Faces in Ice

chapter 5. coda

The first unit had been dispatched four days prior, taking fifty reasonably well trained men to the northern outpost, all of whom had been given explicit orders from the top—

Destroy everything.

With the information he had provided the Fullmetal Alchemist, the Elric brothers should have had no trouble playing their part—go in, get information, get out. They'd be back at their campsite by now, Mustang guessed, packing for the nine thirty morning train back to Central. Upon arrival, Fullmetal would barge into his office, demand to know why Mustang was playing around with him, and receive a vague "isn't that what you wanted to see? Someone who have another what you have Alphonse."

...No, someone who took what he took from Alphonse.

I don't even need to be around Fullmetal and I can still have a conversation with him, Mustang thought wryly. But both the amendum and the predictions of the near future had already dampened his mood.

Fullmetal would never know what his part in the military's 'real' business had been, would never question anything at all. Mustang felt a pang of guilt at this deception, but it was for Ed's own good—really, it was. He was only a child after all.

Except the days when he wasn't. Except the days Fullmetal had that look in his eyes, telling Mustang that he was about as child as Alphonse was dead.

He'd just saved both of their lives, though, so he pushed the guilt down and forced it to forget why it was swimming in frantic loops at the pit of his stomach.

He saw the man, nameless, faceless, dying. Mustang had no idea who this man was, aside from the fact that he was undertaking research considered far too advanced to be allowed outside the walls of a military lab—research that the military wanted brushed under a carpet and shoved somewhere out of sight. He also knew that the man was 'akin to Fullmetal's younger brother,' as the Fuhrer and described him. Today Mustang would not be the one to pull the trigger, but he had issued the command. He was a murderer as much as the actual killers were.

He wondered if the man who had issued the command that cost the Rockbell doctors their lives had thought the same. He doubted it.

Mustang closed his eyes, vision greeted not by blackness but of bodies lying dead at his feet, killed in their line of duty. Then he thought of the girl, Winry, with her pretty, long hair and her eyes like ice. She wouldn't forgive him if she found out this time. The only reason she did the first time was because the thought—

The phone's shrill scream interrupted his thoughts.

"Sir, we executed the deserted as per your orders, and all substantial evidence was destroyed. However..." The young lieutenant in charge of the platoon broke off, as if waiting for Mustang's permission to go on.

This was going to be one of those days, wasn't it? "Were there any friendly casualties?" The officer would hesitate once more, then say yes. Mustang would then be obligated to make the proper arrangements and the proper phone calls. He didn't know when the duty of settling the deaths of soldiers had fallen to him, but when the officer on the phone said 'no' he supposed it didn't matter, anyway.

"What, then? Don't play games with me, Lieutenant."

"There was, ah, a civilian at the scene. We would have escorted him out, be he saw us while we were..."

The man seemed to have forgotten how to speak. Mustang sorely wished he had placed the platoon in the hands of someone more stable. "And can you tell me what the hell you were doing when you decided to carry out highly classified—and I stress, highly classified—instruction without making sure the area was SECURE?"

This was going to be one of those days, after all.

Instead of a response, Mustang was answered by incomprehensible shouting, a series of crashes, and something that sounded almost like tears; tears driven to the surface not by sadness or loss, but by the simple knowledge that something intangible—but of paramount importance—has gone terribly awry.

Mustang took in a deep breath and waited for the cacophony of violent struggle to subside, dread welling up from his stomach and spilling out into the air around him. This is the sour breath of a liar and a betrayer, isn't it?

Then the words came. Though Fullmetal was widely known for his eccentric exaggerations, Mustang knew that this time, the kid's words were probably sincere.

"I... hate you."