Setting: Fullmetal Alchemist, mangaverse, post-series, slight ending AU.
Characters: Roy/Ed, Havoc/Rebecca, Riza/Miles, Al, Winry, ensemble.
Rating/content: NC-17 overall, this chapter R for violence and gore at about canon levels. Also, character death.
Word count: 12410 this chapter, 79335 total
Summary: Two years on from the Promised Day. Amestris is without a Fuhrer, the military is teetering on the brink of civil war, and Team Mustang search urgently for the opposition's secret alchemical weapon. Any day now could be the first day of the war, and everyone is feeling the pressure. So is it any wonder that Ed and Roy's growing friendship just kindasorta combusted on them?
Notes: Direct sequel to No Small Injury. Illustrated by me, betaed and edited by enemytosleep and a_big_apple. Thanks for extra plot advice to havocmangawip.
Chapter One: Blue Monday | Chapter Two: Make Your Mind Up Time | Chapter Three: Something Stupid | Chapter Four: Two Plus Two
Chapter Five: Inbetween Days | Interlude: Test Drive | Chapter Six: Go the Distance | Chapter Seven: A Grin Without a Cat
Chapter Eight: the Home Front | Interlude - TGIF | Chapter Nine: Charm Offensive | Chapter Ten: Flashpoint
Chapter Eleven: Gauntlet
“-Stay calm, and keep your radios tuned. There will be more announcements throughout the day. Take care. Good morning.”
Jean was grinning like a lunatic. Rebecca was pretty sure she was doing the same. They’d pulled it off. Not that she’d doubted them for a minute, but still. Yes! Go freaking team. She raised her fist and he bumped it.
“Woo hoo!” she whispered.
“Yeah!” he whispered back. “Right on! Amazing. I really want to beep the car horn right now.”
They could not beep the car horn. They were parked in a quiet lane of a leafy suburb, on the southern edge of the city, two hundred yards from the southern military transport depot. Another half hour or so, if things went well, and they would be in action: taking command of the southern military transport depot, getting roadblocks set up around the city’s edges. Rebecca couldn’t wait. They both hated the part where you sat around watching the clock tick.
Rebecca put a hand to her chest. “Whoah,” she said. “I had no idea how tense I was until right now. Aaaaah.”
Jean put a hand up. “Not yet,” he said. “This is only phase one. Don’t jinx it!”
“I’m not, I’m not! Okay, touch wood.” They both grabbed the walnut dashboard at once.
“Fingers crossed,” said Jean, and did so.
Of course, there was also the possibility that they were going to be escaping roadblocks today, not making them. If the signal to retreat went up, they would be heading south full-throttle, hopefully before the bad guys got their fat asses in gear. But with any luck, not. With any luck, today would be spent spreading the net out to catch bad guys, and by tonight she could call her sister and tell her to rip up that stupid letter and crack open the fizz.
“Are you going to start praying now?” said Rebecca. “Although I guess now’s the time, if ever.”
“Kind of.” Jean looked sheepish, and nervous, and wired. She squeezed his shoulder. “This stuff just kicks in, you know, moment of crisis. Are we good if I do it quietly?”
“It’s cool with me, buddy. Hell, I think I might join you.”
Fingers crossed, free hands linked, they took a moment.
Half a second after the moment was over, Jean had thumbed a cigarette out of the pack and lit it. Rebecca watched most of the tension drop out of his shoulders as he blew out the first lungful, and thought fuck it. She reached into Jean’s shirt pocket and asked him with her eyebrows. He nodded and she helped herself.
“The button was on the underside of the meeting table,” Dino said over the radio. “Wiring goes under the floor, and from there we don’t know.”
Roy scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Any answers from the man himself?”
“He’s not saying a word,” Dino said. “Asshole just started laughing at us.” Shit. This looked bad.
“Keep trying,” Roy said. “We’ll radio further instructions.”
He hung up the receiver on Dino’s “Yes, sir”, and looked around him. “Thoughts?”
“That meeting room’s on the ground floor,” said Riza. “And the wiring goes downwards …”
“It could be just wired through to somewhere else on the same floor,” Breda said.
“Or it could just go straight down,” Ed said.
Roy shook his head. “We’ve searched the tunnels, we’ve searched them regularly.”
“But there are private houses with basements as well, all over town! We couldn’t search those. And we’re dealing with a guy who can make his own tunnels, he could pop one right through from a private basement to the bearded freak’s old network and he’d be golden!“
“I’m aware of that!” Roy snapped. “How is that helpful?”
“Look,” Riza cut in, “the first priority now is keeping Hakuro secure. Let me take a team down there, we’ll move him out of Headquarters a few minutes sooner than we planned, and -“
The loudspeaker crackled abruptly on. “ - request assistance, repeat, assistance, Echo, do you read?” There was noise in the background. A lot of noise.
Someone shoved a handset at Roy. He held it to his mouth. “What’s the situation?”
There wasn’t a reply. The moment lengthened. Roy listened to the background clamour. Gunfire. Human voices, in distress. And something -
“Mercury!” It was Falman.
“Oh no,” said Riza very quietly. Mercury was their code-word for the creature.
“Mercury! It’s coming through the floor! Five men down! Request assistance! repeat, assistance!”
“Got it!” said Roy. His heart vaulted halfway down his ribcage and back. “Is your location the same?”
“Yes,” Falman said, “But -”
The transmission cut. Just like that: no background noise, no signal breaking up. Just, abruptly, dead air and the hissing of static.
“The radio,” said Breda. “It must have taken a hit.”
“We’re moving,” Roy said. “Miles, take ten troopers and hold the fort here. Everyone else, with me.”
“Stay, Hayate,” added Riza. The little dog turned in a circle, but then obeyed his orders and sat at Miles’ feet.
They were prepared for a firefight; but things stayed clear for the first stage of the journey back, a straight run down one of the long corridors facing onto the courtyard. They covered each doorway as they passed. Some people seemed, as they’d predicted, to have holed up to wait this out for a while. The few soldiers they saw either immediately raised their hands in surrender, or saluted, or both. These were good signs. If they could establish their authority here now, then -
Riza had put a hand to his arm. She jerked her head towards the window. Roy looked.
Now, there was no question about what was happening.
From the ground floor, at roughly the location of Meeting Room 4F, black tentacles reached upwards and out, clinging to the building’s upper stories like ivy. Half the wall was gone. Rubble was everywhere. Smoke poured from the ruins. Gunfire sounded faintly across the courtyard.
“Fuck,” said Ed, “it’s gotten bigger. A lot bigger.”
From behind Roy, Armstrong made a faint choking sound.
Roy shook himself out of it. “Keep moving!” he yelled, trying to shock the rest of them back to life.
It worked. They were in motion again. “Look ahead!” he said. “Don’t get distracted!”
Abruptly, a closed door was open, and there was a line of troopers with rifles ten yards directly ahead of them, taking aim.
At almost exactly the same moment, three walls shot up from the floor. They nudged each other, grew outwards, shook under gunfire, and thankfully did not crumble.
From his crouch, palms to the floor, Roy looked around him. He saw Armstrong first, crouching next to him, iron knuckles cracking the floor. Riza was still standing, good. “Any injuries?” Roy shouted.
He’d barely got the words out before he saw the body behind Armstrong, slumped awkwardly against the wall.
It was Ed.
Half a second’s absolute horror, and then Ed was hissing, groaning, swearing under his breath. Breda got to him first, lowered him to the ground and shoved a bundled jacket under his head, chanting, “Sorry, Boss, I’ve got you, can you talk, where’re you hit?”
Riza touched Roy’s shoulder. “We need to return fire,” she said. “Make me windows.”
“Everyone down,” Roy called. Round holes in the defensive wall popped into existence, and a moment later, Riza and several officers were returning fire, and Armstrong’s fist hit the wall, doubtless some flashy and effective missile attack -
“Think it just got the automail,” Ed said. His face was scrunched, and his voice full of pain. “I’m fine, everyone stop acting like I’m dying or something.”
Roy scrambled over to him, looked him over as Breda checked him out.
“I’m fine,” said Ed. He cycled his right shoulder, then hissed hard.
“Boss, you’re bleeding,” Breda said. “Let me take a look.”
Ed waved Breda’s hands away, tapped his left hand to his right palm and snipped apart his shirt over the shoulder. Roy opened the shirt. There was bleeding around the edge of the brace, right by the nut under Ed’s clavicle. But it was only a trickle.
“It just broke the skin,” Ed said. “I think it was the impact. I told you, the bullet’s in the automail. What the hell are you doing, Mustang? Get up there and make some fire.”
Roy’s suspicion was that Riza and Armstrong had already handled this group nicely. He was right. A quick glance confirmed every soldier in the group lay prone on the ground, most of them conscious and clutching injured limbs. Roy dropped the wall and they moved in, disarmed, checked the room the soldiers had come from. It was empty.
Roy waved their group on. They stepped around the fallen enemy. Ed was on Breda’s arm, complaining already.
The next wave of troops hit them only a few yards later.
This time, the wall went up faster. Roy clapped and opened a window, snapped and caused ten rifles to backfire. As weapons were dropped and screams and yells echoed in the corridor, Riza and the other snipers were ready to take advantage of the chaos.
More reinforcements; again, they managed them quickly. Roy could kiss the idea of a bloodless coup goodbye now. Some of these soldiers looked badly hurt, and Roy knew from experience that it didn’t take long for gunshot trauma to become deadly.
The next wave hit them almost immediately this time, from twelve o’clock and nine. This time, Roy and Armstrong barely managed the blockades between them. Ed tried but came in too late, diverted his wall into buttresses for theirs. His slowness was worrying.
“They’re organised,” Riza said as she reloaded.
“Agreed,” said Roy, dropping to a crouch, fingers still extended from the last snap.
“We got all Hakuro’s higher-ups at Target Bravo,” Breda said.
“Yes,” said Roy. “Either this is an enterprising young loyalist, or some of them have gotten loose.”
The floor drummed with soldiers’ footsteps. “Reinforcements!” Riza said. “At least twenty.”
“Where the hell are they all coming from?” Breda said.
Hakuro would have had contingency plans, battle strategy, troops standing by: just as he himself did. Which was exactly why Roy’s coup, like all good coups, had begun by cutting the head off the operation. Apparently, it had reattached itself.
Roy was an idiot with his fair trials and his bloodless coups, he thought. Hakuro would have just shot Roy in the eye. Hell, he’d once come very close to doing so.
“They’re slowing us down,” he said. “And we’ve lost our first target. We need to fix this, fast.”
Breda said, “What if we keep some of our men moving forward like this, but divert a smaller team to take out Hakuro? The first team draws the fire, the second team has a chance of getting behind enemy lines before they’re spotted. We get our speed advantage back.”
“You’re assuming Hakuro’s in charge of this resistance,” Riza said.
“He’s gotta be,” Breda said. “Who else?”
The barricade in front of them rattled hard and nearly cracked, but blue alchemical fire crackled along it, and it held. Armstrong’s hands were pressed to the wall. He grunted. “They’re using heavier weaponry,” he said. “They seem willing to risk bringing the building down to get to us.”
Roy huffed out a breath through his nostrils. They didn’t even have thinking time.
Riza said, “Let Armstrong and I handle offence and defence. You strategise.”
Roy nodded. Within five minutes, they had gone from victory announcements to trapped in a fox hole. With creeping horror, Roy was beginning to recognise this scenario.
Ed said, “You forgot the Homunculus.” He was crouched low, digging some kind of improvised pointy instrument inside his shoulder brace.
“Shit,” Roy said, then mentally kicked himself. If his morale visibly lowered, everyone else’s did. “You’re right. We have to get it.”
Breda said, “Get Hakuro first, then get the Homunculus.”
Ed said, “No, you need to take that thing out before it levels Headquarters. It went crazy with just Al and me fighting it. All gunfire and shit happening, it’s gonna be terrified. You don’t want to see what it does when it’s terrified.”
Roy said, “If we hit the Homunculus, we’ve got to go all out. I can’t do that if I’m being strafed with enemy fire. We take down Hakuro first, then the Homunculus.” He could feel Riza’s anxiety from six feet away. “Just a minute. Everyone down!” He strode forward, clapped a window in the barricade, wrapped the dust in the air into a fuse. He stepped neatly to one side as they shot at the window and flicked a wall of fire into being. He rolled the oxygen away for a moment to kill most of the flames, then risked a quick look. Most of the men were down: moving, wounded and in pain. He’d calculated right.
Riza and Armstrong nodded to him and took over once more. A couple of moments later, the barricade was lowered and they were able to gain ten foot of corridor before the next reinforcements hit them.
“Get into an office,” Ed said, “make a hole in the floor and get one floor down, then make for the giant flailing Pride-monster. It’s probably sliced up half the ground floor by now.”
“I bet Hakuro’s close by where it is,” Breda said. “Take him out quick, then hit the monster.”
Roy’s team would need to be small. He needed at least one other alchemist on it. And if he was going to do this, it had to be now.
“Fullmetal,” he said, “how’s the arm?”
Ed’s look told him instantly that it wasn’t good. “I’m trying to get the bullet out,” Ed said. He dug the instrument frantically into the workings of his shoulder, and hissed. “Then maybe I could move my arm -”
The barricade in front of them shook again. Armstrong roared and pulled half the ceiling into missiles that rained over it. Roy took a fractional moment to wonder where the hell Armstrong’s shirt had gone.
“Fullmetal,” Roy said. “We can’t wait. It has to be now.”
“Just a second -” Ed said. He poked at the shoulder some more.
Ed hissed again, then slammed the instrument to the floor. “Shit,” he said. His voice had dropped. “It’s not working.” He pressed his lips together and looked at Roy, then away. “You’re right,” he said. “I can’t move fast enough like this to take the Homunculus or keep you covered.” He took a breath. “I can help with defence here. Take Armstrong.”
Ed got to his feet and headed over to the barricade. Armstrong hovered a moment, but let himself be relieved, stepped back to join Roy.
Riza looked at him sharply. Roy pulled in a breath.
“Major Hawkeye,” he said. “If Armstrong and I don’t succeed, we’ll likely both be down. If we fail, send up the retreat signal. In that case … it’s all down to you. Fullmetal can make you a path down to the tunnels. Survive. Carry on. Find a way.”
Riza’s mouth worked. Her eyes were huge, her mouth stubborn. They had talked about this before, he knew she’d seen this coming. Roy didn’t want to fight without her. He never fought without her.
She sucked in a breath, visibly mastered herself, brought her chin up. She snapped a salute. “Yes, sir!”
Roy nodded. He wanted to say something to her, to Ed. But he had no idea what, and there was no time -
“You can get there,” Ed said. “You and Armstrong, you’re like a two man army. Bet you’re glad you did all that clapping practice, huh?”
Roy stepped back. “Yes,” he said, to both of them, to Breda, to his men. “Thank you.”
He turned away. Armstrong looked at him, and he nodded. He turned back, looked at Riza, small and steadfast, her shoulders set and her eyes pained. “Major Hawkeye, you’re in command,” he said. He saw her standing taller already, and felt stronger for it.
He looked at Ed. He remembered calling out to him on Eclipse Day, the moment before he struck the final blow. Ed stared at him, with eyes full of fire and determination and love. They said nothing.
Armstrong stood in a newly-made hole in the corridor’s inner wall, and beckoned him. Roy turned, and stepped through with him. They were on their way.
The first step was easy enough. If a little humiliating. The room they’d entered was clear. Roy barricaded the doors with a quick clap, while Armstrong dropped a hole in the floor and checked the room below. He nodded, then held out his arms.
“Absolutely not,” said Roy. What could they do instead? Oh dammit, he couldn’t think of a thing. “All right, Major.”
A moment later he was being held against Armstrong’s sweaty chest in a bone-crushing one-armed hug, and they were airborne. Armstrong landed in a crouch that shook the floor. Roy extricated himself, and started to lead the way, right hand out and poised to snap.
They had landed in one of the outer offices of the Investigations departments. As they jogged through empty offices, Roy heard muffled sounds from a couple of the file rooms. It sounded like the clerks had had the sense to hole up for the duration. Still, he kept the doorways covered as he passed.
“Brigadier General,” Armstrong said. “I was thinking. Why had they not yet deployed the creature against us, upstairs?”
“Best guess: it’s difficult to control,” Roy said. “We could have used you on the investigation. It’s been very inconvenient, having you undercover.” Armstrong looked at him, and Roy instantly regretted the understatement. Roy could only imagine how hard this task must have been for him. “Major,” Roy said, “Thank you for the last two years.”
Armstrong’s moustache wobbled. He looked dangerously close to an outburst of sincerity.
The end of the Investigations department was up ahead. There, a right turn would take them out into the corridor, and from there, the creature’s location was a straight run across the courtyard. They didn’t seem to have been spotted yet.
They were making good time. They had a fighting chance.
“Nearly - got it!” said Edward. “Stupid fucking bullet, c’mere!” He hissed with pain, and carried on digging around in his shoulder. Riza spared him a glance, then went back up and dropped another two soldiers. She had stopped shooting to wound. A few minutes ago they had reached that unpleasant tipping point: when the need to survive breaks through the limits of your decency, and your moral senses become excess baggage, to be ditched piece by piece. War.
She reloaded, and shared a glance with Breda. They were starting to run low on ammunition. If they could just take this next stretch of corridor, perhaps they could pick some up from the fallen.
The barricade to one side of her shook and cracked. A chunk of it crashed to the floor, narrowly missing Breda and two more of their men. Heavy artillery? A grenade? “Fullmetal!” she shouted.
“On it!” Ed clapped, and the barricade reformed. “There’s not enough metal around, so I took some carbon and hardened the front instead.”
Riza looked at him. “I need you on offence as well as defence. How close are you to getting the arm fixed?”
“Just - a - moment.” Ed looked into the distance, face taut with concentration and pain. “Damn thing’s right in the middle of my shoulder, nudging the nerve connection. Happened to me before one time. Pain - in - the - ass!” On the last word, something dropped from Ed’s shoulder into the workings of his arm. He laughed shortly and triumphantly, hooked a finger in, then flicked the spent bullet onto the floor.
He wriggled his fingers, then cycled his shoulder, tried to raise his arm. It trembled and froze at a right angle. Ed hissed again, then let it fall.
“Better than before,” Ed said. He clapped clumsily, then dropped to slap the floor. The barricade moved ahead of them like a snowplough. “How ‘bout that?” Ed said.
“Good,” said Riza. They moved forward the few feet they’d gained. Riza motioned her men down, then looked at Ed and jerked her head at the barrier. He opened them some windows, and on Riza’s hand signal, she and her men came up and strafed the corridor with fire.
Their opponents’ strategy was unimaginative. And Riza’s team only had two wounded so far, none down: as well as Ed, there was Private Barker, a shot to the left hand they’d bound with a tourniquet. But still, progress was getting slower. Riza didn’t like how easily -
The public address speaker above their heads whined, then crackled into life. Everyone jolted. “This is Major General Hakuro speaking,” the loudspeakers echoed. Damn it all, it was. “We have control of the current situation. We have contained the threat and are in the process of eliminating the insurgents.”
Ed snorted explosively; Breda muttered shit.
“This is a direct order to all troops. Brigadier General Mustang and his officers are to be shot on sight. This building is secured. We call upon any troops who have been coerced by the traitors to surrender immediately, and you will be treated with leniency. However, from this moment, we will use lethal force on anyone continuing to co-operate with the rebels. Stand by for further orders.”
From all directions, the speakers crackled and went silent.
“Oh hell,” Riza said. “They’ve taken back Comms.”
“Is he broadcasting from there?” Breda said. “That’s the opposite direction from where we thought he was.” And it was the opposite direction from where Roy and Armstrong were headed.
“Major Miles,” said Ed. He looked at Riza, and then looked like he wanted to claw the words back in. Riza froze. Duncan, holding down the fort there, brave and unyielding. He’d have let it go up in flames before he surrendered.
Her stomach bottomed out and for a moment she couldn’t see a thing. She loved him, she loved that man so much and why the hell hadn’t she told him more often, hadn’t they taken every spare moment they could get, she -
From the barricade behind her, there was a whining noise. She whipped her head around. The whine terminated in a bark, then in a volley of barks. Before she could even order it, or think through the folly of ordering it, Ed had opened up a hole without asking and Hayate was through it like a streak, running excited circles around her feet, yapping -
Her heart lifted. And if Hayate had made it out -
There was knocking on the barricade. A familiar four-note tattoo, the knock on her apartment door in the quiet of the evening.
Hayate barked. Riza turned.
“Let us through, now!” yelled Duncan Miles. “They’re right on our tails.”
The barricade was open and shut in a moment. There were only three of them: Private Rook, Corporal Fieseler, and Miles himself.
He was sweaty and dusty and he smelled like gunpowder. But he was here and he was whole.
“We lost Comms,” he said.
“We were holding out fine until they got reinforcements from somewhere. Stormed the place. When I knew we were screwed, I fell back. We lost nearly everyone. Chucked a couple of grenades in for a goodbye present. I see the tannoy’s working, but it must have put some of their communications out of action. So at least there’s that.”
“Did you hear the tannoy just now?” Riza asked.
“Yes.” Miles wiped the sweat from his eyes with the heel of his hand. “He’s trying to get our troops to mutiny on us.”
“Sir,” Fieseler cut in, “there’s no way.”
Miles smiled with one side of his mouth. “That’s appreciated.”
Gunfire hit their rear barricade. Riza motioned everyone down. Ed opened them some windows - they could do this routine without blinking now - and Riza and her men returned fire, dropped low again. Her rifle clip was empty, and it was the last one. Barker silently handed her his own spare.
The barrage of fire hit both sides of their barricade at once. They might still be able to move, but the territory they left behind wasn’t their own now. They were surrounded.
Onwards to part two of Chapter Twelve!