Actions

Work Header

The Letter that Toppled a Country

Chapter Text

“Letter for you, sir,” Hawkeye dropped a rather inconspicuous-looking letter on Mustang’s desk.

He frowned and picked it up. He wasn’t expecting any mail from anyone. Then again, Hughes was having the time of his life sending Mustang every photo he had ever taken of Garcia. It was honestly getting out of hand. The letter itself was thin, probably not even containing more than a page. He turned it over.

“It’s not filled with poison,” Hawkeye said, walking back to her desk. “So quit stalling and open it up. You’re running behind on your paperwork.”

God, paperwork. Was there any torture anyone could design that was worse than paperwork?

“Trisha Elric, Resembool,” he muttered, reading the shaky, but still neat script of the return address. The actual address wasn’t technically for him, it was for the last person who had his position. Strange, he had been missing, presumed dead, for almost three years now. Some people thought Mustang himself had killed the man to get his position. Mustang let the rumors swirl. He was still in Ishval at the time, trying to survive and not blow his brains out because of the dread. He didn’t have time to think of assassinating his competition for a promotion.

Hawkeye’s eyes were boring into him. She was two seconds away from shooting him. Best not to test her.

He opened the letter and read it, his eyes widening slightly.

“Interesting,” he muttered. “Hawkeye!”

“Yes, sir?”

“Book me a ticket for Resembool. I’m leaving immediately.” He stood up from his chair, the men in the room all looking at each other confused.

“And what business do you have in Resembool?”

“The letter was meant for Lieutenant Colonel Hartford. I’m going to see if this woman knows anything about his disappearance.”

“Are you sure you’re not just trying to get out of work, sir?”

He pulled on his coat and grinned at her. “Now Hawkeye, you’ve known me for years. When have I ever tried to get out of work?”

Hawkeye didn’t answer. She didn’t have to; which made her all the more terrifying.

“It should be a relatively quick trip out east,” he said. “I doubt she knows everything, but if she can tell us anything new about Hartford, it would be horrible for me not to check.”

“Whatever you have to tell yourself, sir.”

Truthfully, he didn’t think this Trisha Elric knew anything about Hartford. Based on her letter it sounded like Hartford knew her husband, not her. He couldn’t deny he was curious, though. She sounded desperate, practically begging whichever recipient received the letter to come to Resembool immediately. He had never been, and a glance at the map on the wall showed it was a tiny town deep in sheep country. What connection could a regular-old sheep farmer’s wife have with the military?

He supposed that’s why he was heading there, to find out. And to get out of work. What was he supposed to do? Ignore a lead that could end with him finding the missing lieutenant colonel? Not a chance. Besides, he hadn’t had a vacation in years. Just one quick little trip to one small town and he’d be back.

*****

To say the train stopped at Resembool would be a bit misleading. Technically, it stopped approximately four miles in between the eight nearest towns. And since this was a small town where people didn’t even own cars, this meant that Mustang was forced to walk to town, in the pouring rain. God, he hated the rain.

“There wasn’t even a cart for me to hire,” he said, shivering and pulling the coat tighter around himself to try and stave off the chill. “So much for a brief vacation.”

Thankfully, some helpful people at the station had put him on the right road, telling him to follow it, and eventually, he’d get to the main part of Resembool. Of course, calling it a road was very generous. He had seen hiking trails in the mountains that were better maintained than this thing. Deep ruts and grooves from repeated use caused puddles to form, soaking through Mustang’s boots and staining the bottom of his pants. More than once, he misjudged the depth of the pothole and ended up slipping and falling to the ground, covering himself in mud and wet grass. Not a very picture-perfect image of a soldier who was so terrifying, people told horror stories about him.

After about three hours of slipping, falling, getting soaked with mud and rain, he finally got to the town. Kind of. The stupid town was small enough that it probably couldn’t even legally be considered a town. What was the legal definition of a town? There had to be one. Otherwise, how did you know when a town became a city?

Thankfully, some farmers were still out, working the fields. He tightened his coat, hoping his uniform wasn’t visible to them. There was no telling how these people would react to the military. Most people didn’t like them. He couldn’t blame them. However, the letter was sent to the military, so this woman knew what she was getting into.

“Hello,” he called.

The farmers stopped what they were doing and eyed him suspiciously. Fair enough, there wasn’t much reason for a stranger to visit.

“I received a letter from Trisha Elric asking me to come. Do you know where she lives? There isn’t an address listed.”

The men’s faces dropped; suspicion being replaced with sadness.

“Yeah, she said she sent a few of them. Come on, I’ll take you to her.”

This didn’t bode well. Still, Mustang was here, he’d press onwards.

“Do you know much about what’s going on,” the farmer asked.

“No,” Mustang said. “To be honest, the letter was kind of vague. But it sounded urgent, so I came right away.” He looked down at his mud-splattered coat.

The black boots of his uniform were covered in tan mud, obscuring their color and making them heavy and unstable as the soil caked on the soles unevenly. Maybe he should hold off on visiting Ms. Elric until he cleaned up a bit. He looked around. Then again, this place didn’t seem like the kind of place to have an inn. Shit, he didn’t even think about that when he rushed to the train station earlier in the day. Maybe a farmer would be nice enough to let him crash in their barn until his train back. It wouldn’t be the first time he slept in a barn. Thanks, alchemy teacher!

“Then I won’t tell you. She had to have a reason for keeping it vague. Do you know her well?”

I don’t know her at all. “Not really. The letter was addressed to my predecessor, but he’s been missing for a few years. In all honesty, I was hoping to maybe see if she knew anything about his disappearance.”

The man studied him. “And what was it that you said you did, mister?”

“Call me Roy.” True, most people didn’t know the Flame Alchemist’s real name, but he didn’t want to press his luck. “And I don’t think I ever told you what I did.”

The farmer looked as if he wanted to say something, but didn’t, instead of stopping in front of a small house quite a way away from the main part of the town.

“Here we are. I don’t think she’ll be able to help you with your missing colleague, Mr. Roy. Good luck, though.” He patted him on the shoulder and then turned to walk back down the road.

Mustang took a deep breath and studied the house. It was a small, but relatively nice two-story house. There was laundry hanging up on the side, which was a bit odd considering the rain.

“Guess she doesn’t care much about dry sheets,” he muttered. The rain itself had lessened considerably on his walk over here, thankfully.

He walked over to the side of the house and did his best to scrape off the mud on his shoes and clothes, trying to make himself at least a bit more presentable.

“Should have had Hawkeye come with me. She knows how to get information out of people without them feeling like they’re threatened.” To be fair, she could also get information out of people when they did feel like they were being threatened.

Finally, he decided to go into the house. His clothes were stained and ruined, and there was nothing he could do about it now. Might as well get it over with and figure out what Trisha Elric wanted.

He took another deep breath and knocked on the door. There were lights on in the house, but he didn’t hear much movement. He took out his pocket watch to look at the time. Six o’clock, so they would probably be eating dinner. If he had planned this better, he wouldn’t have come at such an awkward time. At least with this weather and at this time of night, someone would be guaranteed to be home.

The door opened.

“Well, if it isn’t a stray dog.”

He looked down to see a very tiny, elderly woman smoking and glaring up at him. This was… not how he pictured Trisha Elric to look. Granted, he didn’t picture her to look like much, but he assumed she would be younger. And taller.

“What do you want?”

Mustang furrowed his brow. Was the woman senile? He pulled out the letter. “You wrote asking me to come here. Well, not me, but the man you did write to has been missing for several years.”

“Pinako,” a weak voice called from the next room, “Let him inside.”

The woman, who was Pinako and not Trisha Elric, turned from him. “You really shouldn’t be accepting visitors right now. You need to rest.”

“Please, let him in. I need to talk to him.”

Pinako turned back to him, taking a moment to study him. Mustang normally prided himself on being unflappable under scrutiny. You had to have thick skin to be a soldier. He had had his fair share of superior and inferior officers studying him, trying to find a weakness or a crack. He never broke with them. Pinako, on the other hand, seemed to have that same penetrating glare that Hawkeye had. Damn, he really should have brought her with him.

“Alright. Don’t track mud into the house. It’ll be a pain to clean it.” She turned and stepped inside.

Mustang followed her and hung his coat on the rack, wincing as water dripped from it onto a puddle on the floor. Hopefully, she wouldn’t kill him for this. The work he had done outside to remove the mud from his boots paid off, though, and he was able to walk through the house without making too much of a mess.

He followed Pinako to the room, taking the chance to look around and study his surroundings. The house seemed like any normal house, or what he would assume to be a normal house. Growing up in a brothel made it difficult for him to tell these things sometimes. He could tell that something was very wrong, though. The general care and upkeep seemed to have fallen to the wayside. It was clean but clean in a way that suggested the owner couldn’t do much. Certain sections, like the stairs and picture frames, held a layer of dust. He could see some of the pictures seemed to have kids in them, two of them by the looks of it. This entire situation got stranger and stranger by the second.

He stepped into the room and saw a woman sitting on a bed, and what he assumed to be a doctor beside her. She had long, chestnut hair tied over one shoulder, and hazel eyes. Her skin was waxy and pale. She was thin, dangerously so. She was sick, Mustang realized. Sick and probably dying. She had probably been quite beautiful once. Now that beauty was replaced by a woman who seemed just minutes from death.

“Doctor, you can leave us,” she said, putting a hand on his arm.

“But, Trisha—”

“You being here won’t make me die any slower. Please, go be with your family.” She smiled at him, still seeming warm and comforting despite her obvious pain.

The doctor hesitated for a moment. “Alright. But call if you need anything.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Pinako said, leaving Mustang and Trisha Elric alone in a room.

“Are you Lieutenant Colonel Hartford?” she asked.

“No, that’s part of the reason I came. My name is Lieutenant Colonel Roy Mustang,” he stepped forward and held out his hand. She didn’t take it. “Lieutenant Colonel Hartford has been missing for about three years now. I was hoping, since you wrote to him, you might know something about his disappearance.”

Trisha Elric turned away and started laughed.

Mustang was frozen in place, uncertain of what to do.

“Fourteen letters,” she said, gasping for breath. “I sent out fourteen letters and the only one to answer them is a dog of the military. And not even the person I meant to send for in the first place.”

He bristled. Normally, he didn’t mind being heckled. He thought he deserved to be harassed for his role in the massacre. However, this woman wrote to him, asking him for help. Even if she was upset that Hartford didn’t show up, he was still in the military! And by all accounts, Hartford wasn’t a great person, to begin with.

“If you don’t want my help, then I’ll be on my way.”

“No, no,” Trisha said, coughing so violently, Mustang worried she might cough up a lung.

“Trisha!” Pinako said, rushing back in and helping support her until the fit had passed. “You shouldn’t have sent him home. You’re sick.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m dying. There’s nothing he can do and I need help.”

She looked back to Mustang, eyes taking in every detail. “Don’t leave. You’re my last chance to save them.” Her eyes flickered down to the silver chain of his pocket watch. “You’re an alchemist?”

“Yes.” He narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out what she wanted.

“Did you serve in Ishval?”

He bristled again. “Yes.” There was no use lying about it. He was ashamed to admit it but denying it wouldn’t rid him of the guilt.

She sighed. “I suppose you are the only person who can help at this point. I don’t trust you, but like I said. I’m dying. If you do kill me because of what I know, you won’t be cutting my life short.”

“Now hold on a moment, no one is killing anyone,” Pinako said, turning to glare at Mustang.

“I came here because you asked for my help, ma’am, nothing more.” He said. Seriously, what did this woman know that made her think that he was going to kill her? “You mentioned something about saving them, is that what this is all about?”

Trisha’s eyes burned with a protective fire that was honestly a bit surprising given her current state. “Yes.” She swung her legs off the bed. “Pinako, help me out. We need to go downstairs. It’ll be easier to show you and go from there.”

“You need to rest.” Pinako steadied her with an arm on her elbow.

Mustang came to her other side and helped her off the bed. He knew no amount of scolding or pleading for reason would keep this woman on the bed. He recognized that fire in her, the fire that burned in him as well. His mission, to become the Fuhrer and change this country for the better blinded him to all other pain and suffering. He suspected that Trisha’s fire burned to save her children, the two he had seen in pictures covered by several years’ worth of dust and grime. He still didn’t know why this was a military issue, but he was hoping to find out.

“Rest won’t do me any good. You know I don’t have much time. I need to explain it all before it’s too late. If I don’t, everyone could die.”

Mustang and Pinako exchanged glances. She didn’t seem to know much of what was going on either. They made their way down the hall, torturously slow. Even the few feet they walked sent Trisha gasping and panting, coughing harshly with each step. Mustang was starting to agree with Pinako. She should have stayed in bed.

The stairs were even worse. He thought about offering to carry her down the stair. Given her current state, she probably didn’t weigh very much. However, he decided against it. She was fighting not for her life at this point, but for her dignity. Maybe he’d offer on the way back up, but for now, he’d let that fire burn in her a little longer.

They ended up in a small library. Surprisingly, it was well stocked for being in a small house in the middle of nowhere. It must have belonged to her husband. He supposed it wasn’t impossible that a simple sheep farmer was so well-read, but where did he get some of these books? Family heirlooms?

“That one. Take it.” Trisha pointed to an inconspicuous-looking red book on the second-highest shelf. The gold lettering had chipped and faded from years of use.

He reached up and pulled it, surprised to find it didn’t come out, but rather jolt against the shelf, clicking, almost as if he had pulled on a door handle.

The bookshelf swung open to reveal a secret room, filled with even more books.

“Um…” Mustang turned back to the women. Pinako looked just as gobsmacked as he did. “Is this the part where you reveal you’re in some secret cult and lured me here to sacrifice me?”

It sounded ridiculous. Then again, he just discovered a secret room in the basement of a house in the middle of nowhere. Cults usually liked to live in big communes in the middle of nowhere. Shit, Hawkeye was going to kill him for getting killed by a bunch of cultists.

“Trisha,” Pinako breathed. “Is this Hohenheim’s?”

“Who’s Hohenheim?” The only thing that was keeping him from completely freaking out was the fact that Pinako seemed just as confused as he did. Great, so he wasn’t a dumbass for walking into a cult trap!

Trisha nodded and pushed off the chair. “Come on, help me inside.”

Mustang rushed to her side and helped her into the room, setting her down on another chair. He looked around the room, eyes widening as he realized that these books were all alchemic books. Hundreds of them, titles he recognized and had read, and titles that he recognized but had never even seen. Some of them had to have been thousands of years old. What caught his eye though was a map of Amestris. It wasn’t just any map, though. On it was a transmutation circle. His heart stopped when he recognized one of the points was Ishbal.

“Pinako, you remembered my husband leaving several years ago.”

He pulled his eyes off the map, hoping she’d explain it at some point.

Pinako nodded. “Yes, I did. It was quite sudden if I remembered. One day he was just… gone.”

Trisha looked down at her hands. “He had been planning it for a while. He wanted to do some more research. He thought he could fix it.” She shook her head. “That doesn’t matter now. I haven’t seen him or been able to get ahold of him for years now. Anyways, about two months after he left, someone who looked like him showed up at our house.”

Mustang furrowed his brow, listening to every word she said.

Tears started slipping down her cheeks as she continued. “My husband isn’t fully human. He was, at one point. But something happened and he lost his ability to die. That’s what he was researching. He came back and told me he had figured it out, but there was no way to know how long he would have once he completed his work. Because of this, he asked to take the boys with him on a trip to Central City, to see the library. You know how much those boys love to read.”

“Hang on,” Pinako said. “Ed and Al? I thought they had died.”

At this, Trisha started sobbing, loudly. Shit, Mustang did not deal well with crying people. This was outside of his comfort zone. Especially since he had just met this woman.

“I was too ashamed to admit that I let some stranger run off with them. My children, they’ve been missing since that thing showed up at my house pretending to be my husband. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t listen and now my boys are gone.”

Thankfully, Pinako seemed to be more than happy to comfort the sobbing woman. Mustang just had to stand awkwardly in the corner, occasionally glancing over at the map of Amestris and the transmutation circle.

Trisha’s sobbing slowly ceased and she took a few deep breaths. “Once I realized what had happened, I decided to try and find them myself. I searched everywhere, trying to learn as much as I could about the rot in this country.”

She gestured around the room. “I’m no alchemist, so most of these things that I found, I didn’t know what to do with, or who to trust. I was hoping I could figure it out, but…”

“You got sick,” Mustang said, still not certain if he believed any of this or what he was even supposed to do with it.

“Why do you have Ishbal circled on the map?” he asked, looking back at that damn transmutation circle. It was one he had never seen before, but he couldn’t deny that it was one. He even recognized a few names of previous conflicts the country had. It seemed like this damn country was always at war. He never realized, or maybe never wanted to realize, how cleanly circular the country was. As if it was planned to be this way from the start.

“I don’t really know. Like I said, I’m not an alchemist. I’m pretty sure the military is involved, but that’s about it. But I did read something about a Crimson Crest in one of the books. The notes are all there for you.”

Mustang narrowed his eyes. If what she was implying was true, then the massacre he participated in was planned from the start. The massacre he thought was pointless, turned out to have a point, one even sicker and more depraved than simply murdering an ethnic group of people for no reason. He felt sick.

She grabbed his wrist and yanked him down. “Please, you have to save my children,” she said, her breathing getting heavier once more. The fluid in her lungs rattled in an unsettling way.

“You’re the only one who can. You have to find them and save them from that monster. My notes are all here. My husband’s notes are all here. Please, you have to help them. They’re just children!”

She started hacking again, hard enough to shake her from her chair.

“Trisha!” Pinako said, rushing to her side. “Help me get her back upstairs!”

Mustang complied, carrying her back up the stairs and to the bed.

“I’m going to get the doctor. Stay with her!” She rushed out the door, not even bothering to take a coat.

Mustang did his best to help support her so she was breathing better. Her hand wrapped around his wrist once more.

“Please, promise me.” She gasped, her chest heaving as her lungs struggled to take in air.

Mustang didn’t like making promises he couldn’t keep. Especially since he still didn’t know everything that was going on.

He couldn’t help but take her hand and nod. “I promise. I’ll do everything I can to find them and bring them home.”

Trisha looked towards the side table, her other hand messing around with some of the things, knocking over a small vase of flowers. She didn’t seem to care much, instead of pulling back to reveal a small locket in her hand.

She opened it and handed it to Mustang. There were two children in the photo. One was still a baby and the other one was a little bit older. The older one had blond hair and golden eyes, a very strange combination. The other one was still blonde with brown eyes, but his hair was a bit more on the brown side than his brother's.

Trisha put a hand on his cheek and he tore his eyes away from the locket to look at her.

She was smiling at him. “I trust you.”

Mustang smiled at her. “Even though I’m a dog of the military?”

“You have kind eyes. That’s enough for me.”

His smile dropped. He didn’t know the last time anyone had said any of his features were kind, let alone kind enough to entrust the safety of their children to him. Most people hid their children away. He couldn’t blame them.

The door flew open and Mustang stood up.

Pinako pushed him away from the bed while the doctor from earlier set to work.

He could tell, though, that it was too late. The fire in Trisha Elric’s eyes burned out. She was dead.

Chapter Text

There was a steaming cup in front of him. Mustang couldn’t remember what Pinako had offered him. He did remember telling her not to bother, but she seemed determined to do something. It was probably the only way she could deal with the grief right now.

This could not have been easy for her. Not only did a dear friend of hers die, but then she had to learn two children were kidnapped and the entire damn country was a transmutation circle… Mustang wasn’t sure how he was able to deal with it all and he had just met these people!

The doctor had tried and failed to revive Trisha Elric. In the end, he had to admit that there was no saving her. He pulled a sheet over her head and told them they’d deal with it in the morning. Mustang had seen his fair share of dead bodies. He had caused his fair share of dead bodies. Despite all of this, seeing Trisha Elric’s lifeless eyes and a slack mouth made his stomach twist and turn with all the sensations of wrong that came with seeing the dead. He had thought, after Ishval, after the smell of burning skin and the smoke that choked his lungs and blinded him, that he would never be affected by a dead body again. He would never flinch and freeze when he saw one. He was wrong. Seeing Trisha Elric’s face be covered by that sheet sent a primal thrill of fear through his body. He wanted to run away. He wanted to hide. He wanted to stand there and watch her chest to see if it would move up and down.

The locket hung heavy around his neck. The cool metal burning into his skin, a constant reminder of the picture within.

Pinako, at least on the outside, appeared to have more control over her emotions. Mustang could see through that mask. The tightness around her mouth, the way she held her shoulders, she was hurting. He couldn’t blame her. When she asked if he wanted to come back to the house, it held none of the same bites as when she first greeted him at the door. Her friend was gone. She had just found out about a country-wide conspiracy. And now she was going to have to work with a dog of the military to save everyone. This was going to be one hell of a long night.

Her house wasn’t far from Trisha Elric’s, and it surprisingly doubled as an automail clinic.

“One of the only ones in this part of the country,” she said as they walked back through the rain. “We mostly get people who have lost limbs due to farming accidents. Most of the doctors are too far away. You can stay here until the next train leaves tomorrow. Besides, I want to talk to you about what Trisha said.”

He was grateful she offered him a place to rest. Just because he could sleep in a barn in the pouring rain didn’t mean he wanted to sleep in a barn in the pouring rain. Which is how he found himself sitting at her kitchen table, across from her, staring at a cup full of steaming liquid that could be any number of things. If they had met under any other circumstances, he would have guessed poison. However, given the situation, it was probably safe to drink. Unless this whole cult thing was still a possibility.

Mustang didn’t care either way. His mind was racing with information. Trisha Elric’s husband was some immortal non-human entity that somehow managed to have two kids and then disappeared off the face of the Earth only for another non-human entity that looked exactly like him and kidnapped her kids and the entire country was some nefarious transmutation circle with some nebulous use? It sounded ridiculous. If Hughes was here, he’d be laughing his ass off and offering up a dozen other more plausible explanations. Sure, the idea of immortality wasn’t that weird, especially when you had things like human transmutation and the philosopher's stone. But actual, practical immortality was another thing entirely. If Hohenheim was immortal, then why was he the only one? Shouldn’t more immortals be running around? And what about this guy who looked exactly like him? Trisha Elric seemed convinced the father didn’t take them, but what were the chances that two identical people were running around Amestris?

“Do you think the father took the kids?” he finally asked. Might as well start there. Pinako may not know the answer, but she knew more about the father and the kids than he did.

Pinako was silent for several minutes. She blew out a puff of smoke and shook her head. “Hohenheim? No, I don’t think so. He’s always been a little distant as if he didn’t know how to handle humans. But I know he cared about those boys and Trisha. I don’t think he’d ever hurt them.”

Mustang narrowed his eyes. “But he hasn’t been back in years. Trisha Elric said she couldn’t get in contact with him. What kind of man just abandon’s his family like that?”

That was another thing that bothered him. Even if this whole ‘immortality’ thing was true, why hadn’t Hohenheim stopped by at least once? Or send a postcard. Or called. Or did something to keep an eye on things back at home. He must have been aware of this other being who looked like him. What kind of man leaves his family defenseless for years on purpose?

“I’m not saying what he did was right,” Pinako said, her voice even and calm. Damn, she was so much like Hawkeye. Is this what Mustang had to look forward to when they got older? Hawkeye still being as sharp and observant as ever, seeing through every word or movement of his and forcing him to confront his soul head-on? He shuddered to think about it.

“What he did wasn’t right,” Pinako continued. “But Hohenheim has never been one to purposefully hurt another human. If what Trisha says is true, then he certainly isn’t the kind of person to orchestrate an entire massacre. Speaking of which—”

Please, no. Not tonight. Mustang did not want to deal with Ishval tonight. He never wanted to deal with Ishval, especially sober. But he did not want to rip open those wounds again tonight. This week… it had been especially bad. That’s probably why he jumped at the chance to escape, just for a few days. The nightmares were louder than ever. The liquor in his home was depleted worryingly fast. He had pulled out the one gun in his apartment and held it, loaded it in his hand for hours as the dark sky slowly lightened to morning. A war raging in his head, debating whether or not he should finally go through with it. He wrote notes and burned them. They were addressed to Aunt Chris. Hawkeye. Hughes. His team. Grumman. Marcoh. Armstrong. Over and over again until he ran out of paper and ink, and there was a pile of ash next to him. He talked himself down from the ledge only to end up back there again the next evening. This week had been hard. He didn’t want to deal with it. He had had enough for one day, one week, one lifetime. Please, let her leave this alone. He’ll tell her later. Just… just not now. Not after everything that happened.

“You said you served in Ishval as a state alchemist. From what I hear, you people slaughtered them by the thousands.” Her eyes were boring into him, stripping away at all his carefully crafted defenses. He stared at his cup like a guilty child who believed that if they said nothing, they wouldn’t get in trouble.

Leave it alone. Please. I can’t take the guilt. Not right now. You seem like the kind of person who won’t censor her words. Please. I can’t take that right now. The kids, I need to find the kids. I can’t do that with a bullet in my head. Please. Not tonight.

His throat was closed, choking him and disrupting his breathing. He forced himself to calm down. He forced himself to put back on that impassive mask that fooled almost everyone. He was a monster; the kind of man people hid their children from. Whatever she was going to say, he deserved it and much worse. He deserved to be tortured, killed, beaten down by the hands of those he had burned and tossed into the garbage pile without even a gravestone to mark his burial place. He could handle this. Whatever she said, it was not going to be nearly as bad as the words he had thought to himself a thousand times before. He could deal with this. The locket around his neck, still heavy, but in a way that grounded him rather than pulled him down and trapped him. He could do this. Children were counting on him.

“If we’re going to deal with this mess, then you’re going to have to be honest with me. I’m sorry if it offends you that I don’t trust a man who murdered children.” She didn’t sound sorry.

She was right, though. If what Trisha Elric said was true (and he was inclined to believe her, even with so little information), then this was bigger than a few bad apples. This was the whole damn country. Every member of the military could potentially be in on this. He could potentially be in on this. He already served as a loyal dog, helping to complete the blood crest, whatever that was. Before they found out about the country-wide transmutation circle, Pinako had enough reasons to distrust him. Now that they knew the military was in on the whole thing, her distrust was natural, understandable, and smart. Did Mustang even trust himself to help? He had served so loyally, so unquestioningly in Ishval. Who’s to say he wouldn’t turn his back on these kids to serve his masters once more.

He sighed and sank back in his chair. “I always thought it was a situation that just got out of control, a few bad apples that made everything so much worse.”

He stared at the map on the table. Isvhal circled in bright red blood. It didn’t look like blood. It was too red, too bright, too shiny. However, some primal part in him, a part that would never be completely gone, saw red. Blood was red. Therefore, Ishval was circled blood. Blood that was on his hands. Blood that he had spilled. Blood that was his fault.

“To know that it was planned from the beginning to be a massacre, and I took part in it… I always knew I was a pawn for the military. I never knew just how bad it was.”

“If you don’t mind me asking—”

Even if he said he did, she’d probably still ask.

“You don’t seem like the other dogs I’ve come across. Why?”

Mustang took another deep breath. There were very, very few people with who he talked about his plans. Aunt Chris, Hawkeye, and Hughes. Everyone else was kept largely in the dark. Sure, his ambitions were open for all the world to see, but what he was going to do once he became Fuhrer and why were privy to only a few people.

He was on the ledge again. He came without any firearms, but there were other ways you could kill yourself. His gloves were in his pocket. With all this rain, it was unlikely anything would catch on fire. He could simply walk out into a field and snap his fingers.

“If you can believe it,” he started, “a man named Zolf Kimblee is largely responsible for my desire to stay in the military.”

Talk about it. Let her know she can trust you. Get it off your chest so you won’t be so useless tomorrow when you start to unravel just what the hell is happening in this country. It’ll be okay.

“Can’t say that name rings a bell.”

He chuckled, humorlessly. The dark shadows of his past creeping up on him once more. He could smell the burning flesh all around them. It was fake. Psychosomatic. It wasn’t real.

It smells real. Check, just to make sure. Check to see if there are any burning bodies outside. Check to make sure you didn’t put them there.

“That makes sense. I think the military would rather forget him. He’s an alchemist, like me. They called him the Crimson Blood Alchemist. He could take someone’s body and turn it into a bomb.”

Pinako sucked in a breath but otherwise stayed silent.

“He was insane, lacking any empathy or regret for what we were doing. He even enjoyed it, treated it like a game. It was towards the end. The Ishvalans weren’t fighting to win, they were fighting to survive. We were the monsters sent to make sure that didn’t happen.”

It was strange, talking about this in such a way. It almost felt like he was reading someone else’s account of the massacre. Like these weren’t his own experiences. He had read somewhere about disassociation. Was that what was happening to him right now? He still felt like he was present. He was in Pinako Rockbell’s automail shop in Resembool after learning that apparently, an immortal man had two sons who were kidnapped by someone who looked exactly like them. He had to stay focused on that. His problems were minuscule compared to the destruction that could happen if this wasn’t fixed.

“I saw a lot of good men and women who couldn’t handle what they were asked to do. Some, like Dr. Marcoh, up and deserted the military. He’s still wanted to this day. Others, like Major Armstrong, had a breakdown and refused to fight anymore. His career is still suffering because of it.”

“What about you? You don’t seem like you enjoyed the killings.”

At least she picked up on that much. It made him feel marginally better. He leaned forward, staring at the map. It was easier to talk when he didn’t have to look at another human. He didn’t have to see their hate or their pity.

“I decided to deal with it by putting a gun in my mouth.” There. He said it. Out loud. To another person. Hawkeye and Hughes always suspected, but he had never confirmed it to them. Too much shame. Too much guilt. Too much to do. Why was it that he was more inclined to share all of his darkness with a stranger who, by all accounts, seemed to hate him?

Pinako was silent in front of him. Mustang didn’t dare look up at her. If he saw her eyes, it would cause the walls to come up once more. But she needed to hear this. She needed to understand why he was so willing to help find Trisha Elric’s sons. She needed to know why she could trust him.

“I was sitting in my tent after a long day of burning children. At this point, both Armstrong and Marcoh were gone. It was just me, alone. I had it in my mouth, finger on the trigger. I was steeling myself to do it when I heard Kimblee laughing just outside. Laughing and telling jokes, as if he wasn’t killing unarmed civilians for no reason. I couldn’t kill myself when he was outside laughing. I almost got up to tell him to knock it off when it hit me. Killing myself would do absolutely nothing. It wouldn’t stop the war. It wouldn’t show the military that what they were doing was wrong. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t be the first soldier to commit suicide. It was a meaningless and selfish act. My death would do absolutely nothing to help right the wrongs of Ishval.”

He took a deep breath and continued. This part was easier. This part played to his ambitions and goals. This part fit with the mask he was wearing. “What’s more, Kimblee wouldn’t die. He wouldn’t feel guilty. Hell, they’d probably just send him to kill the people I was supposed to kill. The military was burning out the soldiers that couldn’t handle it and replacing them with psychopaths that could. My death would be meaningless, but if I lived, then I might have a chance to make things right. Then I might have a chance to right these wrongs.”

Finally, he sat back and hazarded a glance at Pinako. She seemed thoughtful, but also was not completely convinced.

“I plan to become the Fuhrer and stop all this war. The fact that Ishval was a planned massacre from the beginning makes me sick to my stomach. I joined the military to protect people. And I am going to keep moving forward until I am in a position to protect everyone. Whether or not you believe me doesn’t matter. I have the information. I can work from there.”

She sat back and tapped the ash out of her pipe. She was silent, her eyes narrowed in contemplation, her mouth pressed into a thin line. She made no indication that she even heard Mustang’s declaration. He felt like he should say something else to her, but no words came. There was nothing left to say. Anything else would be a pathetic attempt to gain sympathy from her. He didn’t need sympathy. He needed to take action. Whether she liked it or not, whether she liked him or not, he was going back into that house and reading through all those notes. He was going to figure out what that transmutation circle was for and he was going to find out what happened to Edward and Alphonse Elric.

“Whatever happened to this Kimblee fellow?” she asked after several more silent moments.

“He was arrested. He tried to kill his commanding officer and several civilians out West.”

“So he’s no longer in the picture?”

He shook his head. “No, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still people like him, others that have risen through the ranks as well and have gotten positions of power. They’re just less… bloodthirsty. Or at least less showy about it. He pushed too far and had to be wrangled into submission.”

Pinako sighed. “I suppose this is a mess. No wonder Trisha seemed so desperate for help. This isn’t something one person alone can do.”

“Do you trust me?” He had to ask. Her answer would change how he went about this. Resembool was close to East City, but it was small enough and far enough away that it didn’t have a military presence. He could use it as a base of operations. Isolated enough to keep a secret but close enough that any member of his team could make a quick trip out here without arousing suspicions. If this was the entire military, he had to be careful, or else the entire operation could be over before it even truly started.

She shrugged. “Not particularly, but as she said, you’re pretty much our only hope. I can’t get involved with this. I’m too old and other than making automail, I’m not of much use in a war against alchemists. Do you have people you can trust? You can’t do this alone either.”

Hawkeye and Hughes popped into his head. He knew he could trust them with his life. They both supported his goals and this country-wide conspiracy would put a kink in his plans on becoming Fuhrer. But did he want to trust him with this? It was one thing to climb through the ranks of the military, play by the rules until you got to make the rules. But it was another thing entirely to actively overthrow the very government you swore to serve. Because that was what had to happen if Trisha Elric’s research proved to be true. This wasn’t the case of a few power-hungry generals; this was the case of an entire country being specifically planned for this circle.

“I do,” he said. He’d give them the option of helping, and would understand completely if they decided not to. “I don’t have a large group of people I can trust, but it’s better than nothing.”

Pinako nodded. “I suppose that’s good enough for now. I don’t know much about alchemy, but I do know those boys were prodigies. Ed in particular. I think he was transmuting things before he could even talk.” There was a hint of pride in her voice.

“Really? That’s impressive.” The smell of burning flesh and the overwhelming desire to end it all receded slightly. It was there, would probably always be there, waiting in the back of his mind like a shadow. However, they had moved on. There were more important things to focus on. There were more important problems to solve. He couldn’t die, not yet. Too many people were counting on him. And now he could add two more names to the list.

“Why do you think that thing took them? What could it possibly want with two young boys?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’m not familiar with this transmutation circle or blood crests.”

“That’s too bad.” Then, almost as if she were afraid of the answer, she asked, “Do you think they’re still alive? It wouldn’t go through all this trouble to take them just to kill them.”

He did not want to be having this conversation right now. He was already tired and drained. He wanted to go to bed because tomorrow was going to be even worse. Tomorrow he was going to have to look over the notes and learn things about his country he never wanted to learn. What was he supposed to say to her? Was he supposed to give her false hope? Lie to her? Tell her the truth and dash all her dreams?

“I don’t know.” Is what he ended up deciding on. “I wish I did, but I honestly don’t.”

She nodded, a flicker of understanding passing between the two of them.

“I will give you my word, though, that I’ll find out what happened to them. And if they are alive, I’ll bring them back.”

“That’s all I ask. Well, that and for you to overthrow the government.”

Mustang snorted. “Oh, is that all? I suppose that’s only two things. Shouldn’t be that hard.”

Pinako smirked. “You should get some rest. The train back to East City leaves early in the morning. The house technically goes to those two boys, but I suppose you could use it as a base of some sort since I’m assuming you don’t want to use any military instillations to plan your coup.”

“I was wondering if I could stay tomorrow and leave the next day. I want to go through that library again and look at the notes more thoroughly. It might help me understand more of what’s going on.”

“That would be alright, but you probably shouldn’t wear that uniform. Most people around here don’t take kindly to the military. I have some extra clothes you can borrow until then.” She slid off the chair and started up the stairs, before pausing and turning around. “One day, dog. That’s all you get for now.”

“That’s all I’ll need,” Mustang said.

Hopefully, he could convince her that he was on her side, the side of the people. Hopefully, he could figure out what happened to Edward and Alphonse Elric. Hopefully, he could help create a more peaceful government instead of whatever the hell it was now. Hopefully, those two boys would still be alive to inherit their childhood home. Hopefully, he could protect everyone, save everyone, before it was too late.

It already is too late. Trisha Elric will never see her children again. Those boys will live the rest of their lives without a mother.

He pushed those thoughts away. It might be too late for Trisha Elric, but until he had the dead bodies of Edward and Alphonse Elric in his hands, it wouldn’t be too late for them. He had to believe this. If he didn’t, then what was the point of not walking out into a field and lighting himself on fire.

He pulled out the locket and looked at the faded picture of two children he had never met once more. He clicked it shut, tucked it back into his shirt, and followed Pinako upstairs to his room for the night.

It wasn’t too late.

Chapter Text

Greed heard them talking and sighed. And here he was hoping to sneak back in without being spotted. Granted, they had to have known he was back in town hours ago. Wrath had eyes everywhere and nothing happened in this damn country without him knowing. But he was still hoping to slip in, unnoticed, spend a few hours with his pets, and then slip out again. No need to argue with Envy or listen to snide remarks from Lust or dodge Wrath and Pride’s attempts to kick his ass.

Except, they were in the main room, having a meeting. He would have to walk through the main room to get to his destination. They would see him and expect him to sit with them. He could always go back to the surface and wait it out at some local park. Except he didn’t know how long they would be and Gluttony probably already smelled him and informed Lust (and by extension everyone else) that he was in the Evil Lair (Father didn’t like it when he called it an Evil Lair, but what else would you call an underground cave system used to plot the downfall of a country?).

He tightened his grip on the small box in his hand, squared his shoulders, and continued to walk. The only way to get to his destination was to go through the meeting. He’d just have to tough it out and hope Father wasn’t in a bad mood.

“For someone who removed all his wrath, he sure gets angry,” he muttered, tucking the small box by his side to make it as inconspicuous as possible. No need to draw attention to it.

He started whistling, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. Confidence was key with these people. If they saw any weakness, they’d pounce on it without a moment’s hesitation. If he acted like he belonged here, they’d be less likely to try and kill him. Sheesh. Were all families this dysfunctional? Or was it just the result of dear old dad being a narcissistic egotistical sociopathic prick who thought he was God?

“Greed, how nice of you to join us,” Wrath said, glaring at him with one eye as he stepped into the room.

“You know, you don’t have to wear that stupid thing when you’re with us,” Greed said, grinning at him. “We know you’re an inhuman monster. You don’t have to pretend to be one of the insects you despise so much.”

Wrath twitched, his hands gripping the sword tightly. Sure, teasing him might lead to his throat getting slit, but it would be so worth it. Besides, if Wrath was angry, that was a distraction.

“Says the thing that plays house,” Envy said.

Father was glaring at him, his knuckles white. He was pissed off for some reason. He probably shouldn’t push it tonight. He plopped down in his chair, which was slightly dusty (seriously, these people couldn’t clean?), and propped his feet up on the table. Wrath and Envy glared at him. Lust looked bored. Gluttony continued to chew on some poor sap that had the great displeasure of walking home alone late at night. Greed wished he wouldn’t chew so loudly.

“I don’t play house.” He grinned, slipping back into that easy confidence that riled them all up. It barely took any effort. Lust, Sloth, and Gluttony were the only three who didn’t seem to be annoyed by it. “I collect possessions. Don’t get snippy with me just because I’m living the dream, you pathetic worm.”

Envy stood up, eyes flashing dangerously and hands balled into fists. They were ready to deck him. Greed let his ultimate shield crawl up his body. It had been a while since he got in a good fight. Granted, out of all of them, Envy was probably the worst fighter, but when you were fighting a homunculus, you didn’t have to hold back. Greed was itching to get out some of his aggression.

“Why you—” Envy snarled.

“Enough,” Father said, his voice commanding enough to get them to sit back down. He must be pissed off if he reacted this quickly. Usually, it took a little longer to get a rise from him. He wondered what was going on. Maybe if he attended these meetings more than once a month, he’d figure it out.

On the other hand, if he had to put up with Father, Pride, Envy, and Wrath more than once a month, he might just snap and go on a rampage. He probably couldn’t take them all out, but he could probably get rid of a few.

“Greed,” he turned to him, “I only put up with your antics because you are still useful to me. However, my patience wears thin. Do not test me.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Greed waved him away. “Look, pops, you’re the one who made me. If you don’t like me, then maybe take back all this greed for yourself instead of letting me wander around freely.”

Lust scoffed. “The rest of us follow Father’s wishes.”

“Oh, and how’s that working out for you?”

Lust glared at him.

“Enough!” Father slammed his hands down on the table.

Man, it was a lot of fun to get a rise out of ‘holier-than-thou’ Father. Bastard deserved it. Though, it was also a delicate dance. Greed couldn’t push too hard or else he would end up dunked in a bowl full of lava until the philosopher’s stone in him burned up. Apparently, this happened about once every one hundred years. It was annoying. He had memories from the past Greeds that would occasionally bubble to the surface. Memories that weren’t his and yet, were. He had names and faces that he couldn’t place, feelings about locations that would randomly slam into him, ideas that weren’t his. Sometimes, it sounded like all the previous incarnations of Greed were in his head, arguing and trying to give him advice.

Despite the occasional discomfort he felt when these unwanted memories came to the surface, he wouldn’t have it any other way. He liked being a rebel. He liked that no matter how many times Father tried to burn him into submission, it only lasted a short while before he was back on the street, collecting people and things and doing what he wanted to do. However, he sometimes wished he could be more like Wrath or even Sloth, dutifully doing what was asked of them without complaint or question. It would certainly make life a hell of a lot easier for him. Then again, it’d also make it a hell of a lot more boring.

Speaking of Sloth… “Where’s the big guy?”

Father sighed and pinched his brow. “This is why I ask you to be here, so you can keep up to date on our plans. I don’t have time to reiterate every single thing.”

Greed leaned forward, grinning with hands clasped in front of him. Who would break first and tell him what he wanted to know?

“Sloth’s starting to construct the circle,” Pride said. Interesting, but not all unsurprising. Unlike Wrath and Envy, who tried to get him to shut up by fighting him, Pride usually caved to his demands so he would go away faster.

“Shouldn’t you be in school?” He didn’t know much about school, but he did know that human children were supposed to be there more than they weren’t. And Pride was supposed to be a human child.

“It’s ten at night on a Saturday.”

“Is that supposed to mean something to me?” A jolt of pain shot up through Greed’s arm, originating from the Philosopher’s stone in his hand. He let out a gasp and hunched over, looking up to see Father looking at him with vitriol. “Alright, alright. I’m just curious.”

The pain ceased and Father looked away. “Lust, Envy, Gluttony, I need you to go to Liore and start sowing seeds of insurrection for the next blood crest.”

“Shouldn’t we be working on the blood crest in Briggs?” Wrath asked, pulling a map of Amestris closer to him. On the map were several points of interest circled in red. “Armstrong runs a tight ship up there and it’ll be harder to get the amount we need. With Briggs so isolated, it’ll be harder for Central forces to take command once we need to be there. I can arrange for something to happen to her.”

“Let me worry about Briggs. You just do your job.” Father growled. “Have you found another suitable sacrifice?”

Fuck, this was so boring. Greed slumped back in the chair and let his head hang back. As much as he went on and on about the fighting, most of his days back at the Evil Lair were spent in sheer boredom. These jackasses couldn’t do anything without creating a five thousand step plan first. If he were running this ship, there’d be less planning and more action. But he wasn’t running this ship, and he wasn’t interested in helping it run any smoother.

Wrath shuffled through his papers. “There are rumors of a skilled alchemist out east named Izumi Curtis. I’m having some people look into it.”

“How come all the potential sacrifices are from out East?” Greed asked, head still hanging back to look at the disgusting ceiling above him.

He thought the wires and pipes looked like the inside of a body. They were dripping with condensation and the smell was weird. Why anyone would choose to make this their go-to design aesthetic was beyond him. Yeah, Father couldn’t leave, but he could at least spruce up the place. Maybe get a coffee table. A coat or two of paint on the walls. Some better lighting. There was a great tchotchke shop in Central that he wouldn’t mind clearing out. Maybe he would. After he was done with his pets, he’d go to the shop, buy everything, and spend the rest of the night hiding them around the Evil Lair. How long would it take one of these idiots to notice?

“Right,” Father stood up, ignoring his question, “that’s all for now. You have your assignments.”

“What about me, pops?” He did not want to do anything, but he should at least asked. You know, for the aesthetics. And also so they didn’t get suspicious.

Once again, pain shot through his hands. He let out a choked cry and hunched forward, trying to breathe through the pain. It felt like someone was trying to rip apart his body piece by piece. The agony was incredible.

“If I could trust you to do what I ask, then I would give you something to do. As is, I don’t trust you.”

The pain ceased. Greed let out a sigh of relief.

“Bastard,” Envy grumbled as they and Lust walked past him.

“You’re just jealous because you have to spend the next few years in a dusty desert town in the middle of nowhere while I get to live it up here in Central.”

They didn’t respond. Instead, leaving him alone with Father.

“What do you want?” Greed asked, looking over to him.

“Do you know why I keep you around, Greed?”

“Because I’m handsome and have a charming personality.”

“Because those two like and trust you. Which makes them more docile and easier to control.”

Greed swallowed and fingered the twine holding the box closed. “Really? You think so?”

“I do. When you’re here, they do what they’re told. However,” Father slammed his hands on the table, leaning over him until their noses were practically touching. “Don’t think for one second that I can’t accomplish my goals without you. There are other ways I can control them, more painful ways. If you don’t want them to get hurt, I suggest you keep your nose clean and not do anything that endangers my goals.”

“I’m not doing anything that endangers your goals.” Currently. In the future, that was another matter. He had plans and ambitions of his own, plans that needed Father to be out of the picture. He just hadn’t started working on them yet.

Father stood up. “I will not hesitate to kill you the second you get in my way, Greed. Tread carefully.”

He turned and left him alone in the meeting room, water dripping from the ceiling and landing on the floor in a regular pattern. Greed ran a hand down his face and sighed. That could have gone better.

Now that the meeting was over and Father was done chewing him out, he could finally do what he was hoping to do twenty minutes ago. Seriously, these people spent so long plotting the downfall of Amestris when they could be doing fun things like having sex and buying clothes. Priorities, people. Priorities.

He stood up and made his way down the twisting halls. All around him, the walls seemed to move, in and out, in and out, like they were alive. He avoided touching the slimy things for that very reason. It was freaky and unnatural. Everything down here was damp, dank, dark. There was no joy, no fun, no happiness. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be stuck down here, day in and day out. Never leaving. Never going above ground. Never experiencing life. That, in and of itself, was torture.

Finally, he got to his destination and knocked on the door. He could hear the sounds of shuffling and waited a few seconds. It didn’t sound like his pets were asleep yet. They should be, though. It was late enough. Then again, if you never saw the sun, how did you know when to go to sleep and when to wake up? He didn’t need to sleep, but humans did.

The door opened and Ed peaked out through the crack, eyes narrowed in a glare that suggested he was ready to fight someone. Not a good sign. The glare disappeared when he saw it was him and he brightened up.

“Greed, you’re back!” He opened the door fully, light spilling out from the room.

Greed suppressed a wince when he saw a very large and colorful bruise on Ed’s face. Seriously, Wrath’s fists were the size of the kid’s head. He didn’t have to hit him so hard.

“Geeze, kid, that’s one hell of a shiner.” He stepped into the room and put up his ultimate shield on his hand, pressing it to his face. “What’d you do to get that?”

Ed winced when Greed touched him, but relaxed soon after. “Lied about the outcome of my alchemy.”

“I told you not to do that, brother,” Al said, coming out from behind a tower of precariously stacked books. “I would have been fine.”

“It was my decision. I’m not going to let them hurt you. Not when I can do something about it.”

“I don’t like to see you get hurt either.”

Greed didn’t add anything to the conversation. They always had it. Ed did whatever it took to protect Al, and it often led to him getting hurt in some way. Al always felt guilty about the whole thing, but Ed was stubborn. If he wanted to take the fall for Al’s mistakes, to keep Wrath and Father from hurting him, there was little anyone could do to stop him.

Greed hated that either of them was ever in this position in the first place. He’d love to tell them, ‘Just do what Father asks and don’t talk back.’ As if it were that easy. There was nothing these kids could do to be good enough for Father and by extension the rest of the homunculi (except for him, of course). Ed was a fucking prodigy, easily doing alchemy well beyond his level, and Al wasn’t far behind. And yet, it was never good enough. They were never perfect enough. No matter what they did, no matter what they created, Father would always find some flaw with it. And when he found a flaw, he’d punish them. One time, Greed came back after a month to find Ed had been locked in a closet by himself in the dark for almost a week because he passed out after a particularly difficult transmutation. Another time, Al had been forced to stay up for nearly three days straight until he could recite the exact chemical composition of a human body perfectly. Ed tried to sneak out to help him study, but Father didn’t need sleep. When he saw Ed trying to help Al, he had Wrath beat the kid so badly it ended up breaking a few of his ribs.

Father’s words from earlier floated back into his mind and he shuddered. If this was him holding back on account for Greed’s presence, what the hell was he going to do to these kids if he did disappear from the picture. He couldn’t risk it. He also could do everything in his power to make Ed and Al a little less miserable.

“I brought presents, pets,” he said as happily as he could, holding the box up for the kids to see.

This stopped the argument. Al giggled. “We’re not pets, Greed.” He took the box from his hand.

“Oh yeah, why not?”

“Because pets are things like cats and dogs. Not humans.”

Greed sat down on the floor and leaned back against a bookshelf. Ed sat down next to him on his right.

“Humans can have dogs and cats as pets because they’re a different species,” he said. “I’m not human, which means that I can have humans as pets. Therefore, you’re my pets.”

“Cupcakes!” Al gasped, finally managing to open the box. “Thank you, Greed!” He handed one to Ed. He dutifully split it in half and handed it to Al.

“Hey, I got two for a reason, pet.” Greed ran a hand through Ed’s tangled hair, scratching his scalp lightly. The kid relaxed into his side and started eating his half.

“It’s a gift for me, so I get to decide what I want to do with it. And I want to give half of it to Al.”

Once again, Greed knew this was a useless argument. This is how it always went. He’d get two cupcakes for the boys and Ed would split his in half and give it to Al. One time, he got them four cupcakes, hoping that Ed would eat more, only to have both kids get sick and Father get pissed at him. That was not a fun time for Greed, hanging on that slab for almost a full month with Wrath’s swords stabbing into him, holding him in place. After that incident, he decided it was best not to test his luck.

Al looked like he wanted to argue, but took the cupcake half anyways and sat on Greed’s left side. He knew as well that there was no changing Ed’s mind. That kid would sacrifice everything to keep his brother safe. Or, as safe as he could, given the circumstances. Both kids looked like hell; sickly pale and thin to the point where Greed worried one day he’d come back to find them both dead from malnutrition. The irony didn’t escape him that Pride was prancing around in a giant mansion, going to school and eating three square meals a day as Selim Bradley, pretending to be a normal kid when he in fact a monster. Meanwhile, the two actual normal kids in their group were stuck in this fucking cave, treated like animals day in and day out all to serve some nefarious purpose of Father’s. He knew that they were primed to be sacrifices for the Promised Day, but if that was the case, shouldn’t he be doing a better job at keeping them alive?

“These are amazing!” Al said, his face lighting up.

“Yeah, baker said they were some cherry and coconut concoction.”

“Cherry and coconut? What are those?” Ed asked.

“Hell, if I know, pet. I just buy the damn things.” Over the years, Greed had tried to help the kids out more. He tried to slip them more food, books on subjects other than alchemy even tried to take them above ground once. Father found out and nearly killed him, permanently. He felt so useless like this. He could prance around Amestris collecting people and things. He had a level of freedom that no other homunculus had, not even the beloved Wrath. He felt like he could be doing more. And yet, this was the best he could come up with. Two cupcakes once a month and a cold hand to put on any bruises. Well, there was one more thing he could do to help them out.

After the boys finished their cupcakes, he pulled them to their feet. “Alright, time to spar.” They should be asleep by now, but Greed couldn’t risk hanging around any longer than necessary. So, it had to be done tonight.

“Um, Father wants us to study more about bio-alchemy,” Al said, looking back at the stacks of books while Greed led them out of the room.

“I don’t know much about Alchemy, but I do know that a huge part of it is physical. So, if pops really wants you two to be the best, then he can’t get mad when I help you boys along. Besides, you’re gonna need to know how to throw a punch someday.”

He didn’t know how, and he didn’t know when, but he had a plan to get these kids out of here. He had talked it over with Roa and Dolcetto last month. They settled on sending them over to Xing. It was far away and separated by a huge desert. He had to plan it properly, though, to get it close enough to the Promised Day so that it would be impossible for Father to send Wrath, Envy, or Lust after them. He’d be found out, of course. He’d stay behind to cause as much of a disturbance as possible to distract them. Once he was defeated, he’d be killed, but he was willing to make that sacrifice. Based on the past Greeds’ memories, it seemed to take an average of three years to start rebelling and gaining his memories back. He’d be back to normal soon enough. But in the meantime, these kids needed to know how to defend themselves. His chimeras were going to go with them since the desert was just as dangerous as any homunculus. He didn’t want Ed and Al to slow them down or be a liability. If Greed had any say in the matter, these kids would be the best damn fighters in Amestris, even if they were sleep-deprived and starving. They’d be able to hold their own against any human, chimera, or homunculus who tried to hurt them.

They got to a large cavern with plenty of space for fighting. Greed put up his ultimate shield. “Alright, pets, let’s see what you got.”

Ed and Al grinned and then launched themselves at him. They were better than before. Granted, they would never win against him, but against most ordinary humans, they’d be able to hold their own. Ed was a feral little spitfire who attacked quickly, often charging in. It’d throw most people off and they wouldn’t have time to defend against him. Al, on the other hand, was much more methodical and slower. He’d hang back, let the person throw a few jabs, and then come in, knowing every weak point of his opponent. Together, they were a pretty formidable force. However, they were still no match for Greed. He was gaining the upper hand. He had Ed on the defensive and forced him to step backward, a precarious situation to be in for any fight.

“I think you’ve gotten worse,” Greed joked. If Ed had a decent diet and was able to leave the Evil Lair, he’d probably be even better; an absolute hellspawn of a fighter who could take on opponents three times his size and win. He didn’t want to think about that, though. Too much guilt.

Ed grinned. “Is that what you think? Now, Al!”

He leaped out of the way. Greed furrowed his brow. He hadn’t been keeping track of Al. What were these brats up to?

He turned just in time to see Al slam his hands down on a transmutation circle.

“Fuck.” A pillar of stone shot out of the ground and smashed into him, sending him sprawling to the other end of the room. Before he could get up, Ed pounced on him. There was a circle drawn on the palms of his hands. Greed didn’t know much about Alchemy, so he didn’t know what those symbols meant. At least, he didn’t know until Ed slammed his hands down onto his stomach, the ultimate shield breaking away like tissue paper.

Greed (gently) threw Ed off of him and jumped back to his feet. “What?”

Ed wasn’t finished yet and once again slammed his hands into Greed’s body, breaking the shield and leaving him open for attack. Al sent another stone pillar at him, hitting right in his now unshielded body. Wow, that hurt. A lot. Is this what normal humans felt like when they were getting their asses handed to them?

He could still win this fight. Ed and Al, while good, were malnourished children who were better at flailing than fighting. However, to do so meant he’d have to up his game. He didn’t feel like doing that. The more he upped his game the more likely he was to accidentally hurt one of the kids. He never wanted to be the reason these kids got hurt. He let Al smash another stone pillar at him, knocking him to the ground.

“Alright, alright. I yield!” He held up his hands in mock surrender.

“Really?” Ed sounded way too pleased with himself.

“Yeah, really. You pets got me.”

The boys bounded up to him, staring down at him.

“This isn’t a trick?” Ed asked, studying him for any hints of deceptions.

“No, this isn’t a trick. I’ve got better things to do with my life than to trick a bunch of brats.”

“That means we won!” Al said, leaping into the air and letting out a whoop of joy.

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t get too cocky. You caught me off guard with that dirty trick.”

Ed grinned and pulled him to his feet. “But, Greed, you were the one who said we have to fight dirty because no one else will fight clean.”

Damn kid, throwing his own words back at him. “Alright, that’s on me. Where’d you guys even learn how to do that, anyway?” While using alchemy to fight wasn’t unheard of, hell the military had an entire branch dedicated to using alchemy in warfare, it wasn’t the sort of thing Father would teach them.

“Eh, we figured that we could use it that way and then decided to test it on you when you came back since you’re the only one who fights with us.”

Smart. Damn, these kids could thrive if they were with normal people learning to do normal things. Instead, they were down here, being raised like animals to be slaughtered.

The air shifted. Greed didn’t have enough time to shield the boys before he was thrown into the opposite wall, a shadow constricting around his throat.

“Greed!” Ed and Al shouted. Both of them let out a cry of pain and were pinned to the ground.

Greed looked up to see Pride and Father standing in the doorway. Father looked like he was about to murder him. Fantastic. All that time sitting in a boring meeting playing nice with Wrath and Envy and it was all for nothing. If he had known he was going to die tonight, he’d have pissed off the worms even more.

“Leave them alone. You’re hurting them,” he managed to choke out.

“Edward, Alphonse,” Father snapped, turning to the two boys who had gone completely still once they realized who was here. “What are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay in your room and research.”

“We were—”

“They were practicing alchemy using me,” Greed said quickly. Ed might be willing to take a few hits for Al, but Greed wasn’t willing to let him. Not while he was here.

Father glared at him. The shadows from Pride sharpened into spikes and stabbed into his shoulders, blood leaking from the wounds. His body tried to heal itself, but as long as Pride kept his claws firmly buried in his body, it would just be a torturous cycle of injury and healing.

“Back to your room, now!” Father barked. The shadows pinning Ed and Al down retreated and the boys stood up shakily. There were new bruises on their arms, legs, and necks. Seriously, couldn’t Pride be at least a little gentler with them?

They looked up at Greed and hesitated

“Now!”

They jumped and took off back down the hall. Pride’s shadow tightened around his neck, cutting off his air supply.

Father stepped up to him. “I don’t know what you’re planning, but it won’t work.”

“Not planning anything, pops,” Greed said, doing his best to look as smug and assholish as possible.

“For your sake, you better not be.”

The shadows released him and he dropped onto the floor in a pile.

“Do not go near those two again, Greed. I’ve killed you before, I can kill you again.” He turned and left the room, Pride following after him. That was it. No speeches. No boiling pots of lava. Not even horrific injuries.

He pushed himself back onto his heels and looked out at the room. Father wasn’t threatened by him. He wasn’t worried about him in the slightest. In any normal circumstance, this would be cause for celebration. He had done it! He had convinced a narcissist who thought he was a god that he wasn’t a threat! Except… Father knew Greed was planning something. And he still didn’t see him as a threat.

The wounds on his shoulders closed up and the bruises around his neck disappeared. The immensity of the situation weighed heavily on him. He had always been a rebel but had never tried to take down Father before. He had always hung out in the shadows, collecting people and things, never stepping out of line that much and only occasionally making a nuisance of himself. He had never tried to so openly and completely oppose Father. Which meant that he had no idea how to do what he needed to do. And he realized, sitting in that room, Al’s stone pillars still littering the floor, Father didn’t see him as a threat because he still had complete control over the situation. And if he had complete control over the situation, then how was Greed supposed to change anything? How was he supposed to get the kids out?

He was fighting a war single-handedly against a thing that was as close to God as possible and six other super-powered creatures. Not only that, but the entire military, whether they knew it or not, was on their side. Greed had been trying to collect his own resistance. Luckily, the military made a lot of chimeras and those chimeras were pissed off at being created. However, it was slow going. And even with half-cow, half-man people on his side, he had nowhere near the power necessary to get Ed and Al to safety. He was alone, powerless, and helpless.

He swallowed and stood up. Father was wrong about the threat. Greed didn’t care about what happened to him. He’d keep fighting to find a way to protect those kids, no matter what. It might end with his death, but he wouldn’t die again without at least trying to make things right. It was all he could do.

Chapter Text

It was the same story once more. Greed was coming ‘home’ (as if he could even call it that) to the Evil Lair after about a month of traveling around and finding escaped military experiments. When he found human chimeras, it was always difficult to convince them to come to his side. He didn’t succeed often. But even with his limited success, his army had grown. Now there were five of them, loyal to him and him alone. His possessions each with their own unique powers and abilities. Hopefully, now that he had several on his side, it’d be easier to convince the others he came across. But military experiments were distrustful. And who could blame them? Dedicating their lives to protecting their country only to be chucked into a lab full of white coats and sinister smiles and forced through unimaginable pain.

Martel told him about it once. She told him how long it took. How much it hurt. How much she wished for death. Everyone else confirmed. Being turned into a human chimera was worse than torture. As much as Greed enjoyed having superpowered humans on his side to fight, he couldn’t bring himself to wish for more to be created. Even if it would make Ed and Al’s escape easier. How could anyone wish that sort of pain on a living creature? Even the rat that kept chewing through the wall at the Devil’s Nest didn’t deserve that kind of torture.

He decided not to focus on the past pain of his possessions. He was angry enough at Father and the others as is. If he kept these thoughts festering in his mind, he might just lash out. No one hurt his things. Instead, he focused on getting through the fucking meeting so he could go be with Ed and Al. He was a pathetic bright spot in their miserable lives. He wouldn’t risk that for anything other than guaranteed escape.

This month’s special cupcakes were chocolate-orange flavored. The head baker at Bread and Batter (a stupid but somewhat delightful name) used Ed and Al as taste-testers; handing Greed a new concoction every month and asking for feedback. He tried to explain that being kids, they scarfed down whatever he gave them. But she was insistent on asking for feedback to ensure only the tastiest treats were sold in the bakery.

He honestly didn’t know if Ed and Al liked the cupcakes. It didn’t matter in the end. Calories were calories and these kids had only gotten thinner and weaker over the years. Either Father didn’t care. He didn’t know enough about humans. Or (worst of all) he was doing it on purpose. Greed suspected it was that last one. He had read about it before, how certain cults and abusers would keep their victims starving and sleep-deprived to make them easier to control. This knowledge only heightened his desire to drive his ultimate shielded fist through Father’s fucking skull.

Sure, he could parade himself around as being better than all of them. He was more powerful. He was more knowledgeable. He had removed all of his sins to make the perfect form. The perfect being. But he was still, at his core, the same as all of them; an artificial human desperate to become that which he so despised.

“And Envy says I’m playing house,” he scoffed. At least he didn’t have the ego to call himself ‘Father’.

He stepped into the meeting room to see Lust, Gluttony, Wrath, and Father around the table. Nothing important must be happening then. Maybe he could just sneak past—

“You’re late.” Wrath growled. “Sit down. I have things I need to do.”

Greed rolled his eyes but didn’t bother to snipe back. He was tired and frustrated with his lack of progress. He was tired and frustrated that he had to keep his mouth shut while Ed and Al wasted away to nothing. He was tired and frustrated that even after all of these years, he still only had four people willing to help him out. He wanted something to help him. Something to land in his lap and give him the next steps forward. It didn’t have to be big. It just had to be enough to smash through this wall he had hit.

He plopped down on his chair without a word, propping his feet up at the table and slumping down. He didn’t bother to hide the box anymore. They all knew he brought the boys cupcakes once a month. It was probably all part of Father’s scheme. How? He didn’t know, but the bastard never let them do anything unless it was a direct benefit to the plan.

Father glared at him but didn’t say anything. Sloth still wasn’t here, nor was Envy. He was still in Liore, pretending to be ‘Father Cornello’. Pride also wasn’t here, probably with Wrath’s wife playing house.

“Any luck with Curtis?” Father asked Wrath turning away from him. Thank fuck. He did not want to listen to another lecture about how disappointing he was.

Wrath, the good little solider he was, shuffled through notes. “No, she is insistent that she’s just a housewife. But I know she’s performed human transmutation. She steadfastly refuses all of my recruitment efforts. No amount of money or benefits seems to convince her to join us.”

Father scowled. “We might have to take her by force then.”

“But—”

Father held up a hand, silencing Wrath. “We were already planning on doing it with Marcoh once we find him,” he said. “Besides, she’s not so well-known that her disappearance would cause suspicion.”

“She has a husband,” Lust said. She almost sounded… guilty about this. Since when did Lust feel any guilt for the people she or the others killed?

“Then we’ll just kill the husband.”

Cold, cruel, no emotion. The level of disinterest Father had in the lives of humans scared Greed sometimes. True, he didn’t have quite the same relationship with humans as humans did with other humans. It came with the territory of being immortal. However, even he felt some semblance of negative emotions surrounding the unnecessary death of a human.

“We have bigger problems than Izumi Curtis right now,” Wrath said. He was angry. More than normal. His hands clenched the papers in front of his and his face twisted into more than a scowl. Whatever it was, it was serious.

This got Greed’s attention. Everything, literally everything, had gone off without a hitch. Thousands of years of slowly shaping the country, of gathering up humans who would blindly follow them, of guiding wars and outcomes to suit their needs, and none of it had ever gone wrong. Everything came together perfectly. Almost every general in the Amestris military was on their side. They had a factory to make the next Fuhrer when the current one died. Atrocity after atrocity was committed and while the general public may not be the military’s biggest fans, they also did little to stop their progress forward. The biggest hiccup they had was the fact that one little old housewife didn’t want to join the military, and some coward alchemist decided to desert his post and disappear. But Father was right, if and when they needed to get Curtis, she was still human. It would be impossible for her to defend herself against six homunculi (Greed didn’t much care for attacking women and children) and the entire military. She’d be taken, one way or another. As for Marcoh, they’d find him soon enough. Wrath had spies everywhere and they were slowly making their way across the country; looking into every backwater shithole and towns so small you could spit across them. Marcoh would be found. A man like that wouldn’t have committed suicide and an alchemist like that would still be practicing. They’d find him eventually, probably with a few months to spare before the Promised Day.

The fact that they had an unforeseen problem, something big enough to make Wrath bring it up… Greed couldn’t deny the little spark of hope that blossomed in his chest. Father might be powerful, but he wasn’t all-powerful. He could control most things, but he couldn’t control everything. Curtis and Marcoh were evidence enough of that. If Greed could figure out a way to use this… it might be just the break he was looking for.

Father’s eye’s narrowed. “What’s this problem?”

“Roy Mustang,” Wrath said, throwing down the file he had been clenching for the past several minutes.

When Father made no move to grab it, Greed decided to instead. On the front was a picture of a fairly young man. Okay, okay, being several hundred years old (if you counted all his past lives, which Greed did) he knew everyone looked young to him. These humans had lived a blink of the life he had lived. But this man did look young. Very young. He was a state alchemist. He served in Ishval. He was the only person who could use Flame Alchemy and he refused to teach it to anyone else. He had quickly risen through the ranks. According to the file, he had a high success rate on the missions he took and had even solved some of the harder cases. He had been stationed over in Eastern Command since returning from the war. That picture of him on the front, he was staring into the camera, eyes seeming to bore straight into Greed. He was determined. About what, he didn’t know. But Lieutenant-Colonel Roy Mustang was determined, driven, and ambitious.

“What about him?” Lust asked.

“I think he’s onto us,” Wrath explained. “He’s been poking around; sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. A few years ago, he took emergency leave for a few days. Officially, he went to Central where he has family. None of my contacts ever recorded him being in Central for the duration of his emergency leave. And no one knows where he went.”

Greed tossed the file back on the table, his mind racing with possibilities. “Seriously, you’re worried about one little human? Yeah, he’s a powerful alchemist, but so are Curtis and Marcoh, and you don’t seem that worried about them.” He had to get the heat off of Mustang, at least for a little bit. At least until he could figure out what he needed to do.

Wrath narrowed his eyes and glared at him. “One man can do a lot of damage if we’re not careful. He’s got power and influence within the military. And he’s smart. If he knows about our plans, he could topple everything we’ve worked for.”

“Leave it to me,” Lust said. “I’ll take care of him.” Her claws sharpened, fingers flexing as she itched to drive them into someone. “Gluttony, how would you like a little snack?”

Gluttony’s eyes brightened. “Really? I can eat him?”

“No,” Father snapped. Gluttony whined and shrank back. “He’s a powerful alchemist and we still have no leads on Marcoh. He might be just what we need.”

“But—”

Father held up a hand, once more silencing Wrath. “As Greed said, he’s just one human. If we can’t trust him, then we’ll simply have to keep a better eye on him. We cannot risk losing even one potential sacrifice.”

Holy shit! Father agreed with him on something? The world must be ending.

Wrath’s face contorted into the perfect picture of rage, but he didn’t argue. “He is skilled and talented. I suppose a promotion and transfer to Central wouldn’t be too unbelievable, though that would make him one of the youngest colonel’s we’ve ever had.”

“Then get it done, Wrath. We don’t have time to play games with humans who don’t know better.” Father stood up and walked away. The conversation was over.

Wrath sat there for a few moments, seething. Finally, he stood up, let out a shout, and swept the files and papers to the floor. He turned and stomped out of the room, thankfully in the opposite direction of Ed and Al.

Greed dug through the papers and picked up the file.

“What are you planning, Greed?” Lust asked, her eyes never leaving his frame.

Greed flashed her a charming smile. It didn’t work on her, but he used it all the same. Force of habit. “Wrath’s not the only one with a gaggle of spies. I want to find out more about this Mustang character.”

“Why?”

“Why not?” He shrugged and stood. “I’m interested to learn more about the man that makes Wrath afraid.”

“Wrath is not afraid.” She sounded calm, collected, but there was a warning edge to her voice. He shouldn’t push.

“Whatever you need to tell yourself.” He waved to her and walked away. She had a point, though, why was he so interested in Mustang? He was just a man who maybe got a little too close to the conspiracy. He served in Ishval. Didn’t desert or kill himself. Even if he did learn about Father’s plans, who’s to say he would want to help Greed at all. He might be like all those other generals. Sitting in some office in Central, laughing about the people who would become victims soon. You couldn’t trust anyone in the military. Father made sure of that.

He supposed a small part of himself was hopeful that this guy was on his side and might be willing and able to help him get Ed and Al to safety. If what Wrath said was true, then he might have more resources at his disposal, more people he could help, more freedom to move around and put things into place. The man himself didn’t look fully Amestrian. There had to be some Xing blood somewhere in him. Maybe he had connections to Xing and could help smuggle the boys across the desert?

Another small part of him was worried. This felt too clean, too easy. Father didn’t seem that upset about it. There had to be more to this. He said something about him being a potential sacrifice. But what did that mean? Why did Wrath want to kill the man now, but Father wanted to wait? What was that bastard planning? And how could Greed stop it?

“Greed, your back!” Ed said, opening the door. His smile fell. “Is everything alright?”

He schooled his features into a cheerful, easy grin, instead of the worried scowl he had been wearing on the walkover. “Of course, pet. I brought presents.” He shoved the box into Ed’s hands and stepped into the room. Thankfully, neither of the boys seemed to be injured this time, just sickly pale and skeletally thin like usually.

“Thanks, Greed! You’re the best,” Al said, giving him a quick hug around his waist before returning to the cupcakes.

“What’s that?” Ed asked, eyeing the file still in his hands.

“Hmm? Nothing, a soldier Wrath was droning on about in the meeting today.”

“Oh, he’s an alchemist?” Ed said, spotting the words on the page. “Is he a good one?”

“Yeah, looks like it.”

“What are you doing with it?”

“Brother quit bothering him,” Al whined. He bit into his cupcake and gasped. “Wow, these are really good!”

“Better than last month’s?” Last month’s had been maple bacon-flavored cupcakes. Al didn’t like them. Ed did.

“Way better,” Al said, finishing up the treat and licking the chocolate from his hands.

Ed hadn’t stopped staring at him since he failed to answer his question. Greed did his best to remain stoic. Those eyes could tear down his walls so easily. Something was unnerving about that golden stare, and the way Ed looked at the world. He looked at the world with too much understanding and knowledge for a ten- or eleven-year-old (Greed didn’t know his exact age) who had been stuck underground for most of his formative years. He could tell them the truth. Tell them about the chimeras and his Xing escape plan.

He never did though, because the more they knew, the more Father could find out. He knew the boys would never purposefully do anything to get him or themselves in trouble unless Ed wanted to take some of the heat off of Al, but that didn’t mean they would be able to keep a secret as big as this. He couldn’t risk it. He’d tell him when the time was right.

He reached out and ruffled Ed’s tangled hair. “Finish your cupcake, then we can do some sparring. Pride isn’t here tonight.”

Ed, thankfully, didn’t press the issue. He split his cupcake in half, handed it to Al, and scarfed down the rest.

A few hours later, and thankfully having not been interrupted by Father or the others, they were back in the room. The boys both slumped against him and sleeping soundly. Ed of his right, Al on his left, like usual, both covered in a thick blanket Greed managed to sneak in the last time he visited.

Greed opened back up Mustang’s file and flicked through it again. There wasn’t much in here other than what needed to be known officially. Why did he care that the man was blood type O Negative? Why did he care that he was in his late twenties? Why did he care that he grew up in Central? He needed more. He needed to know what this guy was like. Who were his allies? Who were his enemies? What were his ambitions?

It was the first lead he had gotten in a while, but he wasn’t going to risk Ed and Al because he was desperate. If, in the end, he only had himself plus four chimeras to pull this off, then that’s what he was going to work with. He’d look into it, but he wasn’t going to put his faith in him. Not yet.

*****

The Devil’s Nest was the same it had always been, a hive for scum and villainy. Greed hated that they couldn’t afford to have their headquarters at a nicer bar with prettier men and women, but this was good enough for now. One day, he’d own every bar in this country. He had already started working on it. There were a few in New Optain he managed to get his hands on. Though, the actual management of the bars was annoying so he passed it off to whatever human seemed like they would do a good job and largely let the institutions run themselves. Dublith, however, was lacking in nice, fancy bars. And he only chose to stay here because Roa knew the guy who ran the place and he knew they weren’t going to be ratted out to the military, and by extension Father. So, he sucked up his pride (Ha! Get it?) and agreed for Greed’s Ultimate Father Overthrowing Ass-Kicking Taskforce (Bido definitely came up with the name. Not him. Definitely not him) to meet here.

“We’re still working on getting those documents forged, boss,” Roa said. “We have almost everything, but we’re still waiting on the birth certificate. Luckily, Martel can probably pass as a relative.”

Greed grinned and tossed the file of one Lieutenant Colonel (soon to be Colonel) Roy Mustang on the bar. “Well, while you’re waiting for that, I have something else I need you to do.”

“Mustang?” Martel said, picking it up and flicking through him. “I remember him in Ishval. They called him the Commander of Hellfire. It was terrifying what he could do with just the snap of his fingers. If we were ever having an issue clearing out an area, they’d call him in. He’d be done in a few minutes. Then he’d turn and walk away.”

He grimaced. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. He didn’t claim to have the moral high ground on a lot of people, but if Mustang was this cold and dethatched, maybe asking him to help protect two children was a bit of a suicide mission.

“Commander of Hellfire, eh?” Then again, you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why Greed was here. He needed to know more about him, besides what was on the official file. If he did turn out to be an unfeeling monster, then no harm was done. He’d simply send Dolcetto to cut his head off and be done with it. If he wasn’t an unfeeling monster… then things would get interesting.

“I need you to get me everything you can on him, especially anything that isn’t in the official file. I want nothing left out. His family. His friends. What he does for fun. What kind of alcohol he drinks. Everyone he’s ever had sex with. Every place he has ever so much as taken a power nap in. What his favorite book is. Anything you can get, I want.”

“Why?” Dolcetto asked, taking the file from Martel and looking through it for himself.

“Because he’s making Wrath nervous. And if he’s making that bastard nervous, then I want to look into him.”

His gang nodded. To say things were starting to look up would be a massive misstatement. Nothing was looking up. Greed was still an underdog without a lot of hope for success. Mustang may have been a new opportunity, a new lead, a new chance, but he couldn’t be sure until his gang reported back. There was no room for error now.

Chapter Text

Ed felt himself shift before he was fully awake. He kept his eyes squeezed shut, for just a few more seconds. That is until the body he had been cuddling against slipped from underneath him and hands set him gently on the floor. He could hear the hum of the pipes overhead, but other than that, it was quiet.

“Greed?” he groaned, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

“Hey, pet, sorry. Did I wake you?” Greed’s hand came to stroke his hair.

Ed shook his head and opened his eyes. Technically, Greed had woken up him, but he didn’t want him to feel guilty. He hated it when he left without saying goodbye. He hated waking up and seeing that Greed was gone. He understood why he left in the middle of the night. He was less likely to run into the others. And, if he was less likely to run into the others, he was less likely to get in trouble. And he understood why he didn’t wake them when he left. Ed knew he and Al didn’t get enough sleep as is, and it was always easier to fall asleep with Greed by their sides. That didn’t mean he had to like him sneaking off.

“Wasn’t sleeping well,” he yawned and looked up blearily at Greed’s silhouette.

Greed picked his vest and sunglasses off the floor. “Sorry, pet. I wish I could stay longer, but I have to get going.”

“Going after that Mustang guy?”

He let it go earlier because he wanted to spar, and Al had given him that disappointed mother look that told him to drop it. But he didn’t want to drop it. He had never met another alchemist besides Father. He wanted to know more about him. What was his alchemy like? What sorts of circles did he use? How did he train? Did he specialize in bio-alchemy or something else? Despite having hundreds of books on the subject, Ed always felt like there was a whole world of alchemy he had never even heard of. Alchemy that everyone up there practiced freely and without fear. He wanted to know about it. He wanted to learn more about it.

Greed chuckled. “You are too persistent and observant for your own good.”

“Get it from you,” he mumbled, flopping back over to cuddle closer to Al.

It was cold in their room. Cold and dark and damp. The library they were forced to sleep in scared him sometimes. There were scary suits of armor along the back wall that would creak and groan. One time, he and Al swore it moved, possessed by some sort of demon. Then there were all the spiderwebs in the corners. When he first got here, the spiders scared him. There were poisonous spiders all over the place. What if one bit him while he was sleeping and died? Now, though, the spiders were the least of his worries. He did not get used to the rats. He could hear their tiny feet skittering across the grounds in a way that made him feel like he was always being watched. More than once, he’d open the door after a particularly intense training session, desperate to go to sleep, only to see dozens of the little bastards scurry back into the shadows the moment the light touched the floor. The rats weren’t the most awful thing about this whole experience, but on top of everything else, hearing them chewing and scurrying and fighting, made things that much worse.

“Don’t blame me cause you have problems with authority.” Greed scratched the back of his neck. It felt good. Why couldn’t he stay longer just this once? Ed would protect him! He didn’t have to be afraid of Wrath and the others. Ed could keep him safe.

“What do you want with him?” He didn’t want to give this up, not yet. Maybe if he got Greed talking about Mustang, he’d stay.

“I don’t know yet, pet. I’ll see you next month. Try not to piss off pops too much?”

Damn, that didn’t work. The hand left his neck and Greed stood once more.

“He hates it when you call him that.”

“Yeah, well, he can suck my— a lemon. He can suck a lemon. I don’t care.”

“I care. What if he kills you?” If Ed pushed Father’s buttons a little too much, then Greed sat there slamming them until they were beaten to dust. He didn’t know if Greed had a death wish, lacked self-control, or something else. But he always seemed to piss off Father no matter what he did.

“Pet, trust me, if he kills me, it won’t be because I call him pops.”

“It might. Might just push him over the edge.”

“It won’t.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.” He pulled Ed up into a sitting position and hugged him tightly.

Ed squeezed him back, wishing for once Greed could just stay with them for more than a day. He understood why he left in the middle of the night, but he didn’t understand what Greed was doing up there. He was keeping secrets from him. Sneaking around. Looking into alchemists. Ed tried to ask multiple times. Greed never explained it, at least not well. Ed hated it. He hated waiting here with Al, alone and surrounded by people who kept trying (and often succeeding) to hurt them. He hated that they were forced to eat tasteless slime and sleep on a cold floor in a cold library surrounded by rats and haunted suits of armor. He wanted to go up to the surface with Greed. See the sun. Eat some stew. Do something, anything other than practice alchemy day in and day out. He couldn’t even choose the kind of alchemy he practiced. It was always bio-alchemy.

But he knew, Greed was just as stuck as he was. He left because staying would kill him. He left Ed and Al alone because there was nothing he could do to help them. Ed wanted to scream at him to do something. Al was getting hurt and they needed to do something! But he understood. Father was a horrible person who would kill Greed when he pushed too far. And if he killed Greed, then there was no one here to meet with them once a month and bring them cupcakes and warmer blankets. There was no one to research alchemists or go up to the surface to do things that might help them all escape one day.

Ed’s mind hurt with the paradoxical selfishness that fought constantly. He wanted Greed to stay for selfish reasons. But he wanted him to go for selfish reasons.

Greed pulled back and stroked his cheek before dropping his hand and standing up. “I’ll be back. Promise.”

Ed nodded and lay back down beside Al. He heard Greed’s footsteps echo through the hall, straining until all he could hear was the scurrying of rats, the hum of electricity, and the dripping of pipes.

He should probably get to sleep. Father wanted him to do some complicated alchemy regarding plant growth tomorrow morning. However, he had work to do.

Checking to make sure Al was still asleep, Ed slipped out from the blankets, tucked them back around his brother, and slipped out the door. Al always was a heavier sleeper. Ed envied him.

It was quiet at this time of night. Most of the other homunculi had already left to either go back to their assignments or (in Wrath and Pride’s case) back home. He only had to worry about Father. However, that bastard rarely ventured to this part of the Evil Lair (he’d never use that nickname out loud. Despite what it appeared; he didn’t have a death wish. But was delighted anytime Greed used it). He always sent someone else to come get them. It was usually Envy, Lust, Wrath, and Pride. Gluttony was almost always with Lust. Sloth was too stupid to understand simple directions and Greed was rarely here. He wished Father would just keep Lust around permanently since, besides Greed, she was the nicest to them. Of course, nice was kind of a relative term. She was the least likely to hurt them. She was apathetic towards them and largely left them alone. Gluttony also wasn’t likely to hurt them. When they did run into him, he seemed friendly, almost childish in a weird, twisted sort of way. He even played games with them on occasion. Maybe it was because they seemed to get along with Gluttony that Lust largely left them alone and unharmed. Those two had the strongest bond out of all the homunculi.

He slipped through the door of the second library, right next to where Al and he usually slept. It was a bit more well taken care of than the other one. The books were stacked neatly on the shelves and there weren’t notes scattered all over the floor. The books were all about beginner’s alchemy. Both he and Al had advanced well beyond it at this point. Therefore, the library was left largely untouched by anyone. He didn’t know why Father didn’t just get rid of the damn things. He could turn this place into a bedroom with actual beds for Ed and Al to sleep on instead of the damn floor. It wasn’t like they were lacking in space.

This room was also lined with suits of armor. These were supposed to be the past uniforms of the Amestris military, a monument to Father’s role in shaping the country. That new, stupid blue uniform was among them. It made the mannequin it was on seeming more human and approachable, but Ed learned early on that human and approachable were dangerous things. You couldn’t trust anyone no matter how human they looked. At least it’d be harder for a ghost to possess shapeless cloth.

Despite his grumbling about how much better this room would be if it were an actual room, some good came out of it. He pushed aside a small desk and breathed a sigh of relief when he noticed the hole had been left alone. It was big enough for him to fit through comfortably. He made it slightly bigger because he didn’t know how big Greed was. He seemed huge to him and he didn’t want to have to leave him behind because he made the hole too small. On the other side was a cavern with steps leading up, stopping abruptly at the top of a stone wall.

Ed pulled out a map and grabbed a book on rock and mineral-based alchemy. Last week, he hit a snag with the transmutation. The composition of the rocks changed and he didn’t know the correct symbols to transmute them. He thought he figured it out. Tonight would be the night he would find out for sure.

“Alright, if I’m reading the map correctly, right above me should be this building here.” He took a few steps forward and looked up at the ceiling. “The street curves that way and if I can get the staircase to turn forty-five degrees to the west and then head straight, I should end up in this alleyway here.”

He uncapped a pen and marked it on the map. “And I think the rock increased the amount of granite present, but then there’s the asphalt I got to worry about. I don’t know what that’s made out of.” He muttered. Most of these alchemy textbooks had been written well before the invention of paved roads. He had been digging through the libraries, looking for any indication, but had come up short. There were a few theories in the books that mentioned something about deconstructing something down to its base elements. In theory, it would work. Alchemy was all about deconstruction and reconstruction. In practice, he hadn’t seen any indication that he could successfully deconstruct a chunk of asphalt to figure out what the heck it was made of.

“I guess I’ll figure that out when I get to it,” he said, getting to the top of the stairs and drawing a new transmutation circle based on his notes.

He put his hands to it. A familiar rush of energy crackled through his hands. The rock morphed into the staircase.

He sat back on his heels and smiled. If he kept up this pace, then he’d be finished in a month. Then, Al, Greed, and he could escape. No more chimera guards or Pride’s shadows. They could escape to the surface and run anywhere they wanted. He could get them all out.

He drew another transmutation circle and continued. It was almost over. They were almost free.

*****

The walk to Resembool was so instinctual at this point, Mustang could do it in his sleep. He was nervous about meeting with Pinako again. All these years researching and he had yet to fully uncover what the plans for this country were. He figured out that Bradley was behind it and this seemed to be the plan from the beginning. Literally. The country was literally designed for this very purpose. But nothing in his notes pointed to the reason for a country-wide transmutation circle, a series of bloody conflicts, and the need to kidnap two children.

What’s worse, he still had no clue if the Elrics were alive or dead. Aunt Chris and Hughes’ underground network of spies had never seen or even heard of the boys. The last known sighting he could find was Trisha Elric, waving them goodbye as the man she thought was her husband took them away. It was like they had just vanished off the face of the Earth. There were no records. No sightings. No reports. Not even a trip to the shoe store! At one point, Mustang started to entertain the ludicrous idea that Selim Bradley was one of the Elrics. Thankfully, Havoc and Breda busted out laughing when they heard the theory and Falman rambled through a list of reasons why that wouldn’t be the case. He looked nothing like the photos Mustang and Pinako had, and he was too young. Mustang promptly went home and passed out after that. Do not create conspiracy theories while sleep-deprived.

“Nervous, colonel?” Hawkeye asked. She was dressed in civilian clothes. Thankfully, her blond hair and brown eyes made it easy for the townsfolk to believe that she was related to the Elrics, a perfect cover story for why they seemed to be coming by often and using Trisha Elric’s house. Pinako helped smooth things over with the rest of the town; adding credibility to their story.

“Why would I be nervous?” He couldn’t stop the grin that came with being called Colonel. At least one thing was going right in his life. One step closer to becoming Fuhrer. Of course, what was the point when everyone died because Bradley was fucking insane?

“Riza, Roy! You’re back!” Winry called, running up the road with Den.

Hawkeye’s face softened into a smile. “Winry, it’s good to see you again. How’s your training going?”

“Great! Granny is still only letting me build the automail, not attach it yet, but she said in a year, I might be able to start. You should see my latest model. I found this great steel alloy that makes it much lighter but also stronger.” Winry continued to ramble on as the automail clinic grew closer.

It reminded Mustang of the days he would talk his sisters’ ears off about alchemy. He found the best time to do it was when he was helping them with their hair and makeup. They were captive audiences and couldn’t leave. Winry figured out the best time for her ramblings was on the walk up to the automail clinic. If she caught them early enough, she’d have almost four whole miles to talk about automail and there was nowhere for Mustang or Hawkeye to go.

He never did figure out what Pinako had told her about them. It wasn’t anything bad as Winry seemed pleasant and trusting of all his men. She especially liked when Hughes came to visit, always bearing some homemade goods from Garcia. Her second favorite was Fuery. They bonded over their mutual interest in technology; though, Fuery rarely came.

“I see you’re back to impose on my hospitality again, dog.” Pinako was at her usual place, smoking on the steps of the clinic.

“Shouldn’t it be dogs? There are two of us.” He knew there was no bite to Pinako’s words. She had seen first-hand how he threw himself into the investigation into the Elrics’ disappearance and how much he wanted to make this country better. She may not like the military, but at least she seemed to tolerate him.

“Riza isn’t a dog,” she said simply.

Winry giggled. Mustang scowled. Why was it that people seemed to like Hawkeye better than him? What about her was so trustworthy…

Okay, that was a stupid train of thought. Mustang could fill notebooks with everything perfect about Hawkeye. Not that he ever would. Just, it was possible. Especially when he was drunk.

“Any news?”

His scowl slipped into a much more neutral expression. She wasn’t going to like this. “Yes, but not the news you’re hoping for.”

Pinako blew out a puff of smoke with a sigh. “I was afraid of that. Come on in. Winry, go upstairs and work on that arm for Nelson. I’ll look over it when you’re done.”

Winry glanced between them. She was at the age where she could pick up on the subtle cues of adults around her. She was starting to question them, starting to get curious, starting to wonder what it was grown-ups whispered about while she was in her room. However, she still wasn’t quite old enough to argue and talk back. One day, Pinako would tell her everything. Mustang did not look forward to that day. Enough children were involved as is.

“Okay.” She bounded up the stairs, pausing at the top to take one last look back before completing her journey. Only when they heard the door to her workshop close, did they take a seat at the table.

Den put her head on Mustang’s lap, letting him scratch her ears.

“I’m guessing you didn’t find anything about the boys?”

He shook his head. “No. Nothing. I’m sorry. I was hoping by now we’d at least have a clue as to where they might be, but none of my contacts have seen them. They’ve completely disappeared off the face of the Earth. Bradley is hiding them somewhere, and hasn’t let them out since they’ve disappeared.”

“So, you still think they’re alive.”

“It makes the most sense, with everything we’ve managed to find,” Hawkeye said. “They’re skilled alchemists, the entire country is a transmutation circle. They are probably being kept alive because of that.”

“I hate to think what they’re going through. I used to wish that they were alive, but now I wonder if that’s more selfish. If they’re suffering, they might be better off dead.”

Mustang swallowed and looked away. He agreed with her. Sometimes, death was more preferable to live. That didn’t change the fact that these two boys were relying on him, whether they knew it or not, to save them. Perhaps his guilt made him wish they were alive, selfishly so that he could ease his conscience.

“You said you had some news?” Pinako asked, shifting the conversation.

“Right,” Mustang let himself smile again, hoping to ease the overwhelming dread and guilt that crushed his soul. It didn’t work. “I’ve been promoted to Colonel. And with that promotion comes a transfer to Central Command.”

Pinako’s face was a stone mask. He couldn’t expect a woman who so famously hated the military to jump for joy at the promotion.

“We have a better network of contacts in Central,” Hawkeye said. “It’ll be easier and safer for us to tap into them.”

“If my theory is right about Bradley, he’s keeping the boys somewhere in Central,” Mustang said.

Pinako’s eyes narrowed. “How’d you come to that conclusion?”

“Trisha said the thing that came and got them said he was taking them to Central.”

“Could be a lie.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. The entire transmutation circle has Central as its main point. If those boys are being used in some way to activate the circle, they’ll want to keep them as close as possible to it. Furthermore, because Bradley is involved in this, he’ll want to keep them somewhere with a lot of allies where it’s easier to hide people. It’s easier to keep an eye on them if they’re in Central than if they’re in Southern Command or Xing or someplace far from the action.”

“We’ve also managed to confirm at least four generals stationed in Central are in on the plot,” Hawkeye added. “It’ll be easier to gather intelligence once we’re there.”

She didn’t look convinced. Mustang couldn’t blame her. Even as he was sitting here telling her this it still felt like a half-baked theory. But it was all they had to go on. He had been hitting wall after wall in Eastern Command. Plus, being in Central meant he could better use Hughes and Aunt Chris to his advantage. Trying to get a call to either of them without alerting suspicion was bad enough. Now, he could just pop by her bar and no one would be the wiser.

“I worry,” Pinako said carefully, “that this transfer is too good to be true. They might be onto you, dog.”

Hughes had similar worries. Hawkeye had similar worries. Mustang’s team had similar worries. Aunt Chris had similar worries.

Mustang had similar worries.

“Then we’ll have to move fast if we hope to succeed,” he said with more confidence than he felt.

Pinako tapped the ash out of the pipe and stood. “I’ll start making supper. I’m assuming you two are going to go to the library for a while?”

“Yes. Because we’ve hit a roadblock with the boys, we’re switching our focus for now. We’ve been largely ignoring the circle and what it does, but I’ve found some information about the Ishval War and Dr. Marcoh that might help us crack it. Falman recreated his notes.” He explained.

“Like most alchemists, they’re written in code. We haven’t managed to crack them yet, but we’re close. I’m hoping with Hohenheim’s library, we’ll find the missing pieces and figure out what’s going on. If we know what the circle does, we might know what they want the boys for and where they might have taken them.”

When Mustang caught Marcoh slipping away all those years ago, he hoped the man would be able to successfully disappear. He would successfully leave the military behind and live a normal, peaceful life. Now he was wishing it wasn’t so easy to disappear in this goddamn country. His gut told him that Marcoh would be able to help. But, like the Elrics, the man had completely disappeared off the face of the Earth. Again, none of his, Chris’ or Hughes’ spies uncovered anything about him! Why was it so easy to disappear in a fucking military state?

“Alright. I’ll send Winry when supper’s ready. Try not to work yourself to death, dog.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Hawkeye said.

They left Pinako’s and started making their way to the safehouse on the hill.

“That went better than expected,” Mustang said, trying to lighten the mood.

“Did you think she was going to turn on us when she heard about your promotion?”

“No, but it’s been years, Hawkeye, and we haven’t gotten any closer to finding anything out. I don’t know what the circle is used for. Marcoh is still MIA. The Elrics are both missing. All we managed to figure out was that Bradley is probably leading all of this, most of the generals are in on it, and apparently, two people are running around that look the same. I’m stuck and I don’t know what else to do or what other angles to look at.”

“Then maybe this move to Central is what we need.”

“Agreed. Already Hughes is filling up my mailslot with suspicious things going on in Central that we haven’t managed to discuss because of the distance. There’s Kimblee, Lab 5, Dr. Marcoh, chimera research. I knew this country had its problems, but this is almost overwhelming.

It had taken Hughes months to pull it off. He had pulled files slowly, almost randomly, and handed them to his new assistant Sciezca to read over and then recreate in her own home. He couldn’t pull too many, or else someone might catch on (if they hadn’t already) but he couldn’t go too slowly, since the lives of children hung in the balance. In the end, it seemed like everything in the military was linked back to some inhumane purpose. Marcoh’s notes were just the tip of the iceberg. After all those recipes… once he cracked them, he hoped they would be one step closer to solving all these problems. He had a feeling that knowing what Marcoh was researching wasn’t going to make anything better.

“There’s also the other Hohenheim that I’m worried about,” Hawkeye said, her mouth pressed into a thin line. “We haven’t found out any information about him or their actual father. That worries me.”

Mustang didn’t respond. It seemed for every secret they uncovered, they moved further away from the truth, from the original goal. He really should start keeping a checklist or something to keep it all organized. For now, though, they would focus on Marcoh’s notes.

As soon as they got to the house, they got to work. Hawkeye may not have been an alchemist, but years of helping her father with his research meant that she knew how to read the codes. She was probably the most qualified person to help Mustang decode these notes. Maybe even more qualified than him. Everyone else on his team, including Hughes, still seemed to see Alchemy as some sort of magic cure-all. Hawkeye knew better. She knew the limits and the dangers. So, she was here, helping Mustang research, decode, translate, and understand the recipes Marcoh had left.

They took a break for supper (at Pinako’s insistence and Winry’s pleading eyes) and then were back at it again. Thankfully, Hohenheim’s library was well-stocked. It was smaller than Central’s, but the titles were more useful. Quality over quantity.

The breakthrough came a little after four in the morning. When Mustang saw it, he threw the book across the room, struggling to breathe as the reality worked itself over in his mind. It… couldn’t be. It had to be a mistake. He had to mistranslate something. There had to be something missing from the notes. Marcoh would never… He was a good person… He deserted because…

“Colonel?” Hawkeye asked, looking up from her notes.

He ran a shaky hand down his face. His stomach was revolting, threatening to vomit up the contents of the stew he had a few hours before. His heart pounded in his chest. It might just burst from his body. Was it just him, or was all the air suddenly sucked out of the room? He couldn’t breathe. His vision swam. All this time… All this effort… Dr. Marcoh was…

Hawkeye put a hand on his shoulder, steadying him, grounding him, pulling him from his panicked mind. “What did you find?” Her voice was calm, authoritative. It kept him from spiraling further. He had to get control of himself.

Ed and Al… they were counting on him. And if what he read was correct… They were in danger. More danger than he thought possible.

“The philosopher’s stone.” He managed to bite out. “Marcoh was working on creating a philosopher’s stone.” His body was shaking, his mind racing and begging him to get out of here, get out of this room. It was stuffy, hot, the walls closing in around him. Get out. Get out. Get out.

“And?”

“People.” He couldn’t manage a longer explanation. “To make a philosopher’s stone, you need… people. Human souls. That’s why he left.” He clasped a hand over his mouth, focusing on Hawkeye’s steady, unwavering presence beside him.

Mustang’s eyes fell on the damned map hanging on the wall. Ishval circled in bright red ink. Understanding hit him like a train, nearly knocking him over. He was still mildly surprised he hadn’t vomited yet. His stomach certainly wanted to.

Hawkeye followed his gaze. She froze. “Oh, god,” she whispered, for once sounding afraid. “That’s… that’s what the circle is for. Isn’t it?”

Mustang couldn’t stay down here for another minute. He got to his feet and ran up the stairs, Hawkeye close behind him. When he got to the grass, he collapsed onto his knees, sucking in the cold morning air, feeling the damp grass soak through his pants.

“They… Bradley… he’s going to turn this country into a philosopher’s stone.”

No wonder Marcoh decided to leave. No wonder he abandoned his post. This wasn’t just civilian casualties in a useless war. His research was on the Philospher’s stone. He knew about the use of human souls as the main ingredient. Did he use humans to make one? How many Ishvalans did he sacrifice for his research? Mustang may have burned them to death, but this felt… worse. This felt wrong. Did he know the entire fucking country was going to be used? It wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the notes. And if he did know, how much of a fucking coward did he have to be to just leave and not do anything about this?

Hawkeye collapsed beside him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and hugging him close. She was shaking, her face pale and her eyes haunted. “Those boys… do you think they’ve been used to make one?”

He leaned back, staring at the glittering stars overhead. They were fading now, the edges of the earth lighting up with the rising sun. “I don’t know,” he whispered. For the first time, he couldn’t muster up some naïve optimism that Ed and Al were alive. He couldn’t pretend like there was some spark of hope that he could find them and keep them safe from Bradley and the monster that stole them.

Pinako found them, in the same position, an hour later, coming by with breakfast. They were cold, shivering, in shock from what they had learned. As a soldier, Mustang should have pulled himself together and went back down in the room to finish his work. He couldn’t bring himself to. All this time, chasing all these leads, making all these plans, and this is what they had to show for it.

She looked at them and sighed. “I’m guessing it’s not good news.”

Mustang shook his head. “We have to find Dr. Marcoh and those kids.”

He told her about everything he and Hawkeye uncovered. It was horrifying, disturbing in ways he couldn’t imagine. Pinako remained impassive as always, but the hard-line of her mouth, the spark of fire in her eyes, he could tell she was just as upset as they were. Everything they had worked for, everything they had fought for, and this was what it boiled down to. Mustang felt ashamed. He should have known better. Country-wide transmutation circles that required blood sacrifices don’t tend to have pleasant outcomes. Somehow, though, this was too much for him. After years of telling himself that he’d figure it out, he’d come out on top, he’d find a way to save everyone, he had to admit, he was way out of his league. If Bradley had a philosopher’s stone, if he had several of them, he’d be more powerful than Mustang. He’d smash their little rebellion without so much as a backward glance. He’d destroy them, and there was nothing Mustang could do about it. No plans came to mind. No way to get out of this one. Nothing. He didn’t know what the next steps were.

And that was terrifying.

Chapter Text

Ed remembered mom. She had kind eyes and a beautiful smile. She ruffled his hair when he did something good. When he did something bad, she’d put her hands on her hips and scold him. He didn’t think he could miss those scoldings; he never liked getting yelled at. He missed them. He wanted them. He needed them. She never hit him or hurt him. She always gave him food and warm hugs when he was hurt.

Ed remembered Resembool. That’s where they were from originally, Resembool. There were gently rolling hills dotted with sheep that would make little sheep noises. He and Winry used to make sheep noises back at them, giggling when they responded. He remembered the warm sun and a gentle breeze. He remembered the smell of stew and freshly cut grass. He remembered laundry hanging in the yard and nights when crickets would lull him to sleep in the summer.

Ed remembered a lot about his life before Father came, and that made it all the worse. Al didn’t seem to remember as much. He didn’t remember sheep or laundry or crickets. He seemed to remember mom somewhat, but it was hard to tell what were his memories and what were Ed’s stories filling in the blanks. Ed didn’t know if that made things better or worse. At least Al didn’t have something to compare life to. At least Al didn’t sit up at night, wondering why mom let Father take them away. At least Al didn’t know that food was supposed to taste good, not the flavorless pile of goo Ed transmuted for them once a day. Protein, amino acids, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, all transmuted into a tasteless sludge. Sure, it gave them the necessary nutrients to survive, but it didn’t taste good.

At least they had Greed and his once-a-month cupcakes.

How many years had they been down here, practicing alchemy? It was Ed’s fault they were down here in the first place. Father asked them if they wanted to learn alchemy, get stronger, do more things. He said yes. Al looked uncertain but Ed managed to convince him to say yes as well, talking about all the great things they could do with Alchemy. They could help people! They could stop floods! They could fix houses! Al liked helping people. He agreed once Ed listed off all the benefits. It was his fault for convincing him. Maybe, if Al had said no, he’d be back in Resembool with Mom, enjoying the sun and sheep and crickets.

“Brother, are you okay?” Al asked, looking up from his alchemy textbook and notes.

“Yeah, Al, I’m fine.” Ed smiled at him and went back to his notes. Father wanted them to focus exclusively on bio-alchemy. He said they didn’t need to learn anything else. Al liked it because of its potential medical uses. Ed did the bare minimum to keep Father happy, but the rest of the time he was working, researching ways for them to get out of here. He knew Greed tried once. They didn’t get very far and Greed almost died. Ed had never seen so much blood before.

He wouldn’t let Greed almost die again. It was his fault they were in this mess, and he was going to get them out of here. His tunnel was almost finished. He couldn’t figure out the chemical composition of the asphalt but found another way. Instead of reshaping the asphalt into something else, he just blasted it out of the way. It didn’t look as cool, but it got the job done.

When Greed came back a month from now, he’d take them all to the tunnel and transmute them out of this hellhole. He’d do it at night. Wrath and Pride would be at their other place. Father would be in his study. Sloth wouldn’t be here at all (Ed hadn’t seen him in months). Envy, Lust, and Gluttony would be somewhere else. That meant there would be hardly anyone watching them. And his tunnel completely bypassed the chimera guards Greed had tried to take on the last time. They could do it. He could do it. He could save them.

Al could finally see the sun and eat stew. He could finally sleep in an actual bed. He could finally wear clothes that weren’t rags and do something besides alchemy.

He could do it.

Al put a hand on his forehead, causing him to jump. “You don’t feel sick.”

“I never said I was sick,” Ed said, batting his hand away. “I’m just tired.”

“You should eat more then. I don’t mind giving you half of my food until you feel better.”

Ed made a face. “No way. I’m the older brother. It’s my job to look out for you, not the other way around.”

“You’re only older than me by fourteen months,” Al said, crossing his arms and glaring at him.

“That fourteen months makes a difference. I’m fine, Al. This month has been a little rough with all the training Father wanted us to do.”

Al softened and sat down beside him. “I know. He seems more angry than normal. What do you think’s going on?”

“I don’t know?” He shrugged. “It might have something to do with that Mustang guy Greed mentioned.”

The door opened. It was Envy. Fuck, Ed hated Envy. They weren’t as bad as Wrath and Pride, but they weren’t much better.

“Father wants you,” they said, scowling at them.

“I didn’t know you were back,” Ed said. Why couldn’t this have waited just a few more hours? When Greed was here, Envy generally stayed away from them. Why couldn’t this have waited until Greed came back?

“Some things have come up. So, I’m back. Now come on, don’t keep him waiting.”

He and Al looked at each other before standing. Envy pushed Al back to the ground.

“Hey!” Ed took a swipe at him. Envy knocked him over as well.

“Just you. Not the other one.” Envy grabbed his hand and dragged him up and out of the hall.

“Hang on!” Al called, running after them. “Wait! where are you taking him?”

They spun around and kicked Al squarely in the chest, sending him flying towards the wall.

“Al!” Ed turned to Envy. “Leave him alone!”

Envy didn’t answer, instead dragging him through the hallways to Father’s chamber. Thankfully, Al didn’t follow. Still, it worried Ed. Father always told them what to do together. He never called for one of them alone. What was going on? Ed didn’t want to admit it, and certainly didn’t want to show it, but he was worried. Something was happening and he didn’t like it.

They got to Father’s chambers, and Envy threw him to the ground. Ed groaned and pushed himself up to his hands and knees. Father was sitting on his usual chair, staring down at him with that same scowl that never seemed to leave his face. There was a book beside him.

He didn’t say anything for several minutes.

Ed glared at him and stood up. “Well, what do you want, you bastard?”

Father’s expression hardened. “You shouldn’t talk to the man who gave you life like that.”

“Yeah, whatever. Why’d you drag me away from Al? I was researching and practicing like I was supposed to.” Ed did his best to remain defiant and strong, to push Father’s buttons. If all his energy was focused on punishing Ed, then he couldn’t focus any of it on punishing Al. At least, that was the theory. In practice, it didn’t work out so cleanly.

Father stood and picked up the book. “You’ve gotten very good at alchemy, Edward. Truly a prodigy.”

Mom used to call him a prodigy. She used to say that he got his skill from his father. Did she know this was the man she loved? Did she know how twisted and cruel he was? No, she couldn’t have. She was too kind for that. He tricked her, somehow. Just like he tricked Ed all those years ago.

Father opened the book and handed it to him. “I think it’s time we take your training to the next level.”

Ed looked at the pages and frowned. “Human Transmutation?” He had never heard of such a thing even being possible.

“Yes, Edward, human transmutation. Every person’s alchemy is fueled by a gate that gives them access to Truth. The more connected a person is with their gate, the more powerful their alchemy. Normally, your connection is fixed. You either have it or you don’t. However, there are ways to increase your power. Human transmutation is one of those ways.”

“I… I don’t know. This seems… wrong,” Ed looked at the array carefully sketched on the page. Even just thinking about human transmutation made his stomach twist uncomfortably. He felt like this was wrong; like it went against nature. Sure, alchemy was, by definition, transforming things and warping them to be something else. But this felt like it was taking it a step too far.

Father slapped him. Hard. The book spun out of Ed’s hand and he fell to the ground, his cheek stinging.

“Have I not delivered you everything I promised? Have I not made you a better, more powerful alchemist?”

Tears welled up in Ed’s eyes, but he refused to let them fall. He refused to let Father see him as a weakling, someone pathetic enough to bend to his will.

“You have one month to figure it out, Edward. If you can’t, then I’ll give the task to Alphonse.”

Ed gasped. Not Al! Even just his glance at the page told him how dangerous this was. If Al was forced to do it… he might die. Ed would not let that happen. He wouldn’t let Al get hurt because of his failures.

“Do I make myself clear?”

Ed nodded. He couldn’t even look at Father. If he did, he might just lash out and try to hurt the bastard. If he did that, then Al would definitely end up hurt.

“Good. I suggest you get started. Any materials you need you can ask one of your siblings for. One month, Edward. Do not disappoint me.”

Ed stood back up, grabbed the book, and sprinted from the room. He almost burst into his and Al’s room, before thinking better of it. If Al saw the book, he’d try to help out. He couldn’t. It was too dangerous. Ed turned and went to the second room that was used to house materials related to alchemy and where his tunnel was. It was neater than Ed and Al’s room, the books tended to stay on the shelves and there were no piles of notes scattered around.

Ed sniffed and flipped the book back open to the page on human transmutation. It looked complicated, much more complicated than anything he and Al had ever done.

This time, he didn’t stop the tears from falling. No one was around to see them anyways.

“How am I supposed to do this in a month?” he asked, curling into a ball and sobbing.

He stayed that way for several minutes before deciding to get back to Al. If he didn’t, he would get worried and come looking for him. Ed couldn’t risk that. He couldn’t risk Al getting involved.

He’d figure out human transmutation in a month. He had to. He had to protect Al. Besides, if he managed to complete something this complicated, then escaping would be no problem at all.

He slid the book under the desk, scrubbed the tears from his eyes, and left the room.

“Brother, what happened?” Al asked, his eyes landing on the new bruise on Ed’s cheek.

“Father wants us to start training separately,” he said, not technically a lie. “Since you’re better at bio-alchemy and I’m better at elemental alchemy.” Technically a lie.

Al’s face fell. “But… we always train together.”

Ed forced himself to smile. “Yeah, but this way you can focus more on using alchemy to heal people. And I can focus more on using alchemy to make cool stuff.”

Al bit his lip and nodded. “I guess. But, your stuff isn’t that cool.”

“It is too!” He scoffed.

“You put too many gargoyles and skulls on it. It’s scary.”

“It’s not scary. It’s cool.” He was glad Al didn’t question him further. The horrible book was safely tucked away for now, but tomorrow, Ed would have to start working on it. He swallowed and crossed his arms, shivering. Everything in his body was screaming at him not to do it, but he had no choice. Besides, mom was right, he was a
prodigy. If anyone could figure it out, it’d be him.

*****

Madam Christmas’ bar was truly a sight to behold. The booze was fine and the women were finer. Greed made sure to drop by at least once every time he was in Central. It helped take his mind off of all the awful stuff going on right below the surface of this festering hellhole. Plus, the women were good actors and made him believe that they were excited to see him.

There he was, surrounded by some of the most beautiful women Central had to offer. They were laughing at his jokes, complimenting his muscles, doing everything necessary to get the biggest tips of their evening. Greed didn’t mind. What was the purpose of money if you didn’t spend it lavishly? He was so caught up in a good time that he almost missed him.

“Hey, Roy’s back!” Vanessa said, perking up from her place at the bar.

He almost missed it. He almost didn’t lookup. But he did, and he promptly spat out his drink, coughing when he saw none other than newly promoted Colonel Roy Mustang, still in his military uniform, stroll into the bar.

Theresa thumped on his back while the coughing subsided. “I told you that whiskey was strong.” She laughed.

“That you did.” He wiped his mouth and looked over at the man.

Several of the women who weren’t entertaining clients immediately swarmed the man. He laughed and let them all hug him.

“Girls, girls,” he said, “I know it’s been a while but you have work to do.”

The women all let out varying noises of protest and complaint. Seriously, what was he doing here of all places? And how did these people know him so well? They knew Greed because he came by once a month. But Mustang had been out East for several years now. Surely, he did not make regular trips to Central to visit a brothel of all places. The drinks and sex were good, but not a day’s ride by train good (not that he’d ever tell Theresa that).

“Roy boy!” Madam Christmas boomed, stepping out to hug the man as well. “It’s good to have you back in Central. Up to no good?”

Mustang laughed. “As always, ma’am.”

Seriously, what was going on here? This was beyond familiarity with a regular client. This was… it almost sounded like they knew each other as more than client and madame.

“I’m guessing he comes here often?” he said, hoping to glean some information from Theresa. He’d have to pass on this information to his crew. They were already gathering as much information as possible, but having more leads couldn’t hurt.

Theresa kissed him on the cheek. “You know I can’t tell you. Client-Attorney privilege.”

Yeah, he wasn’t going to get much out of her. He already knew it. Madam Christmas was famous for her discretion when it came to the people who frequented the bar. It was worth a shot though.

“If you’re an attorney, then maybe I need to get into some legal trouble.” He’d figure out what Mustang was doing here later. For now, he let Theresa take him by the hand and lead him to one of the rooms upstairs. He managed to get one more look at the smarmy colonel before the door closed. Maybe pinning him as a potential ally was too generous. He’d have to wait for his gang’s report.

*****

“I’ve brought presents, pets,” he said, kicking open the door to Ed and Al’s room.

Al brightened up when he saw them and ran to give him a quick hug. He took the box from him.

“Ed, Greed’s back!” he said, rushing back to his brother.

“I see that,” Ed said listlessly.

Greed’s brow furrowed. Ed was sitting on the floor, surrounded by books. He had dark circles under his eyes, so much so that it looked like bruises. There was a fading one on his cheek. He seemed stressed, tired, afraid.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Ed mumbled, dutifully breaking his cupcake (mint chocolate this month) and handing his half to Al.

Al hesitated but took it without fuss. This worried Greed even more. Usually, Al put up at least a token resistance. Now it seemed like he wanted to, but was afraid to.

Greed shuffled some papers to the side with his foot and sat down. “You know you can tell me what happened. I’m not going to get mad.”

Ed froze, just for a second, before hunching over and returning to the book on the floor. He didn’t even come over to his side. “It’s nothing. Father just wants me to perfect a transmutation circle.”

Al settled into his left side and looked up at him. His eyes were pleading for Greed to do something about this. Greed was stuck. He couldn’t help Ed if he didn’t know what the problem was. Then again, he couldn’t help Ed even if he did know what the problem was. Father held all the power and everyone knew it.

Ed ate the cupcake quickly and returned to his notes. Al finished his half and took one more look at Ed.

He sighed and stood up, tugging Greed to his feet and out the door. Greed took one last look at Ed, worry curling in his gut as he saw the boy who was usually so fiery and explosive sitting on the floor, almost in a daze. Al shut the door quietly. Ed didn’t even lookup.

“What’s going on?” Greed asked.

Al shrugged and picked at the cupcake. “A few hours ago, Envy came and got Ed. They said Father wanted to speak to him alone and wouldn’t let me come. Ed said Father wants him to learn more elemental alchemy since that’s what he’s better at, but I think that’s a lie. He looks like he’s been crying, but he won’t tell me anything. I don’t know what’s going on.” He sniffed, shoulders shaking and tears gathering in the corners of his eyes.

Greed put a hand on his head, ruffling his hair. “And you don’t know what he’s working on?”

Al shook his head. “I keep trying to figure it out, but he won’t tell me anything and I can’t find any of his notes.” He looked up at him, eyes wide with worry, searching him for some kind of answer. “Greed, I’m worried. What if Father kills him?”

“No, pet. He’s not going to kill him.” He won’t kill you yet. He still needs you two alive to sacrifice. “I’ll go talk to Father and see if I can’t figure out what’s going on.”

“But Father gets so angry. What if he hurts you? He’s getting angrier quicker these days.”

Greed flashed him a cocky grin, hoping to put the boy at ease. “Relax, pet. I’m not going to push. I’m just going to see if he can tell me what Ed’s up to. Once we figure it out, we can help him. Trust me, alright?”

Al bit his lip and looked back at the closed door. For a moment, Greed worried the kid didn’t trust him. Granted, he couldn’t blame him. While Greed hadn’t done anything to hurt the kids, he couldn’t deny that he hadn’t done much to help them either. He hadn’t even told them about his Xing escape plan. He couldn’t risk Pride overhearing them or Father figuring out that something was up.

“Go back, make sure he’s eating and sleeping. I’ll tell you what I find out.”

Al nodded, gave him another hug, then went back into the room. Greed took a deep breath and went to find Father. He didn’t make a habit of seeking them an out. He wanted to be close to him as little as possible. Each interaction with him was like a game of Drachman Roulette. Would this be the day he snapped and decided to make a new Greed? Would this be the day he snapped and decided to not make any more Greeds?

He couldn’t risk it. Those kids were relying on him and he had yet to get any useful information back on Mustang, which meant he wasn’t ready to trust the man. The chamber Father stayed in drew closer. The hum of the pipes overhead became louder. Greed steeled himself and stepped in. He wasn’t going to die. Not tonight.

“Hey, pops. How’s it going?” He gave him a little wave.

Father looked up from his book, frowning. “What do you want?”

No use hiding it. “Al said Ed’s working on something but doesn’t know what it is. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it, would you?”

Of course, he knew something about it. It was his whole plan from the beginning. He was the one who put Ed up to this. He was the one who set these boys on this path. He was the one controlling everything, even Greed.

Father narrowed his eyes. “Interesting. Edward didn’t tell Alphonse?”

Greed gritted his teeth, struggling to keep his temper in check. Father was playing with them, like a spider playing with its prey. He hated it, but he couldn’t lash out. Couldn’t risk it.

“Nope. Didn’t tell him a damn thing, which is why I’m here. So, I’m going to ask again, know anything about it?”

“I do.”

“Want to fill me in?”

“I don’t.”

His hands clenched. One good swipe and he could take him out. He couldn’t. Father was too powerful. He’d never get close enough.

“Why does it matter to you what Edward does or doesn’t do?” Father returned to his book, flipping through the pages.

“Because it’s hurting him,” he said, not that Father would care. “He looks like crap. Whatever you’re having him do, it’s bad for him. You need to stop this before he dies.”

“Are you human, Greed?”

The question was asked so nonchalantly, it threw him off guard. “What?”

“Are you human?”

“What kind of question is that?”

Father snapped the book closed and stood up, stepping towards him. He wasn’t technically taller than him, but boy could he tower if he wanted to. It made Greed feel small, weak, useless. He stood, back straight and shoulders square, forcing himself to look into Father’s cold, merciless eyes.

“It’s a question because I know what humans need to survive. I lived among them for a while now. I’ve perfected how to keep them alive, docile. Do you think with your galivanting around the world that you would have any idea what it takes to keep a human alive?”

Greed swallowed and stayed quiet.

“Do you think you have the first inkling as to what a human can go through and still survive?”

“He’s just a kid.” Crap, he hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

Father’s eyes narrowed. “A child who has an important role that he must prepare for.”

“Prepare for?” Realization dawned on him. “This is about the Promised Day, isn’t it? You’re getting him ready for that. Why? It isn’t for years. You can let them live a normal life and not force this—”

“Enough!” Father shouted.

He immediately shut his mouth. Don’t push. You’re not going to win this round of Drachman Roulette.

“I know what I’m doing. I know what my plan is. Do not question me again, Greed. I’ve killed you before. I can kill you again. And chances are, you won’t gain your memories and rebellious nature back before the promised day.”

He was right. If he had any chance of protecting these kids, he had to stay in this Greed’s body. He couldn’t risk it. Not now. Not when he had people looking into Mustang and a plan set up and ready to go to get them to Xing.

“Leave me. I am done talking about this.”

Don’t push. Just go. He turned and walked away.

“You won’t succeed in stopping my plans,” Father said. “Even if you manage to make contact with Mustang, he’s a sacrifice as well. Involving him will only guarantee my victory.”

Greed froze. He stood at the door for several minutes, trying to come up with something. Say something. Do something. Anything. His mind was blank. No plans were forming. Nothing was suggested.

Finally, his feet carried him away from the chamber and back to Ed and Al’s room. The kids were asleep when he got back, curled up under thick blankets, and huddled together to maintain what little warmth was in the room. Greed ran a hand through his hair and collapsed down beside them. He was supposed to leave for Dublith tomorrow, to get information from his gang on Mustang. Did he want to risk leaving the kids alone? What if something happened while he was gone? And Father knew of his plans to get Mustang involved, was it even a good idea anymore?

Ed let out a groan and turned over, throwing a hand over Greed’s legs. Greed ran his fingers through his hair, working through the tangled blonde locks and feeling overwhelming dread and despair crashing into him. He knew what he had to do. He knew what needed to be done. Father may know about Mustang, may even be planning on using him for a sacrifice, but that was fine. The plan was still to get Ed and Al over to Xing one month before the Promised Day. This human was his best hope at doing so. Whether he would just serve as a distraction or escape with the boys. He’d head to Dublith tomorrow and get his report, then he’d return. This time, he wouldn’t leave. He’d stay until the timing was right. It was the only way to succeed. It was the only way to survive.

Chapter Text

Mustang caught a glimpse of Theresa taking a man up to a room. Normally, he wouldn’t have looked twice. This was their job after all. However, something about the man’s strange appearance made him pause. There was something… unnatural about him. Something that made him shiver and the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

“Who’s he?” He jerked his head in the direction Theresa had gone.

“Hmm?” Aunt Chris turned and caught sight of him. “Oh, that’s Mr. No Name.”

“Mr. No Name?”

She led him to the back room of the bar where they could chat privately and shut the door. The sounds of the bar cut out. Vanessa was already back there and looked up at them.

“You want to know about Mr. No Name?” she asked.

“Yeah, who is he?”

“Now, now, you know we don’t just give out client information,” she said smiling.

Mustang rolled his eyes. “Why is he called Mr. No Name?” As if his sisters weren’t down to gossip about any of their clients immediately. Granted, they knew he wouldn’t repeat anything they said unless it was necessary, so they were willing to give him all the dirty details. One time, he listened to Agnes for over an hour as she gossiped about one of her regular clients. He grinned and bore it because these were his sisters (and they gave him useful information). So, for Vanessa to sit there all coyly and try and convince him that she wasn’t itching to spill every bit of information she had on Mr. No Name was ludicrous.

“He’s never given us a name,” Vanessa explained. “But you don’t have to worry about him. He’s pretty nice. He’s a little weird. Greedy, but he tips great.”

Aunt Chris let out a booming laugh. “I don’t know where he gets half the shit he gets. One year, he gave diamond necklaces to all of the girls. Real nice ones too. But I know you’re not here to gossip about our eclectic clientele. Quit stalling and talk to us, Roy-boy.”

He nodded, pushing thoughts of the strange man out of his head. If Vanessa and Aunt Chris said Mr. No Name was alright, then he was alright. They were good at this sort of thing. And if he wasn’t alright… well, it was easy to get rid of scum like him.

“I’m sure you’ve heard I got a promotion,” he said smoothly.

“Yeah, maybe you’ll come to visit more often, you jerk.” Vanessa punched him in the arm. “Carla and Julie were making plans to break into your place out east.”

“Well, I’m going to be coming around more often now that I’ll be here. I also wanted to give you guys the contact information for my team. You already know Hawkeye and Hughes, but there are four more we can trust information to.” He slid over the information for Fuery, Falman, Havoc, and Breda.

Aunt Chris took the paper and sighed. “This is it?”

He winced and looked away. “This is it. Hawkeye suspects that Major Armstrong and Major General Armstrong might be willing to work with us. Major Armstrong has two lieutenants under him that are also potential allies. Major General Armstrong has a whole battalion of loyal men. I’m also having Falman and Hughes look into Grumman. None of them seem to have any connection to the circle. The issue, however, is trying to establish contact without arousing suspicion. I don’t want anyone to be onto us.”

“They’re already onto you, Roy-boy.” Aunt Chris tucked the paper into her shirt and sighed. “This promotion is too good to be true. Bradley wants to keep an eye on you.”

He nodded. “If it’s getting too dangerous for you, let me know. I’ll cut contact immediately.”

Vanessa punched him in the arm again. “Don’t you dare! You said there were children involved and if you don’t figure out how to stop Bradley, everyone in Amestris will die. You’re not cutting me out even if you wanted to.”

Her impassioned words threw him off for a minute. Perhaps it was the fact that he was an orphan whose formative years had been lacking any sort of stability. Or perhaps it was the fact that in the military, everything seemed to be quid pro quo; no one ever did anything without expecting something in return. Either way, there was always a small part of him that wondered if his sisters and Aunt Chris weren’t as dedicated to the cause as he was. He had told them from the beginning about Ed and Al even showed them the picture in the locket. He knew most of the girls had a soft spot for kids, especially with Al’s big, innocent eyes peering up at them from the picture. However, there was still the possibility that when it got too real, when it got too dangerous, they’d be out and leave him alone.

“She’s right,” Aunt Chris said. “I give all my girls the option to leave if they need to. I have contacts all over the continent to help them get settled somewhere outside of the country. We’re all here because we want to be, and we believe in you.”

He nodded and hovered a hand right where the locket fell. It was a constant reminder of why he was doing this, a constant reminder of what would happen if he failed. Too many children had died because of Bradley’s quest for the philosopher’s stone. Many of them by Mustang’s hand. He wouldn’t allow millions more to succumb to the same fate.

“But I still worry about you,” she continued. “You’re the underdog here, Roy. Bradley holds all the power. If he knows all the moves you’re going to make then that puts you at an even weaker position.”

He leaned forward, chin resting on his hands. “I know. He knows more than I do, and he also is going to be watching me like a hawk. It’ll be more difficult to work, but I can still work.”

His mind drifted back to his time in Ishval. Despite the Ishvalans being largely made up of untrained soldiers, they still made it difficult to truly defeat them. That was why the alchemists were called in, after all. That was why Mustang, who was barely older than a child himself, was sent into battle with gloves and orders to kill everyone with red eyes, white hair, and brown skin.

In Ishval, there was a group of guerilla soldiers. They were a small band, only about twenty or so men and women, but they managed to cause massive amounts of casualties to the military. What frustrated the generals, even more, was the fact that they seemed to know everything about the guerillas. They knew who they were, how many there were when they were going to strike, the weapons and supplies they had available, everything. And yet, the soldiers were able to take out whole battalions with little more than ingenuity and sheer force of will.

“I want you to study these soldiers, Mustang,” Grumman said one evening when they were back at camp.

“Am I being deployed to dispose of them?” He hated the way he talked about human lives. But burning other, adult soldiers was preferable to burning civilians and children.

“Not yet, but their tactics are helping them gain footing that a group of twenty under-armed soldiers should not be able to gain. The other generals, they think that because they have large armies and an arsenal of weapons that they’ll automatically win. That’s why they're failing.”

Mustang narrowed his eyes. “What’s the point to all of this?”

Grumman handed him a king from a chessboard and smiled at him. “If the only way you can win a war is when everything works in your favor, then you don’t deserve to win. One day, you’ll find yourself in the same position as those guerillas, and I want you to succeed, exactly as they do.

A month later, he and Kimblee were called in to deal with the guerillas. They barely managed to win and it was a lesson Mustang never forgot.

He looked up at Aunt Chris. “Bradley may have the upper hand, but I’m not going to back down. If he was really afraid of me, he’d kill me. I think it’s safe to say that I can use him underestimating my abilities to my advantage. Besides, he did me a favor moving me closer to Central. He put me right in the heart of his operation.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” Aunt Chris smiled.

He may be an underdog, but that didn’t mean he would lose. After all, stray dogs killed people all the time. He would make Bradley and the rest of these generals pay for hurting too many innocent people.

*****

He met up with Hughes later that night in another bar across town. Havoc and Breda wouldn’t be too out of place in Madam Christmas’ bar, but Hughes definitely would. Mr. Family-Man was so famous around Central for his absolute devotion to Garcia that any trips to a brothel would immediately raise red flags. It was a good thing that Aunt Chris just happened to know the owner of this bar, a nicer joint in a more upscale neighborhood. But if you needed, there was still illegal activity going on and a level of discretion you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

“Roy!” Hughes said, waving him over to a table. “You finally made it to Central. How are you settling in? Have you found yourself a wife yet?”

Mustang rolled his eyes and shrugged off his coat. “I don’t have time for that, Hughes.”

Hughes gasped and pulled out several new pictures of Garcia. “Are you kidding me? Everyone has time to find a wife. Or husband, as it may be. Look at how radiant she looks in this one! Absolutely glowing!”

A dozen of the same picture was shoved under Mustang’s nose. He pushed Hughes’ hand away. “I saw Garcia yesterday when you two came to pick me up at the train station. I doubt much has changed since then.”

At this, Hughes went very still and put the pictures on the table.

Immediately, Mustang felt adrenaline leak into his veins, his flight or fight response kicking into high gear. “Hughes, what is it? What happened?”

Garcia had to be okay. If she wasn’t, Hughes wouldn’t be here and he wouldn’t sound so happy. But the way he froze…

“It’s nothing bad,” he assured him. “It’s just, she’s been feeling a bit under the weather lately so we had a doctor’s appointment today.”

“Is she okay? I know she is. You wouldn’t be this cheerful if she wasn’t.”

“She’s pregnant,” Hughes said.

Mustang sat back, blinking as he slowly came to terms with what Hughes said.

“I’m going to be a father, Roy. No one else knows yet. We’re going to tell her parents tomorrow.”

“Um… that’s… congratulations?” It happened occasionally with one of his sisters. They got pregnant. Some of them elected to keep the babies, some of them didn’t. For some of them, it was a joyous occasion that brought them extraordinary amounts of happiness. Others were less thrilled about the prospect.

Hughes always wanted to be a father. That was something he talked about in Ishval, worried that his future child wouldn’t love him because of the horrible things he did. Mustang had no doubts that he would make a great father. That poor kid was going to be spoiled rotten if Garcia didn’t step in. But it was also dangerous, especially with what they were doing.

“Hughes, if you need to stop…” he said carefully.

Hughes shook his head and put away the photos of Garcia. “We talked it over. We think I should continue. The whole reason for this is to make Amestris better, to protect the children we have now, and make this place a paradise for those who will come in the future. You need me, Roy. I know Madam Christmas has her network of spies but I’ve got access to things she will never have. And you’re already working with a skeleton crew. You can’t afford to be down even one man.”

“Yeah, but this is your family that we’re talking about. If you’re found out, they could be held responsible just the same as you.”

Hughes finished his drink and sighed. “Do you think that I don’t already know that? Do you think that I would be willing to put Garcia in this position but not my child?”

“Children are different. Garcia knows what she’s getting into and can consent to it. A baby can’t.”

“Can I see the picture of Ed and Al?”

The question threw Mustang off, but he pulled out the locket and handed it over to Hughes. He clicked it open and stared at the picture for several quiet minutes. Mustang didn’t look at it much anymore. He had it memorized. He memorized where Ed’s hand was, the color of Al’s clothes, the way their hair was cut. It was actually kind of a cute picture. Ed, who couldn’t have been more than two or three in the picture, was holding Al as a baby, smiling into the camera and looking very proud of himself. Al wasn’t smiling. Instead, he was looking at the camera with curious eyes, one hand outstretched to grab it. He didn’t know the context for the picture, just that it was shocking how normal it was. In a few short years, those boys would disappear from their home and there’d be no more normal pictures.

Hughes clicked it shut and handed it back to him. “I can’t stop, especially now that I have a child. I know that it’s unlikely that this thing and Bradley will go after my baby, but we still don’t know what they want with the boys. I can’t in good conscious leave your kids simply to protect my own.”

“They’re not my kids,” Mustang scoffed, taking a sip of his drink. Ever since he started working on this, he had been drinking less. There were still bad nights when he could down half a bottle of vodka before realizing what he was doing, but they were less frequent. Something about the focus and the drive to save at least two children made it more difficult to drink. He found himself thinking about them when he reached for a bottle. What if they needed him and he was drunk? What if they were hurt while he was drinking himself into a stupor? It didn’t stop it completely, but the desire to be fully present just in case made it more bearable.

“You’re right,” Hughes chuckled. “First you need a wife, then you can get yourself two kids.”

“Hughes.”

He laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about me, Roy. I know what I’m getting into. Garcia does too.”

“Still, I’d feel better if we had a plan to get you guys out, just in case.”

“Then work on developing one. I’m not leaving this unfinished. I’m not going to abandon my mission when I’m doing this for my baby.”

“Okay, I’ll leave it alone then. But Hughes, promise me that if the heat starts focusing on you, you get your family out. I want to save these two kids, but not at the expense of another.”

“It’s a deal.”

They continued to talk for a while after that, mostly about the new baby. Hughes already had a list of names he wanted to name the thing and was foaming at the mouth to buy everything in the store relating to the baby. Mustang was going to have to tell Aunt Chris and the girls about this. They’d love something cute and small to dote over and it might be a nice break while they were working on figuring out what was going on. Still, he couldn’t help but worry that things were going to go wrong very quickly. Tomorrow, he’d have Breda and Havoc put together a plan to get Garcia, Hughes, and the baby out of the country just in case. For now, though, he let his friend ramble on and on about cribs and bouncers and onesies.

Chapter Text

Greed was humming a nonsense tune as he walked through the streets of Dublith. It was a nice day out, the sun was shining, birds were singing, and he had just bought himself a very expensive pair of sunglasses. They looked the same as an ordinary, cheaper pair of sunglasses, but they were three times the price. So, obviously better. (He also bought a cheaper pair of sunglasses. One could never have too many sunglasses. Or too much stuff.)

More importantly, he had found out a few weeks ago that Izumi Curtis was right here in Dublith. He couldn’t believe he had never run across her or her husband at all since he had set up shop here several years ago. He never bothered asking his things to search out Marcoh or Curtis; he was more interested in helping Ed and Al. But, he mentioned her offhandedly one day only for Dolcetto to recognize the name. He even took him to her shop.

He filed the information away for later. Curtis could come in handy soon, but he wanted to focus on Mustang first. Still, the fact that she was a powerful alchemist (and well-liked by the community by the sounds of it) meant that Greed might just have one more thing on his side.

He stepped into the Devil’s Nest and greeted the bartender. There weren’t a lot of people here, given that it was like two in the afternoon on a Tuesday. Come to think of it, he was kind of worried for the people who were in here at this time. He didn’t dwell on this for long. Instead, he slipped into the back room. Only Martel was there.

“Got any info?” he asked, grinning at her.

The sooner they could put this Mustang thing to rest, the sooner he could have them start working on Curtis. Things were coming along great. If all went according to plan, he might be able to get Ed and Al over to Xing by the end of this year. And there were places beyond Xing they could run to if that still wasn’t far enough. Greed would travel to the ends of the Earth to keep his pets safe. Besides, if he was one day going to rule the world, he needed to make sure he knew what he was ruling first.

She threw a thick file down on the countertop. “Everything we could find about Roy Mustang. He’s a state alchemist. Served in Ishval. Has the second-highest body count.”

“Who has the first?” He picked up the file and started flipping through it. He couldn’t help but grimace when he saw Mustang’s military ID from Ishval. He was not old enough to be barbecuing people en masse. Then again, is there ever an age in which you’re ready to commit mass genocide?

“You didn’t ask me for that information, boss,” she said, rolling her eyes.

He hated when his chimeras were smart-asses. But, he couldn’t argue with her this time. He didn’t care about the highest body count. He cared about Mustang and whether or not they could trust him not to be a psychopath.

“I don’t need to know about his military record. That’s easy enough to get. What about the shit that isn’t in the official file? Did you find anything like that?”

Martel grinned at him. “It sounds like you don’t have faith in my investigative abilities. I’m almost offended.”

“You found something out?”

“I found things out that I don’t even think the military knows about.”

Good. Now they were getting somewhere. You couldn’t tell what a person was like by annual reviews and the number of medals and awards they got. If they managed to get something personal on him, then he could decide if he trusted the bastard or not.

“He’s a foster kid, for one. His foster mother is Chris Mustang and she runs that bar in Central as Madam Christmas.”

Greed burst out laughing. “Well, I’ll be damned. That bastard was visiting his family. No wonder the girls all seemed to like him.”

Now he didn’t feel so jealous of the man’s warm welcome. Of course, Greed couldn’t compete with that! Although, this did mean that he had been, effectively, sleeping with Mustang’s sisters for a while now and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

“High functioning alcoholic, according to Bido. Though he hasn’t been drinking as much lately. He mainly stays with his team, Kain Fuery, Jean Havoc, Heymans Breda, Vato Falman, and Riza Hawkeye. Maes Hughes is another person he’s close with and he works in Investigations.”

Greed nodded. Investigations could be useful. He had access to a lot, but there were things Wrath and Father didn’t tell him.

“Most of the women he has contact with were people he grew up with,” Martel continued. “I don’t think he’s fucking anyone currently. He’s hopelessly in love with Riza Hawkeye, though, and doesn’t hide it very well.”

Interesting development. It still didn’t tell him anything about Mustang as a person. “Does he feel any guilt for Ishval?” He decided to ask it outright. It was one thing to kill someone, it was quite another to kill someone and not feel any remorse for it.

Being an immortal homunculus with a long history of murder and violence, Greed didn’t necessarily have the moral high ground over most humans. Especially Greed #3. That bastard may have started a few wars to gain more territory in the south. However, Mustang’s murder of children made him pause. Throughout all his past lives, throughout everything he had ever done in his quest to get everything, he did his best to make sure children weren’t hurt. And he certainly never hurt them directly. For Mustang to have so much young blood on his hands… he didn’t think he could trust him to go anywhere near Ed and Al until he knew for certain the man felt some semblance of shame for what he did.

“I told you, he’s a high functioning alcoholic.”

Greed gave her a look. As if that meant anything to him.

She sighed and leaned against the wall. “It’s hard to tell now, especially since he does seem to be working on figuring out what the Fuhrer is up to. But, if I had to bet, I’d say he was guilty.”

“Would you bet the lives of two kids?”

She shrugged. She didn’t have the same attachment to Ed and Al that he had. None of the chimeras did. They had never met the kids. Greed was hoping to change that. Mostly because those kids needed a few more people they could talk to. That had to fuck them up developmentally to only really talk to him. Right?

“I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. He doesn’t seem complicit in whatever this fucking plot is. But I don’t know him. I don’t know what’s going through his head or if I’d trust him not to snap, literally, and kill people without hesitation.”

He sighed and slumped back against the wall. To be fair, he didn’t know what he was expecting. It wasn’t like the military did regular psychiatric testing to make sure their soldiers had empathy. That was a bit counter-productive to what Wrath and Father wanted. He was still hoping for something. Something about how he saved puppies from burning buildings or helped little old ladies across the street. Something easy and simple that would prove to Greed that he was a good guy.

“Does he know what’s going on?”

“I think he knows something. How much, though, is the more difficult question.”

Damn. He was hoping that by the end of this meeting he’d have a clear path forward. They would know if Mustang was trustworthy or not, work on meeting him, and also work on getting Curtis on their side. As is, he felt like he was in the same place he had been before this meeting. Fuck, none of this could be easy, could it?

“What now, boss?” She asked.

What now indeed. He nodded to himself. He couldn’t afford to waste more time. Each second that ticked away was a second they couldn’t afford to lose. They had to keep moving forward. There was never going to be a clear answer or a clear right or wrong option. He had to make a choice and then adapt as more information came to light.

He closed the folder and handed it back to her. “I’m heading back to Central. Have Bido and Dolcetto keep tabs on Mustang. I’ll start trying to orchestrate a meeting with him. We both frequent the same bar. If I can convince his sisters to help me out, we might be able to get somewhere. You and Roa stay here. Keep working on those documents and start keeping an eye on Izumi Curtis. If Wrath starts getting pushy, let me know.”

“Do you want us to intervene if he tries to take her?”

He shook his head. Roa and Martel were good, but even they couldn’t hope to beat Wrath on their own. “No. Ed and Al are our priority. But if he makes a move, that’s a sign that things are heating up and we need to hurry. Don’t cause too much trouble.”

“That’s rich, coming from you, boss.”

He ignored her comment. “I’m going to start spending more time in Central. I’ll come here next month for an update.” He waved to her and left the back room.

Despite his plans to spend the month in Central and only come to Dublith for an update, he still couldn’t risk spending more time with Ed and Al. If he changed his pattern of visiting, even by a day, it would signal to the others that he was up to something. He couldn’t risk it. Not when they were so close to getting everything in order.

“Just a few more months, Ed and Al. Hang on for just a few more months.”

*****

“Mr. Gree,” Amy, the head baker at Bread and Batter said, perking up. “You’re back! I have just the thing for you." She turned around and started rummaging through a pile of boxes.

Greed smiled at her and waited patiently for his order. His conversation with Martel earlier that day was still ringing in his ears. Was he doing the right thing by focusing on Mustang? Maybe he should be focusing on Curtis instead. At least he knew she had never been in the military and was currently giving Wrath a massive headache resisting his increasingly forceful recruitment efforts.

Amy was oblivious to his thoughts and continued to chatter away about how the business was going. When he had first started coming here, about a year after Ed and Al had been with them, he hadn’t bothered to give a name. However, as his visits became more frequent and predictable, Amy started asking questions. In a panic, and lacking any sense of creativity, Greed blurted out the first thing that came to mind when she asked for his name. Sadly, the first thing that came to mind was his name, which was very inhuman. Luckily, Amy misheard him and now he was known at Bread and Batter as Mr. Gree. He didn’t know if that was a common surname among humans, but no one seemed suspicious, so he let it go. Though, Clarence, one of Amy’s assistants, did ask him if it was a Cretan name once. Greed just stuttered out that he didn’t know and wasn’t aware of any Cretan blood in his family.

“How are the boys doing?”

Terribly. “They’re doing great. They always want more cupcakes but I am firm.”

“You’re such a great brother,” Amy laughed, finally pulling out the box she wanted. “I wish my older sister dropped off cupcakes for me once a month.”

“Aren’t you an adult? That works in a bakery? Would you even want to eat more cupcakes?”

She shrugged and tied a piece of twine on the box before placing it on the counter. “Alright then, I wish my older sister dropped off hot men for me once a month. Better?”

“Eh, I’ll take it. What’s the flavor this time?”

“Lemon cupcake with raspberry mousse on top. Let me know how they like it. I’m experimenting with different frostings. Did they like last month’s cupcakes?”

“Yeah, they scarfed them down. To be fair, though, I don’t think they’ve ever not liked a cupcake. Even that maple bacon one that Al didn’t care for, he still ate the whole thing.”

He pulled out his wallet and fingered through the cash to get the appropriate number of cenz. There was something about this interaction that made him long for more. It was so innocent, so peaceful. There were no ulterior motives. There was no reason to worry. It was so… human. Just Mr. Gree and Amy, talking about cupcakes and siblings. It was a connection he craved for so long but never really understood until he started looking out for Ed and Al. Something about having them in his life made him more human. And the strange thing was, he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind one bit. He relished the human moments he had. He enjoyed everything so much more. It was strange. Who knew that all it took to enjoy life was for him to start looking after two boys?

Maybe if the other homunculi tried to care for them as well they’d see how shitty Father was and how much better life would be if they were just… living like humans.

“You should bring them by one day,” Amy said. “I don’t know why you haven’t yet. I’d love to meet my taste testers.”

Greed’s smile slipped and the good mood he had been in vanished. “Are you kidding?” He took the box from the counter and tried to quickly think of a good excuse as to why he was out enjoying life but his two pets were stuck in hell. “If I let them loose in here, they’ll want to eat everything. There’s no way my wallet would survive that. And their mother would kill me.”

Amy laughed. “I’m just saying, you don’t have to hide them away. Maybe we don’t have to meet in the bakery. We can always meet outside in like a park or something.”

Damn this woman was relentless. And his mind was coming up blank. Why couldn’t Ed and Al go to the park one day and eat cupcakes? Why did they have to hide beneath the Earth and never come out or talk to anyone but Greed’s siblings and father? Why was this whole fucking country so unfair?

“You don’t have to say yes. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to push," she said, now looking ashamed of herself.

“Um… it’s just…” It’s not that he wanted to say no. It was that he couldn’t say yes. Things were so complicated right now. Even if he could manage to sneak the boys out, visiting their favorite (and only) cupcake shop was the last thing he would do with them. And how could he explain any of this to Amy in a way that wouldn’t alarm her or make him sound completely insane?

“Oh, I made it awkward.” She buried her face in her hands, bright red from embarrassment. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. Forget I ever asked.”

“No, no. It’s okay.” Now he felt bad. He should do something to fix this. It wasn’t her fault her country was secretly run by an immortal false god who was trying to make another philosopher’s stone using its citizens.

“Now’s just not really a good time. But, I’ll tell you what.”

She looked up at him, still embarrassed, but a little hopeful.

“I’m going to be spending some more time in Central over the next few months. Maybe I’ll come by more often? Then, when things calm down, I can take the boys here and they’ll eat as many cupcakes as they can handle. Sound good?”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “Whatever makes you more comfortable. You do have to keep them safe first and foremost.”

She had no idea how right she was.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your first name?”

“First name?” Shit, he barely got away with the last name. And first names were a hell of a lot harder to fake.

“Yeah, I’ve been calling you Mr. Gree for years. If you’re going to be coming around more often, I should call you by your first name.”

Shit, shit, shit. Think of a first name. Any first name. Roy? No, fuck, I’m not using his first name! Roa? No, goddamit! Think of your own first name! Greed? Oh yeah, Greed’s a weird enough first name but you told her your last name was Gree. Greed Gree? What the hell kind of name was that? Riza? No, that’s a woman’s name!

“Jean!” He blurted out before he could stop himself.

Amy smiled. “Jean Gree? I like it. It kind of rhymes.”

He laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, well, my father wasn’t creative at all. I need to get going now, but I’ll see you around?”

“Sure thing. Let me know how they like the cupcakes.”

“Will do.” The bell above the door rang as he went back onto the streets.

For the second time that day, he felt frustrated with how things were going. Just when things were starting to get good, there was something there to pull him back down. Why couldn’t Ed and Al live a normal life? Why couldn’t he bring them to the cupcake shop? How were fucking cupcakes going to ruin Father’s plan?

Whatever, it didn’t matter. What mattered was the fact that he was human enough to trick a human woman into thinking he was human. That would help when he tried to get into contact with Mustang. He’d meet with Bido and Dolcetto tomorrow to try and brainstorm how to do it. He still thought the bar was the best way to go. The women there knew him best and they trusted him. If he could get through to them, then Mustang would likely have an easier time trusting him as well.

The question was how much to involve him in this whole thing. How much should he tell him? He’d have to tell him about Ed and Al, that was a given. He needed everyone to be on the same page with knowing getting Ed and Al out of the country and away from Father was the number one priority. But could he trust him?

Fuck! Now that they were starting to make moves, to take risks, now it was so much harder to make decisions. Any decision he made could come down to life or death. Ed and Al were the most at risk here and he couldn’t afford to make one wrong move. However, he couldn’t afford to wait either. The thought he had in Dublith still rang true.

He would never have all the information he needed to make a decision.

He swung the box by his side and turned down the alleyway that lead to the Evil Lair. He would start by feeling Mustang out. Seeing what he wanted to help with and how trustworthy he was. Then, based on the first few meetings, he’d decide how much he wanted Mustang to help out.

Yeah. That felt good. That felt like it wouldn’t take too much time. If he worked fast, he could set up a meeting with Mustang by the end of the month. Then, by the end of the next month, he’d hopefully have a better handle on the man and how much he could trust him. If everything worked out the way it was supposed to, he could get Ed and Al over to Xing in less than six months. Plus, if they managed to get Curtis on their side, she could leave with them, giving Father one less sacrifice to control.

Yeah. Good plan. That was a good plan.

He steeled himself to deal with Father and the others at their regular meeting. He had to be careful not to act any differently. One wrong move, one wrong word, could literally be the reason everyone in this country died.

He stepped into the meeting room and frowned. Only Envy was at the table, looking incredibly bored.

“Where is everyone? I didn’t miss it, did I?” He checked his very expensive watch, and his very cheap watch. No, this was normally when they had their meetings. He hadn’t heard that anything was getting canceled. Then again, he didn’t think Wrath, Pride, or Father would bother to tell him if anything was getting canceled.

Envy rolled their eyes. “No, you didn’t miss it, asshole. Everyone just has more important things to do than sit around and buy fucking desserts.”

Greed had more important things to do than buy fucking deserts. Still, he couldn’t argue with Envy. He had to act the exact same way he normally would. Luckily, that meant insulting them. It was going to be too easy to act normally.

“Aw, Envy, are you envious that Ed and Al get delicious cupcakes but you don’t? You’re really living up to your namesake there.”

Envy stood up, snarling. “Father isn’t here to stop me from ripping out your goddamn stone.”

Normal, unsuspicious Greed would react to this by picking a fight. He let his ultimate shield crawl up his body, setting the cupcakes down on the table in case they did come to blows. He did not spend twenty cenz on these things just so Envy could crush them because they were being a whiny little bitch about the whole thing.

“Please, we both know that between the two of us, I can take you in a straight fight. Your true form is pathetic. Come at me, little worm, I have some frustration I’ve been meaning to get out. And kicking your ass will definitely help.”

Envy stood there for a few seconds, vibrating with anger. Greed could see the cogs working in their head. They were trying to see how they could conceivably win in a fight against him. They quickly concluded that they wouldn’t. At least, not without causing a huge mess that would just get them both in trouble with Father, and they sat back down.

“That’s what I thought.” He picked the cupcakes up and turned to head towards Ed and Al’s room. So, his plan was starting to come together and he didn’t have to sit through a boring meeting where everyone tried too hard to suck up to Father? This night had flopped back to good again!

Maybe tonight he’d finally tell Ed and Al what he was working on. They needed to know in case they had to leave in a hurry. He couldn’t wait to see what their reactions were. For so long they had been stuck down here. When he told them the plan, hopefully, that would give them some energy and motivation to hold on for just a bit longer.

“You know, Father doesn’t like you talking to them,” Envy said, looking very bored once more.

“Then pops can suck my dick. Do you really think I care?”

“Yeah, because if you’re not careful, he’ll kill you. Do you really want that to happen? There’s only so much rebellion he can take before he snaps and reabsorbs you,” they sighed, slumping back against the chair and examining their nails.

“How would you know, worm? You’ve never rebelled against him in your life. I think you’re just jealous of my freedom. It is in your name after all.”

“One day, you’re going to push him too far.” Envy turned and smiled at him. That unsettling smile that showed too many teeth and screamed danger. “And then who will be there to bring those things cupcakes? It won’t be me, that’s for sure. I wonder how much farther you can push him?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” He was done with this and walked out of the room before Envy could continue the conversation.

The sooner he could get to Ed and Al, the better. Time was of the essence here (even if he was just going to feed the kids cupcakes and cuddle with them until they went to sleep). He couldn’t afford to waste any time on that pathetic worm. And he wasn’t going to! Envy was just trying to steal his attention away because they were envious. That was it. He wouldn’t play into it.

He stopped in front of Ed and Al’s door and took a deep breath, forcing himself to be in a better mood. He hoped the kids would take his news well. Ed was already curious about Mustang so that shouldn’t be a problem. And the fact that there was now another alchemist at play would entice them even more.

“I brought presents, pets,” he called, kicking the door open with his foot.

His eyes fell on the center of the room. The box of cupcakes fell to the floor and he stumbled back against the door. His foot slipped on something and sent him crashing to the ground.

There, in the center of the room was a giant transmutation circle. And in the center of that was… something. It looked like it was supposed to be human, but it was all twisted and mishappened. The legs were too long, like spider’s legs. The head was facing the wrong way. The ribs looked like they had been ripped open and organs were spilling out. There were too many hearts and stomachs. Not enough kidneys and lungs. And the blood… fuck, there was so much blood.

The creature let out horrible, gasping noises as it struggled to breathe. How the hell was it even still alive?

His breaths were coming in short bursts. His mind couldn’t comprehend the thing, the actual thing that was sitting on the floor in front of him. What was it? Why was it in Ed and Al’s room?”

Shit! Ed and Al! Was this… was this thing one of them?

“Greed?” Al’s soft, scared, shaking voice called from the corner.

Greed forced himself to look away from that thing, gasping on the floor, blood gurgling from its mouth. Whatever horrors were in front of him were dwarfed by what he saw to the side of him. A suit of armor, cradling Ed. And Ed… fuck. He was… The blood…

“Help him,” suit of armor that had Al’s voice begged, shaking and sounding close to tears. “Please, help him. He’s dying.”

Chapter Text

In a perfect world, Greed would have jumped into action immediately. In a perfect world, Greed would have stopped this from ever happening. In a perfect world, Greed would have taken Ed and Al to Xing years ago where they could live like normal kids.

This wasn’t a perfect world.

The monster in the middle of the room was still gurgling. It was taking painstaking breaths and moaning in pain. How was it even still alive? The body, something he would never be able to unsee, looked like it had been ripped open. It looked like a chimera had gotten to a corpse and strewn its parts all over the room in some sick art display. Except, it wasn’t a corpse. It was breathing and bleeding. He could hear it breathing.

His body moved on its own accord, taking a shaking step towards Ed and Al. Where were Ed’s body parts? Why was Al in one of Father’s suits of armor? What had happened to his boys?

“Greed?” The suit of armor let out a choked cry and started whimpering. His voice echoed in the metal.

“What… what happened?” He barely managed to get the words out. In some ways, it felt like he hadn’t. It felt like he hadn’t opened his mouth or moved his tongue to form the syllables. Maybe he hadn’t. Maybe he was so shocked he didn’t say a word.

“I don’t know,” Al said, crying. “I don’t remember. I woke up like this. What is that thing? Ed’s dying and I don’t know what happened. Help, please! Please, he’s not moving.” He trailed off and broke down completely. The shoulders of that giant suit of armor shook as his body was wracked with sobs.

Yes. Help. He had to help. He stopped in front of them, seeing both boys much more clearly. Fuck, Ed was missing an arm and a leg. It looked like Al had taken their blankets in a pathetic attempt to bandage up the wounds. But even that was more of a token gesture. The blankets were soaked and thick globs of blood seeped out and splashed onto the ground in an ever-growing puddle. Ed was so small. He was so small. Too thin and suffering from years of neglect. There wasn’t enough blood in his body. How could Greed help him? How could he keep him alive?

His hands hovered over the boy, not knowing what to do or where to go. What if he hurt him even more? What if he made everything worse? And Al… why was Al in the suit of armor?

Just like that, there was a switch flipped in his brain. It happened sometimes. Some of the past Greeds would ‘take over' so to speak and help him out. He was still in complete control, make no mistake about it. He was responsible for all of his own actions and could do whatever he wanted. However, having those extra voices in his head, whispering to him, telling him what to do, came in handy. He had three hundred extra years of life in him. Three hundred extra years of experience. At least one of the Greeds had to have been in a similar situation before.

With new thoughts and suggestions in his head, he knew what he had to do. He didn’t have time to be horrified. He didn’t have time to ask questions. He didn’t have time to play games. He knew how bad Ed was. He needed to see what state Al was in. He reached forward and yanked the helmet off his head to look at him.

“Oh my god,” he said, voice shaking as he looked into the empty suit of armor. “Al.”

The voices, that had been giving him some advice and keeping him calm were all quiet now. None of them had ever experienced anything like this.

“I don’t know what happened? What happened to me? Why am I like this? Where did brother’s arm and leg go?” Al’s voice was definitely coming from the suit.

His eyes fell on something drawn on the inside. Fuck… that was… blood. There was some sort of an array done in blood just on the inside.

“Greed?” Al asked again. He was crying, but he didn’t have a body. How was he crying? What the hell was going on?

The creature let out a pitiful cry and coughed up more blood. It would likely choke and drown on it. He should put it out of its misery. He couldn’t imagine drowning in your own blood was a very nice way to go. But… Ed was… dying. The bleeding wasn’t slowing down and even if it was, that blanket was filthy. He’d get an infection. He didn’t know much about human injuries but he knew infections on open wounds were bad.

You have to get them out of here. A voice tickled the back of his mind. This sounded like Greed One. Probably the shortest-lived out of all of them because they attempted to overthrow Father and conquer the world. Out of all of them, they had seen the most death and destruction because of their time on the battlefield.

They were right. Of course, they were right. He had to get the boys out of here. He had to figure out just what the hell Father made them do. But where would he go? Bido and Dolcetto didn’t have the means necessary to stop Ed from dying. Even if they did, they likely wouldn’t know what was going on with Al. Roa and martel would be more useful, but they were both in Dublith. There was no way he’d get them halfway across the country in time.

There’s one person who might be able to help. Greed Three whispered. This Greed was much more into fucking as many people as possible. Consensually and all over the age of eighteen, of course. He had quite a list of names and experiences. Father killed him after a little Rendez-Vous with the Prince of Drachma. Fuck, those were the good old days.

Right, focus. Present. He needed to focus on the present. Greed Three was right. There was one person who might be able to help. He didn’t want to do it, though. Not yet. He still needed to gather information. He still needed to make a plan. He still needed to establish contact and figure him out.

You can’t do that anymore. You’ve run out of time. They’ve run out of time. Greed Two whispered. This Greed had lived the longest out of all of them, preferring to stay far away from Father and use her time to travel the world.

She was right. Ed was dying. Al was now a suit of armor. Father’s plans were being set into motion. He knew this day would come. He knew it. He should have been more prepared for it. He should have started planning his escape sooner.

Don’t focus on what you should have done! Focus on what you need to do now. Greed One snapped.

Right. Ed was dying. He needed help now. There was no other choice.

He swallowed and let the other Greeds continue to steady him and keep him calm. “Al, listen to me, we need to get out of here.”

“But… what about brother?”

“We’re going to go get him some help. Now, listen to me very carefully. There’s a bar not far from here, it’s called Madam Christmas’ Bar. If I can’t make it out, you’re going to go there with Ed and you’re going to ask for Roy Mustang. He’ll help you.”

Damn, he hoped the man would help them.

“Aren’t you going to come with me?” Al shifted to clutch Ed tightly to his armored chest.

“That’s the plan, pet, but to get to the surface we’re going to have to go through the chimera guards. If they overpower me, I want you to just run and focus on getting yourself and Ed out of here. Understand?”

Al hesitated. “Brother said he was working on digging a tunnel up to the surface. Yesterday, I remember he said he was planning on using it tonight.”

“Is it finished?” Greed should have known better than to assume Ed was sitting by idly while down here.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know where it is?”

Al nodded. “In the room next door.”

He had to make a decision. If they took the tunnel and it wasn’t finished, that might take too long and Ed could die. If they took the front entrance out of this place, they might be attacked by chimeras and die.

“If it isn’t finished, do you think you could finish it?” Greed asked.

“Yeah. I think so. Brother showed me the arrays he was using yesterday. I can recreate them.” Now that they were making a plan, Al was calmer. He should have known better than to doubt him. These two were tough as nails. He hated that they had to be.

“Alright, then. Give him to me. I’ll carry him out. You go in front and transmute anything out of the way that you need. I’m getting you out of here, for good.” He would do everything in his power to make sure Ed and Al never came back. He still didn’t know if he could trust Mustang, and that scared him, but he was their only hope.

Al gently shifted Ed into his arms. Greed shuddered as he felt the blood immediately coat his hands and clothes. Al was covered in the shit. It looked like someone had taken an ax to his body and then used the blood as paint to cover the armor. He did his best to ignore it, the great globs of blood plopping out and leaving a gruesome trail on the floor. They had to work fast. He didn’t know how long before Father came looking. He’d likely follow the trail out. Or, he’d have Wrath follow the trail out. The sooner they could get the bleeding dealt with, the sooner they could hide. The sooner Ed and Al would finally be safe.

They slipped out of the room and into the next. Al shuffled a desk to the side to reveal a small hole in the wall.

“Are you going to be able to fit in that?” he asked, eyeing the giant suit of armor.

Al nodded and squeezed himself in, the rocks scraping horribly against the metal. Greed squeezed himself in after him. It turns out, the entrance was the smallest part. Once inside, it was small and cramped, but big enough to accommodate Al, barely. There was even a handy set of stairs up. Greed recognized Ed’s handiwork. The skulls and gargoyles gave it away.

They started their ascent. Each step Greed became more and more aware of the fact that Ed hadn’t moved or even made a sound. The way he was missing his limbs, it had to hurt, right? He glanced down at the boy, now pale with lips turning blue. He looked like a corpse. If Greed didn’t know any better, he’d say the boy was dead. He could still feel his heart though, pounding against his arms as they continued to climb. The blood didn’t slow. Ed was so small. How much could he lose before it was too much?

“We’re at the top, I think,” Al said.

Greed looked up to see the stairs ending and a wall of asphalt above them.

“Can you get rid of it?”

“Yeah, give me a second. Do you have anything to draw with?”

Greed’s mentally smacked himself. They couldn’t do alchemy without an array. How could he have been so stupid as to forget the one thing they needed?

“Shit. No… I don’t.” Shit. They didn’t have time to go back down and get something to draw with. More blood continued to pour from Ed’s wounds and Greed swallowed. It was macabre, morbid in all the worse ways.

The boy used his blood to create the array in the suit of armor. Greed Two said. It can be used again.

He shuddered. That felt so wrong on so many levels, but it was all they had.

“Use his blood,” Greed commanded gently.

“What? I can’t do that!” Al cried.

“Why not? That’s not illegal, is it?”

“No, but—”

“Al,” he said firmly, “you said it yourself. Ed is dying. We need to get out of here now. We don’t have enough time to go back and get chalk. You have to do it. Ed won’t mind. He won’t be mad at you. I promise.” Should he be making promises for an unconscious, dying child?

Al let out another choked whimper but nodded and reached his fingers to Ed’s bleeding stump. Once they were sufficiently coated, he turned back to the asphalt and got to work. He had to return a few more times, but in the end, he managed to complete the array. It was at that moment that Greed realized he didn’t know if Al could use alchemy in this state. He wasn’t human anymore, he was an empty suit of armor. Closer to a homunculus than he was comfortable admitting. And homunculi couldn’t use alchemy. What if this didn’t work? What if Al was unable to help them escape.

He put his hands to the array.

Relief flooded through Greed as the blue electricity sparked to life. He could still use it. Thank fuck, he could still use it.

The asphalt shifted and folded out of the way, revealing a night sky. They had done it. They had escaped.

Al clambered out of the hole and then reached down to take Ed so Greed could get out as well.

“Where do we go now?” he asked.

“The bar isn’t far from here. Only a few blocks,” Greed said, looking around to get his bearings. “But I’m going to put you guys somewhere else. I don’t want Father tracking down the bar.”

Mustang needed to keep his contacts as safe as possible, especially now that the entirety of circumstances were going to change in just a few short moments.

“Come on.” He said, motioning to Al to follow him. He had a safe house in the area, one that he or one of his gang members stayed at when they needed to conduct business in Central but didn’t want Father to find out. It was close to the bar, but far enough away that if they were being followed, no one would suspect a thing.

He and Al climbed in through the window. Bido and Dolcetto were gone, likely tailing Mustang or breaking into Central Command to gather more intel. As much as Greed wanted them to be here, if only so that he’d have someone else to help him, he was also glad they weren’t. Ed and Al had lived for years only knowing eight people. Al was traumatized and Ed was cagey and flighty at best. He couldn’t risk scaring them, especially after what just happened. He just needed Mustang and whatever doctor could fix this.

“Use the sheets on the bed and water to clean and bandage his wounds as best as you can,” he said. “I’ll come back with help.”

“Is it that military alchemist you were looking into?” Al asked. “How do you know we can trust him? Doesn’t the military work for Father?”

Fuck, he did not want to try and explain this right now. He put a hand on Al’s cold shoulder. “Pet, you trust me, right?”

Al nodded.

“Then trust me. I won’t let Mustang hurt either of you. But we need help. Ed needs proper medical attention and neither you nor I are equipped to deal with that. Don’t leave. I’ll be right back.”

Al looked like he wanted to argue, but didn’t. Instead, he turned to focus on Ed’s injuries. In the yellow light, he looked even worse. How he survived this long was a miracle.

Greed swallowed, turned, and left through the window once more.

*****

Mustang’s hope that being stationed in Central would be more productive turned out to be true. When he had easy access to both Aunt Chris, Hughes, and several of the higher-ups in on the plot, there was more information he could gather.

Lab 5 was a good starting point for them. It was supposedly decommissioned a while ago, but Hughes managed to dig up some information that would suggest otherwise. It was also right next to the prison. If the military was trying to create philosopher’s stones, and if philosopher’s stones required human sacrifices, then it would be easy to use prisoners on death row. And there were a lot of prisoners on death row.

That was why Mustang was at the bar tonight. He had a list of researchers and soldiers whose assignments were suspiciously mundane. He wanted to see if any of the girls had these men and women as regular clients. People were much more willing to talk after sex.

“Just these?” Aunt Chris asked, flicking through the file.

“For starters. They’re the ones most likely to know something based on rank and specialty.”

“Some of them look familiar. I’ll pass it around to the girls later tonight and see if anyone knows anything.”

Out in the main bar, they heard the door burst open. It was loud enough and violent enough that both he and Aunt Chris jumped. He got up and cracked open the office door to see who or what was in here. If it was another military raid, he’d be perfectly content with showing them just how unamused he was with their attempts to shut down a perfectly reputable small business. His eyes widened when he saw who it was.

“Mr. No Name?” Aunt Chris said, clearly confused.

The man looked like he had just murdered someone with his bare hands. He was covered in blood but looked uninjured.

“Look, I know he’s here,” he said to Vanessa, clearly frustrated. “Or if he’s not here, I know you know how to contact him. Please, he needs… I have to get in contact with him.”

Luckily, it was a Wednesday. The bar was usually pretty empty on a Wednesday. And for those customers that did come in, most of them had already gone home for the evening.

Vanessa crossed her arms and glared at him. “You know as well as I do, we don’t give out our clients' information. How would you like it if we went around telling everyone you were here?”

“But he’s not a client! I know he’s not quit playing this game and tell me where he is!”

“Roy—” Aunt Chris said.

Mustang pulled on his ignition gloves. “I’ll take care of this.”

“Don’t cause too much damage.”

He rolled his eyes and stepped out. Whoever this Mr. No Name was, he wasn’t going to harass his sisters. “I think you need to calm down,” he said, his voice low and threatening.

Mr. No Name did not have the reaction he was expecting. He was expecting arguments, fights, fear, intimidation. Instead, he looked positively elated.

“Yes! You!” He lunged forward and grabbed Mustang by the wrist. “Come on. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“Wait, hang on,” Vanessa said, stumbling out of the way as Mr. No Name yanked Mustang towards the door.

“I’ll explain everything later. Right now, we got to go. See you later, Theresa.” He waved to Theresa, who waved back hesitantly as he burst through the door and took off down the street.

Mustang struggled to keep up with him. It occurred to him, perhaps a little too late, that this was possibly an attempted kidnapping and he should be doing more to get out of this situation. After all, Mr. No Name was covered in blood and seemed to be on the verge of panicking.

“It’s not far. You know a doctor, right? Preferably one that doesn’t work for the military. Fuck, I forgot about that. But you have to know one, right?” Mr. No Name rambled as he pulled Mustang through the streets.

Mustang, now a bit more cognizant of what was happening, dug his heels into the ground and yanked his arm out of the man’s grip.

Mr. No Name whipped back around to him, looking positively livid. Mustang’s gloves were still on his hands. One snap and this could all be dealt with.

“I don’t have time for this. We need to go now. He’s dying and the other one… fuck man, I don’t even know what’s wrong with the other one.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you. I don’t know you.”

The girls had all been adamant that Mr. No Name was fine. One of their preferred clients, in fact. Mustang still wasn’t willing to go to a random place with this man.

Mr. No Name gripped his bloody hands in his hair and let out a series of strangled cries. “Alright, alright. You'll get the long version later. Short version: Father forced Ed and Al to do some sort of fucked up transmutation and now Ed’s missing an arm and a leg and Al’s in a suit of armor and I know fuck-all about alchemy but I do know that Ed’s dying and he needs a doctor. My gang said I could probably trust you and you got Father and Wrath nervous so do not make me regret seeking you out.”

Mustang started. “Ed and Al?” His Ed and Al? The Ed and Al he had been searching for since Trisha Elric died all those years ago? “Who are you?”

“My name’s Greed. You’ll get the long version later. Please, just help me.” Mr. No Name or Greed (which was an even more unbelievable name) sounded desperate. He looked desperate.

Mustang hesitated. This felt too good to be true. Ed and Al just landed in his lap after all these years. And this Greed person seemed to be right at the heart of the plot. Who were Wrath and Father? Logically, he knew he shouldn’t trust him. He should burn him to a crisp and leave his ashes floating in the wind.

But he was good at reading people. He knew what people looked like when they were desperate. From the streets. From Ishval. From Trisha Elric gripping his arm as the last bit of life in her body left. He knew what desperation looked like. And it looked like this.

He might be walking into a trap. He might be dooming his entire mission to failure.

He swallowed, tugged at his gloves, and nodded. “Lead the way.”

The look of relief that washed over Greed’s face told him he had made the right choice. As they ran to a non-descript, derelict building not far from Aunt Chris’ bar and climbed through the window, Mustang knew he had made the right choice.

“Greed?” A tinny, small voice came from the corner of the room.

Mustang’s eyes widened when he spotted a suit of armor with burning red eyes sitting on the floor. Al’s in a suit of armor. That’s what Greed had said.

“This is Roy Mustang. He’s hopefully going to help us. Where’s Ed?” Greed asked.

The suit of armor raised a shaking, clanking arm and pointed to a bed. “The bleeding slowed down.”

“Is he still breathing?” Mustang asked, walking towards the bed. There was blood all over this room. The floor was stained with it. The sheets were covered in it. It couldn’t all be from the tiny child on the bed.

He tried not to think too much about the state Ed was in. He knew, logically, the kids were likely going to be in rough shape. Kidnappers, even ones who weren’t trying to make a country-wide transmutation circle to create a Philosopher’s stone, were rarely kind to their victims. It was hard to keep his emotions in check. Ed looked… bad. He was pale like he hadn’t seen the sun in years. His cheeks were hollow from the result of underfeeding and his entire body looked brittle. There were bruises on his face and what portions of the skin he could see. And that was before he got to the fact that he was missing an arm and a leg. Put all of that together and Mustang was afraid he was looking at a corpse. Another corpse of a child.

“I don’t know. I can’t… Greed… I can’t feel anything.” Al let out a choked sob and broke down. “I don’t know if he’s breathing.”

Mustang put two fingers on Ed’s neck, relieved to find a weak pulse. He was still alive, but he wouldn’t be for long if they didn’t do something. He needed a doctor. “He’s alive.”

Greed and Al both let out sighs of relief.

“Do you have a phone? I know a doctor I can call.”

“Is he with the military?” Greed narrowed his eyes.

“If you’re wondering if he’s in on this whole conspiracy, no, he’s not. He’s safe.” At least, he hoped he was safe. All of this work on the conspiracy was starting to mess with Mustang’s head. Just the other day, he nearly lit his downstairs neighbor on fire because he thought her dog was a spy.

Greed hesitated, then nodded and motioned for him to follow him. Mustang was handed a very fancy phone. Seriously, for as crappy as this apartment was, all of the furniture looked like it cost a fortune. The phone reminded him of an ostentatious and gaudy gold-plated one at the Armstrong mansion.

He dialed Knox’s number.

“Hello?” Knox answered, his voice rough and gravelly.

“It’s me. I need help.” No use beating around the bush.

Knox sighed. “Mustang, I told you before—”

“A child’s suffered a double amputation. We can’t take him to Central Hospital, or any hospital. I’ll cauterize the wounds as soon as we get off the phone, but he’s lost a lot of blood and will likely need a blood transfusion. And I’ll need something to stave off any infection.” Not to mention he needed help dealing with the other numerous issues the kid likely had.

He held his breath. The only other person who would know a doctor was Aunt Chris, but he didn’t have enough time to call her so she could call a doctor.

“As soon as you stabilize him, I’ll be out of your hair. I just need you to keep him alive until I can arrange something else.”

Knox let out another sigh. “What was amputated and how?”

“Arm and leg. Possible alchemy accident.”

“And where are you at?”

Greed handed him a piece of paper with the address listed on it and he relayed the information.

“Alright. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. You know how to cauterize properly.”

Mustang’s eyes narrowed with determination. He didn’t normally use his alchemy in such a way, but he had a few times. “Yes. I can do it properly.”

“You’re O negative, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Then get ready, Mustang. You’re going to be the kid’s donor.” Knox hung up the phone without so much as a goodbye.

Mustang turned back towards Ed, who was still lying motionless on the bed.

“Wait a second,” Greed grabbed his arm and stopped him from moving towards him. “What does that mean, you’re going to cauterize him?”

“I’m going to burn the wounds shut,” Mustang said. He was quite possibly disassociating slightly, unwilling to fully understand the gravity of the situation.

“Hell no. You’re not going to hurt him.”

He whirled around to him, eyes burning with focus. “It’ll take twenty minutes for the doctor to get here. He’s already lost too much blood. As is, it’ll take a miracle for him to survive until then. By cauterizing the wounds shut, we’ll buy him some time.”

“Can’t you just seal it up with alchemy or something?”

Wow, this man did not know anything about alchemy. “That’s not how alchemy works. You asked for my help. This is how I’m going to help. Now, let me go. I promise I wouldn’t be doing this if it had no purpose.”

Greed hesitated once again but released his hand. Mustang nodded, content with where they were at now. This was a shaky trust, but he didn’t care. His only focus was on keeping Ed alive until he figured out what had happened.

“I’ll need something for him to bite on.”

There was a belt in Ed’s mouth. The makeshift bandages had been removed. The wounds looked surprisingly clean in the way the limbs were cut. There were no torn or jagged edges around the skin. It was almost as if they simply ceased to be. Mustang didn’t want to think about why that might be.

Al had taken Ed’s lower half and Greed had taken his upper half. Mustang took a deep breath, focused his alchemy, and snapped.