Paper in Fire

chapter 25.

When the young medic woke him for the fourth time that night, Edward was hard pressed not to take a swing at him. Instead, he decided that as soon as the Captain left him alone again, he was going to go get a room at Halling's Inn on the sly. Rowan liked him. She'd take him in. Kain and the other three soldiers that had been resting in the makeshift infirmary were gone, probably to sleep somewhere more quiet, and Ed thought that was a great idea. He'd sat in the dark of the refuge for, well, he wasn't sure how long, but long enough that if he was going to drop dead from the head injury, he would have by now. The medic was being anal. As soon as the guy left, Ed was out of there. Besides, he had to pee, and he'd be damned if he was doing it into a bottle for no good reason.

Captain Asshole finally got tired of Edward's lethal glares and wished him good night with a parting smirk as he left the tent. About time. Ed gave him a very slow ten count and sat up, throwing his thin sheet aside. He swung his feet over to rest on the floor and took stock. Headache, but not as bad as it had been earlier, and he hardly felt dizzy at all. He listened to the night sounds outside the tent, not sure of the time, but it was quiet, so he assumed it was either very late or very early. His shirt and pants were folded neatly on a chair beside his cot with his boots resting on the floor underneath. Ed dressed and walked swiftly to the tent flap, nearly getting bulldozed by Mustang coming in, escape thwarted. Shit.

"Fullmetal!" the older man whispered. "What are you doing out of bed?"

"Need to pee, Mustang," Ed tried to dodge past his commander to no avail. "Get out of the way!" He pushed past and the man followed him out.

"You're in no condition to be wandering around on your own," Mustang said, taking Edward's arm.

The younger man jerked his arm away. "I'm fine," he snarled, heading around to the back of the Inn where the outhouse was.

Stepping inside the small wooden structure, he closed and bolted the door. Mustang was shuffling around out there from the sound of it, waiting for him. Edward got the job done and stalked out ready for a confrontation.

"What were you doing hanging around the infirmary anyway?" he asked, glowering at the older man.

"I couldn't sleep, so I decided to check up on you," Mustang admitted with a mild expression.

Edward narrowed his eyes. He hadn't been expecting a straightforward answer. "Well, I'm fine," he said, crossing his arms over his chest, making no move to return to the medical tent.

The Flame Alchemist just stood there, looking like he wanted to say something but wasn't sure how to go about it. Edward shifted uncomfortably. The best way to get rid of the older man was probably to go back to his cot and wait for Mustang to either speak his piece or get bored and leave. He started to retrace his steps, and sure enough, Mustang again followed. Once inside, Edward pulled off his boots and lay down on the cot, not bothering to remove his shirt or pants. The bastard would have to do his perving somewhere else. Mustang pulled a chair over and sat next to him. The pair sat in silence for a while until Edward couldn't take it anymore.

"You just going to sit there for the rest of the night?" he grumbled. "Go to bed already."

"I'd much rather go for a walk. It's a nice night."

"So, what's stopping you?"

"Come with me."

"Why would I want to go anywhere with you?"

The older man's lips quirked up slightly. "Because I said 'please'?" Edward snorted. "Please Edward."

The young man couldn't believe he was doing it, but after a few moments thought he sat up and put his boots on once again. Mustang smiled and stood, and the two alchemists stepped out of the tent. The night was warm, and a bright gibbous moon lit their course. Edward let his commander guide their steps, surprised to find himself relaxing, then mentally slapped himself. He wasn't some lovesick girl, and this wasn't some romantic moon lit walk. This was Mustang getting them somewhere suitably private so he could have his say.

Youswell was a main street with two dead end cross roads, one back alley leading to a few well used equipment sheds, and an old church yard. Soft music floated on the breeze, likely from the Inn at the opposite end of the main street from the train station. Predictably, Mustang turned them towards the station.

The silence as they walked was not uncomfortable, but Edward had to break it. "Did you get the mine cleared out yet?" he asked, because he couldn't blurt out what he really wanted to know.

"Not completely, no." Roy glanced at his companion, and answered his real question. "So far we have recovered nineteen bodies."

Edward mulled this over, hunching his shoulders and thrusting his hands deep into his pockets as he walked. Well, he'd known his actions might end up killing people. He'd even had legitimate reasons why it was necessary. It didn't change the fact that the soldiers he'd killed had mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, maybe wives and husbands and kids, who were going to miss them. It didn't change the fact that they'd had legitimate reasons for doing what they thought was necessary as well. Edward had fucked up, and people had died.

"You do realize what those soldiers and weapons were for, don't you Edward?"

"I'm not stupid."

"Civil war." Mustang slowly shook his head, almost in disbelief. "They were planning to use those weapons on their own countryman. Right here. Amestris is still recovering from Bradley's regime. We are just beginning to gain some political and economic stability. Even with limited engagement, an internal military conflict would have torn the country apart, and left us vulnerable to attack from our neighbours to the north and east. All for the dreams of power held by a few selfish men." The Brigadier General's glance met Edward's eyes. "I know I can't make you feel any better about killing those soldiers. Yes, they were human beings. They were also the enemy, and they would have killed you, Kain, and anyone else that stood in their way. Just realized, Edward, that it was us or them."

How he could always be so transparent to the older man he had no idea. Mustang spoke the absolute truth of the matter of course, and it was nothing that Ed hadn't already told himself, but still the guilt was there. Another sin to lock away inside with all the others. Another situation he had to make sure he was never forced into again. Another monster hiding under the bed he slept in.

The pair had reached the station. They rounded the small building and stepped onto the platform. A sentry at the far end of the raised area took note of the two alchemists, and recognizing them, continued his patrol. Walking to the closed and darkened ticket booth, Mustang took a seat on the bench beside it. The younger alchemist joined him.

"I have so much to say to you Edward, that I don't know where to start," Mustang said quietly.

"Yeah, well I have a few things to say to you, too," Ed said.

After Edward had woken up disoriented in the dark of the refuge, it had taken him a while to piece together where he was and how he'd gotten there before he could considered his options regarding escape. After rejecting some of the more impulsive ones, he had decided his best course of action, for the moment at least, was no action at all. Those final, earth shaking rumbles must have been caused by a series of explosions, and given the amount of dust he'd encountered after the roof fell in, and the weapons and ammo stored below, the causes were pretty obvious. Any resulting fire meant breathing in the tunnels outside the refuge was a doubtful prospect. Transmuting through the available surfaces still presented the same hazard the other prisoners had warned him of previously, and getting caught in one cave in per lifetime was more than enough for Ed. The refuge was a fairly large cavern, and although the air would eventually get stale, there was likely enough to support five people for a couple of days at least, so he'd decided to sit tight until he was forced to risk taking action. With that decision out of the way, the young man had nothing else to do but sit and listen to his rebel captives curse him in the dark, and think. And he had come to some not so startling conclusions about himself and the way he was handling life after getting Alphonse back.

He hadn't really changed much since he was a kid. The same impulsiveness that had lost him his leg and Al's body was still working against him. Taking up with Roy was a case in point. It had been a bad move from the start, any way he looked at it. True, he had loved the man, but that made Ed's selfishness even more shameful. Al and Winry were right about Roy being a mistake, but from the wrong perspective. Ed had to deal with the pain of unrequited love, and that was his own fault, but he could have hurt Mustang much worse. He could have cost Roy his future, and Amestris the strong, just leader it deserved. Now that it was over, Edward was glad that this time his foolishness hadn't caused harm to anyone but himself. He had to stop acting on his impulses without thinking things through. He wasn't a little kid anymore. He knew better, now, how his actions could domino into consequences for others. He had to stop letting every unconsidered impetus rule his actions.

Edward had been drifting for a while now, letting things happen as they would, and that just wasn't him. Al was in Central, getting on with his life, working towards his happily ever after. He didn't need his big brother showing up in a few months, moping aimlessly about like a lost soul. He needed his big brother strong, confident, and getting on with his life, too. That way Al could focus on his own future without having to worry about his brother. Ed had to get his shit together. It was time to start setting things straight so he could move on, and he could start with Mustang. He sighed and gritted his teeth. The man wanted to talk. Well, Ed owed him that much at least. It was time to get this over with.

Mindful of the sentries making their rounds, he kept his voice low. "First, I want to say 'Sorry'. For getting mad at you. It's not your fault that I don't like the rules. And you were right, I agreed to them. I get why you didn't want people to know about us. You had to protect yourself. But it's already started to break down. I mean, everyone in the office figured out that something was going on between us. It's only a matter of time before other people do too, and that's the last thing you need. So it's best to call it quits now, before it's too late."

He glanced at his companion, who remained silent, so he continued. "I know you think it's a crush. Either way it doesn't really matter. It's my problem, not yours. I had no right to expect anything from you, when you told me up front that it was nothing but physical. And yeah, I enjoyed it. I was really happy for a while there. I just, just . . . got selfish. But I'm over it. Now all I want is to put the whole thing behind me."

"Edward . . ."

"It's only a few months 'till my contract is up, and I can keep out of your face until then." Now that he'd started, he couldn't seem to stop. "I'm not in the office all that much anyway. I'll still be going out on assignments, and when I'm in town I'll need to wrap up my research, and clear the crap out of my dorm locker and stuff."

"Edward . . ."

"But if, you know, you feel uncomfortable having me around, I don't mind if you want to transfer me somewhere else. I don't even care where. It'll only be for a little while anyway, so . . ."

"I miss you, Edward."

Edward fell silent. Maybe concussions did cause some auditory dysfunction. Just to be on the safe side, Ed listened to the sound of the crickets in the grass along the tracks. If he listened very carefully he noticed that he could hear the tiny pings and creaks of the rails, still contracting in the cool night air. He could even hear the sentry's careful footsteps somewhere around the opposite side of the ticket booth. So there was nothing wrong with his hearing.

But what Mustang had just said was the last thing Ed had expected to hear.