Embers Chapter 1
It didn’t rain the day Roy Mustang died. Everyone had thought it would; the man had been practically invincible at any other time. Still, it did not rain that day. Only the tears of a few subordinates fell as they trudged home from the scene.
It didn’t rain the day they held his funeral, either. Edward thought it at least should have been cloudy, but the day was bright and warm with a cool breeze that played in the hair of the mourners gathered about his grave. It had been sunny the day he had died as well.
There had been a lot of blood splashed around his assigned room. His bed sheets had been practically dyed bright red in patterns only a psychiatrist could love, and in the center of the bed, nestled in a deep puddle of blood, was one glove, shredded almost beyond recognition. His other glove was later found, bloodied and kicked under the bed. The furniture had been broken, smashed, to pieces. The room was littered with the signs of battle, but no scorch marks. Not a trace of a burn could be found. And the air, the air smelled like blood, not smoke.
The scene had been damning, everyone agreed that no one could survive that much blood loss, yet there had been no body. Instead, they were burying his blood-soaked gloves. The casket was built for a full-sized man, ornate and long with a soft satin interior. Edward privately thought it ironic that such a nice casket was for a pair of gloves.
They’d given him a promotion too. Two ranks, the same as they had given Hughes four years before. Roy Mustang had died a Colonel and was being buried a Major General. That too was ironic.
The funeral was beautiful, but Edward wished it would just end. He could see Hawkeye’s chin give a small quake every now and then as though she was fighting off tears. Major Armstrong had no qualms against showing his, despite his perfectly military straight posture. The rest of Mustang’s team stood at attention as well, but something about them still told Ed that they were fighting off their own tears as well.
Even Gracia had attended with Elysia, who stared down into the hole at their feet in horror. Ed hadn’t been there for Hughes’ funeral, but he knew Elysia had begged for them not to bury her Daddy. Now she didn’t beg, understanding a little bit better at age 7 than she had at age 3, but she seemed to be reliving that funeral all over again. Tears slipped silently from her eyes for her Uncle Roy, the man who had played with her and been a second father to her since her own had passed.
Suddenly, Elysia looked up, her eyes meeting Edward’s. Her face was sheet white and her eyes seemed to be endless sparkling pools of sadness. She stole Ed’s breath away in that moment. No child should look so lost and broken. Was that how he had looked the first time he had met Roy?
Then she looked away again, burying her face in her mother’s skirts with a sob. Gracia fisted one hand in her daughter’s loose hair, her own face crumpling in a wordless sob.
Ed could feel his own tears welling up, but he swallowed them back and stared at the coffin again as it was lowered down into the ground.
He hated knowing it was empty. Who could have beaten the great Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist? How? And why had they carried away the body?
That was what annoyed Ed the most: he didn’t know the answers.
The military investigator, Major Maxwell Powell, was a short, stout man with a mustache to rival Armstrong’s. His uniform looked like it had been pressed even when it was nearing midnight, which Ed knew from experience. He had eyes that were set just a little too far apart and a little too far back in his skull. They were dark and skittered around, taking in everything around him and making him look more demonic than mortal.
Today, Powell stood next to Al and Gracia on the other side of the grave. His eyes skittered about as usual, but they always seemed to come back to Edward. Ed scowled back at him, but mostly because the man was an idiot. He seemed to think that only the Fullmetal Alchemist could have taken down Roy Mustang, and believed their frequent bouts of arguing proved it. Ed was sure he would be accosted again after the funeral.
And he was. No sooner had the funeral ended and the crowd started to break up than he had hurried his waddling way over to Ed.
“I see you actually deigned to put on the uniform for once, Major,” Powell tried to sneer. Given his nearly soprano voice, it sounded more like the irritated squeaking of a rat.
“What of it? He was my CO since I was a kid,” Ed growled back at him. “The least I can do is dress up just this once.”
“Showing respect, eh? Isn’t it a little late for that, Major?”
Ed glared at him, trying to rein in his temper before he lost it. He ground his teeth together, remembering Hawkeye’s warning. This man was known for twisting innocent words into something dark and damaging. He wasn’t interested in the truth, only in advancing his own career by closing cases.
He was saved from answering by Gracia as she walked quickly over to him with Al and Elysia.
“Ed! Oh Ed, you look so handsome in your uniform. Roy would be proud to know you wore it for him today.”
A burning stung the back of Ed’s eyes and he had to take a deep breath before answering, “Thank you, Mrs Hughes.”
“Gracia,” she corrected him with a watery smile. “Remember? I’d really like you to call me Gracia.”
Powell snorted and shook his head.
“You might change your mind about that before much longer,” he told her darkly.
Al’s eyes narrowed dangerously at the insult, but Gracia interrupted him before he could say anything.
“Oh, Major. Would you do me a huge favor? I’d like a picture of all of us by Roy’s grave.” She smiled sweetly at him, only the hard glint in her eyes giving away her anger at him. “Roy really would have loved to see Ed in uniform.”
The man scowled, but didn’t have a chance to reply before a camera was shoved unceremoniously into his hands. He looked briefly surprised before it melted into resigned distaste.
“Come on. Come on,” Gracia said, chasing Ed, Al, and Elysia over to stand around the new tombstone. “Let’s get into place.”
She fussed over them for a few moments while Powell huffed in impatience behind her. Ed ended up standing to the right of Mustang’s stone, his military-issued cap held under his right arm, while Al stood to its left in his black mourning suit. Elysia stood behind the grave stone next to Ed, her small hands in holding tightly to his and Al’s hands. Gracia stood behind her, her arms stretched out to grip the inner shoulders of Ed and Al.
“We’re ready,” she announced at last.
“Finally,” Powell growled, lifting the camera high.
As impatient as he had sounded, it took him another minute and three times to get the picture just right. Ed figured he was either a wanna-be photographer or he thought he could find something he could use by taking this picture. Ed gave him nothing but a blank stare and a straight posture that was mirrored by the others. Gracia at least made an attempt at a watery smile, and Ed was sure that Al was too, but he knew from Elysia’s sniffles that she was simply crying. For the last picture, he let go of her hand to wrap his own arm around her shoulders.
“There,” Powell said, lowering the camera after the third snap of the lens. He waited until Gracia came around to take the camera from him before continuing. “If you’ll excuse me now, I have work to do.”
His eyes shot to Ed’s again, and then he whirled an impressive about face. He marched quickly away after that, leaving the four of them to watch.
“What a despicable man,” Gracia commented in a dark tone totally uncharacteristic of her.
Ed stared at her in shock for a moment and then laughed. He shook his head, still chuckling, as he led Elysia over to her mother.
“He is,” Al agreed, his own tone dark and brooding. “Can you believe he’d suspect Brother of—of—“
Ed sighed. “He won’t get anything on me. I didn’t do it, so he can’t.”
Gracia glanced over at Ed and gathered Elysia to her as Al replied, “But, Brother, Hawkeye said he’s good at getting convictions for men, even when everyone is certain they didn’t do it! What if he—he plants something on you?”
“I’ll just have to find who really did it, then,” Ed said, his voice as determined as it had been when he was still searching for a way to restore Al’s body. “I was going to anyway.”
“Can you really do that?” Gracia and Elysia both turned wide, hope-filled eyes on him. “Do you really think you can find his killer?”
“Brother…” Al’s own eyes reflected worry at his brother. “It’s not going to be easy. Powell’s going to try to block you in, and we don’t have—“ he stumbled for a moment, tears clear in his voice, before he continued, “here anymore to protect you.”
Ed shrugged. “I’ll figure something out. But either way, I have to. I can’t let them, whoever they are, get away with this. They didn’t even leave his body for us to bury! And that idiot’s so determined I did it, he’ll never find the real murderer.”
Al stared at him a moment more before giving in with a sigh. “Alright, Brother. We’ll find his murderer together.”
Ed smiled over at him, thankful once again for his brother. Al had never and would never let him down.
“It’s too bad he couldn’t see you like this,” Gracia commented, her voice thick with tears again. “Maybe—Maybe then—“
She shook her head and looked down at Elysia. “Come on, sweetie. Let’s go get these pictures developed and then we can get some dinner.”
Elysia nodded and turned to give Ed and Al one last hug, which they happily returned. Gracia followed her daughter’s example and hugged them each as well.
“Come by on Saturday for dinner. I’ll give you each a copy of the pictures then.”
“See you on Saturday, then,” Ed said, nodding.
“Thank you, Mrs—Gracia,” Al said politely. “We always love your cooking.”
They watched as Elysia and Gracia left. Now, Ed and Al were the only ones left.
Turning around, Ed stared at the churned ground below the headstone. His mind whirled with images from the past: Roy—offering him a place in the military and a chance, Roy—sitting behind his desk, Roy—hurt yet still chasing after an homunculous simply because Ed asked him to, Roy—calling him short, Roy, Roy, Roy…
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Al whispered from beside him.
With a sniff, Ed nodded and wiped the tears from his eyes before finally bursting out, “How could they have stolen his damned body?!” He glared forcefully at the dirt as though it held all the answers he needed. “Why couldn’t they have just let us have his body to bury?”
An arm, Al’s beautiful flesh arm which still sent excited, happy thrills through Ed, wrapped around Ed’s shoulders. His head came to rest on Ed’s shoulder as he pulled his brother into a tight hug.
“I don’t know, Brother. But we’ll find out.”
The first thing Ed did after the funeral, even before he changed out of his stiffly starched uniform, was head to Headquarters to find the newly promoted Captain Hawkeye. It was a Thursday evening, so the halls were pretty deserted. Everyone either had gone home or were in their offices getting a frantic head start on avoiding having to come in on the weekend. The few people he did meet, however, stared at Ed as if he had grown a second head.
Was it really that stunning to see him in a uniform? Or had Powell already started his propaganda campaign against him to try and smoke out something he could use as evidence?
Contrary to popular opinion, Ed had never liked drawing attention to himself, and now he liked it even less. The stares made his skin crawl, and the skittering of the others when it looked like they might come in contact with him made his stomach twist unpleasantly. What exactly was Powell telling these people?
The halls had thinned out even further by the time he had almost made it to the office. In fact, now it seemed like a ghost town, eerie and far too breezy. Perhaps that was why he jumped so high when Fuhrer Grumman stepped into the hallway from the office door he was aiming for.
“Easy, Fullmetal,” the older man laughed, his eyes twinkling in amusement. He turned and leaned back in the doorway. “I found him, Hawkeye. Go home and have a relaxing evening.”
Ed didn’t hear a reply, but Grumman smiled and nodded before turning back to him.
“Come with me, Fullmetal. This old man would like to speak about something with you.”
Ed struggled for a moment to find something to say and, in the end, simply nodded. Why had he sent Al back home again? Al had always been better at these kind of situations. Ed always felt, and was accused of acting like, a bull in a china shop. The bull might try to be careful, but the floor would still end up littered with shards of china anyway.
Grumman lead the way back to his office, and this time those stares directed Ed’s way were accusatory as well as mixed with the curious and wary. This was doing nothing to help him, yet Ed had no way to escape this walk. He could disobey Roy easily, but not the Fuhrer. Not if he wanted to stay in Amestris and not make things worse for himself.
Finally, they had made it to the Fuhrer’s office. His secretary, a pretty woman with long brown hair, barely blinked at Ed before turning back to her own work. In that moment, Edward loved her.
Following Grumman into his office, Ed looked around, noting the tiny personal touches that decorated the large room. Then there was the window. It was huge. It stretched from the ceiling to floor, a total of more than seven feet in height. It was wide as well: five feet across. The light it let inside was purplish now from the setting sun, and it sparkled from where it was reflected off the roofs of the various buildings in Central Headquarters. In front of the window stood Grumman’s desk, just where Ed figured it shouldn’t be if they were ever worried about snipers. Perhaps he should suggest they move it?
Grumman flicked on the desklamp as he took a seat behind his large, ornately-carved oak desk and then looked back up at Ed with a smile on his old weathered face as he folded his hands together.
“You seem to be in some trouble, Fullmetal,” Grumman said, sitting back in his chair. “Major Powell is determined you killed General Mustang and is demanding you be handed over to him so that he can convince you to confess.”
“What? I didn’t! I wouldn’t have! He’s—“ Ed stumbled to a stop, not sure admitting the only reason he hadn’t left the army after getting Al back was because he wanted to help Mustang finally achieve his dream of becoming Fuhrer. Equivalent Exchange might make sense to him, but others didn’t seem to see it that way—especially in the military.
Grumman, however, merely nodded as though he knew what Ed was going to say. “He cared a great deal for you too. More than he ever would have admitted to. I knew him for years, but his eyes never followed anyone like they did you.”
Heat suffused Ed’s cheeks as he stared uncomprehending at Grumman. He couldn’t mean what he thought he meant, could he?
“Oh… So he never told you, I take it?” Grumman chuckled, his eyes sparkling a little brighter, if more sadly as well.
Edward choked the single word out, shaking his head as though to deny it all. Roy had liked women, right? He’d only seen Ed as a chance to advance his own career, hadn’t he?
“Hmmm… You never really noticed how he looked at you, did you?” He paused to sigh and shake his head sadly. “Well, we’ve other things to discuss now that are more important, so I’ll let you digest that on your own.”
Grumman’s face sobered and he leaned forward to open a large black folder on his desk.
“This is the case file. It’s obvious someone pretty powerful who knew Mustang well did this, and Powell is certain that someone is you.”
“I didn’t,” Ed croaked out, his brain feeling sluggish with all the information it had taken in tonight. “I was at home in bed. I’d just gotten back in from a mission a few hours earlier.”
Grumman nodded, but his lips thinned further. “Powell believes you went to Mustang’s after arriving home, killed him, and then got rid of the body.”
“Why? Why would I do that?” Ed could feel his restraint snapping, his voice rising until he was nearly screaming. “Why would I take his body, but not clean up? Why kill him at all? I didn’t do it! He drove me insane sometimes with his stupid short jokes, but I didn’t kill him! I couldn’t have!”
He squeezed his eyes shut and set his jaw against the sick rage he could feel building inside him. It would do him absolutely no good to say what he really wanted to scream. It might actually get him into more trouble.
“Why couldn’t you?” Grumman’s was not unkind, but it didn’t sound particularly grandfatherly to Ed either at that moment. “Did you perhaps return his feelings for you?”
“He hated me,” Ed said bitterly through his gritted teeth. “Isn’t that why I’m a suspect? Because of how often we fought?”
Chuckling finally inspired Ed to open his eyes and he stared at Grumman. He had gone from stern and forbidding to almost kindly again. Was the old man as insane as the rumors made out?
“Attraction can find many strange outlets when we repress it for too long,” he told Ed through his chuckles. “I believe you though. You wouldn’t have left so much of his room intact if you’d killed him.”
Ed scowled, wondering if that was intended to be an insult. Not that he was in a position to protest…
“Powell is thoroughly convinced, however, that you did it. And he does have a good average so far, despite a bad reputation.”
“So I’m to be placed under arrest?”
“No. Not yet,” Grumman told him, leaning back in his chair again. “Without evidence, he needs my authorization to detain and interrogate you. I can withhold that for a little while. I am a busy man, after all. And my desk, it can get cluttered with papers. I can hold him off until Monday or Tuesday, but no later than that.”
Wincing, Ed nodded, his mind already turning back to his own investigation.
“I want to look into Mustang’s death as well. Prove my own innocence and find his real killers, since Powell couldn’t find a stick in a forest.”
Grumman barked a hearty laugh and nodded. “I can understand that. You can’t do it officially, unfortunately. It would look too much like a cover up.”
“I understand, sir,” Ed said with a nod.
“Good,” Grumman told him with a smile. “Oh excuse me. I’ll be right back.” He gave an aggrieved sigh as he moved around his desk. “Treasure your youth, boy. When it goes, so will your bladder.”
Ed winced, silently wishing he hadn’t been given that particular piece of advice. It was what he considered to be just a little too much information about the Fuhrer.
The door clicked open and shut behind him as Grumman left, and then he was alone in the office. With the open black file on the desk in front of him.
Grinning, Ed jogged around the desk and began rifling through the thick file. There were a couple other possible suspects mentioned, most of whom Ed discounted immediately, and a lot of information and notes by Powell. He really didn’t have any evidence that pointed to Ed that wasn’t pure conjecture and suspicion, but a few bits of evidence might point to a couple others.
The pictures of the crime scene were more horrific than Ed had thought they’d be. He’d seen some horrible things since he had joined the army, but this was somehow worse than them all. Roy Mustang had died here.
Ed tried to flick through the pictures as quickly as possible, not knowing how much time or stomach he had for this particular task. He stopped when he reached one picture though.
It was a picture of the floor under the bed. Blood had splattered a little ways in and one long trail led to a small, clear broken vial. Next to that lay the remains of a syringe without its needle. By what he could see of the label, it looked like it could be a vial of pain medication.
Had Mustang been taking medicine? Even if he had, why would he take it with a needle instead of pills? Only the heaviest, most powerful pain medications were given intravenously. Ed would have heard about it if Mustang had been sick or hurt, wouldn’t he? And the Colonel would have been on medical leave for something that needed this strong a medication, not on a trip to tour the North with the Fuhrer.
Ed’s eyes widened as a theory began to worm its way into his brain. He flew through the rest of the file, trying to find anything that could prove his theory. Finally, he found it. The vial had been a mixture of painkiller and sedative at a high enough dose to knock out a horse. This not only narrowed the list of suspects, but it proved Ed’s suspicion.
Roy Mustang was alive!