AU at chapter 29. Ed gets caught up in military politics. Slashy subtext, original characters, violence.
A year after the war's end, a restless military gave up on finding someone else to fight and turned on itself.
Their numbers, expanded to bring a quick finish to the civil wars, made it all the easier for the factionalization that followed. Every petty officer in the military seemed to develop and ambition for the top (if he didn't have one already) overnight when the war ended, and for every petty officer there were five more lower officers and privates ready to back him. Whispered rumor held that the Fuhrer allowed the scheming and warring because it amused him.
Unfortunately for most of these alliances, in the case of one Major General Roy Mustang those officers were considerably less than petty.
"What the hell is this?" Lieutenant Colonel Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, stormed through his superior's door, waving a file in his human hand.
"I should think the assignment is quite clear, Fullmetal." Roy sat with hands folded in front of him, looking for all the world as if he weren't doing the mountain of paperwork left on his desk that morning. "Do you have a problem with it?"
"Yes, I have a problem with it! Isn't there someone else you can send?" Ed flung the file on Roy's desk as if it would bite him. "I have better things to do than chase down minor war criminals in some backwater town."
"Ayden River is hardly a minor war criminal, Fullmetal. He is responsible for numerous atrocities in the East area, and is considered a priority- the fact that he is not on the most wanted list hardly makes him insignificant. There are few alchemists in this department skilled enough to defeat him, should it come to that, and you are one of them. I cannot leave Headquarters for anything less than an emergency, and Major Armstrong is currently already on assignment." Roy unlaced his fingers and spread his hands flat on the table. "We could call another department, but I hardly trust someone else to make such a decision. There are many officers that would jump at the chance to make me look foolish."
"This guy is a waste of my time! Oooh, he set a couple of fires out by Ishbal, big deal." Ed crossed his arms but remained standing, his spine a stiff angry line and his shoulders set.
"I assure you, Fullmetal," Roy said softly, "A couple of fires out by Ishbal are a very big deal. Many people in that area remember what happened during the war there, and a few fires could start another conflict altogether."
"Fine," Ed snapped. He reached out and grabbed the file from Roy's desk with his automail hand this time, the metal tapping audibly against the varnished surface of the wood. "I've been in Central too long, anyway."
He left, as usual, with just as much noise as entering.
This was the first time he'd been on a train since he'd left Al in Rush Valley with Winry, since he'd officially enlisted in the military. That had been nearly a year ago, and Ed had to admit that leaving Central felt good. Much longer in the same place, even one as large and varied as Central, and he'd have gone insane.
"And I still fit on the damn train seat," Ed muttered, laying back. At least the compartment for military officers was furnished better than the rest of the train, with padded seats. Soon he was reading- a text on mathematics, not alchemy- and mentally counting down the hours until the train arrived at Two Falls (the town even had a stupid name). Train rides certainly weren't the same without Al there. Hell, not even the trip alone to Central after Al got to Rush Valley was this bad.
The sad part was that he really did still fit on the seat. Not quite as well as before, but still easily enough to irk him. At least he was alone in the car and could sprawl out over the plush seats to read, rather than sitting at military attention for the entire ride. Shortly the train would stop at East City, and then it would be several hours until the tiny station at Two Falls.
Ed went back to his vectors and vertices, and didn't lift his eyes from the text until the train lurched to a stop in East City. Even then, he merely glanced out the window above his bent knees and went back to his book. That was one perk of being alone, at least; he could read without interruption.
"Right through here, sir- there's already someone in there, but I'm sure we could convince him to sit somewhere else...." Someone who must have been an official from the station spoke outside the compartment door, and Ed closed the book with a resounding /snap/. Even if he got to stay, he'd have to sit at attention in the presence of a superior officer.
The next few hours now looked considerably darker to Ed.
"No, no, it's fine," the officer outside the door insisted. "These compartments are certainly big enough for two people."
/Bastard/, Ed thought, /For all you know I could outrank you/. After all, a train station attendant probably wasn't an expert on military rank and insignia. Then the door slid open and a uniformed man stepped inside. A Brigadier General, if Ed was reading the insignia on his jacket properly.
Well, that meant he'd have to sit up and be polite for the time being. He set the book facedown on his seat to hold the place and sat up at attention, just as the Brigadier General sat down across from him.
"At ease," the man said with a wave of his hand. As if he were on a battlefield and in command of Ed. It annoyed him so much that instead of merely relaxing, he returned to his former sprawl over the seat, picking his book up and going back to where he'd left off. He was almost totally immersed in mathematical theory when the officer spoke to him again.
"I didn't think 'at ease' went so far," he observed. Ed ignored him, though his fingers clenched around the edges of the book. "Are you the officer we've been sent from Central, then, for the apprehension of Ishbal war criminals?"
"...my orders didn't have anything to do with Ishbal," Ed said truthfully. He didn't look up from his book. "So I suppose I'm not."
"Oh. I suppose you're headed for one of the outlying bases, then." Ed finally put the book down and looked at the man, though he didn't make any move to sit up or hide his disdain. "I'm Brigadier General Ayden River, the commander of the base in Two Falls. You would be...."
Ed fell off his seat.
"Are you all right?" Brigadier General River asked, sounding slightly alarmed. Ed practically twitched from his new position on the floor. What the hell was Mustang trying to pull here? He'd made Ayden River out to be a war criminal, trying to rekindle hostilities in the East area- and made no mention of the man's being a military officer. Ed got the sinking feeling that he wasn't here to dispatch a war criminal at all- he was here to eliminate a rival of the Major General's.
"What the hell is that bastard trying to pull?" Ed demanded of no one in particular, still on the floor. "He lied to me about the assignment! I'm going to kill him when I get back to Central, just you watch me! No one makes Edward Elric do his dirty work and lives, especially not him!"
When Ed finally finished his fit of rage, Ayden River was staring at him in horrified fascination. His eyes flickered towards Ed's insignia briefly before he spoke slowly and carefully, the voice of a man dealing with a wild animal.
"Are you quite finished, Lieutenant Colonel?" He asked gently. He'd read quite a lot in that glance at Ed's uniform. "May I ask what you are so upset over?"
"No, but the rest of it will have to wait for me to talk to that bastard," Ed snarled, standing up. He slid back onto his seat without further comment and lay down, throwing an arm over his eyes dramatically. He was going to kill Mustang- no, annihilate him- for this. Just how was he supposed to arrest a superior officer?
"I am working for you, I think," Ed finally managed. "My commanding officer in Central assigned me to Two Falls base, and... mentioned you. He didn't mention that the assignment involved Ishbal."
"Oh, I understand- a lot of people still get upset when they're sent to the East area, as if this were still the civil war." River said dismissively. "Perhaps I should introduce myself more properly- I am Brigadier General Ayden River, the Flux Alchemist. I command the Two Falls base."
"Lieutenant Colonel Edward Elric. Fullmetal Alchemist." His smirk wasn't hidden, but he accompanied it with a halfassed sort of salute, the sort he'd give Mustang if he absolutely had to. This one, however, seemed even more insubordinate than what he gave to Mustang, with his human arm resting over his eyes and his braid hanging off the edge of the seat in open defiance of a regulation haircut.
River's reaction was minimal but definitely there- and he didn't seem thrilled to hear that the Fullmetal Alchemist had been dispatched to assist him. Either he was doing something wrong and Ed's reputation as both an alchemist and a bizarre sort of vigilante preceded him, or River was a serious rival to Mustang and Ed's close association to the Major General was common knowledge even at a small base deep in the East area. Damnit, now he was thinking like that bastard, contemplating his opponent's motivations and capabilities already.
Either way, that reaction made Ed feel a little less manipulated, like River deserved what he would get. Ed mentally noted to cut an hour off the time it would take Mustang to die at his hands.
The rest of the train ride proved uneventful. Ed went back to his reading, ignoring the obviously disgruntled officer across from him, and River made no further attempts to start a conversation. When the train finally pulled into the Two Falls station, Ed was out of the compartment before River even stood and on the platform before the Brigadier General left the compartment. One of the little immaturities- though anyone who called them that ran a high risk of a beating- Ed still had at seventeen was the urge to shove his way to the front and be the first one off the train.
"This place is worse than I thought," Ed muttered. He'd expected to find either a dusty machine town like the hundreds dotting the landscape around Rush Valley or a pastoral place like Rizenbul, but this was worse. There was enough vegetation to keep the place from the dust that flooded the Rush Valley area, but it was scrubby and browning, as if there weren't enough water here.
Water. The Flux Alchemist- did he have some sort of power over water? His name would indicate that, but many of the names the Fuhrer gave National Alchemists were deceptive. Mustang was the perfect example of that- the Flame Alchemist, indeed, when he couldn't even transmute a match-flame and instead relied on spark cloth. If the Flame Alchemist had his greatest power in air, then the Flux Alchemist could have almost any specialty. And it might not have anything to do with his specialty at all- it wasn't as if Ed himself worked any better in earth and metal than he did anything else.
Two Falls shouldn't have been so dry. There were two rivers in the immediate vicinity (naturally each had a waterfall at some nearby point, hence the town's name), and neither showed signs of a dry spell. A bit more of this and the place would start looking like Rush Valley. Besides being dry, it was fairly dull- larger than Ed had thought, with a surprising number of Ishbalites walking openly through the streets, but everything seemed worn-down and dry. The military base dominated the landscape easily, being the newest and largest building in the town. The blue of the soldiers' uniforms was the brightest color in sight, the people wearing clothing as drab-brown as the flora.
Well, there wasn't anything to do but go to the base and find out what his official orders were. He had the feeling again, stronger this time, that Mustang's orders weren't strictly speaking over the table. Oh, how painfully that man would die when Ed saw him next for putting him in such a position. It would involve transmuting his automail hand into a nice serrated hook, and-
"Excuse me... Lieutenant Colonel Elric?"Ed jerked out of his Mustang death fantasy du jour to see another military officer before him, this one considerably younger than the Brigadier General.
"I've been asked to escort you onto the base, Lieutenant Colonel," the man explained, voice far too pleasant for what he was saying. "Some of our officers have been set upon by the Ishbalites in the town. They think we're setting the fires, you see."
"As dry as this place is, no one needs to set anything," Ed muttered, dragging his trunk along behind him. The young officer looked at him curiously, and Ed got his first good look at the man's uniform. A Colonel.
"You'll have an office here, since you're on commission from Central- I don't know if that assigned office has anyone in it right now, though, so you might have to share. We're really short on office space right now." He strode up past the drills going on and right up to the door, holding it open so Ed could drag the trunk inside.
"Where's the dormitory building here?" Ed asked, almost suspiciously. This place wasn't laid out that differently from the base at Central, though it was noticeably older, but he hadn't seen any sign of them where they would be in Central.
"Oh, we don't have one- this is a renovated base from about sixty years ago, so we just have a barracks." The Colonel spoke without a trace of apology, and Ed was unfortunately reminded of a certain Colonel-turned-Major-General who was living on borrowed time. "Even commissioned officers stay there, if they're below rank Colonel, so that's where you'll be going. We put in a request for renovation funds from the East Headquarters last year, but we're hardly a priority."
They. Had. A. Barracks. It would take Mustang days to die. He didn't care if there would be a court-martial for destroying his commanding officer's head. Blood would run from the walls for this, oh yes.
"Oh- this is your office. It looks like you're not sharing it, after all." The young Colonel said brightly, opening the door. The office was nice enough, if tiny- it wasn't as if he had his own office in Central, after all. No sofa, unfortunately, and the desk and chair left little space for anything else in the small room- how he would have shared it was totally beyond Ed. "Now, let's get your things to the barracks before everyone else comes back from drills."
This was looking to be the longest day of Edward Elric's life.
The officer showing him around was named Colonel Soren Albert, and he turned out to be River's second-in-command. Colonel Albert also turned out to be assigned to assist Ed in his investigation- and Mustang thought of River as a potential rival? Assigning a Colonel to act as an assistant to a Lieutenant Colonel wasn't exactly subtle. Albert had to be either a spy or a safety net, ready to order Ed to some other action if he came too close to whatever River had done.
"Please give your security code at the tone to access this line."
Ed had gone into Two Falls proper, ostensibly because he needed to buy some personal supplies not found on base. Really, he was there because he wanted a telephone line River didn't have immediate access to. He dialed the proper authorization and waited to be connected.
"Hurry up," Ed muttered. The base's secure lines were ridiculous- and that brought back painful memories of Hughes, of the speculation about his death and how he'd been killed while being put through a secure line to Mustang.
"Central Base, Major General Roy Mustang's office." Havoc answered the phone, voice slightly muffled. He must have been smoking in the office- or at the very least rolling the cigarette around in his mouth, wishing he could smoke in the office. Hawkeye had caught him at that once, and it wasn't pretty.
"This is Fullmetal. I need to talk to Mustang." Ed leaned against the side of the phone booth. It was a sad day indeed when a telephone booth was more secure than a military line- was this how Hughes had felt when he made that final telephone call? How Mustang felt every day, with all of the intrigue around him?
A few seconds later, he was transferred to Mustang's line- and the bastard wasn't answering.
"Come on, you bastard, answer your damn phone." After it rang for the tenth time, he finally gave up. Either Mustang was out and Havoc didn't know it, or the man was ignoring him. It wasn't until he hung up the phone that he noticed something- Colonel Albert knocking on the side of the phone booth, trying to get Ed's attention and looking as if he'd been there for several minutes. "What do you want? Something else I need to know?"
"You could have used a phone on base." Colonel Albert sounded almost offended that Ed had gone off-base use the telephone.
"I didn't feel like it." Ed pushed past him, walking back in the direction of the military base. "Where's the library on your base? I need to do some research."
"We don't have one." He spoke in the tone of one stating the obvious, as if Ed should have known that there was no library. "There are usually no alchemists stationed here- you and the Brigadier General are the only ones right now- and no one else really needs it."
"You don't have one," Ed repeated quietly, stopping in his tracks.
"We do have a records room, with all of the statistics for the area, if you need something for your investigation." Ed's reaction seemed to throw Albert off balance. River must have told him about the incident on the train, then. "Anyone with rank Major has clearance to enter, so you can access it freely."
"I'll be in my office if anyone needs to speak with me." Ed didn't even bother to be polite as he started walking again. Mustang would pay for this. Possibly in a way involving his bathtub being transmuted into a vat of acid.