|Summary:||Accidents happen every day, but they happen with alarming frequency around the Elric brothers. A recent accident may cost one of them his life, and it's all because Edward had to return a report in to Mustang's office.|
Mustang sat down at his desk, rigid with contained energy. A stack of papers had grown on either side of his desk in his temporary absence, during which he had assisted in bringing down several of the top members of Central's largest gang. Never before had he ever wanted to burn them as much as he did now, but it wasn't so much the paperwork itself as the act of destruction that was so enticing. The rest of the office was empty, with only the hum of the air conditioning making the slightest noise. No one else was going to be in today. Mustang was a little surprised he had managed to come in himself.
A few papers had been put directly in front of him, waiting to be filled out immediately, instead of being placed on top of one of the precarious stacks. Some poor soldier must have been sent in when news had spread about the shooting. Mustang could almost imagine him peeking in, hoping no one was in, before delivering the damning paperwork and making a run for it. That was understandable. Someone would have yelled at the soldier if anyone had been in while he had entered.
A glimmer caught his eye, and he turned to see Alphonse Elric skirting around the edge of the crowd. Edward must have been beside him, but there were too many people for him to tell for sure. Mustang smirked to himself. This would teach the brat to be on time for once in delivering his report. He should have been here a week ago, when the colonel would have been in the office. The brothers must have had to come all the way across the city because of their tardiness.
The colonel interlocked his fingers and leaned his elbows against the desk, eyeing the paperwork. There was only one place he wanted to be at the moment, but the strategist in him had forcibly moved him to come to the office and file a report before any bystander who hadn't had full awareness of the situation wrote misleading information. If one were to be entirely blunt, it could also be mentioned that there wasn't anything he could do at the hospital besides standing with the rest of his team and the younger Elric brother.
With a grimace, Mustang picked a pen off his desk and put it to the paper. He filled out the report as quickly and emotionlessly as he could, not wanting to leave anything to chance. Within a few minutes, he set it aside and looked at several sheets of paper clipped together underneath. After Hughes's shooting, the paper was all too familiar to him as the preliminary information sheet for a military murder investigation. This one took a little longer to fill out as he blurred the lines between speculation, falsehood, and the reality of three hours ago. He knew all too well that no one would go to prison for this. The stack of papers was dropped brusquely on top of the overall report as he moved onto the witness statements. The names of several people came to mind, and he made a note to himself to make fourteen more copies of the paper to deliver to those who had been present. The witness statement form was put aside for the moment.
"What's going on here?" Edward asked, although from the irritated expression on his face he probably didn't care. Alphonse was surveying the proceedings with interest. He probably had the best view of anyone there because of his height.
"Gang arrest. You could have helped if you had gotten here on time." They both glanced over at where one of the arrested men was struggling, trying to get out of his handcuffs. He was shouting and kicking, but he wasn't going to be a problem so they both turned back to face each other.
Edward snorted. "Like I would have wanted to."
The last packet of papers was funeral arrangements. The colonel mindlessly took off the paperclip and flipped through them, looking through all of it. Was this necessary? Shouldn't the family have more say in it? He set them back on his desk and began to write. Before he had completed half of the first line, he scribbled out what little he had put down and, almost ripping the paper with the pressure from his pen, wrote, "Will not be receiving a military funeral; will be sent home for burial".
The funeral paperwork was almost thrown onto the rest of the papers, scattering a few loose sheets onto the floor. He didn't bother to pick them up, instead choosing to just drop his head into his hands as he stared blankly at his desk. Edward couldn't have been on time for just this once, just this once, when it was important. If he had just arrived when he had been told, none of this would have come to pass. But then, when had the kid ever done as he was told?
"You know, I saw your brother walking through the crowd but I wondered where you went to until I saw that annoying head of yours. Maybe you should ask him to carry you next time. I was a little concerned you were going to get trampled underfoot by someone because they didn't know you were there."
"WHO ARE YOU CALLING A PIECE OF DUST SO SMALL A MOUSE COULDN'T EVEN CHOKE ON IT?"
The report hadn't even been an important one. The brothers had irritated some city officials – as per what appeared to be their normal routine – and destroyed some important buildings – which was fairly common to see in their wake– but nothing surprising or critically important had otherwise occurred. No new leads on the Philosopher's Stone. They hadn't gotten anywhere with it, and Mustang hadn't gained any new leverage on his opponents from the information in their report. The only reason whatsoever that the report should have been delivered at all was for money delegation to Edward's State Alchemist funds and to prove that he was indeed alive, despite the unbelievable number of people he irritated.
Well, Edward always had complained about them.
It was a little late for him to be able to use it, but now he had a good excuse to avoid them.
Mustang smirked and rolled his eyes. "Jeez, you're scaring the arrested convicts. Is anyone ever going to shut you up?"
A crack pierced the air. Several people shouted at the same time and the suspect who had been struggling earlier was tackled. Mustang let his gaze flicker over the scene for a few seconds to make sure it was under control. He paused, eyes locking with Hawkeye's gaze. Her eyes were wide and horrified. She only looked at him for a few seconds before her gaze moved down and to the side. Mustang frowned, then froze as he heard a surprised breath beside him.
Alphonse hadn't been able to go in the ambulance. Despite his protests, they had finally been able to convince him that the paramedics wouldn't be able to work as effectively with a large suit of armor in their way. Mustang had gotten Havoc to drive him instead while Hawkeye went in the ambulance with Edward. He had spared half a minute to put the closest man above lieutenant in charge before leaving with the rest of his team. A mere gang bust didn't compare to this in important, not at all.
Throughout the entire drive, he searched through his mind for any knowledge of medical alchemy. To his growing horror, he realized that he had never studied any. There had just never been a reason to. In fact, Edward probably knew more about it than he did. Edward probably could have saved Mustang's life if their situations had been reversed, if only because he would have at least been able to stop the blood flow before it leaked out of his body. Unless Alphonse knew something more than Mustang did, Edward's life had been put into the hands of the doctors.
He turned his head. Edward lifted his hand from his side, a slight tremor making it shake, so they could both see the blood on it. The young alchemist blinked, stunned for a few moments as he stumbled backward a step. A silent "Oh" passed through his lips, but he didn't have the air to make the sound. He looked up at Mustang, as if looking for assistance on what to do.
"Fullmetal…" Mustang whispered, hardly daring to say it as if that would somehow make the scene become a reality. Edward sucked in a large breath, eyes clenching shut against the pain as his mouth twisted into a pained grimace. He pitched forward and Mustang grabbed him before he could hit the ground. "Fullmetal!" he shouted.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Mustang had left everyone else in the waiting room and gone to find Hawkeye. She had been outside the operating room, making sure no one tried to get in. They had both known it was just a cover in case anyone asked about a follow up assassination attempt. If Mustang had had any doubts, they were erased as soon as she looked up at him with guilt-ridden eyes. He hadn't said anything, just clapped a hand on her shoulder and given her a tight nod. "He moved," she had said shakily. It had been so soft he wasn't even sure he heard her correctly. "Just as I was about to shoot the man…"
Mustang had found a nurse waiting nearby in case they needed to switch someone out. She had immediately gotten nervous and looked down, but he ignored her discomfort and asked what the doctors had said about Edward's condition. After a few minutes of stuttering and dodging her way around an answer, he shouted at her. The entire hallway went silent until she spoke. "They wouldn't even bother operating, except he's such a high-ranking official. He's not going to survive, not when he's already lost so much blood. Even if he survives, he might never wake up."
Alphonse gave a startled cry and helped Mustang lower Edward to the ground. They practically tore at his clothing to get to the wound, but almost immediately tried to cover it back up by pushing his shirt and jacket into it to try to stop the bleeding. The blood kept seeping out his side, coming out between Mustang's fingers and dribbling over the side. He clenched his teeth and pressed harder. Over his hands, Alphonse's metal fingers pressed even harder, pushing Mustang's hands into the wound.
Mustang was vaguely aware that he was saying something, trying to get Edward out of shock even as he watched the boy's life blood pouring out right in front of him. There were soldiers around them, shouting as they tried to get an ambulance there as fast as possible and tried to secure the area to find out who fired. Too many soldiers had pulled their guns out for anyone to be certain. Mustang looked up, expecting Edward to be trying to see the wound. Instead, Edward was staring at the sky over his brother's shoulder, golden eyes clouded in pain. His pupils were slowly dilating and becoming less focused. His eyes slid shut. Mustang almost yelled at him in a weak attempt to get him to open his eyes again. Instead, he let him slip into a world where he wouldn't feel anything. The paramedics took over for him and Alphonse moments later. As they wheeled him off, Mustang got the distinct feeling that it would be the last time he saw those distinct eyes again.
Stupid Colonel and his stupid short jokes…
No, wait. The colonel wasn't there, was he?
That was Hawkeye. Hadn't she been all the way across the street? Man, she had fast reflexes. But she was getting quieter now. Or maybe Edward just couldn't focus.
"Boss, look at…!" What was Breda yelling about now? He wasn't speaking clearly either.
"…swear to whatever the hell deity is up there, if you die, I will carve the words 'The Shortest Alchemist Ever' on your tombstone myself!" There was the colonel. His voice was surprisingly easy to listen to, but that might have been because it was so annoying and he was so close in comparison to everyone else.
"Hold on, alri…?" Fuery's voice was hard to focus on. The man needed to speak up a bit more to be heard over the rest of the voices.
"Move! Get out of the way of the ambulance!" Havoc shouted. Ambulance? Was someone injured?
"I want to go…!" Alphonse said dimly. He was getting farther away and Edward couldn't hear what he was saying. There was a strange urge to call out to him and tell him something, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember what it was. Maybe he'd just tell him when he woke up. It probably wasn't anything important.
"I've got the keys!" Falman shouted. Finally, Falman would be able to drive. The rest of them were all insane on the road.
Just an ordinary day at the office, it seemed. He'd probably fallen asleep on the couch again. The colonel was probably going to take forever to finish his report, so there was no reason for him not to just go back to sleep. It was nice, being surrounded by friends while he rested. He felt like he was in the middle of a good dream.
He didn't have good dreams when he slept anymore.
Alphonse stood up when the nurse approached. She blinked at the sudden change in stature and paused for a moment. Her eyes flickered over to the military personnel sitting on the chairs beside him. "You're here for Edward Elric?" she asked. Alphonse nodded. "Alright, I need to know your affiliation with him. I may not be able to let you through."
"What do you mean?" Alphonse asked.
"We can only let family see him," she explained.
"What?" Falman asked, also standing.
She bit the inside of her lip for a moment, weighing her words for a few seconds. "There's… a good chance he's not going to make it," she said eventually. "He's lost too much blood and the bullet tumbled around his abdominal cavity after it entered his body, causing even more damage than it would appear at first look. Even if he managed to pull through the night, I don't think his body has enough strength after the fight it just put up to keep him alive much longer. As a result, we can't risk tiring him out anymore than absolutely necessary. The only reason the doctors are even admitting family in is because his chances are so slim."
"You don't know my brother!" Alphonse shouted. The nurse jumped in surprise. "You have no idea what he's been through before! Even if there is a small chance of him surviving, the smallest chance, he'll pull through! He always does."
The nurse glanced edgily between the younger brother and the soldiers behind him. Havoc moved to the front and said in as steady a voice as he could manage, "What room is he in?"
"Are you family?" she asked, although she could clearly tell he wasn't.
"Ma'am, I know that no one here beside Alphonse is a blood relative of the kid fighting for his life in there, but that's because besides Alphonse, he doesn't have any living relatives we can contact. The closest thing is a teacher and two friends back in their home town, but if you don't think he's going to make the night, none of them can make it in time."
"I'm sorry, but I still can't let you in."
"You're misunderstanding me," Havoc said, steel in his voice. "That kid might not have many relatives, but he does have people who he comes home to. We are his family."
The nurse stared at him for a few seconds before nodding. "I'll take you there."
Edward was even worse than the nurse had made it seem. Bandages had been tightly wrapped around his side, but the blood was already seeping through. The skin around the bandages was discolored from the damage done on the inside. It seemed like the only reason they weren't continuing surgery was because his body couldn't handle having anything more pushed into it.
Usually such a strong person, the contrast was stunning to anyone who had met him before. Even in his sleep, he had always had a certain energy about him that made people wonder if they would ever see him reach his limits. Even if he was depressed, it seemed like his endurance could still take him to wherever he wanted to go, no matter if he had to cross sea or fire or brave demons and Hell to get there. The energy had been trapped and slaughtered now, remaining only in a few details.
His automail arm was unconsciously clenched at his side, as if ready to punch an unknown foe. Small lines creased his face around his eyes and mouth as he frowned, almost like he was contemplating a harsh problem in his sleep. It was almost possible to picture him working to fix his body from his unconscious mind through sheer force of will. His hair was still pulled back in the usual braid, since it had been keeping it out of the way of the ones tending to him.
Nothing else gave an observer much hope. It didn't seem like any muscle in his body had the ability to contract anymore, with his torso slumped against the bed and pillow. His pallor was pale grey and his breathing was so soft it was hard to tell he was still alive. Once in a while, he would stop breathing for a few seconds before he took a deep, ragged breath as he continued to fight for oxygen. The heartbeat monitor was no comfort, with the pattern not anywhere near as steady and confident as it should have been. The nurse had added the comment before she left that they needed to keep special attention on his heart rate because the doctors guessed it would be the first thing to give out.
No one missed the irony that Edward's heart had always been the strongest part of him until now.
They arranged themselves around the room to stay close to him but in convenient enough locations to be able to easily move aside if the doctors had to come in. Hawkeye had followed Edward from the surgery to this room, standing guard over him the whole way. No one mentioned her edginess or her almost desperate air, nor the way she stared at him as if pleading for him to survive with her eyes. Alphonse sat cross-legged by his brother's bed, staring blankly at his automail hand. No one seemed to know what to say, or if there even was anything that they should say.
Breda finally broke the silence. "Where's the colonel?"
"Taking care of some matters," Hawkeye murmured. "You know he can't stand hospitals. It's safer for everyone if he's not here." She glanced down at Alphonse. "Al… Is there anyone we should contact? Edward's strong. He might last longer than they think."
He looked over his shoulder at her and thought for a few moments before nodding and getting to his feet. "Yeah… Our teacher, Winry, Pinako, and maybe some others if the doctors will let them in."
"Do you want us to make the calls for you?" Hawkeye asked.
"Yeah, I can give you the numbers for most of them," Alphonse replied. "I better call our teacher myself, though. Besides, there's a chance she might know of something that could help."
"We'll help make the calls," said Havoc, standing up with Falman. Alphonse nodded and the three left the room.
Fuery frowned for a few seconds after the door closed. "Do you think the colonel's trying to find out who did it?"
Hawkeye didn't respond, clenching and unclenching her hand at her side. She closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose silently before she finally said, "I don't know."
Fuery bit his lip before standing abruptly. "I'm sorry, I can't stand the waiting. I'm going to go see if he needs any help. You know he's crap at technology."
Breda got up to, looking grateful for an excuse. "Yeah, me too. Say sorry to the boss for us if he wakes up while we're out."
Hawkeye nodded in understanding, although they all knew the chances of him waking up ever again were incredibly low. "I'll pass the message along," she said. They hurried out the door and down the hallway. Before the door even closed, a doctor pulled it open and walked in with a clipboard full of papers in his hands.
"Are you a relative of his?" he asked.
"No, his brother just left," Hawkeye replied. "Why?"
"What about his parents? Where are they?"
"His mother's dead and his father's gone. Again, what is this about?"
The doctor tapped the clipboard with his finger. "I need someone to fill this out in case he ends up in a coma. It's better to do it now instead of later when they're thinking more logically about it."
"May I see it?" she asked. He nodded and handed it over. She flipped through the pages, quickly skimming over the information on them. "This is for putting him on life support or taking him off," she said. "I thought the nurse said he wouldn't make it."
The doctor gave her a wry look. "His brother's words were loud enough that we all got the message. Besides, the kid's stories are pretty well known. If anyone could pull out of this, he could." The brief lapse in the tense attitude faded. "Unfortunately, I can't say more than that. If he survives, it won't take much to put him out entirely again."
"The person you're looking for is Colonel Roy Mustang." She passed the clipboard back to him, pretending not to notice the man's wince as he heard the name. "He's not Edward's guardian, but he's close enough to what you need."
"Do you know where I could find him?" the doctor asked.
"He should be coming in at some point. If you don't mind the paperwork leaving the building, a few associates of mine left a minute ago to go meet him at the office. I can ask them to take it to him." The doctor nodded thankfully and gave her the clipboard again. "Please watch over him while I'm gone."
The doctor nodded and turned to start checking the IV bag and monitors. Hawkeye briskly walked out, clipboard tucked under one arm.
"You've got quite the family waiting for you, don't you?" the doctor murmured, leaning over the bed to take Edward's temperature. "You better wake up for them, because I'm not going to be the one to tell them you're dead…"
A knock on the door interrupted his musing. He looked up as a nurse leaned in. "The patient in 119 is going into cardiac arrest and they can't get his heart rate under control," she said urgently. The doctor swore and ran out of the room.
Apart from the beeping of the heart monitor, everything was quiet. Every once in a while, a rasping sound would come from the bed as Edward took a deep breath or the sheets rubbed against the bandages. The empty room was entirely too vacant when it occupied someone who so many people were relying on, but some battles are meant to be fought alone.
A few minutes later, the heart rate on the monitor went flat.
Havoc had a small smile on his face as he walked to Edward's hospital room. No matter how many times he heard about it or saw it, there was something downright funny about a suit of armor being frightened into submission by a loudly-self-proclaimed housewife. It would be a lot less funny if she ever turned that storm of fury against anyone besides her students, but that wasn't a concern for now.
Unfortunately, he had had to leave the scene to go on a mission. Izumi evidently knew more about medical alchemy than either Alphonse or Mustang did because she had a list of things that she inquired rather forcefully about. It sounded like they were on to something, but when the alchemists started talking about arrays it was almost impossible to follow what they were saying. Having already told Pinako about the situation, Havoc had been sent off to get the wanted information while Falman continued trying to get through to Winry.
He pushed open the door, a whistled tune dying on his lips. The heart rate monitor was showing a flat line. The panic in his chest died almost immediately as he realized it wasn't hooked up to anything.
The panic returned as he realized it wasn't hooked up to anything. Edward was gone.
He leaned back out into the hallway and yelled at the top of his lungs, "NURSE!" A moment later, he heard the sound of footsteps running towards him. He ducked inside and scanned the ground for any signs of where the boy had gone. The sheets been almost completely tugged to the floor and a small pool of blood was coalescing next to them. More blood had been left in streaks across the floor, going away from the bed. Edward must have fallen off and begun dragging himself to the door. The blood trail disappeared.
Another glance around discounted the kidnapping theory. Bloody handprints and smudges were on the wall, so Edward must have somehow gotten to his feet. How on earth the kid had managed to do that with his wound, Havoc would never know. The door must have been closed after Edward left by someone passing by who thought the open door was a mistake.
The nurse who had led them to Edward's room before opened said door and looked in. Before she could ask what happened, she saw the empty bed. "We'll start looking," she said quickly before running off. Havoc hurried out after her and looked at the walls by the door to see if he could tell which way Edward had gone. A smudge on the right door jam and a knocked-over tray in the hallway provided enough evidence to send him running in that direction.
Mustang almost walked into Fuery and Breda as they were leaving. "Any news?" he asked after they saluted each other.
They both grimaced and shook their heads. Breda handed him a clipboard. "They want you to fill this out," he said.
Mustang glanced at it briefly before gesturing to the hospital. "Let's head inside. No point doing it out here." The other two followed him as he began walking again. "Do the doctors think he has a better chance now?" he asked, waving the clipboard over his shoulder.
"Alphonse yelled at a nurse who said Edward wasn't going to make it and the doctors were forced to consider other options," Breda explained. Mustang smirked ever so slightly, being able to picture such a situation all too well. "I'm not sure if that means his chances went up or what. Alphonse is calling his teacher, and Havoc and Falman went with him to put some other calls through. If they can make it in time, we'll have Edward's close family all here within a few days."
"Alphonse's teacher? Does she know any medical alchemy?" Mustang asked, interest sparked immediately.
Breda shrugged. "No idea. Alphonse is probably asking the same thing right now."
They passed through the waiting room into the ICU. There seemed to be some sort of confusion going on judging by the panicked expressions on several nurses' faces. They walked past, not having time to stop and help. Breda murmured directions as they went. Halfway there, a nurse ran up to them, blocking their way.
"You're here for Edward Elric, right?" she asked, out of breath. Mustang nodded sharply. "He's gone," she continued. Breda and Fuery exchanged confused looks. "Can you help search?"
"How long ago did he go missing?" Mustang asked.
"One of your lieutenants noticed it less than five minutes ago."
"Are you shutting down the ward?"
"Someone is about to walk out with an injured state alchemist and you're not shutting down the ward?"
"There aren't that many entrances and exits. We have enough people here to check anyone coming in or out to make sure they don't leave with him."
"Nobody took him," the nurse finally managed to say.
He paused. "You're telling me that after all that talk about how he wasn't going to last the night, he just walked out of his room?"
Mustang gave an exasperated sound and brushed past. "Fuery, go find where his brother went and let them know in case no one already told them."
Mustang didn't turn to see if he left. "Breda, you said he's down that hallway?"
"Tell the nurses to move from this side in the opposite direction. If we comb all of it in one sweep, we can't miss him. Damn it, what was he thinking?" Mustang snarled.
"Does he ever think?" Breda muttered under his breath as he hurried off to go inform the nurses of the colonel's orders.
Mustang started running down the hallway, head turning from side to side whenever he passed a hallway or open room to see if there was a familiar blond head in view. He wasn't in the bathrooms or the cleaning room, and any open rooms were vacant of anyone, including Edward. Mustang caught a few glimpses of Havoc running along a hallway parallel to him, evidently doing the same thing to try and find out where the missing alchemist had gone off to. Distantly, he could hear the clunking of metal as Alphonse also searched the hallways.
He almost sprinted right past a break room for the doctors when a flash of red caught his eye. Skidding to a stop, he turned around and focused on it. Blood had been smeared on the side of the wall where someone had leaned against it. So he had come this way, then. He was about to continue on when he saw the break room door was slightly ajar. Not bothering with rules about accessible areas, he threw the door open and hurried inside.
Edward was sprawled on the floor, halfway across the room to where a phone was hanging on the wall. He was curled on his side, holding his wound with both hands and panting heavily. The blood was seeping heavily through the bandages, although it was miraculously not spilling onto the floor.
Mustang leaned out the door and shouted, "Over here!" Edward groaned at the loud sound, curling up a little tighter.
The alchemist ran over and dropped to his knees beside the boy. There was too much blood, too much blood… Edward opened his eyes, hazy and unfocused through the pain. "Colonel…?"
"What the hell were you thinking?!" Mustang shouted at him, shoving his hands aside to see how badly he had reopened it. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?!"
"Only heard the shot… and I didn't see… what happened…" His eyes slid shut as his focus began slipping away. "…ted to… vryone… ght…" The mutter was lost and Mustang leaned down a bit. There wasn't much he could do besides put pressure on the wound right now and the doctors wouldn't take long to get to him.
"What?" he asked. He pushed down harder and Edward hissed in pain, reaching out to grab his wrist. His grip was surprisingly strong, even though it was his human arm.
"I said… I wanted to make sure-" He broke off, grunting in pain as Mustang shifted his hands to try to better cover the wound. "I wanted to make sure everyone was alright."
Mustang froze, staring down at the teenager. "Edward…"
His eyes opened again, unwavering and demanding. "Is Al okay?" he hissed between his clenched teeth.
"Yeah, yeah," Mustang said, barely aware he was responding. "Everyone's okay."
Edward nodded and relaxed, dropping Mustang's arm. His breathing hitched again, coming in pained gasps. It didn't settle back down again like before, instead getting harsher and faster. He grabbed at his wound again, bucking in agony as the muscles in his stomach clenched.
Memories from studying basic anatomy came back to Mustang as he tried to hold Edward down. "You're making it worse!" Edward didn't seem to hear him, moaning and frantically pushing at the entry wound of the bullet. "Edward, you have acid from your intestines spilling onto your muscles! Stop moving!"
Edward cried out again and Mustang grabbed his hand, realizing the teenager was almost helpless against the pain and probably wasn't even aware of how badly he was thrashing. "Listen to me, okay? Everyone's okay. The person who shot you, it was an accident. They were aiming for someone else. No one's coming after any of your friends."
Edward turned towards him and pushed his forehead against Mustang's knee, as if that would make the pressure lessen. He was probably using it as a focusing point so he could concentrate. "Really? I just got hit by a freak bullet?"
"That's all that happened," Mustang assured him as the teenager gritted his teeth again and feebly shuddered in pain. "Everyone's okay. Everyone's going to be okay." The words were coming out more and more urgently, as if they could make everything alright.
"You mean…" Edward hissed, "I'm going to die some useless death… 'cause a gangster started acting up at his arrest?" He bared his teeth in a pained grin. "Lame, huh?"
"The hell are you talking about?" Mustang snapped. "Dying? You're barely even wounded. I expect your report tomorrow morning, eight o'clock sharp."
"Write it yourself," Edward said, but the pain made it come out more as a snarl than as a tease. He shuddered again and Mustang wrapped an arm around his shoulders without thinking about it. Edward grabbed the front of his uniform, breaths coming at irregular intervals as he tried to gasp around the horrible agony in his stomach.
"I've got too much paperwork already," Mustang whispered, unable to put any meaning behind the words. "Some of it's your damn fault."
"Sorry," Edward hissed. "Did me getting shot inconvenience you?" A pained cry escaped from him, followed by a series of unstoppable shudders. Mustang couldn't do anything but hold him tighter and hope for the doctors to hurry up. He put a hand against Edward's head and tucked it against his chest. After a minute, Edward released a pent up breath. "Get Alphonse."
"I can't do this," Edward said, breathing harder. He swallowed before he tried speaking again. "Sorry. Get Alphonse."
"What are you talking about?"
"Get Alphonse. I'll bring his body back."
Mustang tightened his grip on him. "Go get him yourself. He's not going to go along with that."
"He doesn't have to."
"You're not going to die. It's going to be fine," Mustang said. "You're going to be okay."
"N-not this time."
"Goddamn it, Edward!" Mustang shouted.
"I forgot to tell him that… that Winry called and… s-she said she can make the apple p-pie really well now… She w-wanted to make s-sure it w-was perfect when he g-got his b-body b-b-back." He barely managed to get the last few words out, pushing the air with everything left in him. "Tell him?" he whispered.
"Tell him yourself, you brat!" Mustang shouted.
Edward's breathing sped up once more, hyperventilating as he sucked in as much air as he could. His grip on Mustang's jacket tightened further, trembling from the ferocity in his hold. He clenched his eyes shut as he tensed up, using his force of will to try and keep himself together.
He made a sound, almost a hiccup, as his body froze. "Edward?" His fist clenched around the fabric of Mustang's uniform trembled slightly before releasing. One last breath fell from his lips, sighing in what could have been relief. "Edward!" The body slowly slumped against him, the torso falling until it rested in his lap. "Hey, Fullmetal!" He roughly shook his shoulder but there was no response. "Edward!"
A doctor finally entered, pushing the door aside as the nurse behind him rolled a stretcher through. Mustang rolled Edward off him as the doctor ran over, dropping down to start CPR. Mustang looked up and saw Alphonse standing past the stretcher, a tremor running through him as he looked at the still form of his older brother. Alphonse looked at him for reassurance, but Mustang didn't know if it was even possible to offer any.
The doctor walked out to a solemn group in the waiting room. Before he opened his mouth, his eyes told them everything.
"He didn't make it."
Two months later
Dust motes were illuminated in the air by the light from the window as Mustang set a stack of papers down onto his desk. They had long been waiting to be filled out, but were just now being started. No one blamed him after the shooting for tardiness in turning in work. Anyone who had to deal with that office tiptoed carefully around them and avoided causing any trouble. It meant a longer period for paperwork to get filed, but it was safer for all involved.
There was a murmur of voices as small talk was exchanged by the soldiers. It had once been a lot louder, but things changed over the years. It was something Mustang missed, even if he wouldn't admit it. His men didn't seem as energetic as they once had, but maybe that meant they were just wiser.
"Hey, I'm heading down to get lunch," Breda called. "Anyone want me to bring something back for them?" Food names were immediately tossed into the air from all corners of the room. "Hey, I don't have enough hands for all that!"
"I'll help," Fuery said, getting up from his desk and going out with him out the door.
Before he walked out, Breda paused and glanced back over his shoulder. "Wait, isn't Alphonse coming in today?"
"Yeah," Mustang said. "He'll be here soon. You should have time to go down and come back, though."
"We'll hurry!" Fuery said as the door closed behind them.
"Why's Alphonse coming in?" Falman asked. "Did I miss something?"
"He's got a few reports of Edward's that he forgot to turn in," Hawkeye explained.
"Ah," Falman said. Silence fell quickly after that until Fuery and Breda returned with food. It was less awkward when they were all eating instead of simply reminiscing, but it wasn't entirely fixed until the door opened once again to admit Alphonse. Several of the soldiers called out greetings and he nodded his head in return.
He walked over to the desk and passed over a stack of papers. Mustang took them and quickly rifled through them to make sure the dates at the top corresponded to the ones he was looking for. "Do you know if these are actually reports or random things he just wrote down that he thought would sound like a report while he was bored?" he asked as he searched.
Alphonse shrugged. "You never know."
"There's a recent date missing…" Mustang paused, grimacing slightly. "Oh."
"Yeah, that one was… destroyed," Alphonse said, trying to keep his tone even. "The remains are being kept as evidence anyway, but the blood made them almost entirely illegible." A few seconds of silence passed before Alphonse spoke up again, trying to lighten the mood. "It's not like his writing was ever legible to begin with, though!"
Mustang shrugged. "Point taken." He dropped the files on his desk. "Honestly, as long as they got turned in, I don't think anyone's going to care." In a murmur, he added, "It's not like they're going to take it up with him…"
Alphonse waited a few seconds to see if anyone was going to add anything before turning to walk out. "Well, if that's all, I should be getting to-"
The door slammed open and a whirlwind of rush entered through. It skidded to a stop in front of the smirking colonel's desk and slammed a paper down on the table. "There!" a triumphant Edward shouted. "I TURNED IT IN!"
"Oh, Edward," Hawkeye said pleasantly. "I thought you were taking a stand on never delivering a report in Central again."
"Yeah," Alphonse added. "Something about bad luck and this office."
Mustang raised an eyebrow. "Superstitious, much?"
Edward pointed a finger at him in a very immature way. "It's not my fault you try and get me killed me every time I come to this damn city!"
Mustang swiveled his head over to look at Alphonse, prompting some sort of response to that statement.
"He was muttering into his pillow about how everyone was out to get him when I left."
"Well, not everyone in Central…" Havoc said. "Just a lot of people."
"I think he was thinking more about the doctor who told the wrong group of people that someone had died," Alphonse said with a laugh. "I still feel sorry for that doctor about how much you all yelled at him…"
"Hey, we had good reason," Mustang grumbled.
"That's what Edward always says when he comes in to tell you he insulted some important official in some important town," Alphonse said smugly.
"Hah!" Edward yelled, whipping back around to point at Mustang again.
"The sentence means so much more when it isn't flung around after every mistake."
"I don't always say it!"
"No, sometimes it's 'I meant to do that'."
Alphonse gestured toward Mustang and shrugged as if to say, 'He's got a point.'
"Looks like you're feeling better, anyhow," Mustang said, as if they hadn't all literally run around the hospital twice in trying to find and make sure the kid was alright. "Better enough to actually do your work for once, I see."
"There was no way I was letting you hold this one on me," Edward snapped, crossing his arms.
"Ironic, since this is the one time I was going to let it slide." He held the report over his head. "Thanks anyway."
"Okay, it's about time we were on our way," Alphonse decided, grabbing one of his brother's flailing arms and pulling him to the door. "It looks like you've all got work to do, and we should be on our way. We'll stop by another time!"
Edward seemed to disagree. "I am never coming back to Central!" he shouted as he was dragged from the room.