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Fullmetal Alchemist » After » Ever – Chapter Six

Ever – Chapter Six

Ed learns the price that playing can cost. Drama, I-4

Ed chewed on the end of his pen and reached without looking for a book he’d set aside earlier. His hand patted empty air, empty table, a larger book…

“Here, Nii-san.”

The book dropped into Ed’s hand and he looked up to see Al standing beside their library table, bought when they couldn’t find a desk big enough, and looking at him with affectionate amusement.

“Thanks, Al,” Ed mumbled around the pen.

“You’ve nearly lived in here for days, Nii-san,” Al pointed out, concern shading his eyes. “Do you… want some help?”

The glow of gratitude made Ed feel like clouds had lifted after a rainy day. Al’s methodical approach always helped him ground his own more scattershot intuition.

“I didn’t want to take you away from your work, but if you have some spare time…”

“Don’t be silly,” Al admonished him, pulling up a chair. “I don’t have very many clients yet, and I’ll always have time to help you.”

Ed softened and reached over to lay his left hand on Al’s arm. “Thanks.”

For all the difference in their appearances, their smiles were identical.

“So,” Al settled to business, “what are you working on?”

Ed leaned back with a sigh.

“It isn’t pretty,” he warned. “And the explanation will sound really strange, too,” he added after due consideration.

“Anything else would worry me,” Al assured him, straight-faced.

Ed ignored that and gave his brother a quick synopsis of how he had come by his new project. Al nodded and frowned, and finally just sat with his chin in his hands looking inward and contemplative. Ed had quickly learned, or perhaps relearned, that this was Al’s version of deep concentration, the parallel of what he’d been told was his own hazy and far-away look when caught up in a thought.

“Do you trust Mustang-shousho to keep this hidden?” Al asked eventually.

“Yes,” Ed answered at once, and then had to stop and think how to explain that trust to his brother. “It isn’t that I don’t think he’ll use any advantage to hand, because I know he will. And I know I’m one of those advantages, and he probably counts you as a part of that. But the promotions he’s working for have a point. I don’t know what it is yet, but I know it includes the power to keep things like this out of military hands without all of this shuffling around.”

Al was looking at him with the disconcerting sharpness his brother rarely showed openly. “He’s teaching you to do that, isn’t he?” he asked quietly.

Ed blinked, genuinely nonplused. “Do what?”

“To see things like that and use them. I mean, you’ve always seen, Nii-san, but…” Al trailed off, looked down at the table.

“Hm,” Ed half laughed. “You too, little brother.”

Al glanced back up with a sudden, rueful smile. Ed clasped his hand tight.

“You said to be careful, Al, and I am. I promise.”

Al accepted that, relaxing and reaching his free hand for Ed’s notes. “Let me see what you’ve got so far.”

A few hours later Ed was about ready to take their bookshelves apart plank by plank.

“I know I had it here just the other month, where did it go?” he growled, sprawled on the floor to look under the shelves.

“What are you looking for, Nii-san?” Al called.

“Ruland’s lexicon. There’s some nomenclature I want to check.” Ed peered under another shelf.

“Wasn’t that one we got from the National library?”

Ed froze and then lowered his head to the floor with a thump. “I’m an idiot,” he muttered. He hauled himself upright and stretched. “We also wanted some of the Vaughn texts, didn’t we? I may as well go get them all now.”

“All right. Try not to get too distracted browsing, Nii-san,” Al told him with a smile.

Ed ruffled his brother’s hair in an attempt not to look shifty. “Of course. Be right back.”

He could hear Al laughing as he fetched his boots.

It might, Ed reflected later, have been better if he had done as Al said and come right back with the books. But he didn’t, and Major Morland found him while he was wondering whether Hollandus would be of any use.

“Ah, Elric-san, I’ve been hoping I might run into you.”

“Hm?” It took a moment for Ed’s mind to return from Hollandus’ accounts of Taste and recognize the man in front of him as one of the officers he sometimes saw in the General’s orbit. “Ah, Morland-shousa, was there something you needed?”

“Actually, it was about something I was just looking for,” Morland gestured to the shelves around them. “I was looking for the report on your visit to Zenotime, what, two years ago? But only about a third of it seems to be archived. I don’t suppose you have a spare copy tucked away?”

“I don’t,” Ed answered indifferently. As far as he was concerned reports were only good for hamster bedding. “I’m sure Mustang-shousho has a full copy, though.”

Morland gave him a tight smile. “I’m sure. Mustang-shousho is very thorough about such things. But he’s out of his office today and I had hoped to take a look at the report before I’m overwhelmed with my own paperwork again.”

For one echoing moment of time Ed only thought it odd that Morland would not know that the General was, in fact, in; Ed had gotten a note that he would be in all week and Ed should just drop by if he got any promising results.

And then something in Morland’s expression clicked.

He remembered the General saying it would be better if the military personnel didn’t see them in company too often. Morland didn’t know how much more aware of the General’s movements Ed was these days. He didn’t know Ed had any way of catching the lie.

He wanted the report from Zenotime without the General’s knowledge.

The full report.

“Is he out today?” Ed asked, trying to look only surprised instead of in shock. “Well, then I guess there’s no point in my stopping at the office. Thanks for telling me. Sorry I couldn’t help you.”

“Oh, it’s not a big deal,” Morland waved it off. “Good luck with your research, Elric-san.”

After Morland left him Ed leaned against the shelves for a few minutes, trying to breathe evenly.

And then he bundled up his books and walked as quickly and quietly as he could to Mustang’s office.

Ed closed the office door behind him and leaned against it. “Shousho?”

“Results already?” the General asked, surprised. “That’s impressive even for you.”

Ed swallowed twice before he managed to speak. “Different results.”

The General frowned, taking in his expression, which Ed had finally allowed to go blank and frozen. He stood up and came to steer Ed away from the door to the couch.

“Sit down.” And, when Ed was seated, “Now, what happened?”

Haltingly, Ed recounted his conversation with Morland. “The full report, the details of the process Magwar wanted to use,” Ed said softly to his clasped hands. “Shousho…”

“I see.”

Ed looked up to see Mustang standing with his head lowered.

“I will take care of it, Fullmetal.”

“How?” Ed asked, his brain starting to work again. “Morland’s immediate superior is Lake-chuujo, if he asks for the report…”

Ed broke off sharply as Mustang raised his head. He had never seen such a cold look in the General’s eyes.

“If Lake has not yet heard of the possibility, then it need only involve Morland.” The words seemed to be pulled out of the General on barbs.

“Morland has supported you,” Ed whispered, starting to see the shape of something terrifying.

“He has. And while that allowed him to learn the edges of the secrets he wants to know the whole of, it also involved him in things no loyal officer should have done.”

“Treason…?” He read the answer in those chill black eyes. Ed felt as though he was suffocating. “How… can you… “

“Do you truly want to know the answer to that, Fullmetal?” the General asked, deathly quiet.

The General had deliberately allowed Ed to see what he intended to do, Ed realized, in order to present this choice with the most brutal possible clarity. He had educated Ed more gently than Ed had realized until this moment, letting Ed see the manipulation as an intricate puzzle and sheltering him from most of the consequences of solving it.

“I don’t… I…,” he stammered.

“Think about it,” the General directed, looking away.

Released, Ed fled the office.

Ed closed the book he had been reading and checked the clock. “I need to get going.”

“Nii-san,” Al looked up with a frown.

Ed shook his head. “I need to go, Al.”

Al looked extremely un-sanguine. Still, that was an improvement over what he’d looked like a little over two weeks ago when Ed had come home and curled up in a ball in his room for hours, shaking. Al had discerned, quickly enough, at least one part of the cause and Ed had had to rouse himself in order to prevent Al storming the General’s office to demand an accounting.

Ed wasn’t at all sure he’d succeeded in communicating just what had shaken him so badly. He suspected that Al thought his current errand was needless self-flagellation, just Ed being oversensitive to his part in something that was really the General’s doing.

He thought Winry might have understood a little better. At any rate, she had refrained from death threats against his commander, and hadn’t argued when Hughes brought Ed the results of the court martial and Ed insisted on seeing the sentence carried out.

She was waiting for him by the door.

“Ed,” she told him, low, as he reached for the doorknob, “it’s all right if you can’t do everything.”

Yes, he rather thought she did understand. “I need to know whether I can or not, though.”

She accepted that with only a slight darkening of her eyes from sky to steel blue. But she seized him for an unexpected hug before striding off toward her workshop, back straight.

Hughes, after a single sharp look, had told Ed where to go, so he didn’t have to speak to anyone as he made his way through the headquarters complex to a small courtyard out of the way of anything. He was grateful for that.

Could he do this part of what the General did? Did he want Mustang to teach him this? Ed hoped to know soon. Sixteen days of wondering had done things to his appetite and sleep patterns that Al didn’t approve of at all.

He stopped in the shadows of the courtyard, next to the General. Neither of them looked at the other.

A line of soldiers filed out into the sunshine, followed by two more escorting Morland between them. Ed felt a twinge of shame at how relieved he was when they blindfolded him, and Ed knew Morland couldn’t see either Ed or the General standing witness.

When the guns fired Ed jerked and spun around to lean his head against the cool brick behind him, choking.

Is it better than pregnant women killed and their babies turned into inferior Stones? he asked himself, desperately.

And, as if all it had taken was that one trick of phrasing, he knew his answer.


He turned back to watch the body being carried away, and still had to support himself against the wall as he shuddered, but the answer in his heart didn’t change.

“Are you going to be all right?”

The General did not ask, Ed noted, whether he was all right just at the moment.

“Yes,” he answered, still a little strangled. “I’ll… I’ll be in tomorrow.”

For the last two and some weeks, Ed hadn’t set foot in headquarters. Al had fetched books they needed from the National library.

The General’s hand closed on his shoulder. “Look at me.”

Ed turned and looked Mustang in the eye. What he saw there stopped his breath like a punch to the stomach. Pain. Guilt. Helpless rage. It tore a response from Ed. “Necessary,” he got out. “It was better than what would have been.”

“It was,” Mustang agreed, in a voice like broken glass. “But that never makes it easier or less terrible, or lessens the responsibility.”

“I… I see that.” And Ed did see it, in Mustang’s face.

“As long as you do. It’s your choice.” Mustang let him go and turned away.

How long has he been doing this, Ed wondered as he made his slightly unsteady way home. How many times?

Al and Winry were waiting for him when he got back. They took one look and tucked him up on the couch with a cup of tea and one of them to each side. Ed let the weight of the mug steady his hands.

Remembering Al’s fury with Mustang, the first words out of Ed’s mouth were, “He’s been doing this for us all along.”

“What do you mean, Ed?” Winry asked.

“He’s been making these decisions all this time, making these choices so we wouldn’t have to.”

“He’s been using you all this time to give him the power to make the decisions,” Al said, voice harsh as even his brother rarely heard it.

“Yes,” Ed agreed. “And it would be easy to keep on that way; to let him keep sheltering us. But he agreed to show me the way to stop being used. And… someone has to choose. And I want it to be me.”

“Why?” Winry wanted to know. “If you have to make choices like this…”

Ed was silent for a moment. “What do alchemists do?” he asked at last.

Winry blinked at this apparent non sequitur, but Al understood. “Alchemists work for the good of all,” he recited, eyes shadowed.

Ed nodded, straightening just a bit.

“Can you do it?” Winry’s question recalled what she had said as he left.

Ed looked at her soberly. “Yes.”

Winry read his eyes for a long moment before nodding and putting her arms around him. Ed turned to Al, who already wore a tiny smile, and knew his brother had accepted Winry’s judgment on this. Al also wrapped an arm around Ed’s shoulders.

“Let us know if we can help, Nii-san. All right?”

Ed leaned his head against Al’s. “I promised, little brother. I will.”


Last Modified: May 15, 12
Posted: Feb 08, 04
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