Ed was so damn tired. Somebody was making him wake up, and he didn’t want to. His head hurt, and he just wanted to sleep.
“Come on, you stupid brat,” a voice was saying. “I need you awake for this. If you ever want to walk again, wake up.”
Ed opened his eyes. He didn’t recognize the man who was yanking his head all around. “Th’fuck are you?” he croaked out.
“He’s a healer, Edward,” Mustang’s voice said, and then he moved to where Ed could see him. “This is Doctor Knox, Master of Inmai.”
“Can’t- can’t see healers,” Ed said, frowning. He felt weird. “Can’t let them see...”
“Knox can be trusted. We need you to cooperate.” Mustang’s face was really fucking serious, too.
Ed tried to sit up. He wanted to sit up, except- nothing moved but his head, a little. “What- th’fuck-” With a rush of memory, he remembered. Kimbley. And Al. And fuck, Hawkeye. “Hawkeye? Sh’okay? Al- he din’t... I saw him... Fuck....”
“Hawkeye is fine,” Mustang told him. “She’s resting. Kimbley hurt her badly, but she’s fine now. Your brother was able to put her to sleep so she didn’t have to suffer through it, and then Knox healed her.”
“That was the damnedest thing,” Knox commented. “Never seen a hedge mage with the juice to directly affect the human body like that. There are plenty of sorcerers who can’t even do it- you two idiots included. That kid’d make a hell of a healer if he were demon-bound.”
“Alphonse is downstairs, Edward.” Mustang told him, evenly. “The sun set about an hour ago. Knox is going to try to heal your wound now.”
“I’m going to need his clothes off,” Knox said. “You mind?”
Mustang lifted his hands, and Ed suddenly realized what he was going to do. “No!” he protested. “Don’ you- fuck!” It didn’t matter. With a smirk, Mustang ashed Ed’s clothes. “Hate you,” Ed grumbled.
Knox whistled, looking down at Ed’s naked body. “No wonder you never let the healers treat you,” he said, taking in Ed’s scars. “You wouldn’t believe the theories that go around in the healer’s wing about why you won’t skin down for them.”
“Fuck you, too,” Ed managed.
“You’d have to be able to move for that,” Knox pointed out. He waved his hands, and a wind blew the ash from Ed’s body. He didn’t feel it, and that was terrifying. There should have been cold, and the breeze against his skin, but there was nothing. When Knox laid his hands on Ed’s chest, he should have been able to feel the warmth and roughness of those knobby fingers. There was nothing.
Knox slid his fingers over Ed’s chest. “Burns,” he said. “I can take care of those. God help me, I’ve had enough experience.”
“What about his spine?” Mustang asked, frowning.
“I’ll get to it,” Knox said. “Kinder to heal the other things first, though. Unless you like watching the kid in pain?”
Mustang waved a hand. “Carry on.”
“Ribs,” Knox said. He slid his fingers across Ed’s chest, probing at senseless flesh. “You’ve broken those more than once, and let them all heal naturally. You’re an idiot.”
“Couldn’t let anyone see me,” Ed snarled. Obvious werewolf bites, combined with his eyes... any healer would’ve known what he was. Would have known what Al was, more importantly.
“And it never occurred to you to learn how to do it yourself?” Knox asked. “What, do you like being in pain?”
Ed flushed. “M’not good at that kind of shit.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s no skin off my nose.” Knox worked for awhile in silence. Ed could feel the working of the healing magic, but that was about it. He felt himself drifting in and out.
Knox spoke up again. “And I can’t do anything about those old bites, of course,” he said. “Werewolves and magic.” He looked up at Mustang. “Help me flip him,” he said. “I need to get at that wound.”
And then fucking Mustang was picking him up, and there was shit all Ed could do about it. “Nnnnng,” he moaned, humiliated.
“Yeah, I’m not happy about it either,” Mustang muttered.
“Fuck you,” Ed said, miserably.
“At least you won’t feel it if I drop you,” Mustang answered, with a smirk.
“Drop my patient, and I’ll let Inmai at you,” Knox threatened. “You wouldn’t believe the imagination that thing has.”
Ed was manhandled onto his stomach. He tried to twist his head around, but he was having a hard time moving his head at all. “Damn it!” he swore.
“Be glad that you have access to healers,” Knox told him. “And stop trying to move.” He paused, and Ed felt his fingers here and there on his neck. The way that the sensation disappeared as Knox moved his fingers lower was disturbing. “This is probably going to hurt,” Knox told him.
It did. Fuck. It was like his body was on fire, like everything was being touched at once and his brain couldn’t even process it, like pins and needles everywhere, like being stabbed. Like dying. Ed gritted his teeth, groaning through it. He’d lived through worse, he lied to himself.
And then it was over, and there was no pain, and he could move. No pain felt like the best idea anyone had ever had. Knox half-lifted him to sitting. He sat there, panting and trembling, for a long moment. “Fuck,” he groaned. “Thanks.”
“Oh, the brat has manners,” Knox said. “You’re welcome. Now do me a favor and take it easy for a week or so. That whole area is going to be kind of delicate; you don’t want to sever it again because you were jostling it around.” Ed nodded, and Knox thumped him in the forehead. “And don’t do that,” he added. “Not for at least a day.”
Ed leaned back against the back of the couch they’d put him on. He swallowed. “Where’s Kimbley?” he asked, his voice sounding thin and thready in his own ears. “Did Al- I remember-” he trailed off, his eyes closing. He wasn’t going to cry if Kimbley was dead, but he didn’t like the idea of Al killing anyone, either.
“The other room,” Mustang said, his voice low. “Still unconscious from where Al knocked him out. Now, Elric. What the hell happened here?”
Ed cracked an eye at him. “Pants first,” he said.
Kimbley smiled. “Hello, Flame,” he said. “It’s been forever since we spent time together. Did you miss it?”
“You used to hang out with this psycho, Mustang?” Somehow, Elric was managing to summon up the energy necessary to be an annoying little ass, despite looking like death.
“We were stationed together in Ishval,” Kimbley said, his eyes fixed on Roy. “It was such a wonderful time in our lives. At least until you were sent to Daliha, and I went off to Kanda.”
“We serve at the command of our Master,” Roy spat.
“Well, I do, at least,” Kimbley said, smiling. “I don’t think he’s going to be pleased to find that one of his favorite pets is conspiring against him.”
“Is that what’s happening here?” Roy asked, disingenuously. He needed to find out what Kimbley knew.
“Little Brother is a werewolf,” Kimbley said. “You knew. When our Master finds out, he’s going to have him put down, and you besides.”
Elric lost it. There was an edge to his voice, and he looked a little green. He was probably thinking about the murders he’d witnessed earlier in the night. He’d refused to tell Roy much about them, but Roy was well familiar with Red Lotus’s methods. “Don’t talk about him, you sick son-of-a-bitch!” Elric shouted.
Kimbley just laughed.
“Control yourself, Elric,” Roy said. The younger man glared at him, but subsided. He knew that screaming at Kimbley wasn’t going to get them anywhere.
Kimbley grinned. “And that doesn’t even account for today. Refusing orders, Elric? Attacking another Guardian? The Emperor’s going to let the other Guardians eat you.” He cocked his head at Roy. “He’ll probably make you help.”
“Shut up, you psycho,” Elric snarled.
Roy looked at Kimbley, calculating. “No one saw you fighting him,” he said. “The only people who know about what happened down there are the rebels, and they won’t talk.”
Kimbley looked up at Roy, his blue eyes twinkling. “Oh, yes,” he said. “You’re going to kill me. This will be fascinating to watch.”
“We’re not going to kill him,” Elric snapped.
Roy crossed his arms. “We don’t have the luxury of mercy, here, Elric. You made your decision down there. Killing him is our best chance of survival. If we can come up with a cover for his death, then maybe we can pretend this never happened.”
Anguish flashed across Elric’s face, and morphed into anger. Stupid kid, Roy thought sadly. Everything he’d been through, and Elric still had hope that the world could be a decent place.
“He’s helpless,” Elric said, gesturing. It was true- Roy had taken a page out of Kimbley’s book and had Knox put a block at the top of Kimbley’s spine. The Red Lotus Guardian was paralyzed, propped up in a chair, the wound on his side still sluggishly bleeding. “If we kill him, how is that not murder, asshole?” He was so earnest. Maybe he felt that he had to justify his decision not to kill the rebels? If it was wrong to kill then, it was always wrong to kill?
Roy looked at the younger man. “I don’t know what you think I am, Elric, but I’ve taken lives before. I have plenty of blood on my hands.”
“This is different!” Elric insisted. “Fuck, I know you’ve killed before. Daliha, right? I’ve heard the stories about what you did there. The Guardian of Flame, Master of Xaphan, Daliha’s Murderer. But fuck, Mustang, that was orders. Have you ever killed anyone just because you wanted to, and not because he said to?” He flopped into a chair, his arms crossed. “It’s different. It’ll be different. You can’t do it.”
Roy set his mouth. He was about to speak when there was another voice in the room. “He’s right, sir,” Hawkeye said, behind him. She sounded tired. “I would prefer not to keep my promise today.”
Suddenly, Kimbley began to laugh. “Oh, you’re all wonderful,” he said. “This is thrilling. What’s going to happen next? Oh, perhaps you’ll take me downstairs and let Little Brother finish eating me? I don’t seem to be dying from werewolf bite at the moment, but surely he’d finish me off if you put me in with him now.”
Elric jerked up out of his chair. “Don’t you dare even-” he started.
“No,” she said, giving Elric a stern look. Elric subsided, his hands shaking.
“We have to run,” Elric said. “There’s no other way. If we keep running, maybe the Emperor won’t be able to find us. We can leave this jackass here. It’ll be a while till anyone finds him, and the rest of us can get away.”
“The Emperor will never stop looking,” Kimbley said, his grin vicious. “He’ll never give up until he has your hearts on a platter. He wants your secret, little Elric. He’ll know it or he’ll kill you.”
Elric turned to look at Kimbley, and then, suddenly, started to laugh. “What, you haven’t figured it out?” he said. “Damn, Kimbley, I didn’t think you were stupid.”
Roy frowned. “Don’t encourage him,” he said. “When were you supposed to report in?” he asked.
Elric shrugged. “When we were done. We might be able to stretch it out until dawn, but we’ll have to carry Al. I can move us through the earth, anyway.”
Roy pursed his lips. He’d worked for a decade to move quietly against the Emperor, to get close enough to the tyrant to bring him down. Now it was all going to be over, and just because Elric couldn’t bring himself to get his hands dirty.
And yet, Roy thought, he had never wanted to see Edward become a killer.
He passed close to Hawkeye on the way out of the room. She moved just slightly into his personal space. “Lieutenant,” he said. “I’m sorry about how this has turned out.”
She nodded, her brown eyes inscrutable.
“Are we packing?” Elric said, getting to his feet. “We have to take Knox with us. We can’t leave him here after Kimbley saw him.”
Roy sighed. “We’ll see what we can do.”
Ed felt like he wanted to throw up. He felt like an idiot. He’d fucked everything up so badly. He wasn’t even sure why he was so adamant that Kimbley not be killed except, fuck, he could still see people’s heads blowing up behind his eyes, and that was enough blood for one day. And Mustang- he couldn’t let Mustang execute an unarmed cripple. The guy had enough blood on his hands, and he didn’t need more. And Ed couldn’t kill Kimbley himself, and dammit, fuck, what was the point if they were just going to go around murdering like the Emperor?
Why had he done this? Why had he thought he could wear the damned mask? Shit. He was an idiot. He’d done some shitty things in his life, many of them in the service of his fucking Master, but apparently, he couldn’t do this.
Fuck, he thought. I’m going to die for this. I’m so fucking sorry, Al. I’ve just gotten you killed.
He followed Mustang out of the room, Kimbley’s eyes burning holes in his back.
“You’re just like Little Brother,” Kimbley said, suddenly, just before Ed was gone. “Master of None. That’s the answer that the Emperor sent me to find out. How can you be a werewolf and a sorcerer?” he asked.
“I’m not a werewolf,” Ed said, tired. “It’s the full moon, and I’m still human.”
“Human-shaped,” Kimbley said. “And yellow-eyed. But there’s something else behind those eyes, isn’t there?”
“Fuck you,” Ed said, and left.
Kimbley looked up at her, his lips curved into a cruel smile. “Hello, Lieutenant,” he said. “Thank you for speaking up on my behalf.”
Hawkeye looked him in the eye. “I don’t think that Guardian Mustang would feel particularly guilty for killing you,” she said. “But I would rather not let him get in the habit of killing people who get in his way.”
Kimbley laughed. “He was right, though,” he said, grinning. “I will destroy you if you let me live.”
Hawkeye had nothing to say to that. She drew her pistol and fired in one smooth motion. The bullet impacted right between Kimbley’s eyes, smashed through his brain, and left a messy exit wound on the back of his head. Blood splattered against the far wall. Hawkeye considered, and then fired again, putting the second bullet through the dead man’s heart.
Roy and Edward came running back into the room. “What do you think you’re doing?” Edward cried angrily. “What the fuck?”
Hawkeye turned to him, carefully snapping her pistol into her holster. “I’m a killer, too, Edward,” she said. “And this isn’t the first time that I’ve killed to protect someone I care about.”
“I didn’t ask you to-” Edward started, his teeth bared.
“We can use this,” Roy said, with relief.
Good, Hawkeye thought. He wasn’t giving up. She wouldn’t let him give up.
The aftermath of Kimbley’s death- of Hawkeye offing Kimbley like she was an avenging angel and no one had the right to say a word about it- was completely fucked up. The worst part was that Ed was glad that psycho was dead, because somewhere in the back of his eyes, he just kept seeing a man with half a face, twitching and bleeding.
The fucking moon was up, and Ed felt like he wanted to scream.
And then Mustang was talking to him, plotting out how they were going to get out of this; how they were going to convince the Emperor that they were still his good little dogs.
“You don’t have a choice,” Mustang pointed out. “You knew that when you signed up. This is our chance, Elric.”
“Go to hell,” Ed said, and he was suddenly afraid that he might lose it. Fuck Mustang for pushing him there, and fuck this whole situation. “I can’t go back. Even if he buys the story-” He stopped, trying to figure out how to explain; trying to keep his voice from breaking. When he spoke again, it came out a snarl. “He’ll ask me to do it again, and I can’t.”
Mustang looked him in the eye, and the wolf in Ed bridled at the threat. “The leader of our country is a monster,” Mustang said, simply. “I don’t want to make you a killer, Elric. But I need you in the mask. If we’re ever going to bring him down, I need allies. I have few enough.” He paused. “You’re no good to anyone dead, Elric,” he said, softly. “You won’t save anyone.”
“Fuck you,” Ed protested. But Mustang had a point, and Ed knew it. He couldn’t save the people that Kimbley had murdered. But he might be able to bear it, if he thought he could help build a country where that kind of thing didn’t happen anymore.
Ed dropped Kimbley’s body, pierced with a dozen steel spikes, at the feet of the Emperor.
“He went insane,” he said, summoning all the disgust he could manage. That was genuine, at least. Ed was thoroughly disgusted with this entire situation. “He attacked me, and let the rebels run free. He kept talking about my ‘secret’. I was forced to destroy him.” He paused. “Deepest apologies, Master,” he added, as an afterthought.
And this was it. Either the Emperor was going to buy this, or he was going to have the other Guardians execute him for a traitor. The Emperor looked down at him, his single eye hard and unreadable. The silence dragged on. Behind his new mask, Ed did his best to keep his face still and his body language unafraid.
“How unfortunate,” the Emperor said, finally. “Red Lotus was inspired. Still, I suppose he wasn’t entirely stable. Have him disposed of, and see that you clean up the rest of the rebel cell.”
“Yes, Master,” Ed said, biting back the sinking feeling in his stomach. He’d find another way. There had to be another way.
He could feel the Emperor’s gaze on him as he left the throne room. You will be watched, it said.
“Brother,” Al said, relieved. It was less than an hour until sunset- and the last night of the transformation- and it was good that Ed was back.
“Yeah,” Ed said. “I’m back. Everything’s okay, alright, Al? One more night here, and then we’re going to Resembool for a bit. The bastard promised. We could use a vacation.”
Al frowned. He could smell blood on Ed. Kimbley’s blood. “What happened, Brother?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, Al,” Ed said. Ed’s eyes looked... Yes, Al thought. They needed to go to Resembool. Ed needed Winry and Granny. He needed to be around people who knew that he was Ed, and not the Steel Guardian.
Al gritted his teeth, feeling the moon pull at him.
Hawkeye stood at the top of the stairs, watching Alphonse, chained, transform into a beast. Ed knelt in front of him, as if he couldn’t bear not to watch. Alphonse screamed and writhed and twisted. Finally, he lay, panting and growling, the transformation complete.
There, inside the radius of Edward’s prickling magic, Riza could hear both brothers begin to howl.