Edward hadn't been sure what to expect when a knock came at his and Al's door and the somber face of Havoc greeted him, but the request to come to Mustang's office wasn't on the list. It was rare for Mustang to send for him, and even more so for him to send one of the team to deliver the message. Edward had half hoped that a new, promising lead on the Philosopher's Stone had been found and the Colonel just hadn't wanted to wait for a lower-division person to retrieve him. At the worst, he'd thought it would be about some sort of dumb setback excursion that 'only he, with his charm and multitude of talents, could do.'
Walking through the streets, and then the main building in silence had been an interesting experience, too. Normally Havoc took any and every opportunity to chat with him about something, even if it was just a general "what did you and Alphonse do for fun yesterday," sort of inquiry. He'd decided to chalk it up to the early hours- because seriously, who liked having lengthy conversations when dawn had only just begun to break?
He hadn't been able to deny that the internal affairs of Central Headquarter had been off when they stepped inside, though. The halls seemed barer than he remembered them, and any personnel he did see looked to be hurrying somewhere in the building he'd never bothered checking out, or didn't have clearance to enter. It could've been due to the time it was, but he'd always gotten the impression that Central never slept.
In the end, he'd decided not to put too much stock into that oddness.
However, the moment he'd entered the office, the distinct feeling of wrongness that had lingered since he'd stepped out of the dorms hit him full force. It had been impossible to miss it. Half the team wasn't there, and of the two that were, only Hawkeye made an attempt to speak to him- and she only offered a short, "Good morning, Edward."
It was the usual greeting, but somehow it felt like it lacked its usual warmth, like her heart was only halfway in it. As if she was distancing herself. That hadn't done much to inspire confidence in whatever was going on, but when he shot Havoc a quizzical look, he simply frowned and veered off towards the mess of paperwork on his desk with a short mention that the Colonel was waiting. The implication that he shouldn't keep him waiting was clear, and had Edward thought he would get a clear answer if he questioned either of the adults, he would have made Mustang wait so he could interrogate them.
As it stood, though, there really was nothing to do but see what the hell he'd been dragged out of bed so early in the morning for.
He wondered if the resolution showed in his face, because Hawkeye only moved to let him into the inner office after the thought passed through his mind. Why she would've waited for him when she never bothered with it in the past was beyond him, but it, and the fact that she didn't announce his presence to the Colonel like usual, didn't inspire confidence. In fact, it only served to confuse him more when he ducked past her and into the office.
When she closed the door behind him, Edward didn't bother with sitting. Making any attempt to relax felt like it would be useless, even if he still had no idea what was going on.
He stared expectantly at Mustang instead. He only motioned for him to take a seat. Edward didn't bother refraining from rolling his eyes at the man. Of course he would want him to do the one thing that he'd thought to avoid. He didn't immediately move, but all that served to do was make the silence persist, so Edward relented and flopped onto the couch.
When the Colonel remained quiet, to the point things were getting uncomfortable, Edward cleared his throat. "What do you want now?"
Mustang blinked lazily, like he too, was tired and didn't want to be up yet… or like he'd been lost in thought. Edward couldn't decide which fit the mood of the atmosphere better. His question at least seemed to wake up whatever part of the Colonel had been drifting, because a moment later he brought his hands to lace atop his dark wood desk.
"Fullmetal," He started slowly, "hand in your watch."
For a second, Edward thought he'd misheard, and he snorted.
But then Mustang just kept staring at him, expectantly and it was his turn to stare blankly. The words didn't compute, at least not immediately, and for a single blessed second, Edward was baffled.
Then all of the sudden it hit him.
The others' reactions toward him: Havoc refusing to look at him, Hawkeye's completely professional tone, and now, Mustang's cold, unblinking gaze.
Edward found his throat dry, and when he spoke, it felt like he was going to choke on the single question. "What?"
He unconsciously reached into his pocket and clenched the watch in his hand, running his thumb across the ridges in the metal.
Mustang's gaze never wavered as he repeated his order. "Give me your silver watch, Fullmetal."
"No," Edward replied automatically, his features tightening and a snarl forming on his face. He didn't know what Mustang was getting at, but it wasn't funny.
Not that the Colonel had ever been one for telling jokes.
"Fullmetal. Don't," he warned.
Edward clenched his fists, conscious not to crush the precious item in question within his automail grip.
"No. Now explain to me what the hell is going on, Colonel!"
He couldn't figure out what brought on the sudden demand. He had done nothing wrong recently that would warrant overnight detainment, much less a stripping of certification.
Mustang glared at him by way of response and Edward caught the tension in his arms as his own fingers curled in frustration. What he had to be angry about, he had no clue, and when the man opened his mouth, Edward wanted to hit him for the bullshit excuse.
"You've become too much of a handful," he stated coldly, "Do you think the military has an unlimited supply of money? Every single time you destroy a town while out on a mission, my department takes the heat for it. That means more money gets taken out of my division's already low funds, and more paperwork on my d-"
"So you're firing me over money?!" Edward didn't care if the others could hear his shouting through the door as he surged to his feet. He didn't care if anyone heard him. Let them! Maybe they would hear Mustang too and call him out on whatever this fake shit was.
"You draining military funds is not the only reason." Mustang's voice remained level, but the harshness seeping through might as well have had him yelling right back.
"There is also the fact that you are irresponsible, rude, obnoxious, and let's not forget extremely disrespectful. You have no idea how many times I've had to deal with higher-ups complaining about you and your attitude. Everyone always told me I should get rid of you, but I thought your skills invaluable. But after the stunt you pulled last week, I see no problem with letting you go."
Edward wondered if he was the only one seeing red.
"Last week?! That wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been; I only leveled one building! That's an improvement! What kind of crap is this?!"
Not at all fazed by his shouting, Mustang once again started with his order. "Fullmetal, I said turn in-"
"I'm no giving you the damn watch, you bastard! You can't do this! Al and I need the research privileges! You can't take those away from us!" Edward's voice pitched higher, rage pouring into every word as he glared directly into the Colonel's eyes, daring him to destroy what little chance he and his brothers had at regaining their bodies.
If there was one thing Mustang had always been sure of, it was that the military would be able to help them. He'd been adamant that he join in the first place, because it would help him move forward. And he could say whatever he wanted about his screw ups, that was fine -hell, even valid- but there was nothing he could ever do that would give Mustang a reason to punish Alphonse.
But the Colonel was unyielding.
He slammed his hands down onto the desk, electing a loud bang, and rose from his chair. Edward almost wanted to shrink back in that moment. His body settled for a flinch of surprise. Mustang's eyes were burning with anger to match his own at that point, and Edward clenched his jaw. He didn't know how he was supposed to react in that moment… Because the superior he knew, and was used to, never looked at him like that.
He'd pissed the guy off plenty of times, but Mustang had never levelled that sort of anger at him. It was an anger that promised harm if it were to be freed. Edward was used to screaming, sure, and he gave as good as he got, but that look? That look was terrifying, because that look wasn't the Colonel Mustang he knew at all. That was the man from Ishval he'd heard about so many times before. That was the Flame Alchemist.
"I can take those privileges, and I will," Roy growled, not raising his voice in the slightest, and that scared Edward more than anything he could've said. "Now, Edward Elric, hand over your watch or I will have no choice but to pry it from your tiny hands."
He took a breath, and almost as an afterthought, added, "Don't make me turn you and your brother in for committing the taboo."
Edward's eyes widened, and for the first time since he stepped into the office, he felt something other than hot anger course through him. It was the cold dread of realization. Realization of just what Mustang could do with what he knew. The smallest of gasps escaped him and he barely noticed because he was too busy talking.
"You wouldn't," he whispered, his whole body trembling with equal parts fury and fear.
There wasn't as much conviction behind his words as he'd been hoping for. He'd thought he could convey that he knew Mustang wasn't that kind of cruel person, but he found he couldn't even convince himself that was true. So of course he couldn't have imbued that sort of confidence into anything he said.
"I wonder what the Fuhrer would do?" Mustang mused, "Well, Alphonse would most certainly be sent to be a lab rat for the rest of his life. But you? Who knows what they'd do with you."
Warmth crept up his face until it settled behind his eyes. Edward ground his teeth and forced any of that emotion off his face. He refused to let the Colonel on to just how much his words terrified him.
If anyone had told him that one day, Mustang would be the one threatening to turn him and Al in to the MPs, he would've laughed. He would've told them Mustang wouldn't do that, because sure, he was a lazy bastard, but he wasn't cruel.
But if he could threaten Alphonse like that…
And now he really didn't have a choice, did he? He couldn't risk Alphonse's safety for his stubborn pride. What kind of brother would he be if he did? What kind of person would he be?
Judging by the look on Mustang's face, calculated and calmer than he was sure he looked, he knew that, too. Edward wanted to charge at him and beat him bloody, just to make him understand how much the low blow he'd tossed fucking hurt.
But he wasn't about to let him know he'd hurt him.
When he pulled the watch out of his pocket, he did so slowly, taking his time more as a way to settle the shaking in his hand than anything else.
He stared down at the hunk of metal that had become an important piece in his life, even if he hadn't actually realized it until then, and his throat tightened. He knew he had to do it. For himself. For Al. He had to keep his little brother safe, by any means necessary.
He just never thought he'd have to protect him from the people he'd slowly started to think of as his friends.
The heaviness in his steps as he came towards the desk trudged up unbidden from the shadows, a familiar darkness pulling him down, telling him things were always going to end up this way, so he shouldn't have been surprised.
He swallowed hard when he looked back up at Mustang. For half a second he only stared at the man, hoping against hope to see some crack in his exterior, some chink in the armor to let him know that this was all some crazy, sick joke.
Mustang gave him nothing.
His breath shook when he clapped a hand over the watch and performed the brief transmutation that would keep it sealed. He refused to let Mustang see the contents inside that he couldn't bring himself to remove.
The Colonel made a grab for it when the blue light faded and Edward snarled at him, throwing his fist down into the portion of the desk where one of Mustang's hands had previously been settled.
He released his grip slowly, painfully aware of the inaudible creak in each finger as it unfurled and all that was left was the watch, sitting in a baseball-sized crater of splintered oak.
Edward forced himself to look his ex-superior in the eyes one last time, expecting to see some form of regret or apology somewhere on his face- surely he couldn't given him that, at least.
He saw nothing.
A spasm that could've been a silenced sob or scream at that point (and he didn't know which) shook his chest and Edward glared at Mustang when his breath came out shaky. He didn't trust his voice to come out steady when he spoke, but there was no way he was going to leave with his tail between his legs.
He refused to give him the satisfaction.
So it was with a greater effort than he was ever going to acknowledge or admit to even himself that he grit his teeth and spat three last words at the man he'd once thought he could trust.
"Go to hell."
He didn't wait to hear a response- through, he doubted there would've been one. He turned and exited the room as fast as his legs would carry him without making it look like he was running away, slamming the door as he went. Not two steps into the outer office did he feel pairs of eyes on him and realize what the off feeling had been earlier...
It wasn't a question and they all knew it. He didn't need their half-baked excuses to know it, either. Still, deep down he desperately wished one of them would deny it, would tell him that of course they didn't know, and march right up to Mustang and demand to be told what the hell he was thinking. But he also knew he was a fool for it.
"We all agreed this was for the best, Edward," Hawkeye explained while Havoc nodded slowly in conformation.
The stare he sent the two officers he'd come the closest to since his instatement, disbelief etched into his very being by that point, and watched as they suddenly changed before his eyes. Changed into something alien... dangerous.
Just like Mustang.
He bared his teeth at them, a curse poised on his tongue but never leaving to meet its mark. Instead he storming out of the office.
Nobody attempted to stop him: not Hawkeye or Havoc, and not anyone in the sparsely populated building. When he burst through the doors and into the crisp morning air, he wanted to scream at the sky to not be sunny or blue. It wasn't right for it to be so beautiful outside when his world was crashing around his ears. It had no right.
That lump tried once more to settle in his throat and he nearly choked in his attempt to push it back down. He just managed it as his rationale returned and his thoughts were no longer revolving completely around burning Mustang to death with his own glove. It was then that the shock of what happened finally began to settle in. And then he was only left with one awful question in his mind:
What was he going to tell Al?
As soon as the door slammed closed Roy sagged into his chair and gripped the sides of his head, pulling at his hair. The tension he'd forced into his shoulders drained away, leaving him hunched over his desk, staring at the hand shaped crater in the middle of it. The groan he'd been holding onto in Fullmetal's presence escaped and he shook his head.
Why did the kid always have to be so difficult?
He supposed the whole encounter could have gone a lot worse… but it could have gone a lot better. Threatening he and his brother had been a last resort, but one he'd anticipated having to use, given how stubborn the teen was.
That hadn't made it any easier to do, though.
The knock that came a few minutes later was expected and he didn't bother lifting his head to acknowledge when Hawkeye and Havoc came in. He did glance up to see the expressions, stuck somewhere between upset and resolution, and dragged a hand across his face. He envied them for being able to display even that much emotion to the world; it was not a luxury he was often afforded, and even though he knew he could be himself around his people, it had become habit not to- it was borderline uncomfortable to let them see him this out of order even now.
Havoc was the first to break the silence, a deep frown accompanying his words.
"Did we really have to be so harsh?"
Ah. So they had been able to hear the yelling through the doors. He'd wondered about that.
He let loose another sigh, running his hand up and through his hair. He'd explained the situation enough times by that point that the prospect of going over it one more time added insult to injury.
"If the Colonel had been any less harsh, Edward would have known something wasn't right." Riza stated in his stead. Still, as resolute as her tone was, one look at her eyes told him she was just as displeased with Fullmetal's treatment as Havoc.
Jean sighed and pulled out a cigarette to chew on. "I just hope the kid'll be okay. Him and his brother."
"They'll be fine," Hawkeye said, sounding so sure of something nobody could actually know, "Those two are strong. They'll find a way to get their bodies back without us."
Roy felt a humorless smile twitch onto his face. He didn't know how she could remain optimistic about everything- it reminded him so much of… Well. If there were ever anyone who believed in those boys as much as Hughes had, it was her.
The smile slipped away almost as quickly as it had come and he shoved those thoughts aside with the physical movement of standing from his chair. He couldn't think about that right now- couldn't let himself become useless before the fight had even started. He crossed over to the window that always seemed far too large for the room and stared out, not seeing much but not wanting to look at the others as he brought the conversation to a close.
"Now all we can do is prepare for what lies ahead and hope the Elrics forget about is."
The statement awarded him a barely audible 'yes' from the other two before the sound of their exit was announced with the clicking of the door..
"I can't believe he would do that!"
"Well you better start believing Winry, because he did."
Edward threw open the curtains of the small hotel room he and Al had been staying in for the past four days, the shrill ring of Winry's indignance making him grit his teeth. He didn't mind her voice, not really, but lately everything had been getting on his nerves. The confines of the damn room they were stuck in hadn't done anything to soothe that feeling, either.
Since he was no longer in the military, they were no longer able to stay in the dorms- they'd practically been thrown out onto the streets within hours of his watch being taken. They were lucky he and Al only had so many things to their names, otherwise he would've fought them harder. As it stood, he'd had a hard enough time finding a place they could stay that wouldn't make a huge dent in their now limited funds.
Yet another thing Mustang had taken from them.
Winry had arrived in Central from Risembool at his request that morning and they'd explained everything to her. She seemed to be taking it harder than Al had. Whilst Al had been silent for a stretch of time before asking what they were going to do, Winry would not stop talking... and now she had tears in her eyes, which was doing nothing to elevate his already foul mood.
"Don't cry, Winry." Al kept trying to comfort her but she continued to weep.
"But how will you two get your bodies back now?"
"We'll figure it out," Al tried reassuring. Edward resisted the urge to scoff. Yeah, right they'd be able to figure it out. He'd been agonizing over it since Monday and hadn't come up with anything other than...
"We'll go see teacher. I'm sure she'll know what to do to help."
"Stop crying, Winry."
He snapped it before he could really think about the words, and while it was a practiced request, it did nothing to actually calm anyone down. Not him, and definitely not her, if the glare she shot him meant anything.
"Why? It's not like you ever cry, you big idiot!"
And what good would crying do me? Edward wanted to yell. He couldn't see how getting emotional would help him in this situation (or any situation), and her practically insisting that he should made him bristle. It didn't even matter. He didn't know why he was getting so angry over something so stupid, but that was just where he was at that point.
He said nothing, though, just clenching his jaw and turning away from her.
"Yeah, I know."
Al sounded as disappointed as he did understanding, the one word conveying to Edward everything he didn't say aloud while he pat Winry's shoulder, trying to calm her down, and Edward wanted to rip at his hair until his scalp bled.
Alphonse was right, of course, he needed to apologize. He knew Winry didn't deserve his being a jerk. He knew he had no reason to be cruel to her when he was the one who sent for her in the first place. He knew all of that… yet he was still being unbearable.
He went over and sat heavily on the arm of the chain Winry was after the short exchange and sighed. "Sorry, Winry."
"It's alright, Ed. I know you're upset." Winry wiped her eyes again and offered Edward a shaky smile. He returned the gesture, though it felt hollow, and stood again when the restless energy surged through him again.
He looked between his brother and his childhood friend while pacing, took note of the tears Winry shed for them and their situation and the hunch in Al's shoulders borne from stress and the same feeling of hopelessness that ate at his core. Their pain was palpable and he wanted nothing more than to help them- maybe if he could manage to do that, he would feel better, too.
It just seemed an impossible task. How was he supposed to do anything for them when everywhere they looked they were reminded that they no longer belonged in the city they found themselves in. Central Headquarters could be seen from the corner of the eye from practically anywhere. Just looking out the window, he could see the faint green of the military banner hanging from the building and a glare pulled at his brows.
It hit him then, what they had to do.
They couldn't stay in Central. It was hurting them. They had to move on and get on with their lives. They had to grit their teeth and bear whatever came next, and they had to do what they could to find answers for how to fix their bodies. With or without the military, they couldn't give up.
"So, who else wants to get out of this place?" He asked suddenly.
Al hummed in agreement almost immediately and Winry nodded as she finally got to her feet and wiped her eyes until they were some semblance of dry.
"That sounds good. I'll... go get us the tickets to, uh... where is it your teacher is, again?"
"Dublith," Al answered and Edward gave a thumbs-up in conformation. Winry gave another weak smile and headed out of the room. She looked relieved to just be able to do something. Edward couldn't blame her- feeling useless was the worst.
"Okay, I'll be back soon." She called before shutting the door and leaving them to their thoughts.
Edward's momentary energy immediately dissipated and he flopped heavily onto the creaking bed. A sigh passed through his lips and his brows drew together in a frown. He was aware of Alphonse coming over to sit next to him and he shifted over to make room. His brother said nothing and Edward glared once more, this time at the wall. With Winry gone, his thoughts returned to churning angrily, buzzing in his head and under his skin like a persistent fruit fly.
Did nothing in their life ever go right?
Yeah, they had screwed up big time trying to bring their mom back, but they'd paid for that, and they were trying to fix it now, and yet the world seemed determined to be against them every step of the way.
No. Not the world, actually. Just Mustang.
He crossed his arms and muttered just loudly enough for his brother to hear, "I hate him."
The statement sounded childish even to his fifteen year old ears, but it slipped off his tongue without conscious effort. And, childish as it may have been, it was true to some extent. Mustang had ruined everything- destroyed his and Al's chances of getting their bodies in any sort of smooth, orderly fashion. And he'd done it with one order.
He had betrayed them. That was what got to him more than anything else. As much as he had called the man useless and dumb in any attempt to make him mad, Edward had always relied on the Colonel in some way or another. And it wasn't until then that he could actually admitted it to himself. He was sure there was some sort of irony to be found there, but he didn't care to find it.
Alphonse sighed from his side of the couch and shook his head. "No you don't, brother."
"Yes I do!"
Edward kicked the pile of blankets at the foot of the bed and watched them topple onto the floor.
"He kicked us to the curb without a second thought. He knew how much we needed the military research. The bastard."
"Stop calling him that, Ed." Al chastised and Edward growled.
"No, because it's what he is! He threatened to turn us into the feds- he threatened to make you a lab-rat, don't you get that?" He shook his head, still unable to believe that fact. "What's wrong with him? He even-"
"You know, you always call dad that..." Al said quietly, and it was enough to catch Edward off guard, "You said he was a bastard for leaving and making mom cry. The Colonel abandoned us t-"
Oh hell no. No. He was not going there. That line of thinking was not allowed.
"Knock it off, Al. That's not what this is about. This scenario is completely different. I'm calling him a bastard because it's true…" It was true. It was truer than anything else being said at that point, at any rate. "I still can't believe he got everyone else to agree with his whole "discharge" plan. The traitors."
Al took a hallow breath and Edward mentally prepared himself for whatever it was he planned to say. However, any intention his brother may have had to speak was cut off the next second by the sound of the door slamming open and bouncing off the wall.
Winry stood in the doorway, wide-eyed, breathless, hair in disarray and face flushed. She was clutching something to her chest with shaking hands, too, and upon closer inspection, Edward realized it was a newspaper.
He got up immediately and crossed the room to put a hand on her shoulder, Alphonse not far behind. "Winry? What's wrong?"
"I thought I'd get one last paper from Central before we left."
Tears pooled in her eyes once more as she pushed the paper into his hands. The way her she still shook made a knot form in Edward's gut.
"Front page," she whispered hoarsely.
He flipped the paper over and read the headline aloud. "Central Troops Deployed...?"
With confusion running rampant through his head while dread he didn't understand gripped his shoulders and peered into his eyes, he glanced at Winry, a silent question as to what was going on passing between them.
"Read," was her choked answer.
So he did.
"Colonel Roy Mustang, the famed Flame Alchemist, and his division are deployed to the front lines. As the conflict heats up, will the 'Hero of Ishval' be able to send those Drachmans running..."
He trailed off, not because he didn't care to read the rest, but because his mouth couldn't keep up with his eyes as they flew across the page, taking in all the information available.
There wasn't much.
He was vaguely aware of Winry finally breaking down and Al removing the paper from his hands to continue reading aloud, drawing Winry close to him as he did, but everything seemed suddenly distant, muffled, as if it was happening in another time.
None of this made sense.
The war with Drachma, while constantly going, usually remained at a simmer on the back burner. It had never been so bad that the involvement of State Alchemists was required. As it was, if they needed State Alchemists, why would Mustang have discharged him?
But even that was obvious.
It was then, when it was already too late, that Edward realized why Mustang and the team had gotten rid of him. Why he'd been threatened and pushed and yelled at. Why the Colonel had been so adamant that they get out of the dorms and away from Central Headquarters.
By removing his state title, he'd removed his usefulness to the military. Had he been a State Alchemist for even a few hours longer, he could've been forcibly deployed along with them.
They hadn't been trying to hurt him or Al... they'd been trying to save them.
Edward cursed his own stupidity. He should've known something was wrong beyond the scope of what he'd felt the morning Mustang had sent for him. He cursed himself for not paying attention to the politics that had probably made up most of the idle chatter around Central. He cursed Mustang and everyone else for being so damn protective.
They were all idiots.