“I’m sorry, Ed, it’s just too dangerous. I can’t allow you to sacrifice yourse—”
“You’re being a fool, Breda!”
Ed fists his hands under the ends of the long white coat covering the Amestrian blue of his uniform. Even after all these years Jean still finds it strange not to see him in the old familiar red and black, but those days are long gone. The only thing that differentiates him from the rest of the soldiers besides his trademark insubordination is his long blond ponytail tied at the nape of his neck, though right now even it’s hidden under the winter overcoats they’re all wearing.
“You need to watch your tongue, Major. The Lieutenant General—”
“Isn’t worried about procedure right now.” Breda reaches out a hand to stop the soldier from advancing on Ed. “But thank you, Miles.”
Breda turns his attention back to Ed and it’s times like this Jean hardly recognizes him anymore, and it’s not because of all the weight he lost or his insane rise in rank. It’s the look in his eyes that shows he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, and unlike Mustang, he can’t hide it nearly as well.
“As I was saying, Ed, it’s too dangerous. One man against half the Drachman army—”
“I told you already! We only have to let a quarter of them pass through—”
“It’s still insane!”
“Actually, Breda, it’s only insane if he does it alone.” Both heads whip around to face him as he pulls a cigarette from behind his ear. They watch with surprising patience as he lights it and takes a drag before adding, “Leave me half a battalion of volunteers. That will leave you more than enough to make a safe retreat and Ed and I might just have a shot at ending this thing for good.”
Ed shoots him a look of annoyance mixed with gratitude. Jean knows he was ready to sacrifice himself all alone, but that’s not happening. They made a deal a long time ago and he’s not letting him back out of it now. Jean glances to Breda and he can tell he doesn’t like the plan one bit, but he’s thinking and that alone is a point in their favor.
“I don’t like this, Havoc. Even with half a battalion you’ll still be out numbered four to one.” Breda goes quiet and Jean can all but see the wheels turning in his head. He knows it’s a calculated risk, but it’s the best odds on ending this and Jean’s pretty sure he’ll come to that conclusion too given enough time.
“We’ve faced worse odds before.”
“Exactly!” Ed snaps and crosses his arms. “What other option do we have after that idiot Grumman let General Armstrong’s entire force get ambushed without sending back up?”
Ed gives Miles a pointed look which causes the other soldier to look away, effectively removing his objection. Jean smirks at the move because it’s one Mustang would’ve used, turning Miles’ emotion against him for Ed’s own benefit. Sometimes it’s crazy how much Ed learned from the General probably without even realizing it. But he’s right. If they let Drachma fully invade Amestrian territory now with as depleted as they are, retreat won’t matter in the end.
Jean looks over to Breda again and the haggard look he’s wearing tells him his decision before he even says it. He shakes his head because things shouldn’t be this way. Breda never asked for this position. But after being the one to figure out the assassination attempt on the head Ishvalan holy man was actually a Drachman ploy to divert attention from the border, his rise in rank was inevitable. If only he’d been able to figure it out before they lost Mustang and Riza to the assassin’s bomb….
“Alright. But we’ll only give the assignment to volunteers.”
Breda’s voice pulls Jean from his thoughts and he turns his attention back to the issue at hand. Getting lost in memories now won’t help any of them. He looks over to the man he can hardly recognize anymore as the friend he used to pull pranks with and listens to him lay out the plan. It’s a good one. It has a chance of working, but it’s one Mustang never would’ve approved. That’s one advantage Breda has over the Chief. He’s smarter and when he absolutely has to he’ll make the choice Mustang never would.
“I volunteer to lead the battalion to back up Ed as long as you and Miles get out of here first.” Jean gives Breda a long look and Breda nods his acceptance reluctantly.
“I agree.” Breda looks between Ed and Jean and shakes his head. “But I’m telling you right now, beyond blowing that pass your utmost priority is to survive.”
“Right, right,” Ed mocks, rolling his eyes which brings a slight smirk to Jean’s lips. “But when we don’t—”
“If you don’t,” Breda interrupts.
“Fiiiiiine, if we don’t, I want your word….”
Jean knows exactly what he’s asking and he’d consider asking the same thing if he didn’t already know it wasn’t necessary. He runs his eyes over Ed and feels that same kinship through sorrow that’s bound them for years. Damn him for even thinking he’d let him do this without him.
“Yes, Ed. You have my word. If you finally end up getting yourself killed, I’ll have you officially named the honored Former Alchemist Martyr of Amestris,” Breda pauses for a moment while Ed rolls his eyes again. “Then I’ll make sure and take care of the rest.”
Ed gives him a single nod, salutes then turns for the door without so much as a dismissal. He doesn’t need one. There’s really not much else to say.
“You didn’t have to be so hard on Breda.”
Ed looks over at Havoc lighting up on his side of the tent and rolls his eyes. “It’s ‘Lieutenant General’ remember?” He snorts before continuing, “He’s going to have a hard time being Fuhrer if he gets his feelings hurt by the likes of me.”
“I think it was less about hurt feelings and more about not wanting to lose any more friends.”
Ed shrugs at his words and continues checking over the remote mechanism for the explosive he’ll be setting up under the cover of the moon tonight. It’s amazing how much you can learn about explosives when you’re sleeping with the Flame Alchemist, or were. Ed pauses for a moment to let the inevitable emotions he feels every time he thinks about the bastard pass. He takes a deep breath and blows it out slow. You’d think after all this time a few simple memories wouldn’t continue to fuck him up like this.
“Yeah, well, it’s not like we’re out here trying to off ourselves.” Ed checks over the mechanism once more then starts cataloging everything else he’ll need though he knows it’s already ready. Stupid Mustang. The idiot had already convinced him to reenlist before he got himself killed, but he didn’t tell him he’d lose his rank. It’s a good thing he showed such a knack for explosives or he’d probably just be someone’s meaningless pawn somewhere else.
“Are you sure?”
Ed whips his head around to look at Havoc smoking on his cot with a blanket wrapped around him. These tents don’t do much for insulating against the northern snow. If he does survive he’ll be happy never to see snow again. He wrinkles his nose at the smell of smoke he’s long since become used to. “Yeah I’m sure if you don’t end up blowing us up with those things. This stuff is flammable, you know.”
Havoc snorts but snuffs out the cigarette all the same. He knows exactly how volatile the compounds Ed works with are because they’ve been assigned together for the last few years. He’s pretty sure Breda had a hand in that considering Havoc’s reported directly to him since he reenlisted. He hasn’t ever said it outright, but he’s been more grateful than he could ever express. There’s no one else in the world that can understand him as well as the chain smoking Colonel.
“You know,” Ed says as he packs away his materials in the white pack he’ll be taking tonight. “You didn’t have to volunteer for this.” He keeps his eyes locked on his task as he meticulously coils the wires exactly the way he wants them. “Breda could’ve found someone else.”
“Don’t give me that crap, Ed. You know as well as I do there’s nowhere else I’d be.”
Ed lifts his head to look over at him and he nods once. He does know it’s true. He also knows there was a time when they were both ready to jump into the line of enemy fire just to end the ache deep inside them. Many people knew Havoc wanted to marry Hawkeye. They were quite the item, in their own secretive way back in Ishval. What only a select few know is that she’d already accepted his proposal and would marry him as soon as she helped Roy become the Fuhrer. With the way things were going it was looking like he was getting pretty close too….
“Careful, Ed. You might not want to squeeze those components quite so tight.”
Ed looks down to see he’s almost crushed one of the delicate mechanisms for the remote detonator he and Fuery worked out about a year ago. Ed knew all about how to make bigger and better and even more pinpoint explosions. It was the mechanics he had to learn and Fuery was a surprisingly good teacher. He knows he still can’t do half of what Roy could do with the snap of a finger, but considering alchemy isn’t what it once was in Amestris even if he could still do it, he’s become the next best thing. He’s still not completely sure what that Father bastard did to the country but with each year that goes by alchemy becomes harder and harder to use. It’s probably the reason Drachma finally got enough balls to mount a full on invasion. At least Al and Mei are still safe in Xing.
“Thanks, I just…got a little distracted.” He fiddles with packing the rest of his gear then lies back on the cot to wait for the sun to set. Breda’s men are already preparing to break camp at dusk, so before long there won’t be many of them left here. Hopefully by dawn the majority of this mess will all be over and Breda will be on his way to doing what his idealistic bastard set out to do.
“You know he’d be proud of you, don’t you?” Ed hears Havoc lighting another cigarette before he smells it and he doesn’t want to do this. He crosses his arms and rolls to face the tent wall.
“No, he wouldn’t. He’d be pissed that he’s dead and not leading the charge himself.” They’ve had this discussion before and he has no interest in rehashing it. He knows Havoc thinks that when this is all over he’ll be with Hawkeye in some grand hereafter. But that’s ridiculous. There’s no proof that there’s anything more. Even Roy knew that. No, all there is left for him is to die and have Breda keep his promise to mix his ashes with his bastard’s and send them to Al in Xing. That’s all he has to live for and whenever it happens it happens. At least his dust will be with Roy’s where it belongs.
“Ok, you’re probably right about that. But he wouldn’t be disappointed in you. That I can say for sure.” Havoc blows out a long stream of smoke and Ed doesn’t answer him for a long while. He probably wouldn’t answer anyone else, but it’s the surety in Havoc’s voice that finally has him rolling to his other side to look at him.
“You can’t know that. No one can.” And that’s not why he’s remained in the military all these years. He did it because he chose to, because without his alchemy there was nothing else. It has nothing to do with the fact it was Roy’s grand mission to make this stupid country less of an atrocity than it already is.
“I disagree.” Havoc puffs on his smoke and Ed watches as a perfect smoke ring forms and rises to the top of the tent. “I served with the Chief for a long time and after I was…intimately involved with his top adviser.” Ed hears his voice waver in a way no one else would likely notice, but he knows Havoc and he knows exactly why.
“And what? She told you that if we were ever in a frozen wasteland ready to run off and be heroes that he’d be proud of me?” Ed snorts and rolls to his back to watch the smoke of Havoc’s cigarette which he’s found to have a surprisingly calming effect.
“No, not exactly. But she did tell me he was glad to have you and her both at his side—”
“Bullshit!” Ed sits up suddenly and glares at Havoc. He doesn’t need this now. He doesn’t need lies to make him feel better. “There’s no way he compared me to Hawkeye. No way. He didn’t even think I’d make it through the Academy training to reenlist. You have no idea how hard he was on me.” Ed shakes his head bitterly because he did want to make him proud and even though he knows it’s too late he hasn’t been able to make himself stop trying.
“Ed,” Havoc says calmly as he crushes out his latest cigarette. “Who do you think he wanted to take Riza’s place when we…got married?” His voice cracks over the word “married” and Ed knows this tone. He knows he’s telling the truth, or at least he thinks he does. But he has to be wrong.
“No. No way. He would have told me. He would have said he needed me to—”
“He wanted to let you become your own soldier first, Ed.” Havoc’s eyes lock with his and Ed feels his throat tighten because that sounds exactly like something his bastard would do. “He wanted you to find your own path before taking up his.” Havoc nods to his pile of explosive supplies then shrugs. “And you have. That’s why I know he wouldn’t be disappointed.”
Ed looks away, not because he doesn’t believe him but because Havoc doesn’t need to see the wetness shimmering in his eyes. Havoc has his own pain to bear that he wears in the form of that damn necklace around his neck. He doesn’t need to deal with Ed's pain too. Ed closes his eyes and sighs softly. He knows why Havoc never told him this before, not before he became a Major again because that was his goal. To prove he deserved that rank and now that he has it again….
“Thank you,” he says and swallows hard before continuing. “For telling me that.”
“Anytime, Boss. Anytime.”
Ed smiles at those words and closes his eyes. How long has it been since Havoc called him that? It almost makes him feel like he’s an alchemist again or at least had someone to come home to. He’ll get a little rest before his mission. He knows Havoc will be here to wake him when it’s time.
“Colonel Havoc. Major Elric’s men have returned. They said it should be time soon.”
“Good. Thank you, Lieutenant.” He looks over the well bundled soldier and nods. “Alert the rest of the men. Tell them to prepare for company.”
“Yes, sir,” he salutes then wraps his arms around himself and bends forward to make his way across the ice mountain through the biting wind.
Jean watches him go then squints into the distance. He saw the men arrive and he knows that means Ed should be back soon. They were to be sent ahead once they saw movement from the Drachman troops. To ensure the explosion and pass collapse takes out the top military leaders, including the King of Drachma, they’d need to let a full quarter of the troops through the pass. The Drachmans always have their leaders in the middle of their processions and the scouts told the same story. If Ed waits until the right time they’ll take out half the army. Then they’ll only have to deal with the ones who have already made it through. It’s risky, but it’s the best chance Amestris has.
He shakes his head and pulls his coat tighter around him. They shouldn’t be down to so few men for this mission, but unfortunately ice warfare was not part of the Fuhrer’s strong points. Jean and Ed have been convinced for years the old cross dressing fool is senile, but it never mattered too much until his gross incompetence cost them General Armstrong and the entire Brigg’s garrison. She warned against sending them too far north in the dead of winter, but Grumman was convinced they could crush the Drachmans before the storms came by chasing them back into their own territory. Unfortunately an out of season avalanche and three unaccounted for Drachman battalions took out the best forces Amestris had to offer.
It turned out they took the three battalions with them, but the damage was already done. Those that weren’t lost to the enemy were lost to the elements when full on winter storms hit in unfamiliar terrain. They couldn’t even find them to bring more supplies. Jean grits his teeth against the bitter wind and shakes his head. There’s a certain amount of justice those bastards will die in a tomb of rock and ice just like Falman did.
The sun’s just beginning to rise and the glare off the snow is blinding. The Drachmans normally move troops in the early morning which is why Ed went during the night. Hopefully this will work, because if it doesn’t this battle will probably be continuing in Central Command and who knows the damage that would be done along the way.
Jean stomps his feet to try and warm them then reaches up for the pendant made from two silver earrings that’s always around his neck. He wraps his hand tight around it then speaks softly into the wind. “Look over us, sweetheart. Otherwise, Ed and I might be meeting you and the General sooner than we thought, and I’m not quite sure Breda’s ready for that.” He smiles because he knows Ed doesn’t believe in such things but he has no choice. He can’t bear the thought of never seeing her again. His smile turns to a smirk as he adds softly, “And if we do meet you today, make sure Ed’s ‘bastard’ is ready and waiting to prove him wrong.”
He gives the pendant an extra squeeze then shields his eyes against the sleet that’s beginning to fall. He thinks he’s spots movement in the distance but before he’s sure a low rumble sounds over the entire area. It sounds like rolling thunder, but he knows better. He’s heard it before. “Brace yourselves!” he calls into the wind but he has no chance to see if anyone heard before the whole mountain feels like it’s shaking.
Ice cracks under his feet and he can hear screams carrying from over the next ridge. The movement he thought he saw turns into a white bundled form with a blond ponytail whipping in the wind. He runs toward him, barely able to keep his footing in the shifting snow. They need to take cover but first he has to know if it worked. Ed’s panting when he reaches him and he shouts over the wind that’s picked up even more. “Did you get ‘em?”
The broad grin and glinting eyes tell him the whole story before he even speaks. “They didn’t know what hit ‘em!” Ed’s eyes darken as he reaches under his coat for his rifle. “That fucker won’t be taking anyone else from us! He’s buried with his generals under a ton of rock and ice.”
Jean nods and blows out a sigh of relief. They’re still far from safe as he can already hear the firing of weapons down below. But at least they cut the fucking head off the snake. “Good,” he says with a bitterness that just got a little more tolerable. It won’t bring them back, but at least they’ve finally avenged them. He turns to make his way down the mountain but before he can Ed hits him in the shoulder.
“Til the end of the world, right? Or the end of us?”
Jean smiles at the comment Ed made when this all started. They’d promised to fight by each other’s sides until they brought an end to this or they went down trying. He nods and grins back as he pulls his rifle off his shoulder. Hopefully today won’t be the end of the world for them, but if it is he knows two people who will be waiting, whether Ed believes it or not.