It’s official. This day couldn’t get any weirder.
Ed pushes out of his chair at Mustang’s kitchen table and he still can’t believe he’s in the Colonel’s house. The fact he just had dinner with him, a dinner he helped cook, still doesn’t completely register either. If only that was the strangest part of the evening. The way things are going he feels like he’s in for a lot more surprises. He follows Mustang out of the kitchen and bores holes in the back of his white shirt with his stare. He doesn’t trust him. Not even a little bit, but something has definitely changed between them. For some reason Mustang actually talked to him, like a real person, and he still doesn’t understand why.
“A mutual understanding,” isn’t that what he said he wanted? Al won’t be happy about letting someone else into this, but considering the homunculi seem to be counting Mustang as a sacrifice now, he’s probably right about already being involved. But that doesn’t mean Ed has to like it. There’s more to this sudden change in attitude than what Mustang’s saying. He’d bet his remaining flesh and blood arm on it. But until he knows what that something else is “a mutual understanding” is probably doable, for now anyway. It’s not like he has much choice.
But he still doesn’t trust him.
Ed stops short, nearly running into Mustang when he pauses in front of the closed door on the left side of the hall. He expected him to just walk in but apparently the door is locked or something. Why would he have the door locked in his own house? Is this for his benefit? Ed scowls and crosses his arms as he leans against the stairway railing behind him. The weird, anal retentive Colonel produces a key from his pocket and Ed rolls his eyes until the familiar tingle of alchemy draws his attention back to the door.
Was that an alchemic reaction? The door opens under Mustang’s hand, but did he do something with his left hand as his right turned the key? Damnit, he didn’t know he needed to pay attention to the bastard unlocking the door! Why the fuck can’t anything with the stupid Colonel be simple?
Mustang walks into the dark room and Ed hurries after him to stare at the door, but he doesn’t see anything special. It just looks like a damn door. Stupid, bastard Colonel. Only he would have some kind of special alchemic door lock. He fists his hands and considers asking what the hell that was, but he thinks better of it. He’s not here to learn about alchemic doors. Mustang’s already letting him into his apparently very secure private library and he doesn’t need to be racking up even more debt to the bastard than he already has. He’ll just have to get a closer look at the door another time…preferably when Mustang isn’t watching.
The light in the room flicks on and Ed’s eyes widen when he sees the size of the room. It’s much bigger than he expected, but considering it probably takes up the entire first floor besides the kitchen it makes sense. He just didn’t expect it to be so nice with how sparse the rest of the house seemed. Ed stares straight across a sitting area consisting of a couch facing a couple high backed chairs in front of a large, brick fireplace. There’s a low coffee table between the couch and chairs and on the wooden mantle over the fireplace Ed finally sees the first personal touches in the form of a few pictures in well-worn frames. It’s obvious this is the room Mustang cares about and maybe that explains the extra security. It’d be such a shame for people to know the cold bastard actually had a personality.
“Feel free to look around, Fullmetal. Just don’t touch the cabinet in the corner.” Ed whips his head around to ask why he’d make something off limits at this point but the stern look on Mustang’s face stays his tongue, for the moment. “And please remember what I said about this collection; don’t mention anything you see here anywhere else.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it.” Ed waves his hand flippantly and walks toward the couch to his left and the bookcases surrounding it on three sides. This side of the room’s obviously the main part of the library though there is another bookcase framing the opposite side of the fireplace. It’s only when he reaches the walls of books that he realizes the shelves are built into them. It’s impressive and would take a master craftsman to have done it, unless… “You did this all yourself, didn’t you?”
He looks back over his shoulder for conformation but Mustang isn’t paying attention to him anymore. He’s sat down at a desk in the far corner to the right of the fireplace and makes a dismissive motion with his hand. He’s looking down at an open book in front of him but Ed doesn’t miss the slight upturn of his lips. Oh yeah, he did this room himself with alchemy no doubt. It would make sense if he didn’t want anyone to know what he had in here, but why is that such a big deal? Is it all about downplaying his true alchemic abilities? There really is a lot more to the Colonel than he ever expected and it’s seriously getting under his skin. How did he miss so much?
Ed shrugs and turns back to the bookcase that runs along the wall adjacent to the hallway. He scans over the dozens and dozens of bound volumes and sees that many of them don’t concern alchemy. They’re books on history, politics, military strategies, and nothing that’s going to help him now. He doesn’t know much about those books but he gets the sense it’s a thorough collection. Who knew Mustang was a collector? He could easily access most of these texts in the library. Is he really so concerned about what people might see him reading? Ed shakes his head and gives a mental “whatever” because it’s probably just Mustang not wanting to tarnish his reputation as a ladies’ man by looking like he actually has a brain. Well, one that doesn’t live in his pants anyway.
Ed turns to the long back wall behind the couch that separates the library from the kitchen. It’s completely covered in books. Hopefully he won’t need to reach any on the top shelves because there’s no way he’ll get them without climbing on something. Stupid, tall bastard. Knowing him he probably put all the good stuff up high too. Ed scans through the rows of books and his eyes widen more with each passing second. These aren’t just basic alchemic texts, though there are a fair amount of those too. These are rare, some of which he’s never even seen before!
“Shit, Mustang. Where did you even—is that Alsayer’s Compendium? And Ecklson’s Theories On…. You have Gruene’s Anthology?! I thought the last copy of that was burned in the First Central Library!” Ed spins around to find Mustang’s turned in his desk chair to watch him. The look on his face is unreadable. It’s not smug the way he expected. If anything he looks pensive, or reserved. He really is protective of this stuff. Considering the military has proved itself more than capable of burning down libraries to keep secrets he’s starting to understand why Mustang’s so edgy. He shakes his head at him more impressed than he wants to admit. “Mustang, half of this stuff I’ve only ever seen referenced. Why didn’t you ever tell me—”
“And just how much would you value these resources if I had?” Ed scowls at the matter of fact tone and feels the familiar anger where Mustang’s concerned build inside him. “Edward, you’ve run across resources in your research that I’d never even seen. During your travels you’ve amassed a knowledge base that even I envy. If I’d handed this to you right away that never would've happened.” His lips turn up in a slight smirk as he leans back in his chair. “Not to mention you never would’ve appreciated it.”
“Bastard,” Ed grumbles as he turns back to the books because he knows he has a point. It’s just like what he was saying in the kitchen about how he’s been influencing him indirectly all these years. The very idea that he’s been a puppet on a string still makes his blood boil, but where would he be otherwise? Until Mustang and Hawkeye showed up in Resembool he’d never considered becoming a military dog. Now, looking over some of these books, he knows where Mustang got some of those fact finding missions he sent him on. There’s no doubt Ed’s helped him flesh out this library some, but there’s so much more here than just alchemy.
He makes his way to the shelf to the left of the fireplace, skipping the cabinet built into the corner for the moment, and sees books filled with more obscure histories including ones about places other than Amestris. How could Mustang possibly have time to go through all of these? Ed runs his fingers along the spines of a few that look like they’ve never been opened. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe he hasn’t been able to pour over everything he’s collected. Could that be why he’s finally invited Ed here? Just how much of this is about trust and how much is about needing Ed to sort through all his crap? He may never know, but he’s not going to dwell on it, not when there are so many enticing resources at his fingertips.
Ed turns back to the alchemy shelves on the back wall and spares a longer glance to the cabinet built into the corner. It consists of a solid wooden door that stretches between the ends of the shelves on the adjacent walls. The inside of the cabinet would have to be triangular to fit in the corner, but Ed has a feeling it’s probably deeper than it looks. The door has ornate carvings running along all four sides and Ed squints at them because they seem vaguely familiar. He shakes his head at the odd thought then finally snatches up a few books from the shelves on the back wall. He makes sure to grab Gruene’s Anthology because he knows that’s something Al’s wanted to see and he can take down some notes for him. He’ll be damned if he deprives Al just to keep Mustang happy.
He makes his way back to the sitting area in front of the fireplace and flops down on the couch. It’s sturdy and more comfortable than he expected. He sets the books on the low table in front of him then pulls out papers from his coat for note taking. Despite what Mustang might think, when it comes to research, he always tries to be prepared. Ed reaches over to grab the anthology then stretches out on the couch. It’ll take him a bit of time to sift through the huge volume to find what he’s looking for, but before he gets started he glances at the rest of the room.
There’s another small bookcase on the other side of the fireplace next to Mustang’s desk. He’ll need to check that one out later, preferably when Mustang’s not sitting right there to spy on him. Long, floor to ceiling drapes cover the front wall and Ed wonders if Mustang ever bothers to open them. On the other side of the doorway is a huge grandfather clock and in the corner behind it a more worn chair than the others with a small side table. He takes it all in then shakes his head. It’s so not what he expected. It almost reminds him of the cozy feel of his father’s old study—but he’s not going there.
Ed opens the large tome in his lap and huffs in frustration. Damn Mustang for making him think about him. He scowls down at the book and grimaces because it’s not helping either. The last time he saw this book was in that same room before he and Al tried to—. He slams the book closed then grabs another one to start flipping through, but before long he’s reaching for the anthology again. Al really wanted to see this book and considering both copies he knew existed were burned he doesn’t need to waste this opportunity. For all he knows Mustang won’t let him back in here again, though if he tries to lock him out Ed might have to see just how secure this room really is.
Before long he finds the section Al wanted to see and he moves the book to the small table and starts copying all the theories and notations without missing a word. His hand will be a claw by the time he’s done, but it doesn’t matter if it brings Al a little bit of peace. He knows that Al trusts in him and his memories again, at least he thinks he does, but these notes should make it even easier to accept. He focuses on his task and doesn’t stop until every last detail he remembered is copied down in his usual scrawl. His left hand and back are killing him by the time he’s done and he’s envying Roy his desk, but he got what he needed. Now he can flip through the rest of the book to see if there’s anything else of interest in it.
He’d only remembered the sections on alchemy he actually used before and the rest of the book comes as a pleasant surprise. Before he knows it he’s jotting down more notes for himself on some basic constructs he can put to use immediately. There’s even one derivative that should be able to help him strengthen Al’s armor, which is always a good thing. After a while he gets lost in reading the author’s history and some anecdotal discussions on his theories when a certain observation makes him smile.
In all the time I spent traveling and studying alchemy, it never ceased to amaze me how many people view this science as some sort of black art. Even with all the advancements science has put forth, many still continue to see alchemy as something mythical and view those who practice it as magicians or, in a most unfortunate case, as demons. Even with all my explanations and demonstrations, some still refuse to comprehend….
Ed snorts softly at the sentiment. How many times has he found himself in the same situation, though under slightly different circumstances? Much of the distrust and even hatred he’s encountered has been coupled with ill feelings toward the military as well as his alchemy. Unfortunately with some people there is no explaining, like that girl in Lior. Even with facts right in front of her face she still didn’t want to believe. It’s ludicrous. Ed turns his attention back to the book and continues reading.
I’ve even run across people whose beliefs were founded on “miracles” or “happenings” which were obviously alchemically related. It seems likely that many mythical monsters and “boogeymen” may in fact be merely misunderstood alchemic practices performed by—
Hold on a minute.
Ed stares at the text a moment longer than shoves a scrap of paper in the book to mark his place. He stares off toward the shelves as his mind spins. Monsters. The homunculi are monsters. There’s no doubt about that. But how long have they been around? Ed glances down at the anthology in his hands that’s a little over fifty years old. People were talking about monsters back then, but what if those monsters weren’t just traveling alchemists? What if those monsters were….
Ed jumps off the couch and knocks a few papers on the floor as he scrambles over to the bookcase to the left of the fireplace. It was filled with histories and legends. What if some of those legends are about homunculi? People wouldn’t know they were homunculi but the damn military couldn’t squash legends. Those travel by word of mouth. What if some of them have to do with real monsters? Ed swears he feels eyes on him as he starts yanking books from the shelf but he ignores them. He doesn’t have time for Mustang now. He’s onto something. He snatches another old, battered book from the shelf when his eyes drift over to the cabinet in the corner and this time he doesn’t look away.
He must have better resources in there. Why else would it be locked up? He might actually have something directly related to the homunculi or who knows what else. He hid all these books from him for so long, who’s to say what else he’d be hiding now? Ed takes a step closer to the “forbidden” cabinet and scowls at the stupid, swirly carvings that mock him with their hidden secrets. If only he could get a little peek. He reaches out to trace one of the stupid designs with a finger and—
A sudden, sharp electric shock runs up his arm so strong it rattles his teeth. Ed yanks his flesh hand back, his eyes widening in shock then squinting in pain. “OW! Mustang, what the FUCK? Are you trying to fucking kill me?” He whips his head around to find dark eyes locked on him disapprovingly from his position at the desk. Ed fists his right hand and wonders if automail to the face would be as painful as that damn shock was.
“I specifically told you not to touch that cabinet, Fullmetal.”
That’s it? That’s all he has to say after fucking trying to kill him? Ok…maybe not kill him, but that hurt! “You could have told me the damn thing would attack me!”
“I’d advise you not to touch it again because once activated the charge only grows stronger.”
Ed’s teeth clench at the even tone to Mustang’s voice and he jerks his head around to see the cabinet has a faint alchemic glow. It’s almost as if arrays are glowing from the inside. Ed squints at the decorative carving again and now he can’t believe he didn’t see it. Some of the lines are most definitely alchemy related…but they aren’t complete. That’s why he missed it. How could it possibly be activated with incomplete arrays? Wait a minute, the glow is coming from the inside….
A bolt of comprehension jolts through him with almost the same force as the alchemic shock. His eyes widen and in an instant he’s storming across the room to look at the back of the door. He saw nothing but faint indentations on the front of the door above the lock but on the back…. “Bastard.” Ed’s careful not to touch the three tiny arrays carved in the wood just in case, and he still doesn’t completely understand how they work, but there’s no question it’s the same principal. Somehow Mustang activated these arrays from the other side of the door when he unlocked it! He jerks his head back to look at Mustang and snarls. “What the hell is this, Mustang? What’s going on here and what kind of alchemy is this?! What else are you hiding!”
Mustang doesn’t answer. He just levels a hard look at him that has Ed clenching both his fists. He shifts on his feet and considers the consequences of shaking answers out of a superior officer when Mustang finally speaks in the same flat toned voice as before. “I think it’s time for you to leave, Fullmetal.”
Ed blinks at him, his words barely processing. Is he serious? Does he really think he’d just walk out of here with no answers? There’s no way that’s happening! Mustang closes the book on his desk and as he moves to stand a sick feeling spreads through Ed’s stomach. He can kick him out. He glances over at his papers strewn everywhere and he knows with a snap of the bastard’s fingers those could be gone as well. Ed backs away from the door, taking a defensive stance in front of his hours of labor and he snaps.
“You can’t do that! Not now.” The stone look on Mustang’s face is unwavering as he comes closer and desperation floods through Ed. “You brought me here, Mustang. You. You can’t shut me out now. What about working together? What about….” He struggles to find the right words because it’s obvious he’s about to be thrown out on his ass and there’s no question he won’t be invited back. Then it hits him. “What about ‘mutual understanding?’ Isn’t that what you said? How can we have an understanding when you won’t even trust me? You said my biggest fault was doing everything on my own. Didn’t you say we were in this together? How can we be in this together if you’re shutting me out?!”
He’s rambling. He knows it, but what other choice is there? He can’t make Mustang do anything. Sure he could tell people about this place, but what good would that do? He’d probably just deny it and there’s no question who people would believe. Not to mention he wouldn’t want to put the bastard at more risk then he already is for helping them. Damn him and all his secrets! Mustang’s stopped in front of the open door and Ed stands his ground when he doesn’t make any direct move to throw him out. He looks like he’s weighing out what Ed said and now Ed holds his breath as he waits for the verdict.
“I suppose you have a point about working together.” Ed lets out a breath but then catches it again when Mustang’s hard stare pins him down again. “So, you’ve been researching for hours. What have you found?”
Ed’s mouth goes dry when he realizes exactly what he’s doing. He’s testing him and Ed has no doubt his future involvement here rides entirely on his answer. Stupid bastard. He didn’t tell him there was a deadline or that he’d have to “report” before he left. He has to know much of what he was copying down was personal, though how he’d know that Ed has no clue. But the arrogant Colonel Shit is in for a surprise because he was onto something! At least, he thinks he was. Ed deliberately stands up straighter and locks his eyes directly with Mustang’s. He won’t back down.
“Well, considering the homunculi have probably been around a long time—”
“You have no basis for that assumption.” Mustang’s voice is hard and cold in a way he’s only ever seen once before. He was this way when he pretended to torch Maria Ross. Damn him for being so difficult!
“I damn well do.” Mustang opens his mouth to answer again but Ed cuts him off before he can. “Have you ever heard of the ‘Beasts of Dublith?’” Mustang’s mouth snaps shut and Ed smirks slightly when confusion quickly followed by annoyance plays across his face.
“I can’t say that I have, but surely this isn’t your idea of—”
“The Beasts of Dublith are monsters who live below ground and are rumored to come out at night and eat children who are disobedient.” Ed continues quickly without giving Mustang a chance to argue. This is his only shot and, for once, he’s not going to let him derail him. “I first heard the story when I was studying there with Teacher and Al. I always assumed it was just something parents said to keep kids in line. But then we found out about Greed and the chimeras who moved underground and kept to the shadows. Bit of a coincidence, don’t you think?” Mustang looks less than convinced and Ed pushes on. “Sig once told me he heard that story when he was a kid, so it was probably an old tale then. Old and based in fact.”
Mustang crosses his arms and his face takes on a less stony countenance. His eyes, however, still stare piercingly through Ed and he has to force himself to maintain his ground. “Go on.”
Ed takes a breath at the encouragement. At least he’s listening. “We could probably dig deeper into that fairy tale to determine its origin, but it’s hardly worth it considering Greed’s dead now.” Mustang nods and Ed’s starting to get the feeling he’s winning him over. He probably knows where he’s going with this already, but of course he’s going to make him spell it all out. Bastard. “I have no doubt there are other legends like this and if we could weed through them….”
“We might just be able to start getting a bigger picture about these ‘monsters.’”
Ed nods as Mustang uncrosses his arms. He gets it. Now maybe he’ll let him stay.
“Good work, Fullmetal.”
Ed relaxes until Mustang takes a step toward him and he tenses, ready to resist. Is he really going to throw him out now? Was it all a joke? But then Mustang passes by him and he realizes he’s heading to one of the bookcases on the back wall. What’s that about? Ed turns around as Mustang scans the shelves, and wouldn’t you know it, pulls down a book well out of Ed’s reach. He stares at the cover then comes back over to Ed and holds it out.
“You might want to take a closer look at this book the next time you’re here.” Ed takes the book and nods quickly at the promise of another opportunity. “As for tonight, it is getting late and I, for one, have somewhere to be in the morning.” Ed ignores the thinly veiled insult and looks down at the book. Weather patterns? Really? “The day after tomorrow is my day off so if you want to come by tomorrow evening, you can stay as long as you like.”
Ed nods distractedly as he opens the book and starts scanning through it. He moves back toward his messy pile of research scattered over the couch, table, and the floor and starts picking up the pages one by one as he sets the book down and flips through it with his other hand. Why would Mustang give him this? It has to be a code, but a code of what? Is it because Mustang’s so useless in the rain? That could explain why he’d have picked up a book like this. There has to be more though. Ed skims through chapter titles and sees one on the focus and generation of lightning strikes. That shock he got felt like a bolt of lightning. Could this be….
“This is how you made the locks, isn’t it?” He looks up to find Mustang giving him a look that’s somewhere between amusement and annoyance. How can he be both at once? He bristles under the idea that Mustang may be laughing at him and starts grabbing up his loose notes more aggressively.
“Yes, Edward. But as I said, another time?”
Ed looks up again when he hears what sounded like a stifled yawn. He takes a closer look at Mustang and suddenly notices what he thought was annoyance might just be exhaustion. What time is it anyway? He leans forward to look around him at the grandfather clock and his mouth drops open. It’s after midnight! He snatches up the last of his papers and hastily shoves them inside his coat as he stands.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was so late.” He did say come back tomorrow, right? “I didn’t mean to keep you up.” He glances back at the book Mustang showed him, still sitting on the table, and finally realizes why he brought it to him. It wasn’t about the locks. It was about letting him in. He may not have spelled it out, but he doesn’t have to. Ed smiles to himself then nods as he heads for the door. “So, tomorrow then?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, just calls out as he reaches the door. “I’ll bring food. Later, Colonel.”
He might as well work on evening things up between them. With Mustang sharing so much right now, the scales are definitely tipping. The least he can do is bring dinner. He grins as he steps off the porch and heads down the street. What a weird night. Al’s never going to believe this.