The Door

Ed’s choices, two years later. Drama, I-3.

Ed sat at the kitchen table with his chin in his hands, looking fixedly at the open watch in front of him. He was supposed to leave for Central City tomorrow. Al and Winry were coming to the station with him to see him off. And Ed wasn’t even sure he was going. He didn’t used to be this indecisive, he brooded. He didn’t even realize Al had entered the room until he heard the door close.


“Am I really doing the right thing, Al?” Ed asked softly.

“Do you think you’re not?” Al asked back. Ed eyed him. Al had always been subtle, far more so than Ed himself, and this was not up to his usual standards of misdirection. Al just smiled. Maybe he was going easy on Ed because Ed was already having a hard time.

“I don’t want to leave,” he said, looking back at the watch.

“Yes you do.”

Ed blinked up at his brother, who came and put an arm around his shoulders. Ed leaned his head against Al’s chest with a faint smile. Al knew how much it comforted him to listen to his brother’s living heartbeat.

“If you stayed here all the time,” Al continued, “you’d explode from your own fidgetiness.”

“Fidgetiness?” Ed objected.

“Give it another couple of weeks, Nii-san, and you’ll be bouncing off the walls here and Winry will be throwing wrenches at you again. What you mean,” Al concluded, “is that you don’t want to lose us.”

Ed flinched.

“Nii-san, you’re not our father,” Al murmured.

“But what if I am?” Ed slumped. “I mean, what if this was how it started with him, too? A few trips to the city to pick up something for Mom, and then some trips further away to find some interesting books or talk to scholars, and then he got into something bigger than he could understand, and the next thing you know he’s creating monsters and destroying cities and not giving a damn about his family.”

Al rapped him gently on the head with his knuckles. “Don’t be an idiot.”

“Hey,” Ed mumbled.

“Is this bigger than you can understand?” Al asked, curiously.

Ed thought about that.

“It used to be,” he said slowly. “I never thought the reasons why stupid people were left in charge was something I needed to know. It couldn’t help us, so I didn’t pay attention. Now,” he paused, “now I understand the basics. I see that he’s trying to put civilian government in place of military. And I’m pretty sure he plans to go all the way.”

“You think he means to bring back the Parliament?” Al sounded surprised. Ed didn’t blame him. Their grandparents hadn’t been born when there was last a civilian government.

“I think so. Don’t ask me how, but I think so.” Ed laughed shortly. “I guess if anyone could do it, it would be him.”

“Do you trust him?”

Now there was a multi-sided question. Al was good at those. Ed was silent for a good twenty heartbeats before answering.

“I trust his intentions. I trust his means… to work. I don’t trust him to tell me the truth, because he’ll lie through his teeth if he thinks he needs to. But I trust him to have a reason for doing it.”

“Do you trust his integrity?”

“I trust that there’s a line he won’t go beyond. I don’t know where it is.” Ed contemplated his answer and sighed. “Am I doing the right thing?”

Al’s arm tightened around him. “I can’t think of anyone better to be doing it. We’ll miss you, but you’re not a home-maker, Nii-san. As long as you come home to visit… and to rest… it’ll be all right.”

Ed listened to another handful of heartbeats before he nodded and straightened.

“All right, then.” He pressed his hands together and laid his fingers on the watch-case.

Ed stood looking, with some trepidation, at the perfectly normal red-painted door in front of him. If he really wanted to do this, he had to start with this door.

Did he really want to do this?

Ed fingered the weight in his pocket and straightened his shoulders. This was no time to have an attack of nerves. He had made his decision already and wasn’t going to back down. He gathered himself and knocked on the door.

A light tread sounded and the door opened to reveal a slender woman with short hair the color of brown sugar and a gentle smile.

“Why, Ed-kun, what a surprise! Come in, come in.”

“Thank you, Gracia-san.” Ed stepped inside, looking around cautiously for small children.

“Elysia just went in for a nap,” Gracia-san said without turning around.

It really was true that mothers had supernatural powers, Ed reflected.

“Now, let me have a look at you,” she continued, taking Ed by the shoulders. “You’ve grown up so much in just two years!”

Ed stifled a sigh, having resigned himself to hearing this observation. Not that he wasn’t extremely pleased to have made it to five foot six inches, because he was. And it could have been a lot worse; you’re still so small, for example. But, still…

“I think your hair is almost twice as long as it was! And you don’t look nearly as lost in that jacket as you did in your old coat.”

Ed blinked. Well, that was a new sort of growing-up measurement. Better than the inch counting everyone else did…

“And you must have grown three or four inches!”

This time the sigh escaped, and Gracia-san laughed. “I’m sorry, Ed-kun, you must be tired of hearing that.”

“A little,” Ed admitted, ruefully. “Gracia-san, is Hughes-taisho home?”

“Of course, he’ll be very pleased to see you again. Come along.” She led the way to her living room.

“Ed! You should have written and said if you were going to be visiting Central!” Hughes exclaimed, rising from the couch to seize Ed’s hand. “And you’ve really…” he broke off as his wife laid a finger over his lips. He looked at her in confusion, and she giggled and shook her head. Enlightenment dawned with a grin and a tolerant look at Ed.

Hughes hadn’t changed much at all, that Ed could see. Perhaps a few more lines around his eyes. His eyes themselves, though, were as sharp as ever as he waved Ed to the couch across from him.

“So, does business or pleasure bring you today?” he asked as Gracia-san left them.

“Business, I suppose. I need to ask a favor.”

Hughes raised a brow.

“I need to see him.”

“Ah. I expect Hawkeye would let you in, but it never hurts to have some extra weight when you want him to stand still long enough to talk,” Hughes allowed. “Any particular reason, or just a visit for old time’s sake?”

Clearly he didn’t believe the second possibility for one moment.

Ed looked down. “I need to give him my watch back.”

“You didn’t before you left?” Hughes asked mildly, not sounding surprised.

“It wasn’t ended yet. Now… now I think it is. A real end.” Ed looked up to gauge Hughes’ response.

Hughes nodded slowly. “I’ll take you in to see him.”

Yes, Ed thought Hughes understood. Not surprising, considering his closest friend was also an alchemist. Hughes had probably picked up quite a bit of the symbolic language.

The only real ending was a new beginning.

Another day, another door. This one was more intimidating than the last one, because Ed knew for a fact that one of the most cuttingly sarcastic bastards he’d ever met was on the other side. And Ed was about to make a huge target of himself.

Deep breath. Ignore Hughes nearly snickering behind him. Ignore Hawkeye doing the same in her own deadpan way.

His knock was immediately answered with a brisk “Enter.”

Ed was covertly relieved that Hughes followed him in. The office was spacious and bright with sun from the long windows. Roy Mustang sat behind his desk, hands folded loosely under his chin, and didn’t say a word.

Not the best possible start.

Ed nerved himself and went straight to the desk, ignoring the chairs Hughes was busy dragging up. He pulled his silver watch out of his pocket and laid it down gently.

“Dai-Soutou. I need to return this to you.” He stepped back.

Mustang sat unmoving, regarding the watch. “I recall mentioning that I’m not the one to return this to,” he commented at last.

Deep breath.

“Yes, you are.”

Mustang tilted a brow.

“I took this from your hand,” Ed told him firmly. “You are the one I need to give it back to.”

“Very well,” Mustang agreed after another long pause. He picked up the watch, paused, flipped the case open, and smiled.

Ed refrained from growling, wondering whether the man actually knew about what used to be written in the case or was just checking on general principles. Never mind. Now was the time to sit down.

“So,” Ed said, once he was comfortable, “I am no longer, even technically, a State Alchemist, I’m just plain, civilian Edward Elric, right? No connection to the military or the state, not under anyone’s command.”

Mustang looked at him a bit oddly at this recitation of the obvious. “Correct,” he agreed.

“Then tell me what you need me to do,” Ed finished.


“I beg your pardon?” Mustang asked, looking bemused.

“Has this job softened your head?” Ed snapped. “I’m saying I’ll work for you. What do you need?”

For once, Roy Mustang appeared to be at a loss.

“Not to discourage you, Ed,” Hughes put in, “but why?”

Ed looked out one of the windows.

“I’ve been traveling again, these last eight or nine months,” he said quietly. “I’ve watched what’s happening. Seen what you’re doing. The garrisons recalled, the soldiers retired. But only lower officers discharged, mostly.” He looked back at Mustang. “You’re keeping most of the ones who would make trouble for people where you can see them.”

Mustang’s eyes widened just a touch.

“What?” Ed glared. “You thought I could work for you for over four years and not pick up any of this?”

The eyes flickered. This time Ed growled.

“Should I have expected it?” Mustang asked, coolly. “From someone with your temper and lack of patience? Should I have expected any kind of mature observations?” Ed bared his teeth.

“As much as I should have expected altruism from you,” he cut back.

“By your own admission then, not at all.”

Ed flung himself out of the chair and stalked to the window before he tried to wipe that smirk off Mustang’s face.

“All right, I think that’s enough,” Hughes said wearily. “Stop trying to send him away again, Roy, you need him.”

Ed blinked. Send him away? Again? Again? He frowned, thinking back on his last conversation with Mustang. His eyes narrowed and he turned back to look at them.

“Taisho,” Mustang said, cold, warning.

“Roy,” Hughes returned, soft, urgent, “you know it’s true.”

Mustang set his mouth.

“It’s not like you can say he’s too young now,” Hughes added.

“Really?” Mustang drawled. Hughes gave him a look.

“How old were you when you tied yourself to the military? Nineteen, wasn’t it?”

“That was different,” Mustang snapped.

“Yes, it was, because you were a lot more naive than Ed was, even two years ago.”

It was Mustang’s turn to growl.

“Roy, haven’t you been over this already?” Hughes ran a hand through his hair. “If you hadn’t picked him up someone else would have. And the fact that you benefited from his search has nothing to do with how much pain it caused him. He would have died along the way without your support.”

Ed was very still. They seemed to have forgotten that he was in the room.

“That doesn’t make the pain any less either, Hughes,” Mustang replied in a low voice. “How can I keep using his ethics, his vision, in ways he doesn’t understand?”

“So tell me,” Ed said.

Both men jerked at his voice, as if they really had forgotten his presence.

“I was willing to keep doing this blind if it was necessary,” Ed told Mustang, catching his eyes, “because I’ve seen the overall reason. But if it isn’t, then tell me. Tell me why, when you send me somewhere or want me to watch someone.”

Mustang looked at him for a long moment. “What reason do you have for doing this?” he asked at last. “Can you care this much for the well being of people you’ve never met?”

Ed snorted. “I’ve met more of them than you, I’ll bet.” He paused to think, though. How to put it? “It isn’t people,” he said slowly, “or the nation. It’s the people I have met. All of them.” He slanted a look at Mustang. “Just because I’m not a State Alchemist doesn’t mean I’m not an alchemist any more,” he said, obliquely.

“Quite the reverse,” Mustang agreed softly.

It hung in the air between them. An alchemist works for the common good.

A sudden thought struck Ed, and he smiled wickedly and came to lean on the back of his chair.

“After all,” he said, “you wouldn’t want me just running around loose and doing this on my own without your support would you?”

Mustang’s eyes narrowed again, but Ed spotted the corner of his mouth curling up for a moment.

“Indeed,” Mustang agreed, voice silky. “It would be negligent to allow such a thing. So, Elric-kun, what job title did you have in mind?”


“Did you want to enter the military itself? Or did you have a civilian post in mind? Or is it up to me to invent one?”

Ed quailed to think what Mustang might come up with at this point. Something about the man’s phrasing was nudging at his mind, though. Something that seemed significant in light of the things Hughes had revealed. Title. He likes having titles to call people by, Ed mused. It’s the way he likes to see the world. So he can keep it from coming too close?

Interesting thought. And it sparked another interesting thought. Ed grinned.

“Well, I was kind of thinking about Investigative Inspector of General Inquiries,” he said innocently.

A snort of laughter came from Hughes, not terribly muffled by the hand over his mouth. Mustang paused to direct a dire we-will-discuss-this-later look at him. Hughes eeped theatrically and edged back.

“Why don’t we stay with Investigator on the official paperwork, Elric-kun?” Mustang suggested evenly.

“Whatever you say,” Ed agreed. “Sir.”

His commander’s eyes glinted, promising retribution at some later date when Ed thought he was safe.

And that was just the way it should be.