Title: Sidetrack
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Alphonse, Edward, Mustang.
Setting: General.
Summary: There’s something odd about the latest mission Mustang has for Ed and Al.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Just a little something to fill the prompt vacations and holidays at Genprompt Bingo.

 

Sidetrack

 

“This is ridiculous,” Edward muttered, as he paced—or more accurately stomped—back and forth across the floor of Colonel Mustang’s outer office. “The jerk calls me back here for new orders, and then makes us wait half an hour to see him.”

 “It’s been more like twenty minutes, Brother. And we got here ten minutes early.” Alphonse resisted the urge to sigh and shake his helmet. Ed always went into Eastern Command expecting the worst. Maybe he would have gotten along better with the Colonel if he didn’t nurture such a healthy state of negative anticipation before they even saw the man.

“I wonder what kind of disaster he wants to shove us into this time. Why do we have to deal with every nutjob in Amestris who’s trying to use alchemy for wrong?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s not every one…”

“Well, that’s what it feels like. I’m so tired of it.” Ed flopped onto a hard wooden chair next to the inner office door, his tense expression relaxing into a wan smile as he looked up at Al. “Just another reason I can’t wait to get your body back. Then we can be done with all this.”

Feeling a twinge of guilt for the lengths his brother had gone to for him, Al moved closer to Ed. “You could at least take a break for a little while, Brother. We haven’t had a vacation since you became a State Alchemist—and that’s been nearly two years now. You deserve some time just to rest.”

“Spending a week doing nothing would only be that much longer you have to live in that armor. I’m not going to waste that kind of time, Al.”

“But exhausting yourself isn’t going to help me either. If you get worn out, someday you could make a mistake and get hurt—and then I might end up stuck like this forever.”

Ed frowned at that for a second. Then his eyes hardened, and he opened his mouth to deliver a familiar confident retort; but before he could get a word out, the door beside him opened.

“Good morning,” Colonel Mustang said blandly. His dark eyes rolled toward Ed, who hadn’t moved a muscle from his lazy slouch in the chair. “Way to come to attention when facing your superior, Fullmetal.”

The teenager smirked with gleeful contempt. “If there was somebody superior in the room, I would.” Nevertheless, he stretched languidly and rose to his feet—without haste, and with a demeanor still far from the crispness of military discipline. “So what kind of stupid monkey-chase are you sending us on this time?”

“Oh, I think you’ll find this assignment fairly interesting.” Mustang turned and sauntered back into his inner office, prompting the brothers to follow him as he settled in behind his paperwork-shrouded desk. “I’m sending you to a little village called Hurn.”

“Never heard of it. Where’s it at?”

Without waiting for a reply, Ed turned to study the large map on the wall. Al joined him, while Mustang said nothing, apparently content to let them track down their destination for themselves. Nearly two minutes passed before Al spotted the name and pointed it out, written in tiny print in the southwestern corner of Amestris.

“Are you serious?” Ed griped, squinting at the almost nonexistent location. “That’s all the way on the other side of the country—and it makes Resembool look as big as Central! What could possibly be there that’s worth a State Alchemist’s time?”

“It’s really a fairly serious case. A rogue alchemist named Creed Wilard, who fled Central after his illegal alchemy experiments were exposed—”

“Oh, come on, not another one,” Ed groaned, facepalming with a gloved metal hand.

“We have a few leads that suggest he went into hiding in Hurn,” Mustang continued, without missing a beat. “Your job is to go there, find him, and see that he’s taken into custody.”

“Do you have a file on him?” Al queried. He had observed enough mission briefings like this to know there was usually a folder of information about the person they were looking for, along with a photograph or at least a description to help identify them.

“Unfortunately, I can’t give it to you. The paperwork got hung up in Central.” Mustang waved a hand to still the rising pitch of Ed’s seething. “Besides, it’s believed Wilard has changed his appearance considerably while in hiding, so a description wouldn’t be of much use. What I can tell you is that he’s not expected to be dangerous or violent.”

“Just great. So what am I supposed to do? Ask the locals to tell me the way to the nearest crazy alchemist’s house?” Ed sniped.

Mustang smiled crookedly. “It’s not a bad idea—but I recommend being a little more subtle about it. A community that small is probably pretty close-knit. You might want to mingle with the locals for a few days, and try to build up some trust. Then you can start asking about any strange characters who may have moved into the area.” He raised a cautionary forefinger. “Just remember, it isn’t absolutely certain that Wilard is there at all—so try not to harass the citizens for information they might not have. But it’s a decent bet that you’ll find him, based on the leads Major Hughes passed on to me.”

Ed’s expression turned flat and narrow-eyed, his fists clenching. “I get it now. The military’s actually got other people on this case, but Hughes went and spilled it to you over the phone—and now you want somebody under your command to get to Wilard first, so you can take the credit for catching him. You stuck-up, politicking glory-hound—”

“I’m told Wilard has done some research on the Philosopher’s Stone.”

That one calmly delivered statement silenced Ed. He froze in mid-word, and his jaw snapped shut.

If the matter wasn’t so inherently serious, Al would have laughed. Brother could be so predictable sometimes. Most alchemists who played by the rules were not inclined to delve into the subject of the Philosopher’s Stone, so Ed would always jump at the slightest chance that a rogue alchemist they faced might have a clue about it. Mustang knew that just as well as Al did. It was probably why he had saved that little gem for last: to mollify Ed after he worked himself up over the other details of the mission.

“…Maybe it would be interesting,” Ed conceded, trying and badly failing to sound casual.

Colonel Mustang’s lips twitched. “I’m glad you have such zeal for your duty. In any case, that’s all there is to it. Report back to me when Creed Wilard is under lock and key.”

That concluded the matter. Wearing an expression of new resolution, Ed turned and marched briskly toward the door. Al followed more slowly, as he continued to turn over the details of the mission in his mind… because something about the sketchy briefing was nagging at him.

He was at the threshold of the outer office when it came to him.

“Uh, Brother? Wait for me here for just a minute. There’s something I want to ask Colonel Mustang.”

Edward looked bemused, but he shrugged and sauntered off, to examine the bulletin board on the far wall of the room. Al quietly shut the inner door behind him, and turned back to Mustang. The Colonel watched the armored boy’s approach with one eyebrow raised curiously.

“Why did you lie to us?” Alphonse questioned in a low voice.

An almost imperceptible trace of surprise flickered through Mustang’s eyes; but his neutral expression didn’t change. “What makes you think I was lying about anything?”

“That name. Creed Wilard.” Al folded his arms over his chestplate. “It’s an anagram for Edward Elric.”

Mustang’s poker face failed him then. He leaned forward against the desk and chuckled into his fist, shaking his head.

“Leave it to you to figure that out.” The Flame Alchemist smiled up at Al, with a touch of admiration on his face. “Alright, it’s true. There is no rogue alchemist. To my knowledge, there’s nothing in Hurn but vegetable farms and sunny weather.”

“Then why would you send us there?”

“Because I overheard your conversation with Ed outside the door.” Mustang became serious. “You’re right about one thing. Two years is too long for Edward to go without a rest. But we both know he won’t take any leave… that is, if he knows he’s taking a leave.”

A baffled sense of wonder arose within Al. “You mean you’re sending us on a vacation—disguised as a fake mission?”

“Something like that.” Mustang spread his hands. “Looking around a sleepy little village, asking questions about someone who doesn’t exist, is probably the closest we can get to Ed taking it easy. I’m sure you can help him relax a little more too, even if he does think he’s on the job. After a week or so, you can tell him the truth.”

Al giggled. He couldn’t help it. “Brother’s gonna be mad when he finds out, you know.”

“Let him be. When he comes back to scream at me, at least he should be a little more physically and mentally refreshed. I have a responsibility to ensure the fitness of my officers, and I’ll issue any orders necessary to that end—even if I have to be sneaky about it. Besides …” Mustang smiled at Al again, more gently this time. “I haven’t forgotten that both of you are still only boys.”

The younger Elric wished he could blush from the touched emotions he felt in his soul. He settled for ducking his head demurely. “I… Thank you, sir.”

“Well, Ed won’t be useful to either of us if he wears out,” Mustang replied glibly. “Just do me a favor, and try to keep him from bothering the locals in Hurn too much, or getting into any real trouble. He does have a gift for finding it everywhere.”

“I’ll do my best,” Al promised warmly. “Goodbye, Colonel.”

Mustang inclined his head, and Al exited, emerging into the outer office. Ed looked up at him dubiously from across the room.

“So what was that about?”

“Oh, nothing.” Al tried to keep a smile from creeping into his voice. “I just wanted to make sure this trip wouldn’t really be dangerous.”

Hmph. This Creed Wilard guy probably can’t tell us any more about the Philosopher’s Stone than any other crackpot we’ve met… but at least it sounds like he won’t be much trouble.”

“Nope!” Al agreed with amusement.

“And I’ve gotta admit, after the work we’ve done recently, it won’t hurt to deal with an easier job in a quiet little village.” Ed scowled. “If it’s as simple as the Colonel made it out to be. You know what a liar he is.”

The laughter was even harder to restrain then. “I think things will work out alright this time, Brother.”

“Hmm. I wonder what the food in Hurn is like…”

Still musing, Edward drifted out into the hallway, and Alphonse happily trailed after him—looking forward to the week ahead.


© 2014 Jordanna Morgan