It was not the first time that another military officer had tried to recruit Ed on his team and it probably wouldn’t be the last, but it still aggravated him. Alethea scowled behind him as only a wolverine could do, not even bothering to hide her irritation at the man and his sharp-looking doberman daemon. She disliked being around other soldiers for the most part; she often ignored them and pretended that they didn’t exist when they were around, which apparently pissed off a lot of people. But very few of them offered any respect to Ed, citing his age and height, so she didn’t give any in return.
Brigadier General Cole was not an impressive man, in Ed’s opinion, but everyone else seemed to teeter nervously whenever he was around. Sure, he was tall and muscular, but he was nowhere near Major Armstrong’s level. And his daemon was known to be fierce and snappish, but she was tiny compared to the daemons that Ed and Alethea were used to being around. The doberman tried to engage with Alethea, but she wasn’t having any of it.
“All I’m saying is that you could get so much further on my team,” Cole told him.
Ed fought the urge to roll his eyes. That was what they all said - that they could help him rise in the ranks. They didn’t know a damn thing about him. He had no intentions of climbing the military ladder. The only good thing about being a Major as a State Alchemist was that he could get into more places and had access to much better alchemy research. He wasn’t in this for the miitary; he was in it for the science.
A plain old soldier could not get him that.
“I’m good where I am right now,” Ed said flatly.
“Better pay. You are supporting yourself and your younger brother, are you not?”
Alethea snorted. Yeah, a younger brother who didn’t have a physical body and didn’t eat and cost very little to maintain, but then, Cole wouldn’t know that. Only Colonel Mustang and his team were privy to Ed’s secret. “I’m a State Alchemist.” Ed folded his arms across his chest. “I probably make almost as much money as you.”
Cole frowned, unhappy with Ed’s comparison. “Mustang is a dirty, manipulative bastard. He’s a piss poor excuse of a commanding officer that will get you nowhere.” Well, that was a pretty frank description of the man. Clearly Mustang must have done something to really piss Cole off. Ed was curious about what that might be. The man had a habit of pissing certain people off. Maybe he stole Cole’s girlfriend or something. “Even worse, he’s a loose canon. He’s wild and dangerous. It’s a wonder he hasn’t flown off the handle already.”
Ah, now things made a little more sense. Alethea growled and paced behind him, growing restless with having to stay quiet. Over the past two years of being in the military, Ed had come to realize that there were more than few prejudices against daemons. It was different in large cities compared to quiet towns like Resembool. Ed thought it might be because there were more people; Alethea suggested that it might be because city people were dumb and scared of their own shadows.
Daemon prejudice was worse in the military though. Nearly every soldier had a tamed daemon, not a wild one. Canine daemons were extremely prevalent, then feline and avian daemons. You couldn’t throw a rock in a military headquarters and not hit at least five dog daemons. Soldiers prided themselves on this fact. Dog daemons were seen as loyal, cat daemons seen as clever, and bird daemons seen as swift. They were good at taking orders and following commands. Cole’s doberman daemon was seen as normal, which was good, and obedient, which was even better. Cole fit the model of a soldier down to his daemon.
And then there was Mustang with his huge as hell lion daemon. Shula was the largest daemon that Ed and Alethea had ever seen and he doubted that he would ever see one that was bigger than her. She was strong, dominant, and much fiercer than any pitiful dog daemon could be. She could probably take the doberman out with one swipe of her large paws; certainly she could swallow Alethea in one bite if she was so inclined. Shula had to be at least three hundred pounds bigger than Alethea, which was absolutely wild. People were terrified of her.
They didn’t know that Shula could be just as lazy as her human and goofy as well. They didn’t know that she liked bad jokes or that she was fond of having her snout nuzzled or scratched behind the ears by Mustang. They only saw sharp teeth when she yawned. They didn’t see her sneaky smiles or notice the way she would only pretend to not be listening or paying attention. They didn’t see the times when Shula would gently pick Alethea up by the scruff of her neck whenever Ed was getting worked up and really mad at Mustang for teasing him or how she would allow Alethea to catch her swishing tail sometimes.
No one saw the quiet moments when Shula would brush up against First Lieutenant Hawkeye and not Mustang. Ed had only seen that happen a handful of times - and it was shocking every single time eh did. He suspected that no one outside of Mustang’s team had seen Shula interact that way. After all, Shula wasn’t Hawkeye’s daemon - she was Mustang’s - and it was both taboo and very enlightening for her to allow Hawkeye to touch her. No one else in the military saw how gentle she could be, how caring, how perceptive, how clever she was. They saw a wild animal that could kill anyone at any moment. They saw a beast.
That reflected poorly on Mustang. After all, a daemon was the physical representation of someone’s soul. What did it say about a person when they’re soul was a scary, wild animal with sharp claws and even sharper teeth?
Mustang didn’t give a damn, of course. He was proud of his daemon, prouder than Ed had ever seen anyone be of their daemon. It had, in a lot of ways, made Ed look at his own Alethea differently. When she had settled as a wolverine during the failed attempt of his and Al’s human transmutation, Ed hadn’t known what she was at first. Blinded by his own pain and misery and fear of losing Al, he hadn’t stopped to consider what she was and what that meant to him. During his recovery after his automail surgery and the shock of being severed from her, he hadn’t thought much about her new animal form.
It had taken him too long to even know what she was. She’d never played at being a wolverine before. He’d never seen that animal before. And yet she had settled as one and she had known and he hadn’t. It had confused him. He hadn’t known what to think once he started. It had made him even feel a little ashamed at not knowing.
But then he saw Mustang and his daemon. Mustang liked having a daemon that put people on edge. He liked having a daemon that people saw as unpredictable. He was proud of Shula and the presence that she commanded with her size. She was his daemon and he was a part of her just as much as she was a part of him. Loathed as he was to admit that Mustang had done anything for him, it had helped Ed understand that it didn’t matter if he hadn’t known what Alethea was settled as at first. All that mattered was that she was his soul. She was him and he was her. Severed or not, they were still in this together and he knew her mind and spirit and she knew his.
And what men like Cole failed to realize when they tried to steal Ed from Mustang’s team or tried to use their daemons as leverage. Sure, Mustang had a wild daemon in Shula, but so did Ed. Alethea was no tame daemon that sat at his side and took orders from other people. She didn’t heel or bark at his command. She wasn’t some domesticated, little daemon. She had sharp teeth and claws too that could just as easily wound another daemon if she was pissed off enough, which she was right now. Ed didn’t have to be connected to her to know that she would claw the doberman daemon’s snout if she got any closer.
Mustang might be a complete bastard, but he understood Ed - and even more importantly, he understood Alethea. She was as wild as Shula.
“Yeah, yeah, Mustang is a total asshole,” Ed finally said, “but at least he’s smart.” Thank everything that Mustang wasn’t around to hear that. He never would’ve let Ed live it down had he heard Ed compliment him. It almost made him cringe just thinking about it. “I’d rather have another alchemist as my commanding officer than just some boring soldier.”
“And his daemon is a lot more impressive,” Alethea added, her dark eyes glittering as she stared at the doberman.
With his dog daemon snarling, Cole snapped his mouth shut and pressed his lips together in a thin line, glaring down at Ed. “I would not be so insubordinate if I were you, boy.”
Now he was a boy again. All these asshole soldiers always defaulted to bringing up his age whenever they were mad at him or he didn’t do something that they wanted. Well, if Cole and his daemon thought they could intimidate Ed and Alethea, then they had another thing coming.
Before Ed could say anything else though, a voice called from down the hallway. “Fullmetal! There you are. We’ve been searching all of the headquarters for you.”
Ed turned his head to see the devil himself, Roy Mustang, striding towards him. He was wearing his signature black coat, which meant that he was ready to leave the building, and his ignition gloves. Something was going down. Shula walked in front of him, a proud lioness, and arched an eyebrow as she gazed coolly at Cole’s daemon. Ed knew that Shula was huge, but it was still always a shock to see just how big she was when she stood next to other daemons. Hawkeye’s wolf daemon, Wojciech, was larger than most and definitely bigger than wolves were naturally in the wild, but even he did not compare to Shula.
“What do you want?” Ed demanded, though he felt somewhat relieved at seeing the other man. He’d never admit that out loud, of course. But he didn’t want to be around Cole any longer. He was tired of dealing with soldiers that thought they knew could manipulate him and steal him for their own to use. Mustang was a bastard and he used having the Fullmetal Alchemist on his team to his advantage, but he didn’t outright use Ed or abuse his power. Somehow, Ed knew that Mustang would never order him to do something that would go against his beliefs.
He could not say the same thing for any other commanding officer in the military.
“Reports of an alchemist trying to hussle people on the outskirts of town have come in,” Mustang told him. He smiled, though it was filled with a twisted humor. “I figured since you were in town, you could actually join us for once.”
“Can’t handle a single alchemist on your own?” Ed questioned.
Mustang shrugged his shoulders. “Why do the work myself when I’ve got a State Alchemist working under me?”
Ed thought he heard Cole mutter “lazy bastard” under his breath, but if Mustang heard it too, he didn’t say anything. Shula’s ears flicked, which Ed thought might mean that she had heard, but she also kept her mouth shut. Her gaze did flicker to the doberman again and the dog took an involuntary step back. She was afraid of Shula. Ed almost grinned. It was kind of funny to see other daemons act so jittery around Shula.
“Thanks for keeping Fullmetal on the grounds, sir,” Mustang said, saluting Cole as if the man had not just insulted him seconds ago. “He has a bad habit of leaving HQ without letting his superior officer know.” The man only grumbled in response and turned to walk away without another word. Mustang watched him go, nothing given away. Ed didn’t know how the man did it. People could insult him right in his face and he wouldn’t even blink. Ed would know. He’d done it often enough. It was like their words rolled right off of him. “Did he try recruiting you again?”
There was no anger in the man’s voice - no uneasiness or irritation - just a steady calmness, like he was asking for the daily weather report. He wasn’t even looking at Ed when he asked the question, still focused on Cole’s back.
“Yeah,” Ed responded, “but I told him where he could stick it.”
Mustang glanced at him and grinned. “I didn’t know you cared so much. I’m touched, Fullmetal, truly.”
“I’m not staying on your team because of you,” Ed snapped. “Lieutenant Hawkeye is nice and I can tolerate you better than dumbasses like Cole.”
“Of course,” Mustang replied, still wearing that infuriating grin. “Come along then. We’ve got work to do.”
He turned and started down the hallway. Ed grumbled and kept his arms folded, but he followed without any actual complaints. He did not look back as Shula nudged Alethea along with her snout, bumping too softly to be considered aggressive, and he ignored the way that Alethea slipped through Shula’s legs and nipped at her almost playfully. He thought that there might be a gentle smile on Shula’s face, but then it was gone before he focused on Mustang’s back. He didn’t like the man and his daemon could be just as difficult as him, but at least he knew Mustang and Mustang knew him. He kept Ed’s secret. That was all Ed needed to know in order to make his decision to stay on Mustang’s team.