If it hadn't been for that idiot Mustang, they could have been out of there in five minutes.
As he watched Hawkeye and two of the men disappear down the narrow tunnels, Ed had felt his chest tighten in reflexive worry. He knew how tough Al was, knew he was an awesome fighter — but still, the knowledge that his little brother was somewhere else, in danger, without him made Ed twitchy and anxious. But it seemed like only a moment before he heard percussive clanking and the tap of human footsteps. He smiled but didn't turn round. He was still concentrating on trying to finish his fight with a snake chimera. The snake-guy wasn't tough but he was freaking impossible to pin down. Ed had been chasing him around the room for what seemed like most of the time since Mustang's team had got there. It was like that time when he was nine when Winry's pet mouse had escaped and the three of them had spent three fucking hours running around the living room trying to catch it while it pinged behind bookcases and under sofas, probably laughing its little white ass off.
"We got them, brother!" Al's voice sounded cheerfully from somewhere behind him. Ed waved a hand in greeting, but kept his eyes on his opponent. Snake-guy was wedged in the twelve-inch gap between the top of a supply cupboard and the ceiling, looking as smug as that mouse had under Granny Pinako's armchair. Ed considered. If he tipped the cupboard over, he'd be off like a shot. He thought about transmuting the door upwards into a sheet to trap the guy in place, but the last time he'd tried that, with the pipes on the ceiling, the snake-man had been too quick. Worth a shot, though. Edward eyeballed the chimera, waiting for the right moment to clap, and — the top of the cupboard suddenly dropped downwards, wove itself into mesh, closed round the chimera. A chainmail bag full of snake-guy hit the floor with a solid smack. Ed turned, following the trail of dissipating alchemical light back to his little brother, crouching with his gauntlets pressed to the concrete floor. His posture looked sheepish.
"Hey!" Ed yelled. This wasn't fair! He'd really, really been looking forward to his final, devastating triumph over the snake-man. He'd had his taunts worked out already! "What was that for? I was just about to get the guy! He was right there!" He waved his arms over his head, as if gesturing to an invisible referee. That was not okay. Since Al had started transmuting without arrays, he was developing a worrying habit of one-upping Ed's transmutations.
Al got to his feet and dipped his head. "But, Brother, he was distracted! He was concentrating on you, so I just took advantage! I was just trying to help wrap this thing up." His tone lifted a few notes to the reassuring, sincere pitch he used with stray animals, and when he was trying to talk his way out of something. "I'm sure you would have had him really soon if I hadn't come in." No one but Ed ever seemed to catch on to how sneaky his little brother could be. Now that he remembered, Al had caught the mouse too.
"Where's the Colonel?" Hawkeye's voice was a command, addressing the whole room. Ed looked around. Huh. She was right. No Mustang. Ed hadn't noticed him for a while — he'd been too intent on his own chase. Wait, were all Milne's guys still in the room? Ed counted the bodies on the ground — four. Had there been four before, or five? Then he remembered. "Shit, wait, where did the hairy guy get to?"
Around him, the army guys all looked annoyingly blank. "You know, he was tall, uh" — Ed pulled at his nose and bunched his shoulders out, trying to do an impression — "and with a red shirt? Come on, he was right there?"
Hawkeye held her hand up. "So, one of the criminals you were fighting is definitely missing?"
Hawkeye glared around the men. They all shifted sharply to attention as she did so, including one Ed had been sure outranked her. "None of you saw the Colonel fall or leave? Despite the fact that it was your duty to be guarding his back?" She paused and turned to look piercingly at each of them in turn. "I have all of your names, and when we have ascertained the Colonel's safety you can be sure that I will be passing this failure on him." There was some discreet quailing. Ed felt a pang of sympathy for the poor saps. After all, it was hardly their fault if the Colonel had run off like an idiot after that hairy guy, or got himself shot and dragged off, or ... Edward's thoughts trailed off. Hawkeye was staring at him now. She looked stern and disappointed. Not for the first time, Ed was vaguely reminded of Granny Pinako. Ed turned his head to one side. This was hardly his fault! Was it? Had the Colonel really been struck down in front of him while he didn't notice? He was probably still just chasing that guy down the tunnels lighting fires up his ass, right? The Colonel couldn't really be lying dead or bleeding out somewhere, just because Ed had been concentrating on getting one over on that stupid snake-guy?
Damn it. Ed ran over to the corner where, at the start of the fight, he'd shed his jacket on the floor. As he pulled out a piece of paper, Hawkeye and Al were already striding over to look. Ed unfolded the map. "Look, here's where we are. There are basically three ways the Colonel could have gone — down this way, to the rooms they were operating out of, or left here, this is the stores, or here — that corridor goes to the other exit. Don't worry, it's blocked off by a rockfall."
Al pulled some blank paper from his loincloth — God, wasn't there anywhere less disturbing he could keep stuff? — clapped, and touched it. There was a slight burning smell, and the lines of the map appeared on the two blank sheets. Al waved his gauntlet over the paper to cool it.
Hawkeye nodded and took one of the maps. "We'll split up, then. Jenkins and Vittorio, with me. Muller and Captain James, if you'd go with Alphonse. And — " She sighed. Edward, anticipating her, was already off and running down one of the corridors, tucking the map into his back pocket. "Edward!" she yelled after him. "Please try not to die!"
As if. Ed was glad he had at least got away without an unnecessary escort of military idiots who were just going to get in the way. The Colonel was probably fine. Why did Ed roll over so easily when people made him feel guilty about stuff? And how did Roy Mustang always do the exact thing that would turn his day into a pain in the ass? If it hadn't been for him, Ed would be already done with this crap. He was absolutely starving, he'd missed lunch and fighting always made him hungry anyway, he was bored rigid, and this had been another side trip that had got them absolutely no steps further to getting Al's body back. This Milne guy and his stupid chimera mercenary business, what a bunch of idiots. All Ed wanted was to have the whole pointless bullshit assignment thing wrapped up, and get out of the tunnels and back to town, and buy one or possibly three of those awesome-looking cheese things from that food stand on the main square, and sit down with Al and talk about where they were headed next. Was that too much to ask? Huh?
Ed ran down the narrow tunnels, wrenching doors open as he passed. He passed a left turn, kept going, and found himself passing through an open doorway into a damp, empty room with stacks of chairs along the opposite wall. He peered through them for a moment: no visible exits. Ed dug the map out of his back pocket, looked at it for a moment and stuffed it back in. The store-room was straight back down the turning he'd passed before. Ed stuffed the map back and set off again. A few metres beyond the turn, the light bulbs were blown and the corridor ahead faded into darkness. Ed stopped and thought for a moment. He wasn't keen to go on without some kind of light source. Besides the danger of falling on his face, this place might still not be completely deserted. And he hadn't brought a torch. Crap.
Ed thought for a moment, then clapped and pressed his hands to the floor, calling up sand and lime from the concrete of the floor a few feet in front of him, piling them in the small hollow his transmutation had created. He clapped again and concentrated. He hadn't done this one for a while, but it came back to him easily. The lime and silica bubbled and fizzed together, then within a few seconds rose up to take the form of a glass jar, from which steam curled up slowly. Ed took a few steps forward, peered suspiciously into the darkness, then quickly unzipped himself and peed into the jar. He'd kind of been needing to do that anyway. Then he zipped back up, clapped his hands and touched the floor again. The urine boiled away rapidly in the jar as Ed isolated the phosphor from it and tried really hard not to breathe through his nose. A few drops of water to oxygenate the phosphor, and it glowed like a firefly. For the finishing touch, Ed pulled a little aluminium from the concrete and dropped a crude lid on top of the jar. Then he picked up his gross, awesome new makeshift lantern, careful to use his automail hand, and started walking again. The corridor smelled kind of awful now, but that was science for you.
After a short distance, the corridor seemed to end at a door with a thin crack of light under it. He'd reached the stores. Ed made out a light switch on the wall adjacent. Sizing up his options, he left his glass jar where it was, jogged up and hit the switch. If he was going to find anyone now, they would probably be in here, and if he had to make a quick getaway, it was better he had both hands free. Ed reached for the door handle, then paused for a moment. Under the door, the light flashed off. Then he heard a crackling whoosh, a crash, swearing. Looked like he'd found the Colonel.
Ed turned the door-handle, jiggling it for good measure but the door didn't give. Locked from the inside. He stepped back to give it a good kick, then reconsidered. The light was back on now. If whoever it was on the other side had seen the door handle turning, they could be waiting. Ed looked around him, and noticed a thin corridor he remembered from the map. It ran most of the way round the main store-room, with small file rooms and supply cupboards dotted round the outside wall. Grinning to himself, Ed jogged around the corner. With any luck, he'd arrive just in time to steal Mustang's victory from under his nose. Ha. This was going to rock.
Ten minutes later, Ed was trudging back down the corridor with Mustang draped over him, leaning uncomfortably on his shoulder. The sheer, crowing high of bailing Mustang out was being rapidly being displaced by the annoying consequences: Ed now had the responsibility of hauling his commanding officer's ass out of the tunnels. Still, at least Mustang was on his feet. Back in the storeroom, the Colonel hadn't looked like he was going to be walking anywhere much. By the end of Ed's short scuffle with the chimera, Mustang had been sat leaning back against the wall, even pastier than usual, with a dried streak of blood down the side of his face and a weird, placid, unfocussed look in his eyes. He'd barely even seemed to react when the chimera had sprung at him, just looked at it as if he wasn't quite sure what it was.
When Ed had looked over Mustang properly, he'd been almost as alarmed by the man's uncharacteristic pliability as he had been by the long, nasty tear on the crown of his head. Apparently, someone had smashed something with hard edges into his skull, not quite enough to kill him, but enough to render him loopy with concussion and unsteady on his feet enough to have to use Ed as a human crutch. Ed's automail port and his left bicep were both aching already from lugging far too much of Mustang's weight at an awkward angle. Ed could smell the man's cologne. It smelled expensive. Who the hell put on fancy cologne to go chase thugs down a bunch of damp tunnels?
Abruptly, Ed felt Mustang's weight increase, as if he was sagging against him. Great. He took a glance at the Colonel. Mustang was still walking forwards, but he was staring ahead, his eyes unfocussed and vague. Shit, he really was going to pass out. Ed tightened his hold and opened his mouth to tell Mustang in no uncertain terms that he was not allowed to faint. But before he could say anything the Colonel had slumped in his arms, a dead weight, legs trailing on the floor, and Ed was staggering, legs braced, trying not to tip them both ass backwards on the ground.
He took a good lungful of air and yelled. "Hey!" He shook the Colonel. Mustang didn't respond. His head lolled forwards, hair in his eyes. Ed shifted his weight more onto his automail leg. "Hey! Don't do that! Mustang! Hey! Wake up, idiot! You think I'm going to carry you?" Still nothing. He tried another shake, a little gentler. Nothing. Ed felt his stomach curl up a little.
Carefully and awkwardly, he dropped to a crouch. Mustang's body sagged onto its knees. He manoeuvred the Colonel's head onto his lap, and then stretched his own legs out one at a time to sit down properly. Ed took a good look at Mustang, and felt that clench of worry in his stomach increase. Mustang was lying face-up now in Ed's arms, with his knees bent awkwardly to one side, arms flopping loosely at his sides, palm-up. The posture looked so wrong on him. Mustang was always in control, always posing — even semi-conscious and about to be gutted by a chimera. The man looked dead. Ed took a moment to notice the reassuring rise and fall of the Colonel's chest, and to feel the pulse beating in his neck. He was just fucking passed out, for God's sake. He was a lazy bastard and Ed needed to stop worrying.
But it was easier said than done. He took a look at Mustang's face, trying to remember if there were other things he should check. The man's face was the only part of him that still somehow looked composed. With the muscles of his face relaxed and expressionless, he looked serene and misleadingly noble, as if he was carved out of something. There was something a little scary about that, but Ed couldn't be bothered to pin it down. However, he totally wouldn't put it past the man to practice looking good in his sleep. Ed patted Mustang's cheek, hard enough to be more of a light slap. The Colonel's eyes flickered open, and suddenly he was back to looking concussed and goofy.
"Edward. Hello." Mustang looked at him, almost cross-eyed. One smart remark about being in Ed's lap, and Ed was going to drop his head right on the floor, cracked skull and all. Instead, the Colonel just frowned for a moment. "We're still in the tunnels."
"Did I pass out?" Mustang sounded vaguely, drunkenly horrified.
"Oh, yeah," said Edward with some relish. The Colonel frowned again, then gave Ed another of those wonky looks. "Fullmetal? I'm not entirely sure I can walk."
"Yeah, yeah. I know, I'm gonna have to carry you. Okay — but you should know you owe me over this, Mustang." Ed flashed his best shit-eating grin. "And I will collect."
Mustang frowned, then suddenly seemed to gather himself and come back to life a little. "It'll be entertaining to see you try. I'd imagine — it'd look like rather like an ant carrying a breadcrumb four times its size." The Colonel managed a twitchy smirk. He looked transparently smug to have regained the advantage.
This was Edward's cue, he guessed, to take the bait and lose his shit, to jump up, point a finger, swear insults — but somehow it wasn't happening this time. There was something about this situation that made him feel off-balance and weird. So he found himself breaking eye contact instead and looking ahead down the corridor, trying to remember how far it had been, how long he was going to have to drag Mustang before he could hand him off to Al or a couple of those guys or somebody who gave a fuck.
He felt the weight of Mustang's head shift a bit in his lap, and glanced down. Crap. The Colonel was completely passed out again now, head leaning sideways into Ed's thigh, a blank little slit of white showing under his eyelids. Actually, he kind of didn't look so good. Still, he was breathing evenly. Ed sighed and carefully rolled Mustang off his lap so that he was face-down, trying not to hit the ungrateful bastard's head on the floor as he did so. Edward crouched, hooked his arms under the Colonel's shoulders, and straightened his legs, dragging Mustang up to sag against him a kneeling position. He reached down, grabbed Mustang's left wrist, and hoisted the man's arm up over his automail shoulder. Then he squatted down again, hooked his right arm round Mustang's legs from the back, and straightened, heaving him into a fireman's lift. Huh. That had gone okay. Ed shifted Mustang's weight on his shoulders a bit, hearing a vague gasp as he did so. The Colonel didn't weigh as much as Ed had thought. Ed took a few uneven steps forward, letting his automail leg take more of their combined weight. It seemed to work. Eh, maybe this wasn't going to take so long after all.
A few metres back past the left turn, and Ed staggered, nearly losing his footing. He'd changed his mind: the Colonel weighed a fucking ton, and this was going to take forever. Ed wedged himself awkwardly between Mustang and the wall of the tunnel, propping him up enough that Ed could get one hand free to dig out the map and consult it. He looked it over for a second, then pocketed it, bringing his left hand round Mustang's body to meet his automail hand, which was still holding the Colonel up over his shoulder. He couldn't quite reach from that angle, so he hugged Mustang a bit closer, and managed to tap his fingers together, calling up the formula. Then he felt a little rush of heat in his cheeks, followed by annoyance and a vague desire to flee, and he loosened his grip a little. Ed tapped his left hand to the wall, and let the energy ripple off through the concrete on the paths he'd set. A moment later, a speaker and a large radio microphone popped from the wall at his eye level. It had an embossed logo reading "Elric F.M." Cool, thought Ed. He'd have to use that one again, when there were people in the same room who could appreciate it properly.
Ed leaned forward and spoke. "Hey Al, Hawkeye. I got him!" A moment later, Hawkeye's and Al's voices came from the speakers at the same time, accompanied by a whine of feedback. Then Al fell politely silent and Hawkeye spoke.
"What's the Colonel's condition, over?"
"Uh, he's okay but he can't talk, he's passed out. I think he's concussed or something. Someone hit his head. Oh yeah, Al, can you come and meet me? The bastard's heavy."
"On my way, brother!" He heard Al's clanking run fade out, and a sigh he thought must be Hawkeye.
"Agreed," she said. "We'll rendezvous with you on your way back to the junction. Please notify us if the Colonel's condition changes. Over and out." He heard her bark a quick order in the background, then more running footsteps. Ed sighed, hefted Mustang over his shoulder, took a moment to get his balance, and started walking again.