AU at chapter 29. Ed gets caught up in military politics. Slashy subtext, original characters, violence.
They didn't keep Mustang in a barracks. He had his own quarters, in deference to both his rank and his status as investigator from the command in Central. The quarters were combined with an office and probably not as nice as those the Brigadier General had, but at least he didn't have to share them.
"If you ever send me to a place like this again, you're dead!" Ed was, for all appearances, attempting to throttle the Major General when Ayden River knocked on the man's door. "There's no library here! No alchemists! And they have a barracks! /Communal showers/, Mustang!"
"Is this a bad time?" River asked, obviously not caring if it was.
"What do you want?" Ed snarled, crossing his arms in front of him.
"Another fire was set." River cut off any further insubordination from Ed with one tacit statement. "Since you two are such /accomplished alchemists/, would you be willing to accompany me in the investigation?"
"Lieutenant Colonel Elric can accompany you; surely the Fullmetal Alchemist is accomplished enough for both of us." Roy suggested in that tone of his that implied it wasn't an order- not unless one used his better judgment, anyway.
"Fine," River spat, motioning sharply for Ed to follow him. "I'll leave you to your administration, then, Major General." He saluted sharply, the pair of them a parody of a dedicated officer and his subordinate.
The accommodations here were far worse than Roy had been led to believe; once River and Edward disappeared out the door, he contemplated moving back to Edward's sorry excuse for an office just because the lighting was better.
"Major General?" The officer from before, the Colonel that Edward had been strangling when Roy came in, stood in the doorway now. The high uniform collar only partially hid the deep ring of bruises around his neck. "Could you come with me, if it's not too much trouble? There are some things the men here would like the command at Central to know about."
Under his desk, the desk arranged against his bed in a fashion that reminded him irritatingly of the dormitories, Roy slipped his gloves into his pocket.
"I suppose," he said blithely, standing up. "Where will we be going?"
"I don't think we've been properly introduced," the Colonel said, ignoring Roy's question. "I'm Colonel Soren Albert of the East City command, assigned to Two Falls for the time being." As if Roy cared where the man's commission came from.
"I normally don't make it a habit to introduce myself to people who assault or harass my staff, Colonel." Roy studied his fingernails as he walked, as if he were a gentleman out for a walk rather than a commissioned officer inspecting a military facility in the company of a man more than likely his enemy. They entered a back hallway, one that looked to lead off into maintenance rooms.
Roy Mustang had his flaws- and depending on whom one asked, they could include on any given day womanizing, sadism, pyromania, homosexuality, insubordination, condescension, and megalomania- but stupidity was not among them. He knew that Soren Albert worked for River fist and the military second, if that, and Roy was Ayden River's enemy. He fully expected to be attacked.
"Here we are." Roy heard the click before Soren even pulled the pistol from his jacket, and already had his gloves on before the gun fired. Then it rained.
Or so it seemed, anyway. Water poured down over him- Soren had shot the water pipe over their heads, not Roy. So this was why Roy had been led into a maintenance hallway. The plumbing was within easy reach.
"Your array is infamously... lacking when wet." Soren raised his gun again.
This time an explosion outside shook the building and masked the gunshot. It wasn't until Roy was thrown to the floor that he realized he'd been hit, and not until he saw the blood that he knew it was a bullet and not Soren's fist. He'd been shot right through his thigh- then the shock wore off and the pain hit, and Roy clenched his teeth. He'd lived through worse. He'd fought through worse. Soren swore and stepped closer, so that he loomed over Roy.
"Damn," he husked, sounding far too satisfied for a man who hadn't even dealt a mortal wound to his enemy yet. "That explosion threw my aim off."
Roy tried to stand, but injured he was too slow to outmaneuver Soren; he was backhanded right down onto the floor again. He couldn't die here- he'd survived Ishbal, survived his intrigues and countless dangerous women... hell, he'd even survived the Elric brothers. And now he didn't know what to do; he didn't have a gun, and though Soren had the why wrong- it was the spark cloth, not the air array- he was right about Roy being unable to use his flames here.
It wasn't his array that didn't work. What else could he do with that? Adjust the content of various gases in the air- mostly oxygen and nitrogen- so that they were more flammable, but what good would that do when he couldn't strike a spark? Unless... he didn't change the content of the gases in the air. The answer was so beautifully simple that Roy should have thought of it long before.
"Begging?" Soren asked, amused, when Roy pulled himself forward and wrapped his arms around the man's leg. Blue light from the alchemical reaction flared from his hands, only partly masked by the fabric of Soren's uniform pants. "Thought you'd give your alchemy one last try even though you're too wet?"
"This isn't a fire array." Roy refused to look up at the man. He would not meet someone's eyes from at his feet. Instead he concentrated on the transmutation still thrumming beneath his hands. "You didn't do your research, Colonel."
"You- what the fuck are you doing?" Soren asked, panic creeping into his voice as he raised his gun again. "I can't fucking see straight!"
Roy didn't answer him. If his theory was right, this wouldn't be pretty; he kept his eyes trained on the reaction glowing on his gloves. He'd seen enough people die at his hands already, and he didn't need to look at this one. Not when he was so close, and going to die so horrifically.
"Hell... what did you do to me, Mustang?" Soren wheezed, dropping the gun and clenching his hands around Roy's shoulders. He didn't speak again after that, only wheezed, and a moment later he began to thrash violently. His grip on Roy never faltered, only tightening as he convulsed. Then he stilled; he was still breathing, but wheezingly and sporadically. Roy pushed him off, and the man fell to the ground without protest.
If he could change the gas content of air, he could change the gas content of blood just as easily.
"Do you think I'm stupid?" Ed asked when the reached the boundary of the base. "There's no fire here tonight, and if there was then the Flux Alchemist, of all people, wouldn't need my help. You just want to get rid of me."
"No fire, Fullmetal Alchemist?" River asked, raising an eyebrow and gesturing towards the smoke rising in the distance. Ed's tirade stopped immediately. "Then what, pray tell, do you call that?"
"Fucker." Ed hissed, stepping backward. "You set that fire to get me out there."
"Does that change the fact there is one, and that it will threaten the people here if it's not put out?" River pointed out softly, not moving. Ed growled and lunged for him, but River sidestepped him easily. "Really, Lieutenant Colonel, you'll need to be faster than that. Perhaps you should see to the fire?"
"Why, don't you want the place to burn?" Ed taunted, moving towards him again. "Then you can blame the Ishbalites here and get them moved to a camp. Or were you planning to blame the Major General? The Flame Alchemist's experiences on the battlefield finally caught up with him, and he thought he'd take the opportunity to set a fire of his own?"
"You'd make a brilliant espionage officer if you knew how to follow orders, Lieutenant Colonel," River told him, slipping right past Ed's defenses to lay a hand on his shoulder almost paternally. "But now I think you're going to die tragically, trying to contain poor insane Major General Mustang and save the people here. That should get you a two rank promotion, you know, so it's not as if we don't both win."
"I'll be dead, you sick fuck. And no one in Central will believe that story, if only because Mustang couldn't kill me without going down himself, and maybe not even then," Ed snarled, swinging again- with his metal hand this time- and connecting with River's shoulder, knocking him down to the ground.
Ed ran. He turned and ran towards the fire; with any luck, it wouldn't be hard to put out. Then he could deal with River. And he couldn't count on Mustang for support, because River had to have something in place for him on the base....
/Mustang had declined to come at the last minute/, Ed realized suddenly. River probably didn't have a plan to deal with him yet; he'd wanted both of them to die here for the very reason Ed gave him a moment earlier. Both of their deaths would hold the verisimilitude Ed's alone would not.
Ed hated feeling trapped, as if he'd been outwitted from the very beginning. First with Mustang- plied with half-truths into doing the man's dirty work, only to have them turn out to be true after all- and then with River, finding out that the man had come to Ed's own conclusions so much earlier.
He ended up near the West River again, not far from where he'd found an array in the remains of the last fire. The fire was hardly a problem- tiny and barely smoldering on, it obviously didn't have the help of any array. Such a tiny fire would never be connected to Mustang, unless River had planned to fight the man here and turn it into a much larger one.
A stick snapped behind him. Ed pivoted so quickly the bearings in his metal ankle squeaked audibly, but no one stood behind him. A stick had crackled as it burned in the tiny fire. He berated himself for being so jumpy, and then made a circle with his fingers and pressed them to the ground. The brief alchemical flare raised the earth around the fire and pushed it inward, smothering the embers.
River had to be planning something. Even missing the denominator of Mustang, he couldn't be so clueless that Ed stopped him that easily. Albert had yet to show up, but Ed didn't doubt that he would. Ed hadn't injured him that badly, though he probably would have without Mustang's intervention. Albert was frightening, damnit, and he wasn't just going to let the man get away with acting like that!
With the fire out and no sign of alchemy anywhere, Ed headed back to the base. Things were suspiciously normal all the way back, until he reached Mustang's quarters. There was no sign of Albert, but there was no sign of Mustang, either. The room was empty, except for the papers Mustang had been reviewing when Ed left with River.
"Lieutenant Colonel." River spoke up from behind him, making Ed jump. "I can see your reputation is well-founded. You finished that quickly."
"Where is the Major General?" Ed demanded quietly, surprising himself with the question that first came to mind. "Did you send your pet Colonel after him?"
"Colonel Albert wanted to deal with you- he's quite taken with you, as I'm sure you noticed this afternoon. But he is nowhere near a match for the Fullmetal Alchemist, so I had him stay here. Mustang has a weakness even someone as untalented as Soren Albert can use against him." River said, and then Ed noticed the floor under River's feet. He'd drawn a transmutation circle there before he spoke and alerted Ed to his presence.
"Why do you and Mustang have such a vendetta?" Ed asked harshly, circling his hands to perform a transmutation should the need arise.
"Who doesn't have a vendetta against Roy Mustang? Don't you?" River asked, and activated the array without another word. The air around them dried so fast that the sensation itself was sharp on Ed's skin, and he took a step backward towards the window. "Every man in the military has something he resents Mustang for- a girlfriend, a promotion, a subordinate. We were both in Ishbal, but he was commended for doing what damned me to this nowhere."
"Why would I have anything against him, though? I wasn't in Ishbal, he hasn't stolen my girlfriend, and I'm one of his subordinates." Ed insisted, stalling; he didn't know what River planned to do with that array. He still moved back slowly, eyes fixed on River and the symbols brightening at his feet. The water vapor in the air had to have gone somewhere, and Ed didn't want to be caught off-guard when he found out where. So he clapped his hands to the floor and transmuted the tiles under River's feet; besides destroying the array, it pushed the man back out of the doorway. Now a pile of rubble and ruined tile stood where River's array had been.
That was a mistake.
The water River transmuted had to go somewhere, and without the finished transmutation it simply rained down on him. River took the opportunity to climb over the wreckage of his array and back into the room.
That was a mistake, too.
"You should have run." Ed spoke in a quiet dangerous voice, eyes hidden by his sodden bangs. "You see, unlike Mustang, I do not get less dangerous when wet. I just get /pissed off/."
"It's your own fault you're wet," River pointed out unnecessarily. "That's an interesting choice for a transmutation circle to carry on you, I must say."
"How out of the loop are you people?" Ed asked rather nastily, taking a step forward. Now he had the upper hand, without River's transmutation circle ready and waiting, and he didn't need the convenient escape of the window. Before he could transmute again, though River raised his gun and fired.
The bullet hit Ed's automail shoulder, striking with enough force to send him tumbling back through the open window. They were on the ground floor, so the impact with the ground didn't even knock the breath out of him. By the time River was outside as well, Ed was ready for him.
"Can you transmute a more organic ground composition, Lieutenant Colonel, or is that too different from what your array deals with?" River asked smugly, and for a moment Ed reflexively saw red, reminded far too much of Mustang. Slowly, he pulled the glove off his right hand and dropped it to the ground; then he transmuted his automail. If River was surprised by his hand- even a metal one- suddenly becoming a blade, he hid it well.
"Does that answer your question?" Ed spoke quietly, advancing on him. It lacked his usual dramatic edge, but he was beyond that at this point. He just wanted this man out of the way. "Now, you're going to tell me exactly what is going on here, why you're doing it, and why the military let it go on for so long."
River's attempt to get away might have worked, really. Going for the knees was an effective way to knock a man down, after all. Unfortunately for him, he went for Ed's left knee, which only had the effect of bruising River's own leg.
"Fullmetal Alchemist, indeed," River murmured as his back his the wall, caught between the building and Ed's arm. "How much other metal are you hiding?"
"Try me and find out, fucker. Or you can tell me what's going on here and maybe I won't stick that all that metal in your face." Ed pressed the automail blade's dull end against River's throat, briefly irritated at having to reach upward to do it even in this critical situation.
"You don't have the authority to question me, Lieutenant Colonel." River didn't sound nervous in the slightest. "You could be court-martialed."
"I'm the direct subordinate of someone who does have the authority, and I'm acting on his orders. I can ask you whatever the hell I want, as long as it relates to the investigation." As Ed spoke, River's hands twitched against the brick wall behind him and several bricks to either side of him exploded without warning; the chain reaction sent enough shrapnel flying towards Ed that he dropped his hold on River to cover his face. When he did so River slipped away, serpentine, and the bricks he'd been pressed against exploded right in front of Ed.
Ed's left hand was badly scratched from the pieces of brick, and there was a cut on his right cheek where a particularly sharp fragment had slipped between two automail fingers. Other than that, though, he was unharmed by River's new trick, and turned to face where River had run to.
"You're hardly the only alchemist who carries an array on him." River didn't flaunt his array- that was for people who didn't care about others knowing a potential weakness, people like Mustang or even Ed himself- but Ed could see the dark marks on his palms that must have formed an array of some sort. A water alchemist didn't usually have much in the way of explosive capabilities, but with something like this- didn't bricks absorb water? A water array, with the right sort of timing and force, might just do the job in a specialized case like this.
Ed moved away from the wall, hoping to remove another potential weapon from River. That only left the ground, hard-packed dirt on a side of the building rarely seen by anyone except maintenence workers, and the East River that ran behind the base not far from where they stood now. Ed hadn't investigated near the second river in Two Falls because there simply hadn't been many fires near there recently, and he didn't know the state of the river. Ed could handle a bit of mud, but he didn't really want the Flux Alchemist throwing an entire river at him. So he did what any good tactician would do. He bolted.
A back door leading to the maintenence hallway wasn't far from Ed on this side of the building, and he fled inside and slammed it behind him. He was more than willing to fight River, but not outside where he could take advantage of so much water. He needed to get as far from the river as possible, to the other side of the base where he could fight on his own terms.
When Ed turned the corner, though, he stopped cold. On the hall floor, twitching slightly and just barely breathing, lay Colonel Albert.
"What the hell?" Ed asked blankly, leaning down to take a closer look- and drawing back sharply. The man's eyes were bloody, as if the vessels there had burst, and he jerked reflexively at the sound of Ed's voice. "I don't even want to know what happened here. I guess you're not fried, though, so it wasn't Mustang...."
There was blood on the floor, trailing further down the hallway. Ed swallowed hard and went on; he didn't want to find anyone else in that state, not even that bastard Mustang, and he wanted to run into the person who'd done that even less. Still, he needed to get farther away from the river. Around the next bend in the hall the trail of blood ended, but there was no sign of anyone.
Then he saw Mustang.