Joined: 18-April 06
Member No.: 34,836
The following is a chapter of the developing fanfic:
It was a serene Sunday afternoon. Along the street, men and women were gathered together, walking hand in hand with their beloveds while viewing the blossoming flowers. The atmosphere was permeated with the refreshing aroma that had not merely attracted the people, but birds, bees and butterflies too. Turnips, chrysanthemum, hyacinths, lavenders, lilies; at least dozens kinds of plant species had joined the show and embellished the sunny day with bright colorful landscape they had formed.
Amongst the crowd, there was a certain couple. The gentleman was wearing a simple black suit with the outer coat buttoned neatly over his torso. His black jet hair was combed back and glistened under the sunlight. Setting off with his gallant charm was the elegant lady sauntering along with him. Her tan suit had reflected her austere character, but every time she smiled, her amicable feature would radiate like the mild sunshine. This might be the reason for the gentleman to be drawn all his attention to that lady. In fact, his eyes rarely looked on anything or anyone else besides her. He did beam, merely that once, when she looked back at him. That countenance of his remained unchanged as he made a short conversation with the lady, whose eyes later shifted away from her companion. Before the gentleman realized, she had already waltzed away. He immediately followed her. In that large multitude, it was conceivably that he would lose sight of her had he failed to catch her hand. There occurred a momentary stop. To her response, the lady turned around to see the tight clutch on her hand, gripped it, and proceeded to her course. The gentleman let her lead on getting through the throng of visitors as he did not seem to know where they were going. Fortunately, it did not take him long to find the answer. Awaited them ahead were all kinds of beautiful bouquets, setting decoratively around a wooden cart.
The gentleman stared at the bouquets in awe.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” He heard a man said.
The gentleman did not response, simply because he found no word came out from his mouth.
Having to see the gentleman’s reaction, the elder man laughed, “Ha, ha, ha, ha! You’re not the first gentleman to be speechless in front of my bouquets.”
“Your bouquets?” The gentleman finally found his voice.
“Yes! Every single of them!” The elder man stroked his white beard. “From planting to arranging the flowers, they all are my masterpiece,” he said proudly.
“Your craftsmanship is undeniably superb.”
“Many people said that. So, what in the world for a young bachelor like you rambling here alone?”
The gentleman chuckled, slowly raised his hand. The long sleeve of his outer coat shrunk slightly as to reveal the back of his hand, as well as the sparkling golden ring which was fit comfortably on the ring finger. “I’m married,” He radiated the bliss of happiness as he spoke. He subsequently looked to his right, implicitly signing for the elder man to bring his eyes to the cart. There stood a woman. She was the lady with the gentleman a moment ago. “That beautiful lady over there,” said the gentleman, “is my wife.”
Joined: 18-April 06
Member No.: 34,836
Posting the next chapter...
“Young master!” Running, a servant called. His voice was, unfortunately, muffled by the multitude. “Young master! Where are you?” He called again. Still, no one answered his call. The servant took an abrupt stop. With his knees bent, he stroked his chest. “Where are you, young master?” He hove out. Right at the moment he was about to lose hope, a familiar human contour loomed out from the stream of people. The servant stared at the figure for a few seconds. “Young master!” He blinked, back straightened in an instant. Without delay, he started off with a bolt, only came to rest when he reached to a young man.
“I have been looking for you for the whole day,” said the servant, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief that was produced from his pocket. “Young master, do you know that a man at fifty like me couldn’t run as quick as you? Please don’t do that again.” He gushed over his complaint, realized later that his presence seemed to be unnoticed. “Young master? What are you looking at?”
“Such a dazzling beauty. I wonder who she is,” the young man said.
“Who?” The servant took off his spectacles, cleaned it with the handkerchief in his hand, and wore it. It was the same time he realized that his master had walked off. “Wait for me, young master!”
The old man peered. At first, he saw the lady with a posy of roses in her hands. Eyes closed, she breathed in the scent of fresh roses as her long blond hair streaming in the wind.
“You are one lucky man,” the old man commented. When he turned around, he noticed that the lady was gone. “Where did she go?” The old man glanced along the bouquets and made a swirl. The lady had vanished into thin air, so did the gentleman.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The young man walked as quickly as he could, but was hindered by the massive flow of people which he was facing against. The lady, his mind cried out. Squeezing himself into the tiny gaps between the human blocks, the young man found himself farther and farther away from the person he was trying to reach. As if she knew that he was following her, the lady hastened her pace as she breezed through the crowd with ease, unlike her pursuer. One turn she took, into an alley, became his final glimpse of her mythical existence. That would have thwarted his determination but it did not. Instead, it fired up all his strength, allowing him to dash off from people to people in an instant.
It was an alley. That was right. But there was no sign of that lady he was after a while ago. In fact, it was pitch black in that alley. He looked behind. The street remained bustling with motor vehicles and busy people. The buildings surrounding him indicated that he had been led out of the flower festival. The young man was amazed of how far he had travelled to come all the way there. He sighed. The lady was gone. Maybe it was a call for him to give up. However, there was a voice inside of him that told him to walk into the darkness. It was alluring and it had nothing to deal with the lady. The young man blamed his innate curiosity. With great caution, he grouped around feeling his way but to trip and hit by fallen objects. He mourned, stood up, fell again when he stepped on another obstacle. “Boxes…” he grumbled. It took him almost a minute before his eyes was blinded by the bright sunshine. Out of reflex, he flung his arm to block the light and moved a few steps forward. The next thing he realized was sitting on the concrete lane, his back aching badly.
The young man shook his head trying to recall what happened. It seemed like he had been tossed to the wall. “That hurt!” He complained. Someone was closing in, towering the young man with its gigantic stature. The young man raised his head and gulped. He could not see the face but he could tell that it was a man – a big guy. The giant’s silhouette revealed numerous heaps on the shoulders and arms. That information was more than enough for the young man to draw a mental picture of the giant’s figure.
“How detestable!” The young man heard the giant howling at him. His voice had a high tone like a tenor. “A handsome lad like you preying on beautiful females?! Of all despicable men I have encountered, you are the lowest!” The giant grabbed the young man’s shoulders with his big hands and lifted him up and high in the air.
“Wait a minute—”
Before the young man could finish his sentence, he was thrown hard, once again, onto the road. “Ah!” The young man groaned in pain. “Are you trying to kill me?” He growled. “Help! Someone!”
His cry was in vain. There was no one nearby, strangely enough.
“No sense of guilt. Looks like you need more artistic guide.” The giant drew back his arm and clenched his fist, the other hand reaching out and grabbed on the young man’s shirt.
The young man raised both his arms, ready to receive the blow. To his surprise, it did not reach him.
“He’s not the one we want.” He heard a female voice said.
The young man lowered his arms, hesitantly, to see who the woman was. Blond hair and tan suit. She was the lady he had been looking for and yet the woman standing before him did not radiate the same attraction which he found on the lady at the flower festival. Her stare was cold and her face was as rigid as stone. Later, the young man realized that all eyes were on him.
“But this man is very suspicious,” the giant commented. “He couldn’t be planning anything good.”
“I am not as suspicious as a half-naked man who just treated me as a sand bag, am I?” The young man retorted.
The giant and the lady opened their eyes wide.
Watching their expression, the young man smirked.
The lady sighed. “Sir?”
“Please excuse me,” The giant said immediately, turned around, and walked away as fast as he could.
The young man snickered as he watched the giant left awkwardly. He swore that he saw the giant’s face turned red. As he was having his joy, a hand appeared in front of him. His eyes then found the lady with her knees bent, stooping down and smiling at him. It was the same angelic face that infatuated him.
“Give me your hand.” The lady said.
“I’m quite heavy.” The young man said bashfully.
“Don’t worry. It’s just a lift.”
The young man dithered again, but caught the hand nonetheless. There was not even a second for him to ready, he was already up on his feet. “Thank you,” he said.
“You’re welcome.” The lady later bowed to him. “I apologize for what happened just now.”
“Please don’t, ma’am. I shouldn’t have followed you. I’m sorry.”
“Lieutenant Hawkeye! Major Armstrong!” They heard.
“If there is nothing else,” she said, “you may leave.” There, she bolted away, and was seen joining by the giant.
“Wait!” The young man called, in hope that she would at least look back to him. But, she did not.
Joined: 18-April 06
Member No.: 34,836
It was a total chaos. Screaming and shouting everywhere, no matter which direction one was running to. Then, the earth shuddered as another explosion went off, further precipitated the formation of living hell. It was not certain where it came from, but it was close. In reality, under that live threatening situation, the instinct was to run away from it. Some followed the track, others strode over the low fence threading on the flowers. How irony it was for the people, who were once being there to admire the beauty of the plants, stepping the flowers under their feet. As the situation went uncontrolled, several military personnel stepped in to guide the civilians to safety. The gentleman was still at the festival fleeing for his life. At odds with the other evacuees, he was running into the center of the festival, where he was greeted with a garden of red roses. “Damn it!” He cursed and bolted back as quickly as he could, right before the roses being engulfed by red flashes. Another explosion was set off sending the shockwave produced to the vicinity including the gentleman. The force was so great that it threw him out. The gentleman was lying on the ground grimacing, as the pain taking its time to subside, but it was not over yet. “What is this about, Flame Alchemist?” The gentleman found a figure looming into his blur sight. Black was the first word that came up to his mind. The man waved off his overcoat that wrapped about his shoulders, grabbed on the gentleman’s attire, and lifted his victim aloft. “Is that all you could do, running away? I am very disappointed.” The gentleman’s panting then turned into cold sneer. “Who said that I was running away?” The gentleman asked. The question did not mean to be answered, but rather served as an early warning to the man, who had perceived that he was hit at the back. Petrified by the sudden assault, the man loosened his grip and dropped his victim. The gentleman fall his back hard on the pavement. Groaning for his pain as he propped himself up, he found the assailant had vanished into thin air. As seconds passed, the fog of dust was blown away by a gush of breeze. But, the mild wind brought to the gentleman more than mere clean air. “Yo, First Lieutenant!” With a broad smile, the gentleman greeted the incoming acquaintance, before he got back on his feet. Standing right in front of the gentleman, the lady, with her arms crossed, shot him a subtle glare, which shattered the smile that the gentleman put on his face. The gentleman heaved a heavy sigh, thinking that it would be a long day. “I almost had him, you know?” “You almost got yourself killed, sir.” The lady said curtly, as if she had paid no attention to the gentlemen’s statement. “That is not true, lieutenant. What you saw was only part of my set up. Above all, he showed himself at the end. Even if you did not show up, our snipers could have taken him down.” “I didn’t know that we had any snipers assigned for reinforcement.” “That was my mistake, I must admit. I forgot to mention it during briefing. That psychopath did not worth for me to bet my own life. I would be a big idiot if that was just to get a promotion.” “Nice shot, lieutenant! Wow, Roy, you scared me.” “Maes…” “That was close!” “Maes, please stop.” “You know what, First Lieutenant?” “Maes!” “We had no one deployed here to back him up at all. That man could have killed him.” “Really?” Staring at the gentleman nonchalantly, the lady turned around and walked off. “Big idiot.” She added. “Big idiot? Who? Who does she refer to, Roy? By the way, did you say something?” “Thanks a lot Maes, for ‘backing me up’.” The gentleman especially emphasized the last three words. Maes patted the gentleman’s shoulder and guffawed. “Sure, Roy. You’re so welcome.” He replied. “The report, on you.” The gentleman strode off angrily. “Hey! That’s not a good way to thank someone!" The gentleman did not give a moment to leave his comment on his friend's words. "You can’t escape from the paperwork forever! Big idiot…” Maes said. It finally struck a cord on the gentleman as he turned around and snapped, “you purposely mentioned that in front of her, didn’t you?” "I have no idea what you were talking about.” Maes dug his ear and left. “Maes!” The gentleman followed his friend, wanting for an explanation, not even noticed that he was secretly observed by a pair of wicked eyes. “We’ll meet again, Roy Mustang…”
Joined: 18-April 06
Member No.: 34,836
“Ah!” Mustang cried out, as the wet cotton ball touched his forehead.
“Bear with it, colonel,” Hawkeye said, throwing the contaminated cotton ball into the trash can, “I’m almost done cleaning up the wound.” Hawkeye reached her hand to a bottle of alcohol.
Besides the rain and paperwork, the alcohol had just managed to join Mustang’s hate list, although that was just restricted to the antiseptic use alcohol. It stung so badly that he could not contained the pain under his breath. The pain was unbearable, his subordinates, however, were of his greatest concern. They were not harmed in any way. In fact, most of them were not involved in the ‘fishing’ operation. In Mustang’s overloading mind, there was regret of not having them dismissed and out of his office. Reminding himself of his subordinates, Mustang turned his head sharply and glared at them. Those watching eyes were dispersed in an instant without a word. Contented, Mustang thought it was about time to save the remnant of his pride. Looking back to his adjutant, he was ready to persuade her to surrender treating him. “Ahem,” he cleared his voice. “First Lieutenant,” he called.
“Sir,” Hawkeye called, as if she did not notice that her superior officer was calling her.
“Yes, First Lieutenant?”
“Please, take care of yourself.”
That was a plea, Mustang discerned, and he found himself trapped in the surging guilt, which had erased all resort he had in his slick wit. “I’m sorry,” he said, “It won’t happen again, I promise. Ah!” He groaned at the sudden sharp sting on his forehead. The culprit for his pain was no other than the wet cotton ball.
“I trust you,” he heard her saying. “Thank you, for the back up,” she added.
Mustang smiled. His forehead stung no more. It was all because the warm ‘thank you’ he received.
All personnel in the office put off their work in an instant as a guest came in and was welcomed with a formal salute.
“At ease, everyone,” the man with an eye patch said, “I heard that you are injured, colonel. Are you all right?”
“It’s just a scratch, your Excellency. Thank you for your concern.”
“Good, good. We can’t afford to lose you to a scum.”
“I’m sorry for not being to take him in.”
“That’s a shame, colonel. But don’t worry about that. Thanks to you and your team buying some time, the generals’ wives are freed.”
“We couldn’t have done it without your support.”
“Mm, mm.” The man nodded his head. “The generals are very grateful to you. I think you’ll be getting a promotion very soon.”
“I'm not in a position to speculate, sir.”
“Promotion is a typical business, colonel. So, you don’t have to be evasive on the topic. However, colonel, I have some advice for you.”
“I’m ready for your enlightenment.”
“It is not impossible to climb all the way up to the general ranks. However, if your goal is to be a fuhrer…”
In a state of shock, Mustang and Hawkeye looked at Bradley vigilantly. Bradley, too, was staring at each Mustang’s eyes. Both fuhrer and colonel were like the ultimate enemies looking for telltale that slipped out their opponent’s thought.
Bradley smiled and said, “you must be a better leader than I am then!”
Mustang paused for a moment. At the same time, Bradley and Mustang guffawed.
“Hahaha…! There’s no one a better leader than you are, your Excellency!”
“I guess you are right!” Laughing, Bradley turned around and headed to the door. “Great job, colonel.” He raised his hand and exited the office.
“Thank you, your Excellency!” Mustang saluted. That was a close call.
Hawkeye, watching Mustang, said, “He knew, sir.”
Still staring at the open door, Mustang dropped his arm, somehow, relieved. “Let him be,” he said, sitting back on his chair, “I did not intend to keep it a secret anyway. As a matter of fact…”
Hawkeye watched Mustang slipped on his incinerating glove.
“I am a better leader than he is.”
A better leader? Mustang sneered at that thought, as he recalled that naïve statement that he made. For one last time, his lifeless eyes were brought to focus on his best friend’s gravestone. The rain was pouring on him all of the sudden. Without an umbrella, he was soaking wet. How pathetic! Even the sky was laughing at him, or maybe it was—
He laughed disbelievingly, “very funny, Maes!” There, he heard footsteps scurried in.
Both soldiers in blue uniform saluted, “Colonel Mustang! Orders from Fuhrer Bradley!”
Months had passed since her reassignment. Still, there was not a day that she had not been anxious. It was like holding a live grenade in her hands; it only took a slight mistake before it went off. As much as she dislikes that feeling, she wanted it to end but it was not the time yet. Patience, she reminded herself every second. Mustang would keep his promise and she trusted him for that.
“I see, you have met him,” said Bradley before he sipped his tea.
Hawkeye almost dropped the portfolio in her arms. “Sir?”
“Your cheek.” Bradley put down his tea cup. “Did you not get that from him?”
Hawkeye touched her cheek and felt the healing graze.
“If you speak of this to anyone…”
“I don’t know who you are referring to, your Excellency. The scratch on my cheek was just a paper cut,” said Hawkeye, confirmatively.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha!” Bradley guffawed. “No wonder Colonel Mustang made you his aide. You are indeed a great asset to have.”
“Is that what we are to you? Some disposable assets?”
“That will depend on their talents. Certainly, those talents can turn them into loathsome trashes.” Bradley stopped, noticing underlying fear which the tight face obscured. At the same time, a major came in.
“Fuhrer Bradley!” He saluted. “His Highness Prince Claudio is estimated to arrive at Central within three hours.”
“Hmm.” Bradley nodded. Rising up on his feet, he walked pass Hawkeye and paused. “Fail this, First Lieutenant Hawkeye, and you can expect the worst.”
Hawkeye bowed the leaving Fuhrer farewell. No matter how she interpreted Bradley’s words, the result was the same; a prophecy, to her, Mustang and the rest of her comrades.
Trumpets were raised. Gallant music was sounded. Thousands of people had crowded the streets with banners and red flags holding in their hands. Watching over the crowd were the men and women in blue uniforms standing firmly on their guards. As the incoming parade is approaching, adults and children cheered for the first envoy arrived at Amestris.
Mustang was there, yawning.
“Are you okay, sir?” asked a young man, seemingly concerned. “This is the fifth day you have been working overtime.”
“I’m fine, corporal. Just a little bit tired,” said Mustang.
“You must have been very stressful, sir, receiving orders from the fuhrer more often than not.”
“I won’t call that stress.” Mustang corrected, smirking. “Chance is what it means to me.”
The corporal watched Mustang’s finger pointed to the ground before drawing a virtual line vertically at the building. Mustang too was watching the objects and people his finger directed to, saying, “Obey orders, and you will rise straight up to the—” His finger stopped abruptly at the rooftop, directly at the female military officer who was crouching with a sniper rifle holding in her hands. It was Hawkeye. “Sky…” Mustang finished his talk with slight awe, just before Hawkeye caught his eyes but awkwardly shunned the eye contact soon after.
The corporal, on the other hand, did not seem to be aware of the gaze. “So that is your secret of success, colonel?”
Eyes still gazing at Hawkeye, Mustang replied, “Maybe. Without her, I wouldn’t have come this far.”
Mustang did not say anything but breathed out and smiled in relief. “She’s fine.”
“It’s Prince Claudio!”
The cheers had been elevated to the peak as the brown haired prince waving to the crowd. Like his charming smile that melted all the women’s hearts, the prince advent changed the fate of Amestris, both good and evil.
Joined: 18-April 06
Member No.: 34,836
"His Highness, Prince Claudio Rico Aerugo!"
As the majestic wooden doors open, several men of red uniforms strode in across the red carpet, which both of its sides stood each a line of men in blue uniforms. The presence of the red uniforms instantly heightened the hall's tension to its peak while watchful eyes fixed on the passing group of strangers. However, most of the attention was concerted onto the younger man on the lead. Mustang noticed the newcomer. If he had to comment on, fearless was the best way to describe the aura that the newcomer transpired.
Unlike his officers, Bradley had not overwhelmed by the new appearance. "Prince Claudio!" Rising from the chair of state, Bradley greeted, with a warm beam. "As the State's Fuhrer, I welcome you."
"Thank you for your hospitality," the prince said, "Today shall be the memento of peace between two great countries."
"Indeed. To express my sincerity, I invite you and your company to the fuhrer's residence throughout your stay."
"I regret to say that we have to decline because our accommodation has already been taken care of. Nevertheless, it will be an honor to visit you at your official residence if you can give us a tour."
"Certainly. My secretary will make an arrangement. Shall we proceed to the conference room?"
Mustang watched the prince and his company followed Bradley as they exited the hall. He did not even realize that his eyes had been fixing on the prince the entire time. The royal figure had an unusual aura, not due to his appearance, but some quirk feature that Mustang could not exactly describe it.
A general called and diverted Mustang's attention. It was Grumman. "Can I have a word with you?" asked the general. ________________________________________
At night, the envoy returned to their designation, a mansion at the outskirt of Central. After having a private meeting with his minister, Claudio of Aerugo went back to his chamber. The prince was not prepared to sleep, just yet, as he was expecting a visitor.
"The messenger is on the way to Aerugo, your highness." Said an official clad in Aerugo military uniform.
"How long will it take?" Asked the prince.
"Two days at most."
"Hopefully we'll receive an order before Bradley takes his move."
"Rest assured, your highness. Our men have infiltrated into his defense. We'll be ready to counterattack when needed."
"Oh, I'm sure Bradley would have planned the same, if not more." ________________________________________
Slap! Slap! Slap! They had been hearing that sound for several hours in the still car. Summer was always the favorite season for the insects, especially parasites. Breda, in the driving seat, lowered his binocular and turned his head to the back. "Cut it off, sergeant major!" He shouted in a suppressed volume.
"I'm trying, sir. But they keep harassing me."
"They seemed to like you a lot, don't they?" Falman, commented.
"I would rather that they do not." Said Fuery, hand slapped hardly on his neck.
"I want to leave the hell out of here as much as you do, kiddo. Just hang on until the colonel comes back." Breda said, as he peeked through the binoculars again.
"You are under arrest for trespassing!"
They jerked in shock. Breda immediately turned his head back and saw a man in civilian clothing leaning against the door. "Colonel! That's not funny!" Breda said angrily.
"Nothing. Not even signs of movement. What exactly are we looking for?"
"I'm not sure. Lieutenant General Grumman is not too convinced that Aerugo would make a compromise. So, I initiated for a covert investigation."
"Lieutenant General Grumman? You are not expecting us to believe that, are you?"
"Why would I lie? Besides, you have no right to question your commanding officer."
"Ex—commanding officer, to be exact." Falman corrected nonchalantly.
Mustang darted his irritated eyes to the second lieutenant in the back seat. It was true, nonetheless, that all his loyal subordinates had been relocated to other divisions. That was the cruelest thing Bradley had done to him, so far.
"He's right, colonel. We are volunteering to help you. Unless you divulge your true intention, there is very little we could do."
"Divulge what? I told you everything I knew." Mustang said, perplexed by Breda's implication.
"You're envying the prince. He has wealth, power, and not the least… women."
"No, I'm not!"
"Yes, you are."
"I am not in a mood for verbal fight now. This investigation will carry on with or without you."
"Intruder!" So they heard.
Mustang immediately squeezed himself into the backseat while Breda stepped on the acceleration pedal.
"Stop!" Mustang called out and the car skated to a halt.
"What's the matter, colonel?" Breda cried out. "We must leave now!"
Mustang did not reply. The way he perked up his ears had prompted Breda to follow. Then, they heard the cry. "A gunman! Protect the prince!"
Without further delay, Mustang and his team get out of the car and rushed to the mansion. It was dark in the woods but the light guided them to an open area, where they had the first sight of the intruder dressing in black from head to toe.
"Hold it right there!" Falman cried out.
Three handguns and one flame alchemist readied for a blast. The math was easy. However, with his gun still raised, he was not preparing to surrender.
"Don't risk it. Surrender now and you will not be harmed," said Mustang.
His advice was unheeded. The group then heard a metal canister was dropped. Smoke permeated the air right away and choked them. In the mist, Mustang saw a shadow fading away, presumably the fleeing intruder.
"Oh no you don't!" Mustang said with his mouth muffled by his sleeve. Raising his free hand, he ignited the air and flared the flame straight to the shadow. He tried to locate the intruder, but the smoke became too intense that he could hardly open his eyes.
"Colonel!" Mustang heard his team called. He then turned around and ran away for a clear air.
Breda, Falman, and Fuery were already out of the smoke fog.
"You see him?" Mustang asked.
"No. I guess you missed," replied Fuery.
Mustang stared at the smog. "I didn't," he said, turning away. "Let's go before the Aerugos find us!"
Fuery blinked at his superior officer, watching him leaving. Breda and Falman smirked, leaving as well. The young sergeant major was dumbfounded by those expressions. "What does that mean? How do you know, colonel?"
"I have burnt a lot of people, sergeant major. I know." ________________________________________
Knock! Knock! Knock!
"Come in!" said the Fuhrer.
The door was opened. There, an officer stepped in and bowed.
"Ah! Lieutenant Hawkeye!" The Fuhrer put down his pen, holding his hands together. "I thought you are on sick leave. How are you feeling?"
"I'm feeling much better, your Excellency." Hawkeye answered drily.
"Glad to hear that." Bradley stood up, pacing slowly to his secretary's side. "You have no idea how disorganized this place was when you were gone just for a day."
Seeing Hawkeye's grim face remained unfazed, Bradley dropped his jovial countenance. "Right," he said. His right hand rested on Hawkeye's shoulder and gripped it with force, watching her grimaced in pain. "First thing first. How do you explain your failure in that mansion?" ________________________________________ "Okay, colonel! We believe you! But what do you want us to do?" Fuery exclaimed.
"Whatever you can. I understand that your relocation is only temporary. But for this investigation to continue, I'll need as much assistance as possible. Therefore I'm asking for you guys. Are you in or out?"
Breda, Falman, and Fuery looked at each other, and then faced Mustang, whose eyes had proven a pure motive. They had to admit that it could be their last collaboration under Mustang's lead. Weighing in all factors, they finally came up with a decision. "Hell! Do we even have a choice?" Breda asked. It was a question with an answer he already knew.
Mustang smirked. "No, and this task force is official—"
"Hey, hold on a second! Just to be clear!"
The call diverted everyone's attention to the bedridden veteran, who had an unlit cigarette fluttering as he spoke. "I'm not counted as part of the team, am I?"
His question returned with four pairs of squinting eyes. "Seriously?" His voice echoed in the hospital's hallway. ________________________________________ "I see." Said Bradley, released his hand. Nothing else was spoken.
"That's it?" Hawkeye asked, in a mix of fear and surprise. "You are going to kill them, aren't you?"
"Ha, ha, ha, ha!" Bradley laughed out loud. "Do you really want them dead so badly?"
"I'm giving you another chance, lieutenant. Prove that they worth my wait."
"Sir, yes sir!" Hawkeye saluted to dismiss herself. She stopped as she approached the door.
"One more thing, lieutenant. I am not a man with great patience. So please use your time wisely."
Hawkeye heard every single word. She closed the door behind as she left hastily, carrying an immense pressure upon her shoulders. One life for five. That would be a price that she was willing to pay. With her hands already smeared with blood, it made no difference to her.
She stopped and looked up, watching a familiar figure ran up to her. "Colonel Mustang!"
"Hi." Mustang managed to blurt out, but lost his trail of thought. The awkward silence crept in.
Weeks passed since the relocation was ordered. Mustang and Hawkeye met each other every day, even several times. Without being bound by work, their conversation soon became brief and trivial, as if they had lost the connection. Hawkeye knew what he was thinking and his concern. Nonetheless, there was nothing much she could reveal to him. Even so, at the look of this caring superior officer in front of her – rubbing his neck while stammering clumsily for several times only to seek out her well-being, warmed her heart. She appreciated it and she wanted him to know.
"I'm fine, colonel." She beamed. "Thank you."
The rubbing stopped at once. "Good to hear that," Mustang said. "I… ah… I shall leave you to your work then." He walked pass her.
The colonel turned around.
"Please take care."
Mustang waved in acknowledgement. Subsequently, they departed.
"He always has such a good timing," Hawkeye thought. ________________________________________
In the afternoon, the new established task force had begun a comprehensive investigation on the mysterious intruder and Aerugo's royals. So far, there was no report of suspicious burnt patient being admitted. It was also puzzling that the Aerugos took no further action on the intrusion, as if it did not happen. Mustang scratched his head. The delicate relations between Amestris and Aerugo had confined the task force to limited resources that was insufficient for any proper detective work. Another option was available even though it was more of a fluke – Bradley's approval. Mustang dismissed that thought quickly. Asking for a homunculus for mankind's benefit was a disgrace and a castle built in the air. Human's pride aside, why would he help? When Grumman came into his office, Mustang's logic was forced to be reassessed. Grumman, with a proud leer on his face, showed a sheet of paper with Bradley's signature and stamp. Reading it three times, Mustang slumped in his chair. His wish was granted. Of course, the world was governed by the law of equivalent exchange and the price was a full report of his findings.
It did not take long for one to figure out Bradley's purpose. Mustang was a double-edge sword that had to be kept at bay, even with Hawkeye as hostage. What harm could he make by signing a paper? As long as Mustang and his henchmen were under constant surveillance, the homunculi would have one less thing to worry.
Later that night, Mustang paid his visit to the retired soldier and recounted the episode.
"Well, that's a giant step to start with, isn't it?" Havoc asked.
"Or a big trap. After going through all those set ups, I had learnt my lesson." Mustang said.
"Don't be so grey, will you? Your face has ashen a lot these days. I'm not trying to scare you, but you look worse than any patient living in this hospital."
Mustang did not respond to Havoc's statement. His straightened face in disguising any sign of weariness prompted Havoc to change the topic.
"Have you seen her lately?" Havoc asked out of the blue. It did not take Mustang by surprise on the mention of 'her'.
"Every day, everywhere, all the time."
"You don't seem happy about that."
Mustang looked away. "It has been less to talk about."
"Other than work, it wasn't like both of you had exchanged much words before."
"I understand. But something just bothers me."
"Go talk to her then. He didn't bar you from seeing her, did he?"
Mustang reckoned the person who Havoc referred to as 'he'.
"He didn't. But why risk it?"
"Risk? Is risk your concern?" Havoc did not anticipated for a reply and continued, "It may sound illogical but sometimes… I just wonder why I am the one lying here."
Mustang could not answer. He did not have one. If there was a way to reverse his retired comrade's ordeal, he would strive for it at all cost.
"I don't know if you have noticed this or not but you have always assigned Lieutenant Hawkeye close to you whenever you are on the field. But you didn't that day!"
Mustang was speechless with Havoc's analysis, shuddering at the possible outcome had he chose Hawkeye to be his wingman instead of Havoc.
"Do you blame me?" Mustang asked. His tone was imbued with guilt and sympathy.
Havoc stared at the colonel. Mustang bravely looked right into his eyes, as if he was embracing himself for a verdict.
"Yes!" It came out affirmatively.
Ashamed, Mustang lowered his head, pondering for a mean to atone his sin.
"I knew you would give me that look," said Havoc. "I won't forgive you Mustang. I will never forgive you." ________________________________________ The images of Havoc gritting teeth, clenching fists, replayed in Mustang's mind again and again.
"If you let her slipping through your hands just like that, I will never forgive you."
Mustang could not wave away those words. The retired veteran was right. It was not his preference to pick a member beside Hawkeye as his partner. Had he chose Hawkeye, the person who would be paralyzed and lying on a hospital bed then… Mustang shivered upon that thought. If he knew one of his subordinates must be the sacrifice, he would have gone alone.
"You have a soft spot for children."
Perhaps Alphonse Elric was the cause of his choice, but it did not matter now.
Weeks of sleep deprive had taken its toll, maybe he really need to find a chance to speak with Hawkeye, or he was used to Black Hayate's barking… Mustang blinked at that thought. Did he just hear Black Hayate?
The fluffy creature was standing by Mustang's foot, wagging his tail in delight.
"Why are you here?"
Mustang knelt down and petted the black dog. "Wait! If you are here, then the lieutenant…" He looked around and saw no sign of Hawkeye. Instead, his eyes were captured by the crowd, which he walked into subconsciously. Since the visit of Aerugo, Central had become a much active night city. What used to be a quiet street instantly turned into a tumultuous gathering spot. However, it was not the first time this street had this kind of transformation. He had seen this scenery three years ago. Back then, he was not alone. He smiled. The feel of her hand in his was still fresh in his mind. He would never forget that instant bliss. If it was not for the decoy mission, he would not have the chance to experience it.
Mustang shook his head thinking he must be too tired. By the time he looked down to where the dog was, the creature was gone. It must be an illusion stimulated by that street. He simpered at his own idiocy and proceeded to the nearest café.
"Mr. Miller! You are late! How could you let your pregnant wife wait? Now hurry! She's sitting around the corner." Ushered the old café owner.
Mustang did not say much to the owner's comment but left a brief 'thank you', as he winded through the tables, and abruptly slowed down only a table away. Unbeknown of his presence, the woman was sitting on the chair enjoying her tea, a hand caringly stroking her bulging stomach.
"I'm really sorry that I'm late, honey," said Mustang, and pecked a kiss on the woman's cheek. "Shall we go?"
Slowly and cautiously, the woman rose on her feet and took Mustang's arm. Together, they walked out of the coffee shop.
As soon as they stepped out, Mustang let out a laugh.
"What's so funny?" The woman asked.
Touching his mustache, Mustang replied, "Do you remember what Hughes used to tell me?"
The woman did not answer. Even though it was unclear under the street light, he knew she was blushing. Contentedly, he continued, "I actually like bringing my 'pregnant wife' home. What do you think?"
"I don't know. I may end up shooting my 'husband' for being late."
"Ouch!" He muttered, as if he had been literally shot on the chest. Mustang then cleared his throat as an implication of topic change. "What happened?"
"He wants me to take down the subject."
Mustang tasted the bitterness in his mouth. The homunculi had pushed it too far. "So it was you in that mansion."
"I had to."
"I could—" Mustang shut his mouth immediately after realizing that he had raised his voice. "I could have killed you, you know that?"
"You didn't and you wouldn't, even if it wasn't me."
She had made a point. He would definitely catch the culprit alive for interrogation. "How is your wound?"
"It's healing fine. Don't worry. It is not the first time."
He did not know if those acrid words were intended to stir his old guilt or to assure him that she could take care of herself. Nonetheless, the notion of killing her with his hands had overpowered his sense of remorse. "How could you be so calm? I'm getting you out of there."
"No!" She let go of his arm. "Don't do anything. You might get everyone killed."
"I am not risking anyone's life. That includes you."
"Colonel… The only way we could all get out of this safely is the 'promised day'. You know it!"
Mustang knew nothing could persuade her once she had set her mind. The couple turned into a dark alley and uncovered two sets of clean blue uniforms behind the large cardboard. "I understand. But do not attempt to pull this out on your own. This is a request, as your friend." He said, as he threw his blazer and outer pants in a trash can.
The woman disposed the maternity dress and the pillow in the same way, as she had already changed into her blue uniform. "I told you everything, didn't I?"
"You don't have to anymore. A task force has been established and this is our last contact. From now on, we have your back," said Mustang, as he buttoning up his jacket. He later heard her hairclip clicked.
"Till 'Promised day'." The lieutenant said before disappearing into the darkness.
"Till 'Promised day'." Mustang tore the sticking mustache on his face and pulled on his ignition glove. In a snap of his fingers, the trash along with the mustache was turned into ash within a second. Mustang took a last glance at the dark alley and walked to the opposite direction, where the crowd was. "Be safe, Hawkeye." ________________________________________
"Oh! Have you heard about it?"
"Prince Charming is still single! There's rumor saying that he's looking for a wife in Amestris."
"No way! Does that mean that we'll have a chance to become the princess of Aerugo?"
Both women stared at each other, inhaling slowly and deeply, before they held their breaths.
"Hello ladies!" Breda greeted as he arrived at the reception. "Could you do me a favor and see if there is any mail for me?" He trailed off, confused, as the two female officers before him were as still as a rock, as if they were wax statues. "Um… ladies? Is everything all right?" Breda asked. His head tilted forward. It was a mistake which he would soon regret.
"Gyah!" The high-frequency squeal almost broke Breda's eardrums. While the second lieutenant winched in agony with buzzing rang in his ears, the receptionists retreated in a hurry.
"Oh my god! Oh my god! I need a new hairdo."
"I hope it's not too late to get a new dress!"
"Wait! My mail! Ah!" Breda covered his ears as he felt his eardrums were about to split. ________________________________________ "What on earth was going on?" Breda entered the office with a puzzled face.
"What is it? Second lieutenant?" Fuery tilted his chair and balanced himself by gripping on the desk.
"The women in this headquarter! They are like shorted wire for unknown reasons! Have you noticed the lines outside the women's bathrooms? They also like squealing a lot!" Breda's attention was diverted from his complaints to the man sitting at the furthest center of the office. The man was best described to be sprawling rather than sitting on the chair. His head was thrown back and dangling like that of a ragged doll. If it was not for the neck, his head would certainly drop to the floor because the back rest was not high enough to support it. Were the rest of the soldiers in the office not still carrying out their routine as usual, Breda would have cried out for stumbling upon a homicide victim.
"Hey…" Breda said, obviously still doubting what he saw. "Did Havoc come back or am I seeing the colonel's soul escaping from his mouth?"
Fuery shrugged his shoulders. "You tell me." He replied nonchalantly before returning to his work.
"I have lost my charisma!" Breda heard Mustang bawled.
"He's been like that since he went through the list," Falman added as he placed a folder on one of the two-foot stacks on Mustang's secretary.
"Wait… The phone book? The one with all the women's names?"
"Isn't that the only one?"
Breda was getting irritated by Mustang's languidness. He was not anticipating on wasting time on this temporary assignment to be under a flat-tire. "Oh come on, Colonel Mustang!" Seeing the rest of the members not attempting anything to improve the situation, the second lieutenant stepped in as he approached the colonel, who had his eyes close. Breda grabbed the colonel by his military jacket. "Get a hold of yourself!" Breda yelled.
It seemed to be effective. Mustang opened his eyes and stared at Breda. For a moment, the second lieutenant gulped and expected a harsh reprimand. It did not happen. Instead, Mustang dropped his head like a dead corpse. "Are you serious?" Disappointed, Breda let go.
"We've tried everything. None of them worked. I would suggest, Breda, that you help us with the paperwork. As you can see, we are critically understaffed," Falman said.
The newly promoted second lieutenant was correct. With Havoc's retirement and Hawkeye's absence, the team would soon be overwhelmed by paperwork if they did not start doing it. "Oh hey! Lieutenant Hawkeye!"
"I'm doing my paperwork. I'm doing my paperwork…" Mustang repeated himself.
Breda turned to his colleagues and asked, "Have you tried that?" Falman and Fuery were staring at the scribbling colonel, speechless.
"We… kind of forgot about it," Fuery replied shyly.
Breda mockingly mouthed a 'ha-ha!" to the junior officer.
"You set me up, Breda? That is insubordination!" Mustang stood up.
"How is getting the commanding officer to do his paperwork an insubordination?" Breda fought back.
"You lied to your CO!"
"You were neglecting your responsibility!"
"I was depressed."
"Oh yeah! I have lost my charisma!'" Breda impersonated Mustang, added some wailing at the end. "That sounds very convincing."
Falman and Fuery giggled at Breda's act.
"Stop laughing, both of you, or I'll get you court-martial."
As the quarrel continued, a corporal leaved the office and went to another room, where the Fuhrer was as he drank his tea. The corporal slowly transformed as he approached the Fuhrer. "How long are you going to send me for this boring task?"
"I told you not to leave them off your sight, did I not?" Bradley asked.
"Those simpletons have been doing nothing but horseplaying."
Unknown to the corporal, Fuery was hiding around the corner outside of Bradley's office. With such significant intelligence in his hands, Fuery rushed back to Mustang's office to reveal his findings. "You were right, colonel!" He told Mustang, who was resting comfortably in his chair.
Mustang straightened his spine and leaned forward to his desk. On cue, Breda and Falman stood by Fuery.
"Gentlemen!" said Mustang. "It's time to hunt."
Immediately after he left the Fuhrer's office, the corporal walked back to Mustang's office. The staffs were all occupied to their respective work. The corporal scanned the room. There were four empty seats, including Mustang's. "....!" cursed the corporal. He dashed to the window behind Mustang's desk and looked down. Mustang, in his business coat, was walking to a car parked at the plaza. Falman, who wore a sweater, held the door for him. Before entering the car, they glanced to their surroundings as if they were inspecting for followers.
Realized that he was late, the corporal ran out of the office.
Falman looked at the rear mirror as he drove the car. He asked, "Do you think it will follow us?"
Mustang folded the newspaper and put it aside. "It will. That's its job."
Falman said nothing further. However, Mustang noted the uneasy facial expression on the rear mirror. "Is there anything else?"
"Uh… nothing, sir. I was just wondering… isn't the operation suppose to be today?"
"And we are handling 'it' now, simultaneously?" Falman asked, emphasizing on 'it' as he spoke.
"I don't see a problem."
"I thought you would prefer to monitor the operation yourself. I mean… since she won't be able to contact us and after what happened last time…"
Last time… Mustang remembered 'last time'. That was the soreness that would never go away. He did not even want to recall how close he was to killing her.
"How could you be so calm? I'm getting you out of there."
"No!" She let go of his arm. "Don't do anything. You might get everyone killed."
"I am not risking anyone's life anymore. That includes you."
"Colonel… The only way we could all get out of this safely is 'Promised Day'. You know it!"
Mustang knew nothing could persuade her once she had set her mind. The couple turned into a dark alley and uncovered two sets of clean blue uniforms behind the large cardboard. "I understand. But do not attempt to pull this out on your own. This is a request, as a friend." He said, as he threw his blazer and outer pants in a trash can.
The woman disposed the maternity dress and the pillow in the same way, as she had already changed into her blue uniform. "I told you everything, didn't I?"
"You don't have to anymore. The task force was approved and this is our last contact. From now on, we have your back," said Mustang, as he buttoning up his jacket. He later heard her hairclip clicked.
"Till 'Promised day'." The lieutenant said before disappeared into the darkness.
"Till 'Promised day'." Mustang tore the sticking mustache on his face and pulled on his ignition glove. In a snap of his fingers, the trash along with the mustache was turned into ash within second. Mustang took a last glance into the dark alley and walked to the opposite direction, where the crowd was. "Be safe, Hawkeye."
"It is not a particularly difficult operation," Mustang said nonchalantly. "She will be fine."
"Right," Falman conformed, despite his superior's brief response and extreme tranquility exacerbated his worry. Mustang might have a cool head most of the time. However, he was also a protective leader. It was rather odd to Falman that the colonel would send a team member to execute a mission alone and without any back-up. The objective was very simple, probably the easiest one that the team ever had. But, any military action that qualifies to be an 'operation' has certain level of unforeseen jeopardy. Did Mustang not notice what he had? Falman cleared his throat, hoping that he could better express his anxiety. "Still, it is rather risky to infiltrate that place solo."
"Solo? Who told you that it was a solo mission?" Mustang crossed his arms and raised his eye brow.
"Um… Sorry sir. I didn't know that you had reinforcement in place."
"Of course I had arranged reinforcement! What am I? An uncaring commanding officer who would send his subordinate for suicidal mission?"
"You did send Edward Elric for that kind of task before," Falman murmured.
"I can hear that!" Mustang threw the newspaper to the front.
"Sorry colonel!" Falman yelped as he straightened his spine in horror.
"I had explained many times that Fullmetal was more than capable to handle it alone. How was that a suicidal mission? Besides, there were only a few chimeras in there—"
"A total of thirty-seven of them, to be exact," Falman thought. This time, he was mindful not to say it out loud. He recalled that Edward was hospitalized for a few days after that assignment. That incidence had instilled fear in the military for Mustang's iron fist. But, they did not know that it was only a small prank that went awry.
"—If it wasn't for the military banquet, I could have exterminated those pests myself," Mustang ranted.
"So you have sent Edward to support Lieutenant Hawkeye?"
"Seriously, what kind of retard will send a kid for that? Who is he going to disguise as? Her baby brother? Ha! ..."
Falman sighed, slightly regretted that he had asked. He could barely ignored Mustang's escalating agitation and unending insults to the famous Fullmetal alchemist as it was getting harder for him to focus on driving.
"Don't worry," Mustang said.
Falman looked back to the rear mirror to find that Mustang was no longer in a rampage.
"He is one of the most formidable combat alchemists I've ever worked with. Hawkeye is in good hands," Mustang smirked.
It took Falman a minute to mentally examine his encyclopedic list of combat alchemists that Mustang had ever associated with. When a name synchronized with his reasoning, Falman lost words. Mustang did not lie. That alchemist was indeed more than a competent reinforcement. He could be the ultimate safe guard. Falman confirmed his evaluation of the war hero. Whether that person liked it or not, Roy Mustang was an overprotective man, especially when it came to the one he cared.
"Yes, Second Lieutenant Falman…"
"She will kill you."
"I know." ________________________________________ "I know King Bradley is a tyrant. But, I don't know he is also this old-schooled." Prince Claudio was sitting restlessly near a round table, whispering.
"It is a little obsolete but undoubtedly reliable diplomatic measure. I personally think that Fuhrer Bradley is a brilliant ruler. A crown princess from Amestris will not only strengthen our tie with this powerful country but will also provide you a strong ally to support our kingdom. Why don't you choose one, Your Highness?"
"What? You are not expecting me to marry some general's daughter, are you? Who knows if they will pull out a drill on me! I will be killed, by them!"
"You are exaggerating, My Lord. They all look like lovely and elegant ladies to me." The old servant smiled to the crowds of women standing before him and the prince.
"If that is the case, why don't you marry them instead and stop pestering me?" Claudio rose on his feet but was stopped by his servant.
"Your Highness, please, Your Highness. You cannot just leave the ladies here. At least, talk to them. You know, it's a diplomatic gesture."
Claudio paused and looked at the older man. "Right, it's politics." Claudio licked his lips nervously. "I'm now Aerugo's ambassador."
"Yes, yes." The servant returned an awkward smile. He later let out a long sigh when Claudio walked to the crowd and said, "Ladies!"
The women were exhilarated to see the prince in closer proximity. Giggling merrily, the servant reached for his tea.
"Good afternoon! I should first express my gratitude to Fuhrer King Bradley for being so kind to have arranged this meeting. It is my honor and pleasure to meet you all."
It was all going accordingly as he expected. The servant sipped the hot liquid into his throat with satisfaction. "Oh, my young prince! You are just as tactful as the late king was!"
"However, I have no intention to take any of you as my wife. Thank you for your time." Claudio finished hastily.
The women gasped at the prince's speech but leaved the court reluctantly.
As the crowd dispersed, the prince turned to his back to smirk at his stiffened servant. The poor old man had lost strength in his hands and dropped the tea cup onto the grass. "I see that as a sign that you have approved my diplomatic skill," said the prince. It was now his turn to sip his tea.
"What an utter disgrace! This is not an elegant approach that I would expect from a royal!"
Prince Claudio spurted the tea from his mouth at the dawn of seeing the sparkling muscles flexing before him.
"Today, I, Alex Louis Armstrong will show you the art of courting from the Armstrong family..." Said Armstrong, changing several poses to showcase his naked upper torso.
"Colonel Roy Mustang, I am so going to kill you!" Thought Hawkeye, her fists and teeth clenched in anger.