Contrary to what his staff thought of him, Roy Mustang, newly promoted Colonel to Central Command, did indeed do his paperwork.
He just didn’t see the point in doing it when there were so many other far more interesting things to do instead in those moments. But come the creeping night hours where an evening was retiring to his small (if private, thank God) military barracks until he could find the time to go house shopping and being alone.
It’s not that he didn’t have other options, he knew that. Maes had been insistent he have dinner with his family but Roy didn’t like to intrude. He used to go out for dinner and drinks with the team when in West Command but things were different here in Central and until he got the lay of the land and established himself he didn’t want to call attention to himself or his team; he wanted them to settle in comfortably here and he wasn’t deaf nor blind to the rumors that followed him.
After all, no matter how awarded an alchemist he was for Ishval what business did a barely twenty-nine-year-old have being a colonel in Central ?
Roy was used to jealousy and envy and so he merely smirked at the accusations and let them think what they wanted. Their comments and opinions meant little to him and he would not let himself get distracted or caught up in the politics and pettiness. He had a goal and he could ill afford to get off track.
Paperwork was trying to do just that.
Roy had never realized just how many things required his signature and he never signed anything until either he (or sometimes Hawkeye because he trusted her with his life as she had him with her secret) had gone over it with a fine tooth comb.
He blamed Fullmetal.
The sheer number of red-inked missives for property damage were beyond even Roy’s comprehension. At this rate he would get gray hair before thirty and he shuddered at the thought.
But the paperwork was done, the cool autumn air was a welcome nip after the hours in his office, and Roy had no plans other than get home, sleep, oversleep, and stroll into the office fashionably late and continue to aggravate the stuffy suits who saw his behavior as immature and rude. It all worked in his favor and he fanned the flames, much to Hawkeye’s continued pointed stares.
The walk from his office to his barracks was a comfortable mile if he went through the park and a quicker half mile if he cut through alleys. Roy took a deep breath, watching the cloud form in front of his face.
And he angled for the park.
It was his preferred route as while he had never been one to really appreciate nature there was something intrinsically calming about wandering the dark path through trees and bushes and escaping the bright city lights.
The crackling of dry leaves underfoot was the only sound — the trains, the cars, the hum of the city gone — and Roy let out another breath, tipping his head back for a glimpse of the star-studded sky through the trees.
A sharp crack snapped him from his lazy meander and his right hand slipped immediately into his pocket where his transmutation gloves rested and his left to the holster for the gun Hawkeye had practically forced upon his person.
Dark eyes peered into the equally dark foliage.
Roy’s hand inched its way into a glove.
And a squirrel hopped forward.
Roy let out a low huff of laughter.
Dear God Maes would have a field day if he found out he’d overreacted and burned down the park because of a—
Footsteps sounded — quick and heavy — behind him and Roy whirled around, hand poised to snap because that was not an animal.
It was a masked man.
Roy smirked. He was in for a bit of a scare if he thought Roy was an easy target. A little snap should do the trick, a warning shot—
More footsteps sounded.
To his right.
A group of muggers?
Roy’s eyes narrowed as he took in the group of all masked men, who were still approaching but they were slower now, circling, and not using their numbers to rush him.
This was more than a mugging.
It didn’t matter though as he was more than capable of—
One of the men launched something — indistinguishable in the dark — but Roy didn’t give it the chance to strike, snapping his finger and sending a jet of flame into it high above his head.
It exploded with a violent hiss.
And water rained down.
Roy’s eyes widened and something — not fear, absolutely not fear — clenched his stomach.
They’d targeted him.
They’d waited for him.
And that meant…
They wanted something from him.
His hand dove for the gun although his aim was pathetic at best and Hawkeye was going to kill him if he survived this for skipping range training and it didn’t matter because the men were converging on him and there was nowhere for him to go.
His last thought as something heavy struck the back of his head was that he really, really wished it had just been a squirrel.
Something cold and wet struck Roy’s face and he came to with a jerk and a gasp.
“Wakey wakey, Colonel,” came a taunt and what his brain was telling him now over the shock and confusion was cold water rained down atop his head.
He’d been ambushed.
There was no point in pretending to still be asleep so Roy opened his eyes, narrowed even as water dripped off his bangs, to assess the situation.
His head was throbbing — no doubt from the hit — and his hands had been bound tightly behind him, his ankles the same and he was lying uncomfortably atop them on his back— still in the park, but no longer on the path, deeper in and to his right he could see a shine of lake — facing his captors who towered above him. He’d been stripped of his overcoat and dress shirt, leaving him in just his undershirt, and also his boots and socks. Roy tried hard not to visibly shiver as cool air met damp skin.
His captors were in nondescript clothing but Roy would have to be blind to not notice the military style boots and the reason for their masks — dark shapeless things over their heads — made far more sense.
They were Central Command officers.
And they didn’t want to compromise their identities.
On the plus side of that equation, Roy could pretty safely check murder off their agenda as if you were going to ultimately kill someone why hide your face?
That was about the only positive he could find at the moment as his hands twitched against efficiently tied ropes and he realized the sharp pain on the back of his head wasn’t entirely from the hit but a gag tied far too tightly and cloth cutting into the edges of his mouth. That ruled out trying to talk himself out of this although given the lengths these men had gone to capture him he didn’t think it would have been so easy.
Roy ultimately settled for glaring and not looking intimidated because he’d faced far, far worse things.
“Aww, look at that. This dog thinks he’s got some bite,” sneered one of his captors.
“Dog?” another scoffed. “I think you mean puppy.”
Raucous laughter followed and Roy mentally filed it away.
They knew who he was, they didn’t respect alchemists, and they were critical of his age.
Apparently some of those whispers were becoming more than empty threats.
Assuming he made it out of here, it would be a toss up between Maes and Hawkeye of who got to kill him first for ignoring them as he had.
“And I think,” another said, stepping forward, “this puppy should treat his elders,” he raised a booted foot, “with respect.”
Even preparing for the kick didn’t make it hurt any less.
Something cracked in his chest and Roy swallowed down the scream that tried to emit behind the gag.
He refused to give them the satisfaction of his pain.
“What do you think, puppy?” the boot toed his face, digging into his cheek. “Do you need to learn some respect?”
Roy resisted the urge to growl and feed the military dog image anymore and only glared.
“He ain’t scare of you, Mar—” the man snickering broke off as Mar— whipped around at the near name slip.
“Watch it,” snarled another and the one man held up his hands in a placating manner with a quiet, “ my bad, my bad.”
Roy breathed an inner sigh of relief.
He was going to get out of this alive, as he’d thought.
As he’d seen firsthand in the war… there were still so many ways to hurt someone.
And these men…
They really, really wanted to hurt him.
His hands twitched beneath him again, numb fingers picking uselessly at the ropes but he had to do something.
“He makes a point though,” one of the men nodded in the loose-lipped one’s direction. “He isn’t scared. Not like he should be.”
“He’s a war hero,” the word dripped with condescension. “The famed Flame Alchemist who has killed thousands.”
Roy didn’t allow himself to wince but his fingers curled up at the reminder.
At the complacency, the horror, he had been a part of.
These men weren’t disgusted at that though, didn’t hate him for that.
They hated that they hadn’t been the ones to do it and gain the glory.
“You know what I’ve heard?” one of the men tapped his masked chin in a way that told Roy this was not a new thought, this was something they were putting on for his benefit. “The best way to put out a fire… is water.”
Roy couldn’t see their faces but he didn’t have to.
He could picture the cruel sneers perfectly.
The lake behind them seemed to ripple with a new coldness to match the growing unease in Roy’s stomach.
They were going to...
“I think,” one of them crouched down, hand digging into Roy’s hair and twisting it, “this little puppy needs a bath. And a reminder,” the hand twisted more and Roy felt unwanted tears spring to his eyes at the pulling, “that his kind are not welcome here.”
More hands were on him then and Roy found himself being dragged to the water’s edge as the men cheered and jeered and a few more boots found homes in his ribs, his stomach, another atop his bound arms.
His reflection gazed up at him in the still smooth surface and he took comfort in the smoldering eyes, the set of his jaw, and the reminder that although he may be young he was strong.
Far stronger than a bunch of men who felt the need to bully him out of his command.
Let them try.
He would win.
He refused to lo—
Roy’s face met the water without any warning, cold and biting and it swam up his nose, down his throat, and he choked as he hadn’t yet drawn a breath and the gag prevented him from fully closing his mouth.
His head was shoved in deeper, water fully going over it and the men’s laughs became muffled beneath the surface.
He focused on holding what little air he had and waiting for them to pull him up.
This was nothing.
They weren't going to kill him.
There was nothing to be afraid of.
Pain and fear were temporary.
He just had to wait.
They weren’t pulling him up.
The pressure was building in his ears, his pulse pounding behind his eyes, jagged cold ripping down his throat, settling in his chest.
Dark spots danced in his eyes.
Roy squeezed his eyes tight as though that would make them go away.
It didn’t help.
The blackness was even darker there.
Ice was filling his lungs.
Frost was growing on his skin.
Maybe after all the people he’d hurt…
Roy couldn’t even feel the hand in his hair but he definitely tasted frigid air as he was yanked free of the lake and he coughed and choked and desperately tried to suck it in even though breathing hurt.
“And back in we go,” the breath was almost warm on the back of his ear.
Roy’s eyes widened.
And he was thrust back under.
He lost count.
They taunted him each time they pulled him out then, giving him sometimes seconds, sometimes a minute, to coax frozen air into abused lungs.
“This’ll teach you to get ahead.”
“You’re a worthless mutt.”
“Learn the rules, puppy.”
“Play with fire and even you’ll get burned.”
“Know your place.”
Roy knew they weren’t going to kill him.
He knew that.
His body didn’t.
It began to jerk, to spasm, as they held him longer and longer.
Cold fear trickled in.
What if… what if they changed their minds?
What if they didn’t pull him up in time?
Roy hated that feeling, that scrabbling panic clawing at his insides.
He couldn’t stop it.
It wouldn’t go away.
Again they shoved him under.
Breathing air hurt as much as water, icicles stabbing his lungs, his heart, his skin and Roy hung limp in their grip, shivering and trembling, as the let him breathe once more.
He felt the lips beneath a mask brush against the shell of his ear and he hated how warm it felt.
“Scared now, puppy?”
Roy pondered the question, mind moving far slower than it should.
Was he scared?
He wasn’t sure.
He was tired though.
He was pulled back from the water’s edge and his head twisted around.
He couldn’t summon up the energy to glare.
“Well well,” one of the men murmured. “Our little puppy dog seems to have lost his fire.”
The men laughed.
The hand released his hair and Roy hit the ground, hard.
Someone grabbed his arms and he heard the muffled sound of the ropes being cut, his arms sluggishly falling to his sides.
Another boot he barely felt gave one last kick.
“We hope you learned your lesson, puppy. But if you didn’t… we can help it sink in some more.”
Roy didn’t move; exhaustion and self-preservation winning against his pride.
Maes would be happy about that.
“Good boy,” a hand patted the top of his head.
“We’ll look for your resignation tomorrow,” said another. “And if it’s not there…”
A dark promise hung at the end of those words.
Nothing else followed except the sound of retreating footsteps.
Roy didn’t move.
He remained where he was until the only sounds were those of his own harsh breaths and muffled coughs.
And then he slowly, slowly sat up, the world giving a lazy spin around him as he lifted one trembling arm up to his face to yank down the gag.
He sat there for another minute, regaining his breath, willing the dizziness to go away, for oxygen to be inhaled more gently than before.
And then he stood.
He lifted his chin.
Fire flashed in his eyes.
And Roy turned not in the direction of the barracks but of Maes’ house.
He needed an investigator, someone who knew Central, on this.
Because those men?
They were going to burn under the cold fury of the law.
His eyes narrowed and…
And he sneezed.
And then a huff of laughter escaped him.
He apparently needed justice as much as he needed a blanket and some of Gracia’s to-die-for chicken noodle soup.
And with a smile on his face and fire in his eyes Roy began to walk in the direction of the said soup.
Of also no doubt a lecture.
But of safety.
And hugs and relief and simmering anger towards those who felt they had the power, the right, to hurt another.
Each step was one towards justice, towards freedom.
And The Flame Alchemist’s fire?
It was far, far from gone.