He wasn't an alchemist and they couldn't have him as an alchemist. But Ed could still carry a gun. He smothered Winry and the children in kisses, furious at the blood-drenched path the government continued to walk, crushing the draft notice in his fist as he vowed to return safe- he had come back alive from so much more, hadn't he? He had even more to live for, didn't he? When did he ever break his promises? (Okay, okay- when did he ever break any of the promises that really mattered?)
It was good that Al was in Xing. It was best for now that he didn't return.
Maybe when Mustang finally reached the top. Maybe when that 520 cenz finally went back to the man Ed had borrowed it from. What was wrong with this country? What was wrong with this world?
Men marched and trained. Clouds amassed on the Drachman border. Where Brigadier General Mustang went, his loyal team followed.
"Have you heard anything? Is Armstrong going to be taking to the field?" Fuery fidgeted.
"Armstrong? Well, you know that the general is- Oh, you mean Alex Armstong." Comprehension dawned on Breda, "No, he's still back in Central. ...Didn't you have some kind of alchemist buddy? That blue-eyed guy?"
"Vincent?" Fuery's solemn face fell a bit further, "No, he's not..."
"What about the lady back east who used to put on that inventor's fair thing?" Havoc scratched his scalp, hopefully diverting the conversation away from a negative direction. "Is she still around?"
"Scar got her, Jean," Breda recalled, "And Educing, White Heat, Gale, Silver, Iron Blood... It's quite a list."
"So that's where half the State Alchemists went," Havoc let out a little sigh. He wasn't surprised that, considering their fate, other potentially state-certifiable alchemists had shied away from seeking the title. For all that they seemed to possess by way of intellect and power, there seemed to be a significant number of downsides to life as a State Alchemist.
"Vincent," Fuery let out a little choking sob, hands rising out of his lap to cover his face.
"Geez, Breda," Havoc grumbled half-heartedly, "You're full of smarts, but you can't remember the poor guy didn't make it out like Fuery did."
"Sorry. I'm really sorry. I think all this stress is starting to get to me. Even eating doesn't seem as satisfying these days."
The best that could be possibly said was at least they were facing these dark days together.
"Tell him I'm calling in that favor," General Olivier Mira Armstrong instructed Colonel Miles over the telephone, her voice as harsh as the cold mountain wind. "Yes, he won't like it, but it doesn't matter whether or not he likes it. He owes me. If he says he's forgotten about that, you and I both know he's lying. He's not the kind of man who would forget.
It was uncomfortable to watch. Sitting in the office with Olivier, Roy felt each stinging blow of her voice as if it were a scolding directed at him. He supposed it had happened enough in the past for the possibly to merit some consideration. Miles was lucky there were so many miles between him and the general. ...It was strange to sit in on just one side of a conversation. The men and women of his office had to be used to this, but it was a more unfamiliar experience for Roy himself. Still, it was interesting to be able to observe Olivier without being directly under the interrogation spotlight-like intensity of her attention.
"What?" As unlikely as it seemed, something Miles had said convinced the most powerful woman in Amestris to laugh, "A personal call? Don't get your hopes up like that, Miles.
"I trust you'll take care of it. Yes, I know. Mind yourself."
The general slammed down the receiver in disgust. She was used to getting what she wanted, one way or another. The man once known as Scar, however, proved incredibly evasive. As Colonel Miles told it, he might as well have vanished into thin air like dew in the face of the desert sun.
Olivier didn't buy these stories for one second, but as she was too preoccupied to head down to Ishval herself and remind the two men of everything they owed her, she would have to leave her outrage over the matter simmering on a backburner until the Drachman forces had been routed. ...If only that foolish alchemist who'd skulked about her fortress before the last sizable sortie with Drachma prior to the war had managed to draw a few thousand more of them into his crest of blood. He could have unknowingly done her a favor.
"You're not the only one who couldn't get their hands on him," Brigadier General Mustang remarked. There was a hint of amusement in his eyes despite the stern set of his jaw.
"You have enough things you don't deserve as it is," the general growled back, eyeing Captain Hawkeye out in the hall through the small window in her door. "And why would Scar have any reason to respond to a summons from you?"
"You'd be surprised," Roy spread his hands wide and a smile unfolded along with them, "There are a lot of things you don't know about me."
"What? That you still sleep with your security blanket? Both of us will have to concede that we just don't have the alchemist we want. Not in terms of numbers or skill."
The matter of whether or not Roy would proceed to the front was not discussed at this juncture. He wouldn't have come this far just to direct from behind the scenes. He had a reputation for looking out for his men; a reputation for being hands-on. Perhaps the Hero of Ishval could also shine as a hero of Drachma. Supposedly, the rumors went, his skills had expanded in recent years to include abilities he had never wielded during the past war. The snow would melt at his advance. There were hopes the enemy troops would wilt as well.
"I can't," Daniel said aloud. Internally, he said it over and over again and again.
He lay down on his stomach and covered his face with his arms. No one above him seemed to understand the fearful agony inside. They didn't see the shaking he felt when he marched or saluted or held his gun (why didn't they see it?). There was nothing he could think of about war that did not leave him reeling, sick and anxious, so why didn't it show on his face? His colleagues never remarked upon it as more than an expression of serious focus ("The rest of you yahoos should follow his example.") or vague discomfort ("Eat something bad, alchemist?"). He had never been able to put his heart into any of the training. He did everything just passably. Except the alchemy. He could discount his breeding, but he had been taught too well.
He had tried to explain to his direct superior that he had a serious problem. After a painful twenty minutes, the level, if not the nature, of his distress, had been successfully communicated. Perhaps inevitably, it wasn't anything Colonel Fellwalker was equipped to handle, and he arranged for a meeting for Daniel with the next man up the chain of command...who had no tolerance for all this "nonsense." Who had his own superiors pressing down on him from above to make sure a largely untried army was ready to face the Drachman forces. Who couldn't afford to lose one of the precious few alchemists he possessed. Who looked over Daniel's complete personnel file, "Don't think so much. It's only pre-battle jitters. You'll take to it," and said something the young man had never heard in all his life: "Oh, Kimblee, if only you were more like your father."
Daniel quivered with shock and wonder. There would be no arguing with a man who said that.
The quality that would have served him best in these moments eluded him. His father, they all said, had been an excellent talker- effusive, charming, eloquent (and deceptive. He was an excellent liar too). So why had he been born withdrawn and inarticulate? His words were sharper on paper than they ever were tripping off his tongue (not to say he was any genius there either). He couldn't exactly bypass Lieutenant General Bruce and write a note about his troubles to General Armstrong or the Führer, could he? ...Even assuming either of them would even care.
There was a war to win and the men and women of Briggs couldn't do it on their own. ...But how long had it been since Amestris has last instituted a draft? And what did it say about the nation now? Without proper state certification as an alchemist he had been forced into this terrifying position through the simple fact of the draft. Where he had once been surrounded by wonderful people, brimming with independence and optimism, who buoyed him up with their support, now Daniel felt empty, pessimistic, alone. He had to have born into the wrong time.
When he arrived at the border, he was going to crack into a million pieces. And if his worst fears proved true, he was going to leave that battlefield smiling several steps closer to being the man the lieutenant general wanted him to be.
Daniel raised his head just the smallest bit and peeked around the room. There was his service pistol.