Genre: AU, Master/slave
Beta'd by: meredavey
Summary: "But it makes no fucking sense. All he did was make things worse. It's like the Fuhrer wanted a damn war—"
Ed leaned back, craning his neck to try to see out the crack of the door. That Hawkeye woman was outside talking with the soldier he'd seen her with earlier, but he couldn't hear more than a low murmur of voices. As curious as he was, Ed wasn't about to outright spy on them, not after seeing that woman's temper.
Hawkeye had him helping with the filing. It was incredibly boring, but at least it beat scrubbing pots—barely. Of course the papers didn't have anything useful on them; Ed now knew more than he ever wanted to about the military's usage of underwear and bar soap, but that was about it. At least the lieutenant was pleasant enough company. She was tolerating his questions and even chatting with him, though she was being careful with what she said. Over lunch she had revealed that she and Mustang had known each other for quite some time—that he had, in fact, learned alchemy from her father. Ed had a hard time picturing the suave colonel as a youth bent over his books (and an even harder time imagining the lieutenant as a girl) but it was an amusing thought.
The door swung open and Ed snapped his attention back to the filing cabinet. "No need to put this in writing, not yet," Hawkeye was saying. "Colonel Mustang hasn't decided on a course of action."
"Understood. I'll keep you informed if I find anything new." The soldier saluted the lieutenant, acknowledging Ed with a nod and smile before he left.
Ed looked over as Hawkeye pulled another stack of folders out and set them on the table. "Um—you and—that guy," he jerked his thumb at the door. "You came here with Mustang, right?"
"Warrant Officer Falman," she clarified. "And yes. We're both part of the colonel's office staff."
"What about that blond guy with the rifle—the smoker. Him too?"
"Second Lieutenant Havoc. That's right." She set a stack of papers down on top of the cabinet. "These go in the second drawer."
Ed wrinkled his nose as he picked up the first one. "Why d'you need to keep records of this stuff, anyway?" he muttered.
"Accountability." He thought he saw a bit of a smile before she turned back to the folders. "And to answer the question you're leading to, about half of the soldiers here currently are from East City. Five of us are in Colonel Mustang's immediate staff. The rest are from Central."
Ed watched her out of the corner of his eye as he thumbed through the folders in the drawer. It had been hard to tell, but ever since Mustang had come here it had seemed that his soldiers operated differently from Hakuro's. Ed supposed it all came back to what the commander wanted and expected from his troops, but something still bugged him.
"If Liore's in the eastern area, shouldn't it be East City's problem anyway?"
"Then why the hell was that Hakuro bastard put here?"
"I'm afraid you would have to ask the Fuhrer that question."
Ed grumbled and stuffed a couple of the forms into their place. "But it makes no fucking sense. All he did was make things worse. It's like the Fuhrer wanted a damn war—"
Ed jolted, his hand skittering against the papers. He snatched his hand back with a curse and stuck his finger in his mouth to stop the stinging. "Paper cut," he mumbled to Hawkeye's concerned look. "S'fine," he added when she reached for his hand.
Despite his protests, she tugged the finger out of his mouth and examined it. "Mm-hm. You should be more careful. Even the paperwork is dangerous here."
Ed snorted. "Yeah, I can see," he muttered, but his mind was elsewhere.
This conflict hadn't been an accident. The Fuhrer—or someone—had wanted a war. And Ed had a sinking, sick feeling he knew who some of the key players were.
The question was why.
Before he could organize his troubling thoughts enough to voice them, there was a quick knock at the door. Lieutenant Havoc gave Hawkeye a casual salute as he let himself in. "Hey. The Chief is still busy ripping those two a new one, so I'm supposed to take Ed here back to his quarters." He let out a low whistle when he caught sight of the youth. "Damn. They really did a number on you there."
Ed rubbed self consciously at his sore neck. "Nah, I'm fine," he insisted. "If it weren't for that fuckin' chain they wouldn't've stood a chance."
Havoc chuckled. "I don't doubt that. Even without your arm. Eh . . . speaking of the chain. . . ." He gestured to the metal links. Hawkeye hadn't re-latched it and it was currently coiled on the floor by his feet. "I hate to do this, but it's regs, y'know?"
"Yeah, I know," Ed grumbled. He waved his hand. "Whatever, it's fine."
The soldier looked apologetic as he picked up the chain.
As Ed turned to leave Hawkeye touched his shoulder. "Thank you for your help this afternoon, Ed."
"Huh? O-oh. Yeah," he stammered. It seemed so odd for her to be thanking him. "And, um—thank you. For—um, just—thanks." He hoped she could hear the sincerity. From the smile she gave him as he left he guessed that she did.
Nothing would make Ed like being kept on a lead, but at least neither Havoc nor Hawkeye treated him like he was less of a person for being a prisoner. The same couldn't be said of the people they passed as they made their way to Mustang's quarters. Most of them either pointedly ignored Ed or outright stared as they went by. Ed scowled, irritation rising with each step. He felt like enough of a freak as it was without having his status as "other" slung around his neck.
"Don't take it personally, most of them don't mean anything by it," Havoc's voice interrupted his brooding. The soldier flashed him a grin. "Besides, they're probably scared of ya."
Ed snorted, a smirk tugging at his mouth in spite of himself. "Yeah? Well, they should be."
"How'd you get that automail, anyway? If you don't mind my asking."
"Um, accident," he mumbled. "When I was a kid. We've got some friends who're automail mechanics and they fixed me up."
"Lucky break. That stuff doesn't come cheap."
"Yeah, and they better not've damaged my arm, or my mechanic's gonna be pissed," Ed growled.
"Don't worry, it's locked away," Havoc assured him. "Mustang keeps all that stuff under lock and key, that way it doesn't go missing."
The young man raised an eyebrow. "'Missing'? Yeah, I bet things go missing."
The taller man shrugged, intent on tapping a cigarette out of the pack. "General Hakuro ran things differently than Mustang does, that's all." But the look he shot the prisoner clearly said there was more.
Ed waved a hand at the military compound. "So how come there's so many of Hakuro's troops still here?"
Havoc made an indistinct noise around the cigarette. "East HQ doesn't have the same resources." His tone was carefully neutral. "So the Fuhrer's loaning them from Central."
Ed thought better of asking further. For one thing they had gotten to Mustang's rooms. But he had more than enough to chew over as it was.
Roy took a moment to compose himself before entering his quarters. His temper had been warn thin and he wanted all his wits about him when dealing with his hostage. The incident had not been Ed's fault—at all—and the last thing he wanted to do was ruin whatever progress he'd made by lashing out. He let out his breath, carefully schooling his features, then opened the door.
Ed was lying on his cot. He did little more than glance back over his shoulder, his expression guarded. Roy walked over slowly, taking a moment to study him as Ed contemplated the wall. The bruises mottling his neck were quite spectacular, but otherwise the young man didn't seem much worse for wear, at least physically. Considering that he'd been crippled, hobbled, and fighting two against one, that fact was pretty remarkable.
Roy smirked just slightly as he reached down and touched the collar. "Maybe I should consider you 'dangerous'."
Ed shot him a look, but swallowed whatever he'd been about to say as Roy slid the key into the lock on the end of the chain. He waited, wary, until the soldier had stepped away. Then he sat up, fussing at the collar and his neck as he turned to keep him in sight. "Maybe you should. Isn't that the whole point?"
"I suppose." Roy said as he headed for the bathroom. His own views on the military's practices were beside the point.
He took a small jar from the first aid kit in the bathroom. When he returned to the bedroom Ed was giving him a calculating look.
"Or maybe you should keep better tabs on your soldiers, Colonel," Ed continued. "If they're even yours."
Roy returned his look with an impassive one of his own. "Everyone here is under my command."
"Wouldn't know it by the way those guards act. Seems to me they were just waiting until your back was turned. Fuck knows what they're doing to the prisoners in the camp, they clearly don't care what—"
Roy moved his hand and Ed flinched, almost imperceptibly. His posture was more wary than frightened, but it was enough to cut off his rant. Roy allowed just a bit of a smirk to show through his mask; the kid wasn't likely to know it was from sympathy rather than amusement. He held the jar out, watching as Ed's eyes focused first on his glove and then the salve. It was a few beats later before he reached out to take the jar.
"It's supposed to be good for bruises," the older man explained.
Ed looked between him and the jar, as if waiting for a punchline. Roy wondered if he should offer to open it, but Ed finally wedged the jar between his knees and twisted the lid.
"Soldiers are not ants in a colony," Roy mused as he strolled to the table and took a seat. The food tray still had a small portion that hadn't fallen prey to Ed's appetite. "There are bound to be individuals who clash with their commander from time to time."
Ed watched him with narrowed eyes, but for once kept his opinions unvoiced. Roy smiled as he peeled off his gloves. It was true that he'd been having problems with the soldiers from Central since he'd gotten here, to the point where he wondered if they didn't have some conflicting orders from their previous commander. But maintaining a veneer of control was important, especially in front of someone who was ostensibly the enemy. "In such cases, the problem is addressed, and the individual is dealt with," he added.
"'Dealt with,'" Ed echoed slowly.
"I would transfer them back to Central but we have a shortage of operable vehicles."
Ed cleared his throat and ducked his head toward the jar, but that didn't quite hide the flush on his cheeks. Roy raised an eyebrow as he helped himself to a piece of jerky, cataloging this among all the other bits of trivia pertaining to his hostage.
"What's the point, anyway?" the young man muttered as he dug out a finger-full of the salve and gingerly rubbed it onto his neck. "I mean, why does the military need to be here? This town is out in the middle of nowhere and it's not that big."
"Perhaps. But unrest is unrest."
"It can't be much of a threat."
"Some thought the same about Ishval," he said. "But I suppose you're too young to remember that."
Ed whipped around. Roy tensed and grabbed his gloves as the lid of the jar flew over the table, pinging off the wall behind him and clattering to the floor.
"You want to know what I remember?" Ed snarled. "Our train station and half of Main Street burning because we sold wool to the military. You know what else?" His hand closed to a fist in the blanket. He looked as if he wanted nothing more than to spring from the cot and make his point physically. "I remember my best friend in tears because she got a letter saying her parents had been killed. A fucking form letter! They weren't even military. She and Granny barely had time to mourn before they got overrun by the soldiers maimed in that damn war. So don't—" he breathed in hard, his teeth set, "—don't fucking tell me I'm 'too young' to remember."
The room seemed to hold its breath as they locked eyes, each one waiting for the other to move. After several seconds, Roy very deliberately set his gloves on the table, and leaned back in the chair. "It seems I misspoke."
It snapped the stalemate. Ed turned away, his head down and his fist braced against his knee.
If Command got wind of this, they'd say he'd been careless. Dropping his guard enough to give a hostage that kind of opportunity was unacceptable. They would also say that such acting out shouldn't be tolerated.
Yet it seemed he hadn't misjudged the young prisoner after all. For all his anger Ed hadn't attacked him. Even his impromptu missile had gone wide.
"Your aim leaves something to be desired," he remarked.
"Fuck off, I'm not left-handed," Ed muttered without ire.
It seemed like such an absurd admission after everything that Roy had to bite back a sudden urge to laugh.
Ed burrowed down into the blankets, more to gain some sense of security than for warmth. It was ludicrous—he wasn't five, he didn't believe that a piece of cloth would protect him from monsters—but he couldn't help it. Being taken down so easily had left him shaken and now that there weren't any distractions it was starting to get to him. The realization that the only thing between him and a pretty awful situation was the decency some of his captors was not a pleasant one.
He squirmed around to face the room, peering out from his cocoon of bedding at the large bed against the far wall. Mustang wasn't more than an indistinct mound of shadows in the dark room. Ed just couldn't pin this guy down. He acted like an ass much of the time, but then he would go and do something nice like giving him the salve. He had to be up to something—why single him out as a hostage unless he wanted something—but for the life of him Ed couldn't figure out what.
And no matter how hard he tried he couldn't convince himself that the compassion was all an act. For one thing, for all his aggravating ways, he hadn't mistreated Ed. And it was hard to ignore the fact that Liore had gotten much less deadly since Mustang had taken over.
If the Fuhrer—or whoever or whatever was working behind the scenes—had wanted this to escalate to a war, then Mustang was getting in the way. But getting in the way of what—why was a war out here in the middle of nowhere so important? Ed had doubts that the colonel knew any of that, but still, there might be some way to find out—something.
Ed's thoughts were interrupted by a tiny but unmistakable crackle from the direction of the window. He shot upright, the flimsy cot beneath him wobbling and nearly dumping him to the floor. Gripping the edge of the frame, he froze and held his breath, shooting a frantic look from the familiar shadow looming in the window to the figure in the bed. Mustang had shifted, but was now still. Ed couldn't hear the other man's breathing over the thudding of his own heart, but counted what he thought would be three breaths before he eased his feet to the floor.
"Shh!" Ed waved his brother quiet.
Mustang still hadn't stirred. With one eye on the bed, Ed held the chain away from the floor and shuffled toward the now open window as quickly and as quietly as he could. "What the hell are you doing here?" he hissed when he'd gotten as close possible.
"Fetching you. Now where is the chain attached—"
"Forget the chain! Get out of here before someone sees you, moron—"
"I'm not leaving you here—"
"Al! I'm fine! But we'll both be fucked if you're spotted!"
"You're not fine, you're all bruised! What has he been doing to you—"
Al started to rise from his crouch and Ed cringed at the metallic scraping and frantically waved him back down. "I'm fine I'm fine! This wasn't him!"
"It's those guards at the POW camp you need to worry about, not Mustang!"
"Brother, if you're worried he'll stop you, I can—"
"Will you shut up and listen to me?" Ed shot another look at the bed. "Mustang hasn't lain a finger on me. At all! I'd be in much more danger if I was in the camp like the others, it's those guards who did this," he pointed to his neck. "Now get the hell out of here before the patrols come by!"
"Still, I should—"
The figure in the bed shifted. Ed swallowed a squeak and flailed at his brother to go, the last thing he needed was to be caught talking to an animated suit of armor. Finally Al got the hint and ducked out of sight.
Before Ed could relax a flame burst into life over his head. He flinched back and ducked under his arm; the fire was too small and too far away to hurt him, but his nerves didn't care about logic. Squinting past the sudden glare, he saw the colonel get to his feet, one hand outstretched. He could only hope that Al was around the corner by the time Mustang got to the window.
"Is there a problem?" Mustang said, his tone a little too mild. He snapped again, sending a ribbon of fire out the open window to light up the alley beyond.
"U-um—" Ed cringed at the window, wracking his brain for a plausible excuse. "—No, I, um—I thought I heard something."
The fire extinguished suddenly, leaving Ed blinking and rubbing his eyes in a room that seemed much darker than before.
"I must have gotten careless."
Mustang was running a finger over the edge of the sill. "I don't remember leaving the window open."
"U-uh. . . ."
"Perhaps I should increase the patrols in this area as well."
"Um . . . yeah. . . ." He edged back toward the cot. Shivering, he reached for the blankets, bracing himself. He didn't think for a minute that the colonel bought his act; any minute now Mustang would come up with some punishment, or restrict him further, or something, Ed was sure. Especially after his outburst earlier in the evening.
"After all, we've had some strange reports," Mustang said. "Talk of hauntings. . . ."
Ed's head snapped up. "Hauntings? What—?"
"You don't think so?"
He sounded amused, in that smug way that really got on Ed's nerves. "Dead is dead," he snapped. "The dead don't come back."
"No?" He followed Ed, pausing on the other side of the cot. "I'll be sure to mention that to our resident ghost. Unless you would like to."
The subtle emphasis in that last part made Ed pause. He opened his mouth but his mind stalled, unable to come up with anything that didn't sound suspicious.
While he floundered, Mustang slid the blanket from his hand and neatly tucked it around the young man's frame. "Do let me know if you hear any other . . . suspicious noises?" With that he headed back to the bed, leaving Ed gaping after him.
Author's note: Yes, we're finally there: this is the chapter that leads into Permission. It's been rewritten a bit to bring it in line with what's happened so far, but the bulk of it is the same :). But the story is far from over!