him off somewhere a few hours away.
They didn't encounter anyone in the halls, despite Ioana yanking him back several times, and once through a door, hesitating in silence, waiting for news of his escape to echo down the halls. No alarm was raised, and it was mostly silent.
Ioana stole down the hallway expertly, gliding in almost silence. By comparison Fletcher felt large and ungainly, certain that every footfall could be heard throughout the entire establishment. As he watched Ioana move, he had to wonder whose side she was actually on. Sure, she was helping him escape ... but why?
He was paying close attention to their route, cataloging the way they came, memorizing the turns and corridors in case they had to beat a hasty retreat. Whatever building they were in, it was quite large and they were definitely underground. No windows, no natural light, all washed-out fluorescence.
Ioana halted suddenly. "We're close," she said softly, nodding to a single door at the end of the hallway. "I apologize, I have not been entirely honest with you, but we must disarm the explosives before we can leave."
He heard the words, but they only made a bit of sense. "Disarm the - there are EXPLOSIVES here!?"
She shot him a dirty look over her shoulder. "Are you trying to get us caught?" she snarled, grabbing him by the sleeve and yanking him back against the wall. Fletcher stared at her as she flattened next to him and they waited in odd, tense silence to see if any attention was attracted by Fletcher's shout. After nearly a full minute, Fletcher remembered to breathe again and Ioana stepped away from the wall.
"You didn't say anything about explosives," Fletcher accused. "What is going ON?"
"What does it sound like?" Ioana returned. "A terrorist cell that is planning to assassinate your acting-Fuhrer to open the floodgates of civil unrest in your country, so as to start what appears to be a very profitable war."
"Who would profit over a war between our countries?"
"You really are very naive, aren't you?" Ioana said, giving him a measuring look. "The military isn't for you, I don't know why your brother involved you in all this."
"That's the second time you've mentioned Russell," Fletcher said, for the first time regretting surrendering the gun back to her. "How is he involved in all of this?"
"I would think that's readily apparent," Ioana said. "And now is not the time to discuss this." She withdrew the gun from the holster at her side and kept in in her hands as she looked up and down the corridor. "You're an alchemist, same as I am. Help me do this and your country will regard you as a hero-"
"Idiot," Fletcher said quietly. "I don't need to be a hero to want to save people's lives. Let's get this done and get out of here - I have answers I need to beat out of my brother if you're not going to give them to me."
They both were startled when the door at the end of the corridor swung outward, the door frame filled with the towering profile of the man who had clobbered Fletcher earlier. "Maks!" Ioana said.
And then Maks stepped aside as a man in military blues stepped out into the hallway. "Good of you to join us, Ioana," he said smoothly. Then he looked to Fletcher. "And you, you're Tringham's brother. So he's the last piece of this puzzle."
"Who the hell are you?" Fletcher said, grip tight on his piece of chalk, wondering if he could get the transmutation circle sketched quickly enough to be of use.
The man - a general, Fletcher recognized the rank insignia he wore - had half-turned, ignoring them and the fact that Ioana had a gun trained on him. "Find Major Tringham," he was shouting back at someone they couldn't see. "Bring him here." He glanced back at Fletcher and Ioana. "Put the gun down, Ioana."
"Like hell," she said, getting a good bead on him. "Sorry Fletcher."
The doors on either side of Fletcher and Ioana slammed open, and Fletcher turned, but not fast enough, tackled to the ground. He heard Ioana's gun go off and then she hit the ground too. Fletcher struggled, twisting under the tight grip but whoever got him kept his face pressed to the floor.
Then the click of the safety coming off a hand gun. "No," he heard the general say. "Not yet. They might be useful leverage if things don't go as planned."
"They're trouble, boss," Maks said. "We can't afford to keep a guard on them."
"That's fine," the person in charge of all this - a general, now Fletcher understood what Ioana meant about him being naive - "I thought of that."
Base was deserted, but that was no surprise. It was a Saturday, most of the officers didn't work the weekends. Just the PFCs on guard duty and the random soldier getting some last-minute work done before deadlines on Monday. Edward was in uniform, after all he had work to do today, but Alphonse was in his civvies, strolling along beside him. No one ever gave Alphonse a second glance, even those who didn't know him - he just had that effect on people. He was outgoing, personable ... and always looked like he was supposed to be there. It was one of the reasons he was such an asset in Intelligence, no one ever seemed to doubt him.
To Edward's surprise, though, there was someone hard at work in the office when he opened the door. Sheska looked up in surprise, seated at Hawkeye's desk, a mountain of papers accumulated around her. "Good morning," Edward said, as Sheska, startled, managed to knock over a precarious pile with her elbow.
Alphonse moved fast, trying to catch some of the avalanche but it was in vain. Papers spilled everywhere, although he saved a decent amount from the floor. "Oh my gosh, oh my-" Sheska started flailing, trying to rescue papers before another tower started sluicing toward the floor.
Edward reinforced one stack as Alphonse crouched on the floor, straightening the pile as he gathered the loose pages quickly. Sheska sat with her hands on her lap, staring down at the desk, as scarlet as Edward had ever seen her.
The paper avalanche was dealt with quickly. "What on earth," Edward asked as Alphonse dropped a much-neater pile of papers on the desk, "are you doing here ALREADY, Sheska?"
Sheska, still bright red, didn't seem to want to meet Edward's gaze. "Since Captain Hawkeye is visiting family she left me in charge of the rest of the paperwork for the interviews," she said, still staring at the desk in front of her. "I was trying to get everyone's folders ready for you before they started today."
Edward glanced at the pile of papers in disbelief. "All - all of THIS?"
"No!" Sheska said. "I mean, no sir. I mean, some of it is, but some is other- that is, other projects because I was streamlining the processes and time got away from me and I-"
Alphonse started chuckling and Edward gave his brother a nasty look. "Uh, don't worry about the other processes right now, okay Sheska? I just need the basic files for the interviews-" one of the stacks of papers rustled ominously. "Or, forget that. I just want a list of their names, okay?"
"I think I can handle that," Sheska said, the flush fading from her cheeks as she smiled brightly.
"Good. I'll be in my office," Edward said.
Alphonse was still chuckling as he clicked the door closed behind them. Edward gave his brother a particularly evil look as he hiked up and sat on the edge of his desk, arms crossed over his chest. "Told you," Alphonse said, dropping onto one of the couches and hooking his arms over the back. He leaned back and sighed. "Must be nice, having your own office."
Edward snorted, and almost immediately a knock came at the door. "That was fast," Edward said, as the door opened without him giving the go-ahead. Russell Tringham shut the door behind him, looking tired, and older than Edward expected.
Alphonse sat up. Russell looked between them, and Edward raised an eyebrow. With an exaggerated sigh, Russell saluted and let it drop. "One of these days," Edward said, "You're going to be insubordinate in front of the wrong people, and not only will you get YOUR ass kicked for it, but I'll get my ass handed to me on a platter for not being able to keep my own soldiers in line."
"I'm not one of your soldiers," Russell said, and the weariness was in his voice.
"Point still stands."
"Are you all right, Russell?" Alphonse stood up, obviously concerned. "Have you even slept?"
Russell waved him off, rubbed his face down with one hand. "I can sleep when this is over," he said. "More important things right now."
Edward slid off the desk and stood, leaning back against it instead. "Have you found Fletcher?"
"Yeah," Russell said. "The Drachmians have him. I don't know why." He looked to Alphonse. "Why are you even here? This wasn't your op."
"I'm part of it now," Alphonse said. "Under the table, of course." He glanced to Edward, and back to Russell. "This is your rodeo?"
"More or less." Russell was still giving Alphonse an uncertain look. "You're going to try to take this one from me, give it to East Intel?"
"Nope," Alphonse said. "Central Command seems to frown on my brother and I working together on anything." The brothers exchanged a sharp grin, when they put their heads together on something the higher echelon of the military shuddered. "Where do you need me?"
Russell exhaled, and actually smiled. "Good, I was running short of trustworthy people on this one. Given we have, what, three?"
Alphonse indicated the door. "Sheska in on it?"
"Not yet," Edward said.
Alphonse sat back down, and Russell collapsed across from him. Russell seemed to just sink back into the cushions of the couch - not one of the most comfortable pieces of furniture in the office, both Edward and Alphonse had slept on those couches before, but it seemed enough to make Russell look even more exhausted than he clearly was.
The three men looked at each other for a long moment, then a knock came at the door. Edward sighed. "Come in, Sheska."
Sheska opened the door, a clipboard in hand. "I've got you the list of names," she said. "I can - I mean, it will take me a little while longer but I can still put together their folders."
"This'll have to do, thanks," Edward said with a smile. "I don't have much time to go over the folders anyway." Sheska stood next to him, unsure of what to do with her hands now that she had given him the clipboard. "Uh, Sheska?"
"Oh. Oh! Right, sorry." She grinned at him and exited the room, latching the door behind her. Alphonse and Russell both watched her go, then turned to look at Edward, who was looking at the clipboard and rubbing his forehead with the other hand.
"If either of you say it, I'll have you shot," he said without looking up. "I'll have you both shot. I'll let them use you as target practice for the practical examinations." He finally looked up from the clipboard to matching, ear to ear, slightly demonic grins. "Seriously, stop it."
"When do the interviews start for today?" Alphonse asked as Edward flipped the paper on the clipboard up, skimming the second page.
"Eleven a.m.," Russell said. He had produced a small map of the area, mostly of the building and the streets around it. "It's definitely working to their advantage that we move the actual interviews out of the main command building."
"It was a safety measure," Edward said, still going over his papers but listening in. "Didn't have to worry about granting clearance to potential spies and having them get loose in the base proper."
"Yes, but it makes it even more an excellent target for terrorists," Russell said. "Being in the same building as the labs that the State Alchemists use is nearly as bad."
"While it could be pretty bad, it's not nearly the same level as someone getting loose where they could set off a bomb or blow stuff up near the senior officers’ main offices," Alphonse said. "Brother's got a point, it is far safer there than here."
"Anyway," Russell said. "I've got your lady sniper positioned here," he pointed to a building two streets away. "She's got a clear view of the entrance and some of the foyer. If they manage to take the building she's got several windows to the area where the interviews are happening."
"Havoc, you and me," Russell said, "Will be covering the other entrances." He tapped the map. "Not a single one of those terrorists are going to get away."
Alphonse nodded. "I want the terrorists alive."
"I know." Russell sat back, arms crossed. "All orders are shoot to wound unless it cannot be avoided."
"Good." Alphonse looked to Edward. "That leaves the brunt of the work on you, brother."
Edward shrugged, setting the clipboard aside. "Shouldn't be much of a problem."
"They'll have hostages, and we only have a small window before news of this gets out and the army turns out in full force," Russell said.
"So someone should act as a go-between and divert the army," Edward said. "We can handle this."
"I'd rather not divert any of our very limited resources," Russell said. Edward tapped his metal fingers on the desk beside him, and Russell raised an eyebrow.
"Something's been bothering me," Edward said. "Why, of all the years this circus is run, did Fletcher opt to sit for the State Alchemist exams THIS year?"
Russell shrugged. "I needed someone on the inside to feed me information," he said. "I didn't realize he'd stumble into the hornet's nest right off the bat."
Alphonse looked at Russell coldly. "You set your brother up," he said.
"Think what you'd like of me," Russell retorted back. "But I get the job done."
"I'm beginning to understand my brother's dislike of working with you," Alphonse said, sitting back on the couch.
Edward shook his head. "I'd say I can't believe you'd pull that, but I've known you for too long."
"So are we going to clue in Sheska?" Alphonse asked Edward, and this time Edward snorted. "No, huh?"
"Not unless you want to give the game away to the candidates as they walk through the door," he said. "Not that she doesn't try, but she's been really - off, these last few days."
"It would help if she wasn't overly infatuated with you all of a sudden," Russell said. "What dumbass sent her here when she's like this?"
"This dumbass," Alphonse growled.
"Oh," Russell said.
"He sent her here to keep an eye on me," Edward said. "Because he's my idiot little brother and he does stuff like that."
"I wouldn't have to if you weren't such a stubborn jackass," Alphonse retorted.
Russell sat back in the couch. "You two keep arguing," he said, propping his feet up on the coffee table between them. "I'm just going to catch a few winks while you do that."
Edward rolled his eyes as he and Alphonse exchanged looks. "Hawkeye and Havoc are in position?"
"Yup, boss," Russell said, eyes already closed, and then yawned. "Seriously, need this cat-nap."
"In my office, nevertheless," Edward said, but Russell was already out. He stood up, clipboard tucked under his arm. "I've got a meeting with Colonel Neuhaus and General Knowles to go over the requests so far for the practical examinations next week. I trust you can keep yourself occupied for an hour or so?"
Alphonse laughed. "You sound so responsible when you say things like that, brother."
Edward stuck his tongue out at Alphonse as he left. "Responsibility is overrated."
* * *
Alphonse sat at Edward's desk thoughtfully. He had used the phone first, ignoring Russell's snores to check in on his family. Winry was with a customer - of course she was, she would not stop seeing her customers until physically unable to, she was just that dedicated to her work - but was doing fine. He hung up with her, feeling that ache of loneliness at the unexpected separation, however brief. Especially with their next child on the way.
They still hadn't considered a name yet. Alphonse sat back in the chair and swiveled a little, looking out the windows behind the desk thoughtfully. Edward had a nice office - small but cozy, the afternoon sunlight hit it right on and he had a decent view of the parade grounds. It felt comfortable, familiar, a little like home.
Edward was doing a whole lot better than Alphonse had expected. It had been a few months since he'd last seen his brother, on an inspection tour with several generals, escorting the acting-Fuhrer as he traveled to East City and some of the outlying commands. It was a world of difference from before. After Roy had first died it seemed like Edward was determined to waste away into nothing, aimless, not emerging from the bedroom made up for him in the Rockbell house for days at a time. It was not uncommon for Alphonse to retrieve Edward's dishes only to find he hadn't touched his food.
That had to have been the worst time. Winry would cry herself sick over Edward with worry, beating sheet metal paper-thin with a mallet just to keep herself occupied. With Alphonse restored to flesh and Roy gone, there seemed to be nothing in this world that interested Edward in the slightest.
And then, the day before the funeral, Jean Havoc had shown up at their door in Resembool. He was exhausted, and he looked older than Alphonse remembered. All Havoc wanted was to speak to Edward.
Alphonse still wasn't sure what was in the exchange they had shared behind closed doors. He had sat in the dining room with Winry, silent, as they heard Edward's shouting voice through the floor, and Havoc's tone raised in anger. Then Havoc had emerged and left with a cursory farewell and no indication of the purpose of his visit.
An hour later, Edward had emerged from his room, dry-eyed and tired. Winry fed him with an almost manic glee, berating him between servings, although Alphonse wasn't sure that Edward heard any of it. His eyes were dark, almost dull. He was considering something.
Still on crutches, in his military uniform he stood as straight as he could beside Alphonse at the funeral. Dry-eyed, but his face was alive for the first time since he came back from the front in a wheelchair, he told Hawkeye and Alphonse of his plans as he stood between them. He asked for their support. When Alphonse had half-turned, he could see Havoc behind them, a grim smile on his face, then Alphonse knew.
Edward was single-minded in his goal. Those first few years he worked tirelessly, relentlessly. He slept at the office. He didn't mingle. He rarely talked to anyone. He came first to Resembool, and then when Alphonse and Winry moved to East City, there as well only for automail maintenance. Alphonse only heard from Edward when he initiated contact.
But as time passed, and Edward grew: grew used to his role in the military, used to the people, and glimmers of his old self started to show through. It was a relief. For almost a year Alphonse heard more from Havoc than his own brother, but now ... things weren't normal. There was no such thing as "normal" in the Elric's world. But they were better. Edward had visited of his own volition when Thomas was born. He'd sat for them - with protests, of course - when they went on a week's vacation to the west. (Alphonse would never forget Edward's indignant diatribe at the train station as he thrust his infant nephew back into Winry's arm. "He bit me! AND PEED ON ME!")
Edward would be the one to fix this military, Alphonse knew that. And he would stand by his brother and support him in any way that he could.
Although there didn't seem to really be any way to fix that damn idiot's suicidal nature. Alphonse sighed, amused. Maybe, if he could find someone to help heal that wound on his heart Edward wouldn't rush head-first into trouble like always.
He swiveled the chair back to facing the desk and knew why the cozy office seemed so familiar. Some things Edward would just never be able to let go.
Crosspost: FF.N ||| AO3