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The Ironclad Pharmacist

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Lieutenant Gladion is about to lose the last bit of his patience and the culprit doesn't even want to face him, nose stuck in a book too thick for her hands. His fingers drum against his desk as he stares at the back of the black leather.

His voice comes out dry. "Ma'am."

The girl in question slowly spins her leather chair to meet his impatient gaze. Her feet are pushed on the chair and she balances a pencil between her upper lip and nose, nonchalance at its finest. The book has been closed and strategically hidden under her bent knees.

Colonel Moon. The Flame Alchemist. 25 years old, behaving like a toddler of 8. The Angel of Ishval. His utterly ridiculous Colonel.

She is determined, strong, witty, intelligent and brave but also extremely easy to distract and horribly lazy. Even with her ambitions clear as day, he knows Moon would rather stay buried in flowers and herbology books instead of completing her duties.

A brilliant brain and military woman, aiming to be the Führer but getting herself lost in her medicine and scientific books.

He sometimes wonders how she even got halfway to where she sits now, a grin cracking at her lips.

"What is it, Lieutenant? Finally learned how to crack a joke?"

He knows she is joking. He knows each of her tones and voices like the back of his own hand— that's what years of friendship and unwavering loyalty did to them.

Just like he knows she is messing with him, Gladion is certain she can see the everlasting stern glare in his eyes.

In a moment of spontaneous impatience, the Lieutenant stands up and marches to his superior's desk, where a considerably big pile of unsigned forms sit. "I told you to sign these two hours ago."

The Colonel only seems to take notice of the stack when her subordinate points at them. The girl leaves her trusty book on the desk and scratches her cheek in guilt.

"I got carried away, you see." Not even her light and fully aware tone saves the frown from sinking his face. She hurries to show him the old volume with renewed excitement. "Look at this beauty! It has all herbs of Amestris! There are even drawings and recipes and—!"

The Lieutenant dutifully grabs the volume from her hands, up to where she can't reach it. Moon reaches to try and grab it but he holds it even higher. "I told you to please focus on your duties as a Colonel in the office. And you swore to at least commit to that."

The girl's expression wrinkles in deep sadness at the thought of leaving her book aside. Gladion finds this secretly amusing. "I was just giving it a quick read! There is still a lot of time for me to do all I have to do!"

If there is something Gladion has to admit, it's that Moon usually carries her duties out at the end of the day. Whether she ends up taking paperwork to her apartment (very precariously furnished, he must add) or if she stays after hours, she gets the job done.

He can admit he is sometimes a bit too stern with her, but she truly leaves him no choice. Moon has claimed herself to be the next Führer of Amestris in heated discussions and passionate speeches, but her motivation to walk the road is lackluster to say the least.

And Gladion promised to be there with her until she fulfilled her dream. And to step in her way if she ever went down the wrong path.

In the past she used to slack off much more than she does nowadays, at least he now sometimes sees her doing actual office work.

Which is what she should be doing now. And not reading those medical books of hers.

With a sigh, he puts her book under his arm. She seems dejected at the loss, shrinking in her seat with a slight pout. "You're so unfair sometimes, Lieutenant."

"Just as you are uncompromising, Ma'am."

Moon looks up to see him regarding her with fake impassiveness. Gladion constantly refers to her with the utmost respect even after spouting the cruelest of insults towards her. Eyes cold and dispassionate, face eternally neutral and seldom showing any signs of emotion.

That's the Gladion she came to know. Her faithful to the death Lieutenant. Who she sometimes can't stand when he is as unsympathetic as this.

Moon ends up giving up under his eyes and falling back on her chair. "If I get all of this done, will you let me be?"

The thin line of his lips rises a little at the edges. "Only if you get all of it done."

Gladion, however, doesn't move from his place, and her eyes don't move from his face either. He surveys her with a succinct precision, evaluating whether she will do the promised work or not.

Moon finds the short arrange of expressions completely fascinating, for she puts her cheek on her hand and smirks at him.

"It wouldn't hurt you to smile once in a while, you know." Her eyes twinkle with mischief and sarcasm, artificial warmth coating each syllable she says in that spontaneous flirtatious wording she has. "You have a beautiful smile, after all."

There she goes again. The natural flirt, smooth as silk but terribly unconvincing when it's her book that is in his hands. It's really no wonder many people keep their significant others away from her. Moon has this suave tilt of her words that can serenade even the most stubborn of people.

Not him, though. He has known her for far too long to buy her affectionate words in their workplace—

"I'm not giving you your book back, Ma'am." Gladion sharply turns to go back to his desk. The woman's face falls from her hand to headbutt the polished mahogany of her desk. "Get back to work."

"Aye aye, sir." She mutters against the desk, utterly defeated.

— but outside the office, though, that's a different story.

Chapter Text

She is fine. She's just late. She's fine.

Gladion frantically paces around his office — their office, his and hers, except her seat is unavoidably empty. Although his Colonel's compromise leaves a little to be desired, she is never this late.

One hour and a half. Ninety-three minutes.

Most times, Moon is right there at her desk doing anything but what she is supposed to. When he enters the office every day, they share quick greetings, their daily schedules, and each part to their desks.

This morning, however, he had come to an empty office. He would have assumed she was out getting coffee if it wasn't for the fact that she does not like coffee and her cap is not hung up.

Everything is just too quiet. As if she had never been there. But he remembers how he had walked her to her apartment last night as they talked about future field jobs, about a new criminal on the loose.

Something just does not feel right.

A knock on the door interrupts his pacing and he turns from her desk to see Kukui at the threshold. "Lieutenant, good morning."

As the man enters the room, Gladion only becomes increasingly aware of how tall Major Kukui is. His skin is deeply tanned, eyes vigorous and with a constant fire keeping him going like the firecracker he is. His hair is dyed red at the edges, something the Lieutenant thinks must be against many etiquette restrictions.

His alchemy gauntlets are not on, so Gladion guesses he must be here for administrative business. "Good morning, Major. What brings you here?"

Kukui looks around the room. "Where did the Colonel go? Hasn't she gotten here yet?"

"I'm afraid not," sighs he, propping himself against her desk. "She must be late. I don't know why I'm surprised."

The Major looks as confused as the other is, albeit more prominently. He looks around the room in search of the woman's belongings, but nothing is there. A nice stack of papers — very likely Gladion's doing — and a book lying on the desk, but nothing else.

"I was actually looking for the Colonel. Commander Miss Wicke has been looking for her and it turns out they had a meeting today with the Führer in her office." Kukui hands him a generous stack of files, all destined to the Colonel.

The string of names brings his mind to instant worry, for Moon missing meetings is not usual at all. And if she had happened to get sick, he knows she would have called him immediately. The situation is too odd for him to overlook it any longer.

The Lieutenant's pause makes Kukui gulp. "So you haven't seen her either, Lieutenant?"

The man in question rubs the back of his neck, hand shaky as he thinks of the many reasons that could back up her absence. Sudden illness, sleeping in after a long night of work, an accident with her stupid medications.

None of them dangerous. Gladion knows she is fine. But he still needs to go check.

He leaves the documents Kukui had brought on her desk and shakes his head. He is rebuttoning up his jacket and grabbing a gun from a drawer in his desk. Just for caution, he thinks, knowing the situation cannot be that severe.

"I will check her apartment. I'm sure she must be playing hooky for whatever reason," he argues as he takes to the double doors of their office. "Call Lieutenant Ilima and tell him to watch over the office while I'm gone. I'm aware you have your own duties, Major."

Kukui nods hesitantly as Gladion leaves with heavy step, his rush to get to her place very evident. The Major's voice echoes as the Lieutenant exits the corridor. "Call me if anything happens!"

The walk to her apartment is quick. He has been there many times, maybe a few too many for their liking. He knows her place to be quaint: a kitchen, a small bedroom, and a bathroom.

It barely qualifies as home, but as she had said many times, she just wants a place to sleep. She will enjoy the luxuries of the presidential house in the future, she said.

He is not surprised by the silence around her neighborhood as he reaches it, for it's not the happiest of streets in Central City. Her building is just as dreary as the mossy streets, and each step he takes towards her door creaks more than the prior.

Her door awaits at the end of the corridor, and after knocking once, no response meets his ears. Gladion pinches the bridge of his nose in silent irritation, something he would never show to the public.

Her weasel demeanor would land him in a graveyard way too soon.

So he knocks once more. "Ma'am, it's me. You are late to work," he reminds her, planting a hand on the doorknob by instinct, impatient by nature. He gives it an unnecessary twist. "Major Kukui is looking for—"

A thrill of dread fills him the second the door creaks open. He had assumed —wrongly, it seems — that the door would be closed. He had used the knob to have something to play with while waiting for her to show up.

The door hangs ajar. Her apartment is clean as ever, windows closed and curtains drawn open. Her plants are watered, water glossing the stone surfaces of her pots. No plates dirty, her bed made, there is nothing out of place.

So he assumes she must be out until he spots an item that convinces him of the worst.

Her medicine book. Her favorite one. The volume with lots of drawings and recipes and 'pretty things a jerk like him would not understand', as she had once put it.

Her uniform is on her kitchen's chair, along with her cap right by the book. Walking to the main door, her keys sit on a wicker basket.

There are no signs of violence anywhere. However, as he paces around the room — and unconsciously clutches the gun to his chest — he steps on a silver item that gleams in the sunlight.

Her State Alchemist pocket watch.

That's when Gladion finally realizes that something is wrong, clutching the object with rage so evident he might as well snap the silverware in twain.

"Fuck."

The Lieutenant throws the pocket watch to his jacket and immediately calls Kukui to inform him of Moon's disappearance.

When the Major teases him about the apparent worry in his voice, the Lieutenant grits his teeth, for the faith he has in his Commanding Officer is unwavering.

"That's not it," he grunts, a sigh melting his words. "I bet she's just gotten herself in trouble and she's gonna give me another headache to deal with tonight."

He says it as if this was true. As if his hands aren't shaking. As if he is not terrified for her life after so many years of friendship and camaraderie.

(And he hopes that will calm his little bubbling worries down.)

 


 

When Moon comes to, she is tied to a chair, that much she can tell. Humidity permeates the air around her and exhaustion keeps her eyes hooded. It's a pinch colder than she'd like, the ground is unfamiliarly hard.

She has not been there before.

"Wake up, Colonel." She has heard that sentence many times before, but the voice is none the same. Her rank is sputtered with spite. "You have been sleeping for a bitsy too long. What a heavy sleeper you must be."

Her eyes slowly open to the world before her— or the room before her, if wherever she is can even classify as that. Everywhere she sees there's stone, then there's a table at the end of the room and a chair. The room is pretty small and she sees no door anywhere.

It's a prison if the measly ties binding her wrists are any proof of that.

A woman with purple hair and a black tight dress walks before her. Her expression is serious for a moment before a sultry smile shows in her crimson red lips. Dark gloves cover her slender hands, her skin tanned like kissed by sunlight.

This place, however, has not been touched by the light in a long time. "Who are you? And—" Moon wiggles her hands to free herself from the ropes. "Where in the world am I?"

"Now, my name doesn't matter." Her words are slurred out. "You are Colonel Moon, correct?"

"Considering I have a plaque on my office with that exact rank and name, I'd say so, yes."

The Colonel's spark of attitude seems to irritate the other woman, who snarls and plants a heeled boot on the edge of Moon's chair. "I would quit that attitude of yours if I were you, little brat. You don't want your dear Lieutenant to come to keep you company."

The name brings her to a tense position, back stiffening just with the mention of him. Her eyes narrow and any trace of humor is replaced with fire. "Where is he?"

"Not joking anymore, are we?" The edge in the Colonel's voice doesn't appall the woman, who shrugs nonchalantly and gives her question some thought. "He must be looking for you, or maybe he thinks you are slacking off again."

So they have been spying on us, she thinks, not even feeling guilty at such habit being pinned on her. Any shame replaced with worry for her comrade.

"Who are you?" Moon asks again.

"Nobody of importance, at least not yet," she says slowly, then crosses her arms. "Mother has given me the task of bringing you here. After all, you fought in Ishval too, didn't you?"

The name of that region prompts a shudder down Moon's back— not of pleasure, but horror. The terrible atrocities that took place in that region were too plentiful to count, too horrifying to remember. A war with no winner, no cause, just measuring of power of a nation against a defenseless village.

Her in a tent healing the wounded, having to survive until the war was over.

Her eyes turn to a side, hooded with sorrow. "Saying I fought there would be a little of a stretch."

"You still are that woman, aren't you? The Angel of Ishval." The nickname makes her head snap up to the woman again, who looks at her with a knowing smirk. "Oh, don't you like that nickname?"

Is the horror so evident in her eyes? Are the bullet scars still in her skin? Is the trauma still in the grimace of recognition, in the noises of death she can still hear? Why does this woman take so much pleasure in her pain?

"What am I doing here? What do you want to do to me?"

"You are the woman who investigated the origins of the Philosopher's Stone, aren't you?" The Colonel is visibly taken aback by this new question. "A very talented doctor alchemist. The apprentice of the creator of the actual stone."

"Why do you know so much about me?" No answer, just a glare. "Why am I here?"

The woman blinks twice, maybe a bit too fast than what Moon would have found normal. "Hmph." She walks to a darkened corner behind the Colonel, dragging out the wounded body of a person she knows very well.

Her blood runs cold when her eyes land on the cuts embedded across his body. "Hala!" She immediately tries to wiggle for freedom even stronger than before. "What have you done to him!?"

Hala had been her mentor in the past when she was a little kid. An old hermit from the faraway lands of the East, well-versed in Alkahestry. He taught her the first engravings and hand signs and she learned the other techniques she knows now on her own, for Hala had left her village long before her knowledge was useful.

And now there he is, beaten up with a distraught expression in his face. He is at least breathing, that much she can tell.

"Your little friend here," the woman gives him a push so he is looking up, "refused to tell us where his written investigations are. And we were so disappointed with his response we had to hurt him a little bit. But Wrath went a bit too far, I'd say."

Wrath? Moon had never heard such a name before. But all she knows is that if her mentor hadn't wanted to tell them his secrets, they clearly were dangerous.

Her eyes darken as blood drips from his forehead onto the floor. "Who are you and what do you want from us?" Her voice quivers at the end and the woman chuckles at this.

"We still need him. He still needs to give us valuable information, and I'm sure you don't want your dear mentor to be all bruised up like this, right?" She moves to place her heel on Hala's face, digging it against his cheek carefully. "He looks pretty beaten up here."

But Moon is not having it. Hala is unconscious, or so it seems, and not in pain despite the abuse he had endured before. And by how she is tied and no harm has come to her yet, they don't intend to harm her.

"Why would I do such a thing? Hala clearly does not trust you."

"Well, because maybe your dear Lieutenant will get a little beaten up." Something twists and falls within her upon hearing that drawled menace, coated with a smirk. "And you don't want that, right?"

Her eyebrows fall into a murderous glare. "You will not touch him. He can defend himself much better than you give him credit for. He will give you guys a lesson."

"Oh, but we know that," she says, rolling Hala's face to turn to Moon. "He was also in Ishval, right? Just another tortured soul of war."

The dispassionate and emotionless tone she speaks about the war with brings a heavy feeling down her stomach. She does not like this woman, or how she speaks of so many events and how much she knows about them. And she has subordinates, too.

Something sticky is going on. "You just want me to heal him to continue torturing him!? What in the world will you do with me after that?"

The woman rolls her eyes. "You sure are loud. You are so lucky I'm in charge here right now, you brat." She steps over the unconscious man to look down at Moon. "No need to be so loud. Nobody will hear your screams from here."

The Colonel grits her teeth, feeling the constraints of the rope tie her down. However, she also feels that she has her ignition gloves off, but it only takes her a second to realize they have been thrown into a corner behind her.

The silence drags on and on and the woman starts getting tired of it all. "If you don't obey, trust me there won't be a single piece of your friend left. You don't know what we are capable of." The thought of a new victim brings her to lick her upper lip in gee. "We are insatiable beings."

The girl's eyes, however, narrow at that little bit of information. "Why do you want to know more about the Philosopher's Stone? What is your mission?"

"Hm. Hellbent on being friends or what?"

"If I'm going to put Amestris in danger," Moon gulps, "then I should have the right to know who you are. And what you will do with this information."

The woman, again, stares at her in contempt as she thinks about what she will do, and chuckles to herself. Then, she points at herself with a sultry smile. "You can call me Lust, and I'm one of the Homunculi. You won't remember any of this after you are done with that old man, so I might as well show you…"

Before Moon can process all of this information, letting it dawn on her that she has heard of these people, that their taunts and criminal activity are being actively investigated, Lust's tanned skin begins to tear itself apart at the collarbone.

When the flesh is exposed, no blood comes out, just cackles of electricity and power. Deep in the center of her chest lays a gem-like crimson stone. A Philosopher's Stone glimmering under the dim light of the room.

If the action pains Lust, Moon doesn't know, for as the skin is torn apart, it begins to join again. "I have one of these within me. It would take you a long time to even make a dent on me."

Her eyes tremble, wide. "Homunculi…" she tastes the name on her lips, her eyes dart to the sides in remembrance, and then, she gasps. "One of you attacked my subordinate in East City!"

Lust relishes in the furious gritted teeth of her victim. "Hm, it seems you already know of us. What a shame. It totally ruins the surprise." The sigh she drops is fake at best. "Maybe you will be more inclined to not mess with us now that you know of our power."

The Colonel squares her jaw at the woman. Moon swallows down the fury and frustration until it's no more than a coiling snake in her stomach, never quite calming down even as Moon fists her hands and plays with her calloused fingers as if her gloves were there.

After a minute of pause, Moon gives in. "Fine." Her eyes flicker to Hala. "I will heal him."

Lust finally drops her arms and smirks. "Good decision." She walks around Moon to undo her ties. "Don't take too long. We don't like being slow."

Moon is all but tossed off the chair before she quickly scrambles to Hala's side. Lust clearly came prepared: there are sharp knives for her to work with and some porridge she assumes is soothing cream. They know what they are doing.

The Colonel grabs the knives and tosses them in the air so they nail the ground in the correct position. She uses some of Hala's blood to draw a transmutation circle and pushes her hands to the ground, a light blue energy issuing from the seal.

Hala begins to grunt as his wounds close with her Alkahestry's fizz. Lust walks over, arms crossed again and brows pinched. "So the rumors were true. You are that good."

It's not like this is a technique she uses often. After the war, Moon had opted for more traditional means of healing and medicine, hence her interest for pharmacy. Alkahestry could do very little in terms of profound healing, and any curing she does is superficial at best.

"He is not fully healed yet," she explains, ending the process. The energy fades and Hala's eyes begin to open. "You will need to let him rest."

Lust seems surprised at her cooperation and arches an eyebrow. "Sure."

A hand shoots from the ground and Moon turns sharply to see Hala sitting up and grabbing her arm. Moon shifts closer to her mentor, feeling Lust stand right behind her in surveillance. "Please, take it easy. Don't get up too quickly."

"It hurts," mutters the man, holding his head with his hand. His screwed shut eyes turn to the smirking woman above them. "What did you do to me? And why is Moon here?"

The woman shrugs almost innocently. "The Colonel accepted healing you to keep her comrades safe. What an honorable soldier." Then, a heeled boot hits her back and forces her to double over. "And we have her jailed now. Like a rat in a cage."

Her words drip with a venom that makes her gulp. She remains silent, eyes pinching close as she suddenly realizes that she has been driven straight into a trap, heel digging against her spine.

"Mother told me to release you right after this is done, but I don't see the reason to. After all, you are nothing but a pebble on our way." Cruel words soak her heart in fear, but she refuses to let it show. A feverish tremor runs through her back. "But you will die having saved your mentor. What a hero."

Hala watches as Lust's middle finger enlarges, then pierces right through Moon's side with a fleshy, rotting sound. The soft flesh begins to bleed and soak the uniform and the Colonel releases a pitched scream of pain, immediately holding her side as she falls to the floor.

As the crimson liquid leaks to the cobblestone, Hala is pushed to the back of the room as Lust goes to Moon's side again, another needle-like finger ready. "You promised you would leave my people alone if I went with you! Leave my pupil alone!"

Moon's gasps for air don't back Lust away, as she chuckles with gleaming teeth. "It's not in my blood to stick to promises. Too lawful for me," she comments sardonically, stepping over Moon's trembling body.

The girl bites her tongue to not scream. She presses her hand against her side and the thick substance begins to coat her palm. The pain is immeasurable, it crawls through her system and brings dots of blackness to her conscience, fighting with all she has to stay conscious.

Gasps of air are taken as she realizes where she lying and closes her eyes to focus and try to get out of there alive. There has to be a way, she knows...

Lust's boot hits her head and the Colonel winces. "It's a shame you never made it to Führer, Colonel. And that poor Lieutenant… Gladion, is that his name?" Moon remains silent, not allowing her to see her distress. "I wonder what will happen to him, knowing you died here. He will be so resentful. It will be a sight for sore eyes."

Something shifts within Moon as she hears that single name being said.

Hala watches as the girl stops moving, the shaking starting to fade as Lust gives her a little kick that makes the mentor see red. The wicked laugh that escapes Lust makes his blood boil. "I guess she didn't last that long, huh? I thought she would wiggle a little bit more and…"

Her words trail off and are interrupted as a hard spike of stone surfaces from the ground and kicks Lust up and to the front of the room with a scream of pain. The mentor walks past his pupil, very aware of the nasty noise his sandals make as he steps on the blood.

Dust is all left at Lust's wake, but before Hala can celebrate his victory, a piercing needle emerges from the shadows and stabs him through the shoulder and aims for the ceiling, making some debris fall behind Moon's corpse and wake even more dust.

The needle is withdrawn and Hala falls to his knees. Lust emerges from the clouds, clearly in pain. "Huh. My aim's faulty lately."

The old man tries to breathe for air as he clasps a hand on his shoulder, and Lust just stands there, very mindful of his tricks. He doesn't speak, blood seeping through his fingers and barely able to gasp out a curse in deep pain.

"I told you not to play tricks with me, Hala." Her eyes slyly turn to the unconscious Colonel. "You don't want to end like…"

Except Moon's body is no longer there, and all that is left as the dust clears is the remains of cackling energy after a quick alchemy trick, weakly pulsating before fading and leaving Lust to stutter a question.

"Hala, step back!"

He barely has time to stumble to the floor as the Colonel steps forward and flicks her fingers, creating a torrent of fire that engulfs Lust in bright light. She cries in pain, wiggles, tries to free herself from the heat, burns once and pants after the fire is gone.

But she is quick to call another, and then another, not letting the Homunculus take a step forward. Her hand is on her own side, letting her wounds remain close after her chaste alchemic trick.

Her fearsome frown terrifies the professor. "I wonder how many times it will take for you to consume that Philosopher's Stone," she comments darkly, anger taking over her generally sweet and bright persona. "Don't bother screaming— nobody will hear you after all!"

Hala cowers to the back of the room as the villain thrashes and screams as loud as possible, backing herself against the wall and trying to throw unaimed needled fingers at Moon, but she keeps throwing her flames without missing a beat, unflinching.

A last sharp arrow is aimed to her heart, but it stills altogether as the flames clear, along with Lust's incessant thrashing. Then, it begins to crumble to pieces.

"I guess it's over," she murmurs slowly. "And here I thought I could defeat you on my own. I was too ambitious, it seems…"

Her last words fade into the dusty air of the jail, air hot and humid. A second after the victory washes over her and she allows herself to be relieved, she removes her jacket and rushes to Hala's side, tearing the sleeve off her uniform.

"Don't worry, I will get you out of here somehow," she stutters out, adrenalin bringing her hands to shake in a familiar fashion. "You need to tell me how they got you here. Maybe you can create a way out of here."

Moon reaches back to grab all knives and create another alchemy circle with her drying blood. Hala is slumped against the wall, panting. "There will be no need to," he gasps out and points a weak finger to the ceiling.

The girl almost curses at her own stupidity. A ventilation tap. Of course.

Wounds are closed and they decide to run away as quickly as possible. Hala explains that more Homunculi might show up if they hear people running around their territory, and he promises to explain all he knows later on.

The Colonel puts an arm around Hala's back and they start to descend up the little slope created with alchemy. Fast details are shared and they will run out of there, not able to fight with their precarious wounds.

"Moon, how did you do all that Fire Alchemy? Last time I saw you, you couldn't—"

The girl shakes her head as they exit the jail, and she kicks the cover of their exit on its place. "There's no time for that, it's a long story!"

She soon discovers that they were under a secret tunnel of some sorts, dark all around and without a single arrow pointing to the exit. Hala affirms he knows the way, however, so she decides to trust him.

They rush out of the tunnels. The Colonel has the feeling they barely made it out alive, as it feels like they are being chased by the overwhelming darkness of this place.

Both Colonel and Hala stumble down the main avenue of Central City, where they are spotted by, surprisingly, the Lieutenant's troops.

Turns out he had been looking for her all along, and when he reaches the scene where Moon and Hala are being taken to the hospital, all the girl has time to see is him calling for her by rank.

Always so professional, she sighs.

Then, all fades to black, the sirens surrounding her and a familiar warmth assuring her that all will be alright.

Chapter Text

"You could have seasoned the pork, at least." Moon's face goes stale at his dry comment, watching him wipe his face. "You were the one who taught me how to cook this recipe."

The way she crosses her arms and turns to a side so childishly screams fake annoyance, something that both bothers and charms him. She has that very pungent duality to her he is drawn to in spite of her many childish quirks.

"Hey, I was busy. You called out of the blue!"

The woman gets up to pick the dishes. She motions at his plate and he nods, gesturing he is done. Moon takes them to the sink and turns on the tap, all under Gladion's attentive gaze.

"It was an important matter, you know." His head lands on his palm as he looks around her little apartment. "You are the one who insisted on making dinner."

A little chuckle comes from her. His green eyes inspect her back and clothes carefully: a cream shirt, a coffee pencil skirt, and a headband. She still looks professional despite being the least formal of the two, him clad in just a shirt and jeans.

It is strange for him to meet with her casually like this, despite their years of friendship. Their relationship comes to a halt outside the doors of their office, or so they like to pretend. Meetings like these, so easy and so casual he knows are not professional. No matter how many times he tells himself he just came for the sake of intel sharing and work issues.

Moon washes the dishes and leaves them one by one on a dry cloth. Gladion comes from behind her, towering over her figure for a second, hands in mid-air. Images from her kidnapping fresh in his mind.

He swiftly moves to a side, grabbing a cloth and helping her dry the dishes. Moon regards him with a kind smile. "You don't need to help, you know. It's my house anyway."

"The fact that you didn't help me dry the dishes last time at my place does not mean I won't help you now." His words are so impassive yet poisonous she grimaces and melts to a weakened stance, him taking a plate from her twitching hand. "Besides, I need to remove the ungodly taste of your food from the dishes somehow."

She finishes off with the glass and slams it beside him so hard it almost shatters. Her eyebrows sink into a frown. "You're so rude sometimes, Lieutenant. Constantly calling me useless like that."

He continues drying the remaining plates as Moon waits for his answer to what she considered a burning quip full of wit and bite, but he seems unfazed.

"I know you aren't useless, Ma'am." The grip on the plate he is drying tightens, his face a bit tense. Something raspy in his words. "I know you aren't."

The layer of meaning doesn't go amiss for Moon, who looks at her subordinate in bewilderment at the raw spunk of emotion in his voice. The hand he can't see, limp on her side, balls into a fist, and her bottom lip quivers.

Oh, the wish for her to hug his worries away.

Moon turns away abruptly and grabs herself a glass of water. "If you want to, you can stay the night. You know I will always have a free bed for you."

An offer too dangerous he is too used to rejecting, and so he does swiftly. "Don't worry, you know I don't live that far away." Gladion sees her smile knowingly from the corner of his vision. "And you know I have work waiting at home."

Moon is equally as used to him turning down her good will, but it never hurts to make the offer. "Just as hard-working as always, Lieutenant."

"You could learn a little from me."

Her glass almost falls off her hand in her stupor, and she has no time to see him smile as he turns from the counter and finishes arranging her plates in place. "I already finished my work at the office. I will never offer you a bed ever again, Lieutenant."

Which she doesn't mean, he knows. Moon's hospitality is something he has known about ever since they first met, many years ago. It's a face of her that is hidden beneath many layers of jokes, somewhat cold and scary demeanor to those she doesn't trust and the soft bites to those she does confide in.

Moon has many layers. He must be one of the very few to know the true person concealed under all those shields of spite and cold intelligence. Her charm and cunning belie most of what she can do, all of it terrifying and beautiful.

She just knows how to play her cards very well.

Oh, she would be a great Führer.

As he walks to pick his jacket up — for staying around more than necessary would be a grave mistake, he knows — he notices a particular structure of glass and pots by her window.

The complex arrangement of jars, plants, and droppers roots him to place. Plants of several colors and species bloom under the pale moonlight. Leaves of purple with name tags, vines of deep green and little round berries are blooming from a tall bamboo-like plant.

The dropper and pipe-like system before him look complicated. She must have spent a long time engineering it.

"Ma'am," he hears her leave her glass on the counter and hum in question, "you are deeply passionate about medicine, aren't you?"

The woman finds this question rather odd. She leans her hip against the granite counter and raises an eyebrow in askance. "You already know my answer to that."

Years of battling and dire experiences together had proved him that much, Gladion knows. And the plenty volumes on the matter scattered around her bookshelves and house — one on her sofa, another on the counter, a last one by her wicker key basket — scream almost compulsive interest.

"Yes, but," the question is hard to ask, and he cannot find the right words to word it, "no offense, but, why don't you dedicate yourself full-time to pharmacy and medicine instead of a career as dangerous as this?"

He turns to see Moon staring at him in stunned silence, blinking a few beats too slow. He immediately fears he has asked the wrong question before she is smiling at him almost endearingly.

"Again," arms crossed still, she walks to his side, "you should know the answer to that."

Memories, memories. Her voice is almost nostalgic in the way she smiles a bit too sad, a bit too lopsided. The pain is familiar, shared, ignored in favor of acceptance and hope for the future.

Gladion gulps as she reaches him. Her eyes flicker to the intricate structure, a finger under her chin. "I know, Ma'am. I just can't help but wonder why, sometimes. Seeing these plants, you clearly put a lot of time into them."

This is the first time Gladion has seen her this poised and quiet and it almost scares him, and he can't understand why. He has been with her for ages now, he knows her motives, but he sometimes needs a reminder of why those plants were less important than her current career.

A career that she, at first glance, doesn't seem that interested in.

Moon touches one leaf with the utmost delicacy, then moves to check on the water system. She moves with knowing dexterity. "There is a big garden in the presidential residence," she chuckles. "I wanna build a greenhouse there."

That shallow response almost baffles him if it weren't for the fact that she is smiling a bit too wistfully, deep in thought as she collocates the droppers and pots.

"The war of Ishval was pointless. I wasn't able to save enough people. Each victim had a life, a family to come back to, a home." Coal eyes fall lidded in memory of the people she had had to cure, those that didn't make it to her tent and those who didn't make it through her healing. Her eyes close in contemplation. "Lives were lost in the most pointless of ways. I can't let it happen again. I don't want to see people hurt because of greed and power ever again."

And she knows that is a foolish wish because people will hurt despite her acting or not. It is impossible to stop absolutely all of her people from suffering — but wars can be prevented.

And that's something that the current government had failed at. At preventing this pain and sorrow from surfacing.

Her hands fall on the ledge, shoulders hunched forward. "It's not a path of roses, but if I can protect my people in any way I can, I will." Her eyes twinkle as she stares at the dewy leaves. "Whether it is with a greenhouse and medicine or more power."

A pause floats around them as Moon continues to stare at her plants. Gladion has heard her list her motives like this a hundred times, but this time, things seem clearer. It's as if she has gotten herself together while he wasn't looking.

He knows she is not as uncompromising as she seems. Moon puts work off, but she always finishes it. She likes to read books when he isn't looking and she takes naps once a week in her comfy chair. She jokes around and calls for 'handsome men to help her carry the books to her office', even if she has plenty of muscle power herself.

She's a little minx.

But he has seen her battle, put in the work. She has not gotten to where she is out of sheer luck.

"Well, then you better finish all the work you got left," he teases, earning a pissed pout from her. "Unless you go insane and poison Führer Mohn, I think you're out of luck with that snail pace of yours."

Fondness camouflaged in a straight line so she doesn't see the warmth and the pride. Her shouts and complaints about him being too professional successfully shifting the topic to a new light.

The dropper by her window drips little drops to the pot as the pair exchanges subtle jabs, Gladion's just aiming to deter her light arrogance. Her answering that she will make it to the throne no matter what.

Maybe one day they will know the full story.

Chapter Text

Gladion is fully convinced he will die right there.

The dry dirt burns under his calloused fingertips. Blaring sun attempts to blind him, eyes open just a crack. Everything hurts: from the tip of his toes to each of his hairs, pain numbs his body down. In the heat of summer, he feels impossibly cold.

Blood pounds in his head. The raging screams echo across the battlefield and wave into his ears. His eyes tremble, trying to get his bearings.

Steps drag along the dry soil. A pant, the clank of metal as a weapon is loaded. Gladion, the best sharpshooter in that battlefield, had been attacked and brought out of his position to rot and die.

It seems like someone is on their way to finish the job, he thinks grimly.

He can manage to see tan skin and bright red eyes walking towards him, almost stumbling through the waves of heat. Gladion cannot make out their expression. Are they angry? Are they bloodthirsty? Are they as wicked as this war is?

His train of thought is interrupted as the man walks up to him. He is tall, hair gray and full of wounds everywhere his eyes can reach. The revolver is raised, then pointed to his head.

Gladion almost wants to sigh with relief, for at least his pain will come to a halt. The marks on his body will die with him. In his current situation, he finds no joy in surviving.

That is until rushed steps firmly push and stop behind him and a single bullet pierces through the man's skill limply, pulling him to the ground.

Somebody above and behind him pants, somewhere he can't quite see. Then, a hooded figure blocks the sun from his eyes and inspects his wounds quickly, silently. "Can you stand?"

Unable to speak through the pain, Gladion moves his head from side to side. In the back of his mind, he registers that it's a woman speaking to him, and that she is grabbing knives and putting them all around him.

A surge of energy comes under him and he feels the pain over his body begin to dull down. An arm pushes him to sit up as the cloaked figure surveys his wounds with haste. Gladion hazily watches her put her gun on her hip as she holds him up.

"One second later and you would be dead, Sir," she chastises, a hand on her hip as the other searches for more injuries. "I just closed your wounds. I will need to take you to the infirmary."

She is listing a couple more procedures and mutters to herself before he hears the click of a gun being loaded, and before the mercenary can shoot in the distance, Gladion grabs the girl's gun on her hip and points it at the faraway offender.

One single shot is all it takes for the assassin to fall to the ground. The girl reacts to this a second later, whistling. "Good aim you have there, Sir." Gratitude rings through the her words. He pants as the gun falls to the ground and she picks it up again.

The woman helps him stand up. She mentions that she knows a secret, quick way to the infirmary. An arm swung around her shoulder, they make their way there slowly.

"You should have left me there to die," he grunts, wincing as a wrong step causes his side to ache. "I don't have any interest in remaining alive."

Something akin to a chuckle comes from her. "Well, Sir, I don't have any interest in leaving any comrade to die. Especially if they are in my tent's zone. That would be just rude."

She speaks with a spring to her voice. It's uncanny and weird. He has not heard that chirping in a long time, not since this damned war had begun. Whoever this woman is, she must be either insane or very strong-willed.

But Gladion insists. "I have a reason to not want to continue this war. The world will be better left off without the marks of my body."

As she knows he must be in pain, she interprets his ramblings as murmurs of delirium. After all, the heat can't be good for his condition.

"The world is not better off without anybody, Sir. Especially not somebody who had my back being barely conscious." There it is. The gratitude he doesn't want. "We're almost there. Please, hang on."

So he does. Begrudgingly, but he does. They arrive at her tent sooner than expected, a big place full of beds with harmed people. There are some beds devoid of patients, surprisingly, and as soon as they are undercover, the girl removes her cloak.

Only when she pushes him to the bed does he realize who this woman is.

He has heard plenty of stories about her, here and there. A traveler from the West with unfathomable healing abilities, helping the poor in the desert. Others said she is a hermit from Xing. The apprentice of a past Amestrian commander. People called her an angel, others called her a demon.

All he could see in her features is cold professionalism as she opens his shirt and looks over his cuts with narrowed eyes. Guarded, precise, pouring a crystal clear liquid in a needle drop by drop.

She is silent and moves around him swiftly as if gliding through the air. Gladion wonders if she is a ghost.

She is washing her hands by his bed as she talks. "I'm going to have to clean your minor wounds, and I will proceed to cure the rest afterward. You are safe now," she explains.

In his somber state, he can only nod. What is the point of her going through the hassle of curing him when he just does not want to be saved? He can't understand her fixation.

But this bed is better than the hot, dry ground of a battlefield, he supposes.

The woman hands him a thick piece of cloth and pushes it to his mouth. "You better bite into this. I have work to do and your screaming won't help the case." The sentence is almost too cold before she tops it off with a smirk, a crack of her knuckles. "This is gonna take a while."

Why does it feel like she is going to have fun with this then? Gladion has no time to bark at her to stop being so smug because alcohol seeps into his wound and he is biting into the rags.

 


 

"Well, you surely have a strong body, Sir," she praises as she cleans her hands. They are stained red after an hour of surgery. "You can keep the bullets, if you want."

Gladion dismisses her with a shake of his hand. Trying to sit up, he finds that his torso is full of patches and marks. There will be scars, he knows, some uglier than others. But he is alive.

All thanks to this woman he has heard so much about, but still doesn't know what her name is.

He winces with a hiss as he incorporates himself. His dirty shirt is still attached to his body but open at the front. There is no blood on his body anymore, and the stitches are minimal and precise. She's a good doctor, he concludes.

The woman in question comes to him and puts a hand on his back. "Take it easy, Sir. I need to look at your back now."

Gladion nods and swings his legs over the other side of the bed, and her weight bounces on the bed as she sits behind him. However, it is when she is about to peel the shirt off from him that he stops her.

"What I have on my back…" Gladion gulps. "It might not be pretty."

A sound resembling a scoff bursts out of her chest. "I have seen many ugly things, Sir. Don't worry about that."

The infirmary is basically empty at this point, and there is barely any sunlight left in the horizon. It's safe to assume everyone has retired to their tents for the day, and that they are in relative intimacy.

And, in hindsight, she had saved his life, this stranger. And he had saved hers in an act of reckless bravery. At this moment, there are few people he can confide on other than her.

He begins to remove the shirt, previously white, now creamed with dirt. It falls off his shoulders and his back, revealing a bright red tattoo embedded from his lower back to his neck, swirling like a snake with runes and writings all over the symbol.

The act of his deranged Mother, who he no longer has a memory of. If he were to see that wrecked genius, he wouldn't even be able to recognize her.

This pain had been inflicted when he was too young to comprehend the danger now anchored to his skin.

Delicate touch traces the churned skin. Her breath hitches, and for a second, he is scared of what she might say. What comes out of her mouth is the least thing he had expected to hear.

"Flame Alchemy," she murmurs, almost disbelievingly, voice pitched in awe. "You're…" A gulp. "Gladion, right? That's your name."

The mention of his name prompts him to sharply turn around. His fingers are bunching the blankets under him. "How do you know my name?"

He watches the woman is inspect the tattoo. A mixture of grief, interest and subtle horror crosses her eyes.

"Because I have been looking for you. For years, now."

Such calm statement makes him choke with a gasp, and his eyes shift to hers slowly. He finds her to be sitting cross legged on the mattress, a first-aid kit on her lap and cotton on her left hand. The way she looks at him brings the word 'interest' to mind.

"My name is Moon," she finally presents herself, and he realizes that he has heard her name many times before. "I'm a traveller pharmacist. I specialize in Alkahestry from Xing, which my mentor Hala taught me. But he went missing some years ago, and I'm looking for him."

"Xing?" Moon nods. "You walked through the desert? Just for your mentor?"

"That man was the one to teach me the basics of all I know. My parents… were taken away by the State, as far as I know, and never came back. So he raised me," she explains.

For some odd reason, she does not falter while explaining these dire circumstances. Gladion finds the detail particular. "You don't look that sad about it."

When she blinks, something shifts and a small shiver runs down his spine.

"My parents were taken by Amestris, and when I came looking for them, I realized that I couldn't just up and ask about them, so I stayed for a while. It's a lovely place full of lovely people."

Gladion wants to agree, but his love for the country is not as passionate. It's a land full of corruption and greed, this stupid war they are in being the best example of Amestris' corruption.

He lets her continue. "I was told that a woman in the North knew a very powerful way of alchemy, but when I reached her house, I was told that she was dead."

Gladion's mother had died of sickness, or so he remembers. His father had never truly been there, and all he can remember about his childhood is his mother's obsession with alchemy, with power, and sickness thawing her health until she finally collapsed in bed one night.

Or so he had been told by his family's doctor, for Gladion had ran away to East City when he was fifteen. After being his mother's subject for her alchemy, his memories of that time are foggy at best, only recalling few images about his own childhood.

But he knows that she is dead. And that the only remain of her and her obsessions on Earth are inked on his back.

Moon sighs after a long pause. "The doctor told me to search for Gladion, her son. I was told you ran away from home, so I travelled all across the country and desert looking for you and my mentor."

The irony of them meeting finally in a war like this doesn't go amiss for her. A bitter scoff escapes her, one he almost reciprocates.

"You found me, then," he speaks sourly, head downcast. "What do you want from me?"

Hesitation. A sigh, another touch right where he knows the symbol begins.

"I want to learn Flame Alchemy."

Silence. A pause so long and so deep he is sure it's making more noise than the shots outside. His heart pounds in his ears again, not from pain, but from utter disbelief this time.

When his eyes meet hers again, all that illuminates her is the flickering flame of an oil lamp. She is still looking at his back as he looks at her from over his shoulder. Her fingers trace the runes on his back very gently.

He had never been touched like this.

There is something in her eyes that he can't quite see, can't reach. But the gentleness of her touch betrays the cold tone of her eyes.

He is still terribly skeptical. "What for?" His voice is a pained whisper. "You are a pharmacist."

Truly, Gladion expects any sort of answer. He has heard many people ask about it with varying degrees of greed and ill intentions, but the result was always the same: a wave of his hand and a threat of his gun to never step close to him again.

Flame Alchemy is dangerous. It's a tough branch of alchemy to learn. The very few things he has looked into over the years have always overwhelmed him. Complex chemistry, control and knowledge.

So he can't help but wonder what a girl like her would want to do with such alchemy.

Her answer doesn't let itself be missed.

"I am still looking for my parents. And for Hala, my mentor. And if I want to find them, I need to be powerful, so they are never taken away from me again." Her index finger digs into the end of the drawing. "So I can protect all I care about."

He has never heard that excuse. Or not with that degree of emotion, at least.

She speaks with tough words and her hands scream discipline just from how they look: patched up with bandaids, little scars in her palms. She has fired a gun at a mercenary without knowing who he is, cured him and dragged his ass out of the battlefield even when he thrashed and rejected her help.

He has never seen somebody so ridiculously stubborn. Headstrong enough to cure his wounds. He has heard plenty of stories about how she has fought chimeras in the desert and cured whole hospital wings with her knowledge.

It's weird to think he probably knows more about her feats than she knows about him, and it makes him wonder if she really knows what she is getting herself into.

"What tells me that you will not use this alchemy to go against those that have taken your people away?" he says through gritted teeth, throwing a pointed cold gaze at her.

Cold enough to freeze. Strong enough for a weak soul to back off. It has always worked, after all. Stale, silent, too calm, too tranquil. Stoic enough to ignite fear in his enemies.

"If I ever stray from the path I have set myself, then you have permission to shoot me in the head." Her bold statement would make him flinch if it wasn't so dire, if it wasn't a reasonable offer.

There's still one small detail that escapes him. "And how am I supposed to find you if that were to happen?"

The fire from before surfaces through the charcoal slate of her eyes, a smirk threatening to curl her lips as she crosses her arms.

"That will be very easy," she claims. "Because I'll be the next Führer of Amestris."

Moon, he decides in that moment, is absolutely insane.

So insane that her idea might just work.

He looks at her for a minute. Deep, paused, for a while. Searching for any hint of a joke in her eyes, her face. There's nothing, other than a line of arrogance and confidence in her features.

This unusual encounter must be a work of faith, he concludes. And at this rate, he is not one to reject what comes his way anymore.

He bends forward, elbows on his bruised knees. "If you want to learn it so badly," he concedes, "I will let you study the symbol with the condition you burn it off afterward."

The girl actually flinches at this condition. As the pharmacist she is, she surveys the skin of his back with pinched eyebrows. "Burning it off… it will hurt a lot."

"I don't care," he says firmly. "Even if you have to burn my whole body. I don't want anybody to learn this alchemy ever again. Not if alchemy can create wars as catastrophic as these. I don't want to see these atrocities happen ever again."

Because his enrollment in the military had been very impulsive, driven by his talent. He is the best at all he does, is probably the best sniper of the whole army but soon after the war began, all he saw the first week had been about enough.

And he doesn't want to see it anymore. She seems to catch this implication by the way he sees her eyes widen from the corner of his sight.

It takes Moon a pause to agree, and when she does, it's only a small nod. Her fingers touch the skin once more as if memorizing how it feels. As if she would miss it. Maybe her appreciation for his body is merely medical, he considers.

Then, she grabs a cotton ball and drops some alcohol on the material. "I promise it will hurt as little as possible."

Gladion has no option but to nod back, and hiss as she resumes her procedures with the same analytical gaze of hers, all softness of intimacy gone.

In the seven years this war has been raging on, he has never felt more at peace than now.

And the following day, the war is declared to be over.

 


 

"Colonel, somebody wants to see you."

Moon turns her chair casually and leaves her book on the side of her desk. The office is only illuminated by the sunlight, birds chirping in the distance as a familiar blond figure enters the room.

The door closes and Gladion marches to stand before her desk, saluting in a way that Moon still can't get used to. He still wears the same impassive and dispassionate eyes he taught her alchemy with, the same rigid and harsh posture.

The same eyes he bid her farewell with too, those months ago.

And now here he stands. Gladion in the flesh.

Moon perches her chin on her entwined hands. "Here you are. So you've decided to go down this path, even after all that happened in Ishval?"

His salute falls, hand on his side. She can hear his gloves's fabric grinding as he balls his hands into fists. "It wouldn't be fair of me to not come along after all I have done. I can only bear the burden of my sins by using my life to protect those I care for."

Her eyes fall close in contemplation of his words, so very true. Even though their burdens are not the same — him having killed too many, her not saving enough people — the bitter resent for the war exists all the same.

"Besides," her eyes flutter open, "I heard a lot about a rising alchemist that recently made it to Colonel. I reckoned I needed to come and make sure things were going okay."

And that your abilities are being put to good use, she hears in his silence. He doesn't speak from resent or distrust, but pure fear of things going wrong.

Moon suddenly gets up from her chair, which creaks at the absence of weight. "Very well," her firm voice hardens his eyes, "I'm appointing you as my assistant, going forward. I want you to watch my back."

Gladion doesn't show any signs of understanding, nor of confusion.

"This means, you have all permission to shoot me dead the moment I stray from the accorded path." Something in her eyes seems to glint, piercing through his soul with compromise and resolution. "Will you follow me?"

A beat of pause pauses as she offers him to walk by her side.

"Of course," he accepts. Because he knows the burden she carries, but also the burden she had freed him of by burning that anvil of his past away. By swearing to protect what she cares for.

By joining the military, only to fulfill that purpose, even if it puts her and her mission in danger.

He has unmovable faith in her.

"I will follow you to hell, if you so desire."

Chapter Text

Boisterous laughter comes from her desk.

"I should be able to drop by your shop tomorrow evening, I suppose." Moon curls the cord of the phone around her finger, smirking as her eyes look at the ceiling. "I could bring you a souvenir if you want."

A few subordinates of hers walk around the office carrying books and papers, watching the scene in utter disbelief. Sergeant Mallow, Moon's most trusted investigation expert, shifts her eyes from the happy Colonel to her aid, Warrant Molayne.

"What's up with the Colonel today?" She hands the taller man a stack of neatly folded papers. "Did she finally get a boyfriend?"

"As if. She's probably hitting on some poor officer from Major Kukui's unit." Molayne rubs the back of his neck and sighs. "She's such a handful, sometimes."

Moon is notorious for using the State's phone line for rather unusual endeavors, one of them being her overly friendly and almost flirtatious deeds during these calls. Many names hidden under sinister giggles and girly sighs that don't suit the terrifying Colonel at all.

Knowing her, she is probably about to get somebody in trouble again. The officers sigh and resume their duties as Moon smiles into the phone.

"You are just being a big baby, Gladolus," she says endearingly, voice casual and almost sweet. "I will get you something next time, don't worry."

His voice comes from the other end of the line.

"Ah, you'll have to excuse me for a second, Moonbeam. Somebody came for a complaint."

She hears distinct shots. Normally, him and her would be way too professional to ever regard each other so casually, but during secret private missions like these, they had to resort to roleplaying and codenames to avoid any suspicion from Central's higher military brass.

There had been some rather suspicious findings in the main laboratories of Central City, and Gladion was dealing with it with the aid of Sergeant Sophocles, her most trusted tech expert. As far as she knows, he is perched on the highest of towers of Central City as a sniper, watching over the scene.

This is a mission the Military cannot know about.

Judging by how everyone looks at her as if she is insane, everything is working out.

And she knows he absolutely hates that codename but that's what he gets for finding out her full name and teasing her about it for weeks. At least they'd put it to good use.

Suddenly, Moon hears a loud shot from his end and the grip on the phone tightens. "I heard a loud noise, is all okay?"

"Mhm. Just a feisty customer looking for a fight. Some people just have no manners. I had to make him learn the hard way."

The Colonel leans back on her chair, biting her lip at his manners. "Oh, Gladolous. You are such a rude swine."

A snicker comes his way, barely audible, but she relishes in the sound regardless. After more than a decade of friendship in the Military, their chances to be this casual can be counted with the fingers of a hand.

Moon hears him giving orders to Sophocles — code name: Antigone — which she guesses are later given to Second Lieutenant Ilima — code name: Frangipani. A few more shots, some screaming in the distance.

She spins her office chair around casually. "I hear some ruckus in your shop." A smirk. "You should hire guards or you will get assaulted one day."

"You know I would never let that happen. I know of somebody who is a bit of a loser without me around."

The girl's expression visibly deflates into annoyance at such uncalled for comment. He must have heard her actually grunt, for a small chuckle escapes his lips, breathy against the speaker.

"Besides, you agreed to drop by tomorrow, Moonbeam." A shot. "I need to show you our new flowers in stock. You looked rather interested last time we met."

The way he keeps the charade going between orders and shoots has her mildly impressed. She looks out the window and finds the sun to be setting. "I will be there in the evening. Are there any presents that would be of your liking, Gladolous?"

The line goes silent for a short second, and the lack of comment to her question brings her to arch an eyebrow.

"What's the matter?"

"Looks like one of our customers got into trouble again. They seem to be in an argument with another of our patrons."

Moon nods and hums for verbal approval. However, something on his end makes his breath hitch against her ear, coming fuzzy through the phone.

"Actually, I'm afraid I have to go. I have a customer asking for me, it seems."

The Colonel has no time to ask questions before she hears shot after shot blasting on her ear, loud enough to be heard even outside the call. The pace and aggressivity of his shotgun grow to the point she is drumming her fingers against the desk in light worry.

His earpiece clatters and falls to the floor. Moon immediately gets up in agitation.

"Gladolus? Can you hear me?" She yells to the phone, eyebrows wrinkled and teeth squared. "Gladolus!"

A quick image flashes through her mind. The memory of a slumped body by a telephone box, blood seeping down the steps and soaking the slick cobblestones. A fallen comrade, assassinated when she hadn't been there to stop it.

Her eyes widen, her stomach falls like an anvil and her expression darkens. A choked grunt pushes past her throat. The idea of it happening again too much for her to bear.

The idea of it happening to him too hard for her to swallow.

She cannot let it happen again.

Moon slams the phone on its base.

 


 

Gladion is not sure what to think of what he is seeing, but he can conclude this creature is not human.

Big body crowned by a round, flattened bald head. Tiny eyes, no pupils, just soulless white. Thick arms, fingers that feel like frozen butter as they asphyxiate him. His gun trembles in his grasp as he points it at the drooling creature, who eyes him like he is about to devour him.

He can see the many bullet holes on its head. One eye is pushed inwards, his forehead is profusely bleeding, but no signs of pain are made.

"Do you give up?" The voice is wobbly, giddy, like that of a child. But this creature is too big to be a kid. "Are you done? Can I eat you already?"

He tries to utter out a scream for help, but no words escape him. His throat burns, his lungs can't push air into his body anymore. The lack of oxygen is rendering him dizzy, and his gun lowers until it slips off his grip, limbs slack and hovering over the floor.

The creature's hold tightens a notch. Its mouth begins to open: thick drool between its human-like teeth, yet a fat tongue comes out to prove its true nature. A red symbol is engraved into it, one he cannot understand. He is sure he has seen it before.

Warm breathing fans across his face along with the endless cave of its mouth, all black, so much so it seems infinite.

Yapping, feet rushing to his side and a familiar dog biting on the creature's neck. Alarmed, it lets go of Gladion and throws him to a nearby wall, him struggling to breathe as Silvally bites new wounds onto the creature.

Sophocles screams for his attention, having rushed upstairs. A gun is tossed in his direction. "Lieutenant, take this!"

He is quick to his feet and stands up, aiming his gun at the monster as Silvally hops off its back. Bullets pierce through its big body, cracking full bulletholes and creating splashes of blood on the floor.

But then, bullets run out and Sophocles and Gladion are not sure what to do but watch the creature stagger back, then forward, and raise its arms and stick its tongue out as its wounds disappear under sparks of electricity.

"Out of ammo? Are you out of ammo?" it taunts, causing the two soldiers to take a step back. "Then, it's time to eat!"

The creature has no time to launch its body towards Sophocles and Gladion, for an explosive torrent of fire kicks it backward and tosses it out of the tower, crashing loudly on a building down below them with a scream of pain.

A panting Moon supports herself against the threshold, hand falling to her side as a drop of sweat falls down her jaw. "Thank God I made it in time."

Sophocles immediately lets his gun down in relief, sighing as the source of danger is gone. Gladion, however, utters out her rank name in disbelief.

Then, he takes a step towards her and points a finger at the Colonel. "Why in the world did you come here?" She takes half a step back and grimaces at his reprimand. "This is a secret mission! You should have stayed in your office and everything would have been fine!"

The girl's stance deflates from her temporary victory and visibly pouts and sulks at him being this stern even when she saved his life, but also aware of the fact that he is very right and she had just allowed her instincts to sweep her off her feet.

Sophocles watches Gladion poke her on the shoulder with a frown. "You just had to come here and ruin the operation! How irresponsible can you be, Colonel?"

Moon blinks in surprise at his outburst, but it's nothing she is not used to, sadly. Her rushing to her comrades' side just for overthinking and downplaying her comrades' abilities is a habit she still has to break free from.

But they both know she doesn't do this on purpose.

Especially not after what had happened these last weeks, which is the only thing holding him back from tossing her out of the tower with that creature.

Moon sighs, then curls a strand of her hair around her index finger, accepting the scolding. "Fine, I'm an idiot, whatever."

This lightens the situation temporarily before Sophocles is informing the Lieutenant about their objective running away, probably prompted by Moon's grandiose measures.

Quick orders are given, and Sophocles remains at the top of the tower with Silvally, the faithful guardian barking and wagging its tail.

Colonel and Lieutenant make it down the stairs.

"Ma'am?"

Her walking a step faster than him, hums in question.

"Thank you."

For coming. For caring. Even when you shouldn't have.

Still quite agitated after her race to the tower, she doesn't make a fuss about his gratitude and dismisses it in favor of the mission at hand.

"We'll talk about it when this is over. I can't wait to get to bed."

Gladion just smiles and deems himself to be a bit lucky.