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[personal profile] bob_fish
Title: The Phoney War, Chapter Eleven: Gauntlet
Setting: Fullmetal Alchemist, mangaverse, post-series, slight ending AU.
Characters: Roy/Ed, Havoc/Rebecca, Riza/Miles, Al, Winry, ensemble.
Rating/content: NC-17 overall, this chapter a light R for violence and swears.
Word count: 5603
Summary: Two years on from the Promised Day. Amestris is without a Fuhrer, the military is teetering on the brink of civil war, and Team Mustang search urgently for the opposition's secret alchemical weapon. Any day now could be the first day of the war, and everyone is feeling the pressure. So is it any wonder that Ed and Roy's growing friendship just kindasorta combusted on them?
Notes: Direct sequel to No Small Injury. Illustrated by me, betaed and edited by [livejournal.com profile] enemytosleep and [livejournal.com profile] a_big_apple.
Also notes: The final chapter ran long so this is chapter 11 of 12! Chapter 12 is complete and waiting for its illo, and should post early next week.

Chapter One: Blue Monday | Chapter Two: Make Your Mind Up Time | Chapter Three: Something Stupid | Chapter Four: Two Plus Two
Chapter Five: Inbetween Days | Interlude: Test Drive | Chapter Six: Go the Distance | Chapter Seven: A Grin Without a Cat
Chapter Eight: the Home Front | Interlude - TGIF | Chapter Nine: Charm Offensive | Chapter Ten: Flashpoint



Dear Mom and Papa”, Rebecca read aloud. “If you’re reading this - jeez, this is so weird. I feel like I’m writing a suicide note.”

Next to her at the dining table, Jean groaned and dropped his head in his hands. “Don’t. I feel so guilty. This sucks. This letter is my ma’s worst nightmare. Her dad dies in the Battle of Akrai, her husband dies in a threshing accident, her son joins the army and comes home with a broken back. She begged me not to go back into the military, and this is the exact thing she predicted would end up happening. The exact thing!”

Rebecca leaned in and ruffled Jean’s hair, hoping to get a half-smile. “It hasn’t happened yet.”

Jean groaned again. “Dear Ma. Uncle Robert was right, I am an asshole.

“You are not! You’re, like, the opposite of an asshole! Whatever that is.”

Jean leaned his head on one hand. “Well, at least at this rate we’re just gonna have to survive. Because these letters are going to suck.”

***


“I’m fine,” said Winry. “Still fine since Ed asked me five minutes ago.”

“Okay then,” said Al, a little too brightly. “I’m gonna say ‘bye now too. Take care, okay? And say hi to Paninya, and Mr Garfiel, and Warrant Officer Brosch, and Simon and the Spitzer Clinic girls -“

“I got it. ‘Hi’s for everyone,” she said. “We miss you too. And hey - you two take care of yourselves too. All right? Bye!”

Winry put the phone back in its cradle and unwound her index finger from the cord. Her heart hammered, and she breathed in slow through her nose. When it came to her, Ed and Al were still such crappy liars. At least it came in handy for when they wanted her to see through it. Screw Hakuro and his spies for depriving her even of a proper - whatever it was. She did not want to call it a farewell.

She looked over to the stairs, where Mr. Garlfiel was sitting, chin cupped carefully in one palm.

“So?” he said.

“Yeah,” Winry said. She let a big rush of breath out. “It’s not like they could tell me over the phone, the line’s tapped. But yeah. Looks like it’s go time. Tomorrow, I bet. They always leave these calls until the second before they’re about to do something crazy.” She paused again, drawing herself together. This whole business was giving her the nastiest déja vu. Ed and Al must be feeling that. Everyone else too, probably. Thank goodness that this time, she had something else to do but sit on her butt, sleepwalking her way through clinic duty with one eye on the sky.

“So,” she said, “Go time for us too. Do you think tonight’s enough time to spread the word?”

“I think that should be ample, Winry dear.”

Winry leaned back against the wall. Everything was very suddenly getting real, and it felt like a weight landing on her shoulders. “Are we about to do something crazy?” she said.

“My dear,” Mr Garfiel said, “we are already pretty established in the business of crazy. That’s what makes us so good at it.” And he tipped her a wink.

***


“Fuck this shit!” Ed yelled, throwing his hands up. “Fuck it right in the ear!”

“I don’t like it either,” said Al.

“But, you’re going along with it!”

“Because it makes sense! I knew you’d get mad. You always -“

“No, I don’t!”

“Yes, you do!”

Al had just broken the news that he was not going to Headquarters with Ed the next morning.

Ed threw himself down on the sofa, pouted his lower lip out, folded his arms. Al gave him a moment. And, just like always, he started to think it through.

“So,” Ed said, “what happens if they break out the Homunculus?”

“First off,” Al said, “if they did, we have no way of knowing if it’d be near HQ at all. The brigadier general’s guys searched the tunnels again and got nothing. More to the point, none of that matters if I give the coup away by showing up with you tomorrow. You know how obsessive the guys tailing us are getting. They’ve got my schedule down. I agreed to take that class as a big favour to Professor Mackintosh. If I don’t go because I’m headed to HQ with you, what do you think they’re going to think is up?”

“I don’t like it,” said Ed, in that slow voice that meant he was starting to concede the point.

“Neither do I,” Al said. “But if we don’t have surprise, we don’t have anything.”

Ed folded his arms more. “Quoting Roy at me won’t win you this one,” he said. “Don’t tell me this was his idea and he was holding out on me.”

“No, Brother,” said Al. “It was my idea.”

Ed looked at him, and blew a resigned breath up to ruffle his bangs. “Of course it was your idea.”

Al shuffled. Now he felt guilty. “I’ll only be starting twenty minutes after you,” he said. “Surprise only matters until Mustang’s announced it all over the radio. If you get yourself assigned to Team Foxtrot when we go to Phase Two, you can help me blockade the railway stations.”

“Yay,” said Ed without enthusiasm. “Look,” he said, “if shit goes down at HQ, just promise me you’ll get your ass over there right away.”

“Of course I will,” Al said, with feeling. “I promise.” He put his fist out, and Ed hauled himself off the sofa to bump it.

Well, that was one more difficult conversation done. Al looked back at the letter in his hands, blew on it for a moment to dry the ink, then folded it and stuck it to an envelope. He dropped the envelope on top of the wicker basket at his feet.

The basket meowed.

“I know you’re feeling abandoned right now,” said Al, “but Bao-Yu is gonna take really good care of you. I’ve told her all your favourite things to eat, and I’m giving her your toys and your favourite blanket, so it’ll even still smell like home!”

“That letter is basically a monograph,” Ed said. “How can it possibly be that complicated? He sleeps on the same spot on the couch for twenty-three hours of the day, and for the other hour he crams his face with tuna. If we’re late to dinner with Teacher, you get to tell her it was because you had to write a dissertation on how to open a can of fish once a day.”

“Teacher appreciates the value of doing things thoroughly,” Al said.

Ed snorted. “Anyway, how are you even doing this with these amazing assholes tailing you?”

“We worked out a cover story,” Al said. “I’m supposed to be giving him to a friend because our landlord found out.”

Ed nodded, then narrowed his eyes fractionally. “You’re buddies with spy chick now?”

“Bao-Yu and Vanessa have got their safe house all set up,” Al said, dodging the question. “They were the most sensible option. Besides, she offered.” Al picked up the basket and held it up for Ed. It meowed sadly again. “Say goodbye to Zozimos, brother. Tell him how much you’re going to miss him and that we’ll see him soon.”

“Later, Predator,” Ed said. “You should work on your survival skills while you’re hiding out. Learn to catch some food that didn’t come out of a can.”

Meow, said the basket.

“Boys,” said Teacher. Ed and Al both jumped hard. Why didn’t she ever believe in knocking?

“Hi, Teacher,” Al managed. “I thought we were meeting you at the restaurant?”

“You two really still haven’t named that cat?”

“Uh,” said Al.

“We’re talking it over,” said Ed.

“We’re having some creative differences,” said Al.

Izumi rolled her eyes. Then she crouched down and peered into the basket. It meowed.

“Brian,” she said. “You should call him Brian.”

“Brian,” said Ed. “Huh.”

“I like it,” Al said. And he really did. “Hello, Brian!” he said to the basket.

Meow, said the basket, in the saddest voice in the world.

***


Gracia wasn’t shouting. That was the worst of it, she wasn’t even annoyed. She was just saying no. “Just like that?” she said. “Am I supposed to walk out of work when I’m booked in on the rota for the next four days -“

“Call in sick, then! Please -”

“Roy.” She shook her head and smiled at him. “You should know better by now. If things - if there’s - disruption, chaos, I don’t know what, but do you know how overloaded Mercer Hospital would be?”

“I do, actually.” Roy curled his hands around his cup of tea and frowned. Why was it that he could persuade a crowd of officers into committing treason for him, but he couldn’t argue one civilian friend into getting out of town for two days? “But it’s not that. There are risks we can’t control, and if something goes wrong - I told you before, the enemy have a file on you, Gracia. If things go - badly - tomorrow, you’re at risk.”

Gracia blew a breath upwards into her bangs. “I know. And I appreciate what you’re saying, I really do. But from what you’ve said - I know you’ll do everything you can to prevent it, but - but. You know I’m ward sister now, right?”

Roy started. He hadn’t. “Congratulations. I’m sorry, I’ve gotten so out of touch -“

Gracia waved it off. “I know, I know why, don’t worry about that. But anyway. I’m in charge. In the emergency room. And if there’s a citywide emergency, we all just go straight to work. That’s procedure. If we have the day off, if we’re on vacation, it doesn’t matter. All hands on deck. Like you.”

Roy shut his eyes for a moment. There was pressure in his throat, behind his eyelids. If he didn’t give it any room, it would calm itself in a moment.

Gracia’s hand touched his knee. “I’ll send Elysia to her grandparents,” she said. “I can put her on the train first thing tomorrow morning.”

Roy nodded. Gangly little Elysia, asleep in her bedroom next door, with her scuffed knees and her piles of books and her father’s sharp eyes.

“Thank you,” Gracia said, into the silence.

Roy half-laughed, and shook his head. “You don’t have to say that. I’ll always tell you, whenever I can.”

“No, not that,” Gracia said, looking him in the eye. “Thank you for seeing this through.”

For a fractional instant, Roy felt like he couldn’t keep it together. Then he smiled. “Well, you know me, I’m an obsessive lunatic.”

Gracia looked how Roy felt. Her eyes widened and her mouth compressed, and then a moment later, she managed a smile.

The moment of silence was just long enough for Roy’s brain to jolt into processing the abstract fact he’d always known: it wasn’t just the people he loved who were in danger here. He could die doing this. Tomorrow.

***


The place was not to her tastes, in many ways. When it came to nature, Olivia had always preferred the sublime to the merely pretty. She had been highly indifferent to weeping willows, and birdsong, and fields of wild flowers. But as a child, she’d moored her rowboat on this island and built a fort in the ancient oak, and here in the long summers home from school, she and Alex and their sisters had fought each other here in mock-battles. So it was here, in privacy and peace, that the Armstrongs had chosen to bury her.

Perhaps it would never have come to this, Alex thought, had she lived. Olivia had always had too much courage, just as he had always had too little. She had been bold and headstrong and stubborn, and proud of all those things. They had brought her to the violence and splendour of the Northern frontier, and to a brilliant career, and to aiming her sword at the very top, and finally to the hero’s death she had acted out as a child in the meadow here, all those summers ago.

He had not been by her side, that day. His penance had been to act the part of a broken man for two wretched years: to listen and wait and spy in silence, in defiance of his temperament, his breeding and his legacy. But his orders were given, and the wheel was finally turning. Tomorrow morning, he would be unshackled. He was relieved and grateful and horribly afraid that his strength, unused for so long, would fail the test.

Olivia had never been much for religion, either. She would scoff at him for it, but he felt close to the gods in these woods. So he burned the herbs he had brought with him on her grave, and knelt touching the good earth, and prayed to god and goddess for a little of his sister’s courage.

***


Now that they were on the up and up, Roy had apparently shed any previous inhibitions about getting sappy after sex. Right now, he was a warm, smiley weight flopped half on top of Ed: smoothing Ed's hair back, kissing his eyelids, the corners of his mouth, his temples.

Ed would poke Roy right in the ribs if he wasn’t enjoying himself so much.

"I love your mouth,” Roy said, “it’s perfect."

"If you start singing at me," said Ed, "I'm calling the cops."

Roy narrowed his eyes. "You know," he said, "some people would argue that if you're truly secure in your masculinity you don't need hang-ups about private expressions of affection."

Ed tutted. "I don't have hang-ups! I just let you privately express your affections to me all bent over with my face in the couch cushions. Look, I still have a dent in my cheek, how's that for no hang-ups!"

Roy laughed, and gave him a big annoying smooch in the dent.

Ed had been here before. Right now, his dignity was making its last stand; but he knew it was toast. He might as well admit it. “Okay,” he said. “Seriously. You know how I feel, right? Sometimes it’s so much I feel like I’m gonna puke.”

So, he could have put that better. Roy gave him an incredulous look, with a broad hint of affection round the edges. "Poetic. Really?"

"No, really! Don't laugh at me either, I hate it.” He shuffled a bit. It was always difficult to stay in place when he felt off-kilter. "Sometimes I just think about - if something bad happened to you, and I nearly toss my cookies. I just get like that, it's stupid, I know it's stupid, about the people I really give a shit about and … yeah." He cut his losses and shut up.

Roy didn't say anything for a moment. Ed hadn't been looking at him while he'd been saying all that. Now he looked up into Roy's face and immediately saw that he got it. Ed’s chest panged. How amazing was that, that Ed could say something so weird and express it so badly, and Roy just got it?

"It's terrifying," Roy said quietly, “isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Ed said. The corners of his eyes were prickly. He couldn’t hold out any more. He leaned up, kissed Roy on the forehead, cupped Roy’s cheek in his hand. Goodbye dignity, it’s been nice. “Hey,” he said. “Tell me you’re bulletproof.”

“That,” Roy said, “would be a bit of a fib.”

“Yeah,” Ed said, “but just say it anyway. Tell me it’ll work tomorrow. Tell me we can’t fail. Tell me that you and Al and everyone we know is indestructible.”

Roy looked at him and said nothing. He put a warm hand to the back of Ed’s head, stroked the top of Ed’s ear with his thumb.

“You won’t jinx it,” Ed said. “Because there’s no such thing as a jinx. That’s just magical thinking. We can get our blood racing and push ourselves and not take anything for granted and get in the zone. But that’s what we do tomorrow morning. Tonight, we just need to sleep. That’s the best way to be ready. Then we’re going in tomorrow and we’re going to do this thing like badasses, with everything we’ve got. And then.” And by this time tomorrow, it would all be done.

“All right,” Roy said. “Everyone is indestructible. I’ve handed down a standing order to all of them not to die. And you know what an obedient bunch of subordinates I have.”

“See,” said Ed, “Fixed. That wasn’t so hard, huh?” He forced a smile out of his face. Then Roy kissed him, and that was easier, and then they lay in each others’ arms and watched the scarce minutes tick away.

***


Dear Mom and Papa,

I’ve left this letter with Lucia, and if she’s given it to you, that means something went wrong. That I got myself killed, or things went badly, or both. Obviously that’s not what the plan is. I’d much rather that Jean and I and all our favourite people come out of all this without a scratch, and that in a month or two we’ll be kicking back on that honeymoon we never got time for. But if that doesn’t happen, I figured you guys deserve an explanation from me.

Papa, I know you and Mom’s parents came to this country hoping for a better life. I know how hard you guys worked to give me and Lucia that, and I want you to know how grateful I am. I don’t know how great I’ve been at showing it all these years, but I really am. I’m sorry I didn’t call often enough. I’m sorry I’ve put you through this. And I’m sorry I’m writing this in a letter instead of telling you in person. Partly I didn’t want you to know things that could get you in trouble, but if I’m honest I think it might have been too hard to look you in the eye and say this stuff. It’s hard enough writing it.

I don’t know what kind of things you’ll be hearing about Mustang right now, and goodness knows I’ve ranted often enough about what a crazy-making C.O. he is. But the thing is, I believe in him. There’s a reason that Jean and I, and Riza, and everyone else, will go to these ridiculous lengths for him. We believe he can do it. And we want a better life too, for everyone.

I know that we might not succeed. If we don’t, though, someone else will, one day. I really believe that. Even if we fail this time, then we’ve started something. It’ll be up to someone else to pick up where we left off.

I love you guys. Thank you for everything. And Mom, you make the best Torta della Nonna in the universe. Fact.

Love,
Rebecca.


***


Business as usual: the next morning, Roy went to work around seven hundred hours. He walked instead of driving, but the weather was very fine, so that wasn’t so strange. He strolled with his hands in his pockets, sweating a little into his gloves.

At seven fifteen, the two adjoined offices were only a little emptier than usual at that time of day. Riza sat at her desk, going over her in-tray with a cup of coffee. Miles had his nose buried in a report. Breda procrastinated over his latest move at the office chessboard. Fuery tried to sneak Hayate a biscuit, and Riza spotted him. Major Armstrong dropped by with a stack of paperwork for Falman, and stayed to explain it. Fuery popped out on his usual bacon sandwich supply run, and Ross went along to help him carry the coffees. Soldiers made phone calls, filed filing, typed memos. Everyone looked busy. The clock ticked.

At seven twenty nine, Roy got up and walked over to the door. He stood there, back straight, while one by one, every soldier in the two offices put down their paperwork and coffee, came to the front of the room, and stood at attention. By his side, Roy saw Riza discreetly looking everyone over, checking they had what they needed. From the corner of his eye he saw her nod to him.

Roy raised his arm and beckoned, and his people followed him.

The walk between Roy’s department and Meeting Room 4F took around six minutes. HQ wasn’t quite full at this hour; they took a quieter route, and only passed a few people on the way. Their little squad generated mild interest, but Roy saw no panic. It wasn’t unusual for soldiers to move in groups; it was likely they were heading to greet a dignitary, or to some kind of training exercise. Even their rifles were no cause for alarm. Hayate, trotting along with them at Riza's heels, made them look still more everyday: only someone who knew the little dog better might notice his tucked ears and the droop of his tail.

At the t-junction of a corridor, their group split into two. Major Miles peeled off in the direction of the Communications Room, and a team of ten followed him. As they went, Roy felt a bump against his shoulder. He glanced and saw Ed, looking at him for a fragmentary moment as he passed. He mouthed something that Roy didn’t quite catch. Then he was gone with Miles and the rest of them, and Roy was marching forward once again, setting his face and trying to push it all down.

Their little squad stopped at the corner before the meeting room. Riza popped a dentist’s mirror round the corner for a moment, then held up four fingers. Four men on the door: as expected. Roy nodded at Major Armstrong. He walked ahead.

“Excuse me,” Roy heard Armstrong say, “but I have a memo for Colonel Wells. Is she in the meeting?”

“Sorry, sir,” said one of the guards, “this is a confidential meeting.”

“But this is most urgent! She will need to give it her immediate attention.”

“I am sorry, sir,” said another guard, not sounding it, “but we have orders. This meeting isn’t to be interrupted.”

“I must protest!” Armstrong boomed. Give the man his dues, he could act. “This is an emergency -“

That was their cue. As Roy swung around the corner, fingers poised to snap, he saw two of the men hit the floor, felled by what looked like a simultaneous left and right haymaker from Armstrong. A third guard was bringing his gun up; Roy saw Armstrong going for him and shifted his attention to the fourth. The fourth guard’s right hand was still behind his back, drawing his sidearm - but he had stopped moving. The guard raised his free hand. Roy glanced into his peripheral vision. As he thought: Riza had the man covered. Armstrong had the fourth man in a headlock: limp, feet trailing the floor. He lowered the guard, carefully, to the floor and disarmed him.

The remaining guard looked at Roy with unadulterated terror. Roy walked up to him and looked him in the eye. He mouthed, “Co-operate, and you have nothing to fear.” The guard nodded fractionally. Breda cuffed him, then gagged him, and stood him against the opposite wall, where his comrades lay. Roy pointed at Lamacq and Sullivan, and they covered the guards, conscious and unconscious, with their sidearms.

The corridor was very silent. Riza and Roy listened at the double doors for a moment. They could hear the muffled sounds of business as usual: no alarm in the voices, just a dull meeting running its course.

Roy counted them down from five with his left hand. Riza and he each put a hand to one of the doorknobs. Four, three, two, one - and on zero they shoved the doors mightily, and they were in.

And that was it. Back to back, they had the room covered. The five officers at the table sat just as they were, papers and pens in hand, frozen like rabbits. Their eyes darted around, taking in the exciting array of weaponry pointed at their heads.

Roy had been waiting for this moment for two years, and longer. He looked Major General Hakuro right in the eye. And he grinned.

Hakuro said nothing. He looked at Roy with open hatred. But after years of mutual contempt filtered through necessary politenesses, it was a positive pleasure to see the real thing.

“This can’t possibly be a surprise,” Roy said.

“It isn’t,” Hakuro said. His tone was shut down.

Roy could afford honesty now - and he could afford a moment, too, couldn’t he? “Two years ago,” he said, “you had Fuhrer Grumman murdered. Remember that? I haven’t forgotten. It would have come to this back then, but we made an agreement. I didn’t break it. You did.”

Hakuro said nothing. He was red in the face, sour, contained.

The room was very silent. Roy stepped forward and continued. “You’re afraid of alchemists, and of their creations, and of what happened on Eclipse Day, so you hired one of the worst of them to make your own Homunculus.” His voice was getting louder, without his permission. He tried to control it. “You let him murder human beings to feed it. You let him hire gangsters at the taxpayer’s expense and use them to murder anyone who investigated, up to and including Major Hawkeye. You are not fit to be in charge of this country, and you aren’t going to be in charge of it.”

Hakuro’s expression didn’t change at all. Roy’s anger was a burning tangle of impulses, a pressure behind his eyes. Riza was a tense presence at his left shoulder. Roy drew in a breath. “I’ll be making sure you get a fair trial,” he said. “I doubt that will do you any favours.”

He leashed his temper, and turned to her, to the rest of his men. “Target Bravo secured,” he said.

“Dino, take fifteen men,” Riza said. “Get the guards from outside. Lock and barricade the room, keep this location secure and wait for further orders. We’ll try to get orders and reinforcements to you in ten. Here’s the room key.” She tossed it to Falman.

“Search the room and everyone in it, while you’re at it,” Roy said. “Anything out of the ordinary, anything at all, and as soon as you get word Comms is secure, I want you to radio us. Got it?”

Dino saluted crisply.

Then they were on the move again. Their squad was smaller now and less cause for attention: merely himself, Riza, Armstrong, Breda, and two troopers. They passed a little early morning traffic, officers and clerks starting work early, with no notion yet what had begun to happen here.

Roy caught Riza’s eye as they walked, and he could tell already she’d noticed what he had. “We’re in trouble,” he said.

She nodded. “Agreed. We’ll need to keep moving fast.”

“Wait, what?” Breda frowned at them. “That was textbook back there, sir. How could we have got it done any faster?”

“No, Hakuro took that far too quietly,” Roy said. “I’ve seen him in dire straits before. It’s absolutely unlike him to keep his temper so well. He thinks he - has an advantage we don’t know about.” No, more than that. He looked like he thought he could still win.

Rook strode up, radio set strapped to his back, holding out the handset. Riza took it and put it to her ear with her free hand.

Roy leaned in and heard Miles’ voice echoing into the corridor through the static. There were voices in the background. “Echo is secure, I repeat, secure.” They had Comms. Good. And now the lines were open, and they could make use of them, at least in code. “Alpha, what’s happening at your end?

“Bravo clear and locked, zero down on our end. You?”

Zero - zero. See you soon.” Roy’s chest tightened briefly.

Inside the comms centre, all was well. Miles was covering the door; when he saw them, he lowered his gun, grinned and tapped two fingers to his forehead. At one side of the large room, several officers and clerks sat gagged and cuffed to chairs. A number of the others were, as anticipated, co-operating cheerfully. A young trooper with her hair scraped into a ponytail gave a thumbs up to Ed, who was lounging in front of a microphone.

Ed caught Roy’s eye, then spoke into the mike. “Ross, how’s it going at Radio Capital?”

“Bearing up,” said Ross’ voice over a loudspeaker. She sounded positively relaxed.

Through the background noise, someone else called out, “We were wondering when you guys were going to show!”

Someone else added, “We had a slate on the date and everything!”

Well, at least some people were having a good time right now. Ed caught Roy’s look and cleared his throat. “Okay, we’ve gotta keep things moving fast over here. You ready to go live?”

Fuery’s voice replaced Ross’s at the end of the line. “Everything’s prepared, sir. Your excellency?” It sounded weird to Roy’s ears. “We’ll count you down from ten.”

Roy elbowed Ed out of the way, and he ceded the mike with a grin. Roy got himself seated comfortably, took the sip of water someone offered, breathed deep.

This was the moment things really tipped. In a few seconds, everyone in Headquarters, everyone in the city would know what they were doing.

A successful coup is an exercise in sleight of hand, and a study in speed as military advantage. Move fast enough, keep moving, and tell the world you’ve taken charge. And if you’ve judged it right, if you have enough silent supporters and undecided wait-and-see-ers, if you can keep locking down your targets quickly enough, if you can keep out of your enemies’ reach in the meantime - then your words will come true.

Of course Roy had practiced his speech a few dozen times. That helped. A bit.

Three - two - one - and -

“Good morning. This is Brigadier General Roy Mustang speaking to you on behalf of the Amestrian army.”

The first time Roy spoke on the radio was soon after his appointment at East. He stumbled. Grumman never let him hear the end of it. Stumble during a live broadcast and you’ll sound like you don’t know your ass from your elbow - and everyone will hear you.

He ignored the memory and the twinge of nerves, and went on. “Everyone listening to this broadcast remembers Eclipse Day. Two years ago, the leaders of this country proved themselves unfit to lead.”

He kept talking: slowly, calmly, feelingly. He had the speech off by heart. He looked at Riza, pretended he was rehearsing with her, just one more time.

“They licensed and commissioned the building of illegal alchemical weapons. Weapons so powerful and so uncontrollable that they endangered the whole country. Good people died to stop them. Terrible sacrifices were made.”

He looked at Major Armstrong and saw his moustache starting to quiver already. He looked at Ed and saw the light in his eyes, trusting and brilliant and dangerous.

“Since that day the government of this country has been a temporary one. This has been a time of compromise, and transition, and rebuilding. That time is now over. In these two years, many among the Amestrian people have spoken out against tyranny. We have heard you. I regret to tell you that we have recently discovered that Major General Hakuro and his supporters have been engaged in the building of illegal and taboo alchemical weapons, of a power and deadliness equivalent to those which were used on Eclipse Day. The evidence is incontrovertible. Hakuro and those responsible are under arrest. We have effected a change in government. Please stay calm. There is nothing to fear.”

He wondered if Mrs Curtis was listening from her hotel, or if Harry Valentina and her colleagues would be listening from their safe house. He wondered if Katie Flowers’ parents could hear him.

“I want you to know right now who we are, and what we stand for. We in the new government stand against tyranny, and brutality, and injustice. Against isolationism, against murder and violence conducted by the state or by the individual, against lives lived in continual fear, against communities shattered or impoverished or living under the shadow of violence, against the use of science to destroy lives and prop up tyranny.”

He thought of Gracia listening at the nurses’ station, of Havoc and Catalina parked out in the suburbs and waiting for the call to action. He thought of all the people he wanted to hear him who couldn’t. He imagined Hughes, Grumman, General Armstrong, Hohenheim, standing just behind his shoulder. Waiting.

“We stand for justice, stability, industry, diplomacy, culture, trade. We stand for peace and stability at every border of this nation. We stand for science used in the service of humanity, for the extension of knowledge and improvement of lives. This country is ready to work for change and to invest in hope. We in this new government promise to work alongside you to those ends, to the best of our ability.”

“You have nothing to fear. Travel and communications may be disrupted for a short time. Please keep unnecessary journeys to a minimum. Stay calm, and keep your radios tuned. There will be more announcements throughout the day. Take care. Good morning.”

Roy clicked the microphone off. For a moment, there was ringing silence. Then Fuery’s voice over the loudspeaker. “It went out, sir. Loud and clear.”

The room erupted in applause. Roy breathed for a moment, then grinned, and stood, and looked around - and saw Breda, gripping a radio handset, white-faced.

“Sir,” Breda said. “You were right. We’ve got a problem.”

***


***


Onward to the final chapter!

Date: 2012-09-27 06:14 pm (UTC)
ext_7375: Tsuzuki, OMG yaaaay. (Default)
From: [identity profile] japanimecrazed.livejournal.com
That is a horrible cliffhanger! I loved this entire chapter- Rebecca's letter, and Alex's visit, and Gracia was amazing. I'm eager to see how this ends!

Date: 2012-09-27 06:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
Thanks so much! \o/ Glad you enjoyed, and sorry about the cliffie. At least the final chapter is nearly ready!

Date: 2012-09-27 07:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lunaria-kitty.livejournal.com
*splutters* Cliffhangerrrr. I've got to get ready for work, so I can't drop a long comment, but this chapter was absolutely great. From all the goodbyes/letters/final night together (was tearing up right along with Ed there ♥), to the suspenseful next day. Glad to see some of Gracia in there too!

Nice illo too! Love the scar on his hand.

Can't wait to see the last! I'll be on the edge of my seat waiting for more!

Date: 2012-09-27 07:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
\o/ Thanks for reading and leaving lovely comments! I haven't used Gracia much so it was good to bring her back into the mix.

Roy has quite the scar collection by now. As does Riza, and Ed, and Havoc ... *pats them all*

Date: 2012-09-28 03:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] orion117.livejournal.com
I am praying that Breda's bad news is that the commissary has run out of sandwiches for the coup, but I am fairly certain that will be proven wrong.

I love the illustration—that truncated view of Roy's face with one hand and a bit of uniform is very powerful. I liked his thoughts about doing the broadcast, as well as Fury's "Your excellency." Aw.

I also loved that now that Roy has opened the door to being in a relationship, he's thrown it wide open, or opened the floodgates on his feelings, or something like that. Very sweet, and the passage where Ed asks him to tell him he's bulletproof reminded me of Buffy's "Lie to me," to Giles. I was already getting teary, and then that recollection hit me and made it all the more powerful.

The action scenes were great, as usual, and kept me on the edge of my seat, and all the goodbyes were very poignant. Alex's thoughts and Roy and Gracia's conversation hit me the hardest. Can't wait until next week!

Date: 2012-09-28 04:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
Haha, if only it were a sandwich shortage. XD That would be the cheekiest cliffhanger payoff. XD

Thanks for the lovely review! I loved writing and drawing the radio broadcast bit, anything that involves Roy and the tachi being Big Damn Heroes gets me right in the sappy places.

Re. Roy's feelings, that's a good way to describe it! Just as with the sex, once he's let himself go there, the floodgates are open and it's all a bit unstoppable - probably more so than he anticipated.

I'm actually a big Buffy fan - it's been years since I saw "Lie to Me" but now that you point it out, I do see the similarities of tone and dialogue with that lovely scene with Buffy and Giles, so maybe it rubbed off on me! Consciously, I was thinking of Roy's occasional habit of giving direct orders to his subordinates not to die, and how Ed's uncompromising determination sometimes takes a similar form.

Glad to hear both action and sap worked for you!


Date: 2012-09-30 01:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] skelody.livejournal.com
CLIFFHANGER

You are cruel in your kindness, O Bard.

Date: 2012-09-30 11:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
*shifty eyes*

Date: 2012-10-02 07:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lazylamia.livejournal.com
Watching these preparations and farewells I almost wanted the coup to start - because waiting is always the worst part - but now I wonder what kind of problem they can have? I'm sure that Roy planned (almost) everything.

Date: 2012-10-02 08:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
The waiting really is always the worst part! Roy and Team Mustang planned for nearly everything, but as they talked about in Chapter 9, there's some potential for complications. :O
From: [identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com
“Well, at least at this rate we’re just gonna have to survive.”
Please do, bbs! o______o

...oh mah gawd your Garfiel he is perfect you are perfect this is the perfect thing to save this incredibly boring day of work and I am full of love~

“Fuck this shit!” Ed yelled, throwing his hands up. “Fuck it right in the ear!”
And the award for Ed-est first Ed line in a chapter goes to YOU, NO CONTEST. :'DDDD

“Of course I will,” Al said, with feeling. “I promise.” He put his fist out, and Ed hauled himself off the sofa to bump it.
*Tierfal's Tumblr voice, which hates punctuation on principle* I am having too many feelingssssssssssss

“Say goodbye to Zozimos, brother. Tell him how much you’re going to miss him and that we’ll see him soon.”
I love how much this is not at all an option; it's an ORDER, and Ed is going to follow it. XDDDD

Meow, said the basket, in the saddest voice in the world.
I made a huge sadface just now, and I am not ashamed.

fjdakljfkldsa more feelings because I love it so much when Roy keeps tabs on the Hugheses. And I love this even more because Gracia is having none of his shit and ain't even mad. Apparently killing time at work all day completely destroys my ability to communicate in any form other than a string of memes. XDD I love what that says about Hughes, too, retroactively -- we see Gracia's strength in a very understated way in canon, and I love the idea that he knew there was steel there. And he's very much the same way, to me, in being such an utter BAMF underneath the clowning; I'm totally digging the idea that she's very similar past all of the sweetness. :D

Why was it that he could persuade a crowd of officers into committing treason for him, but he couldn’t argue one civilian friend into getting out of town for two days?
This might have something to do with the fact that your entire team finds you very sexy, Roy, and Gracia has never had eyes for you. Seriously, man, LOGIC.

When it came to nature, Olivia had always preferred the sublime to the merely pretty.
*tangential flailing because I took a course on the Romantic poets in Cardiff and all we ever talked about was sublimity* XD

...less-tangential flailing because that whole scene is just so terrifyingly gorgeous; omfg ALEX. I am awarding you even more Epic Points for taking a character like Armstrong and so authentically allowing him a moment of depth with none of the sparkles. This:

He had not been by her side, that day. His penance had been to act the part of a broken man for two wretched years: to listen and wait and spy in silence, in defiance of his temperament, his breeding and his legacy. But his orders were given, and the wheel was finally turning. Tomorrow morning, he would be unshackled. He was relieved and grateful and horribly afraid that his strength, unused for so long, would fail the test.

is just... too stunning. I don't even have words; it's beautiful.
From: [identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com
ajfkjsalfjdlafda you are giving me Roy/Ed fluff I am dying and it will be a happy death

He shuffled a bit. It was always difficult to stay in place when he felt off-kilter.
This is a gorgeous detail, and so utterly, utterly Ed to me -- I was thinking the other day about how I see Roy as so verbal and cerebral; and Ed as overwhelmingly physical. And you've touched on that already here, with how hard it is for Ed to articulate things, but the difficulty is part of what makes him realize how important it is to other people, and... *rambles off a cliff*

How amazing was that, that Ed could say something so weird and express it so badly, and Roy just got it?
IT IS THE POWER OF THE OTP, ED, MY DEAR

“Hey,” he said. “Tell me you’re bulletproof.” /“That,” Roy said, “would be a bit of a fib.”
Oh God this is so cute and so THEM that I am hurting inside. It hurts so good-- x___x

REBECCA'S ENTIRE LETTER *gross sobbing*
If I had to pick a favorite part, it would either be believing in Mustang or the concluding fact of the universe. But I'm not going to pick; I refuse; it's all too lovely. ♥

And that was it. Back to back, they had the room covered. The five officers at the table sat just as they were, papers and pens in hand, frozen like rabbits. Their eyes darted around, taking in the exciting array of weaponry pointed at their heads.
Pausing here to *SCREAM* a bit; can't guarantee I'll be able to pause again, because you do tension with torturous marvelousness, and it's hard enough finding chances to breathe--!

“No, Hakuro took that far too quietly,” Roy said. “I’ve seen him in dire straits before. It’s absolutely unlike him to keep his temper so well. He thinks he - has an advantage we don’t know about.” No, more than that. He looked like he thought he could still win.
Okay, *A LITTLE MORE SCREAMING*, because of course it's not easy it's never easy and I love that Roy and Riza just know that and ahhhhhhhhhh--

OH MY GOD THE RADIO GUYS
I LOVE YOU
I think I've actually found one more thing I've always meant to mention that I adore about your fic -- you just know and understand and care about and utilize every last character in the series, and it's absolutely fantastic. It makes the 'verse feel even richer and realer -- I've also always meant to mention that this whole 'verse feels more, to me, like an extension of canon with tweaks than it does like a fanfic. It's immersive, and it's MAGNIFICENT.

He wondered if Katie Flowers’ parents could hear him.
My feelings are hurting againnnnnn--

“Sir,” Breda said. “You were right. We’ve got a problem.”
BOB STOPPPPPPPPPPPPP

Nnnngnhhhhhh I am also very wibbly about the scar on Roy's hand in the illustration; you are just... too... amazing. ♥;
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
- haha, there had to be Roy/Ed fluff. Someone else commented about Roy's sap floodgates going from closed to totally open. Roy is a guy who acts like he does everything casually, but is actually painfully sincere and a person who has very strong feelings about anyone he's close to.
- yes, I see Ed as someone who tends to feel and express things with his whole body. He's crazy smart, to be sure, but I think it challenges him to verbalise his feelings, sometimes. I think it's a skill that he'd get better at, though, given enough time and the right circumstances. Several years into a relationship with verbal, cerebral Roy, and I think Ed would pick up on some of his stuff.
- \o/ that you mentioned Rebecca's letter. I enjoyed writing it, a lot. It's a new side of her to show.
- thank you for loving the suspense! And no, it's never that easy. >_>
- I love the radio guys, they're having such a blast with it all! I do enjoy the ensemble cast, which is easy to do because Arakawa makes even her walk-ons rich and memorable!
- I've also always meant to mention that this whole 'verse feels more, to me, like an extension of canon with tweaks than it does like a fanfic. It's immersive, and it's MAGNIFICENT. This is one of the nicest compliments I've ever had on this 'verse! I AM SO FLATTERED.
- and thank you for remembering Katie Flowers! The plot has moved on so far now, but I didn't want her to be totally forgotten.
- I feel wibbly about that scar too! I was careful with the positioning of Roy's hand so it would be visible. <3

In conclusion, thank you so much for reading with so much care and for enjoying it! It is the best cheerleading, having thoughtful readers like you.
Edited Date: 2012-10-10 10:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com
Roy is a guy who acts like he does everything casually, but is actually painfully sincere and a person who has very strong feelings about anyone he's close to.
ajfkdsjfldajfldsajldfsa yes thissssss ♥

I think it was actually one of the parts with Al when I most realized… either when he's walking by the river and gets attacked by the Bad Dudes or one of the many times he's taking the Metro – your Central just felt so REAL and SPECIFIC and ALIVE, and the whole fic is like that, where it all just rings absolutely true. :D

thank you for remembering Katie Flowers!
omg. Just. I was in a bit of a sulky mood because my computer had just died, so I gave Riderless Horse a miss and went for the fic with straight-up pairing stuff in it, which basically worked out to mean that my first real introduction to this storyline was that first chapter. And I specifically remember sort of going along, "Okay, interesting, politics whee, Rebecca is funny… what. What. No. What. No, she has to li— No author would do that. No au— WHAT. WHAT. NOOOOOOOOO!" …and it was just one of the tensest, tightest, most staggering scenes I had ever read in a fic, and I was totally hooked. :D

ajfklsdajklfsa ♥

(Translation: If by "thoughtful" you mean "prone to keyboardsmashing", I am oh-so happy to oblige! XDD)
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
Ah, thank you! I feel like sometimes when the complexities of the plot close in around me, I lose the everyday details of Central a bit, but I love it and want the city to feel alive and characterful! In my head, Central is a terrible mash-up of a bunch of old European cities: Barcelona, Granada, a few French cities, London, Berlin, Siena, even Florence ... The scene by the canal was based closely on my memory of a street in Granada which is allegedly notorious for muggings. But I've spent a good few happy hours musing over the character of different areas of the city, on cafes and night life and bakeries and what the gay scene is like. I love it when people enjoy the details that make it into the fic. <3

Ahhh, I am a mean author! That was totally what I was going for with that scene. As is probably obvious by now, I love mysteries where you get to know the murder victim after their death by finding all about their complicated life. Anyway, thank you for saying such nice things about it. So flattered! <3 <3 <3

(I'm actually really pleased with how The Riderless Horse came out. But no pairings at all! Not even my usual bucket of UST, just bromance and plotty plot. XD)
From: [identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com
I read it with a bit of a London slant after I stalked you and found out you live there. And it certainly didn't hurt that I was living there when I started reading! XD I think there was also a lot of Paris in my head, but it really felt like its own place, which was faaaaaabulous. I'm kind of crap with settings, but I love it when people build them beautifully and get them exactly right. :DDDDD

That also feels so genuine to me... every time I'm at a funeral, sobbing because mortality, why, it's like this entirely new person emerges out of the things other people knew about them that I didn't. The way you just seem to GET stuff like that -- this is sort of a weird thing to say, but one of the things I love about your fic is that I can tell you have this wisdom of experience, and it makes the characters' interior worlds that much deeper.
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
That's great that it felt like its own place! There's some London in there for sure, even direct cameos when I felt like they would feel like a natural part of Central. The Little Cat Cabaret and its host is based on a long-running gay cabaret club that I've loved basically all my adult life. Katie and Rebecca's flat was based on a 20s apartment block where a friend of mine lived. Central University's campus is based on the Royal Maritime College at Greenwich (although I think my description of it is fragmentary enough that you can't tell). And I'm sure you caught the Hampstead Heath cameo in Chapter Twelve!

Haha, I don't know about wisdom of experience, but I do try to put stuff like that in. The crazier the stuff the characters get mixed up in, the more I want their experiences on an emotional level to feel real and recognisable. I don't know that I always get there, but it's one of my constant goals in writing so thanks for saying lovely things about it. <3

(And ohoho look, Team Anti-Saxon! So great together. ;;;_;;; Jack making them all tea in Martha's student flat kills me. BTW, tangent note, Martha's medical school/hospital is a thinly-disguised Guy's and St. Thomas', which was my wife's medical school. She loved having a self-insert in the TARDIS, and was flailing when her hospital ended up on the moon.)
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
Oh my goodness, thank you for spoiling me with this series of long and lovely comments.
- I love writing Garfiel. You just know that if it came to it, he'd be a badass resistance dude. He always reminds me of this (probably untrue but great) story about Oscar Wilde at university. He had a collection of blue and white porcelain in his room because ~beauty. One night a couple of drunk rugby lads decided they were going to smash it. They forgot that the very camp man they were about to bother was also six foot four and built like a rugby forward. Wilde apparently threw them both straight down the staircase, then invited them to a sherry party. ♥
- everybody fistbumps in this 'verse, it's true
- haha, yes, sometimes Al puts on his mom voice and it's pretty effective. XD
- yes, Gracia does have this undercurrent of steel and I like the idea that she's actually as BAMFy as you'd expect someone married to Hughes to be. Also, I like giving her a job she's good at outside the home. With Elysia seven years old now and military widow's pensions only going so far, it's realistic that she'd be working, but I've always liked the idea that she's a nurse. Good nurses are BAMFs. Especially in an ER. Although imagining it all makes me sad because it just makes me think what a great marriage they must have had, both coming home and chatting happily about their gory work days <3
- Ah, Armstrong. I have been so mean to him in my 'verse. And he has a rough time already in canon. And yes, he's totally had a full-blown aesthetic education. Now I am wondering who his favourite poet would be - I have a feeling Dryden or someone else 17th/18th century with too many baroque flourishes. Olivia totally does love the sublime, though! About the only time we see her appreciating beauty, it's the winter landscape in Briggs (that scene with Buccaneer where she confesses that she likes to sit out on the wall to stare at it <3 - she's an Armstrong after all). But to go back to what you were saying, yes! He deserved his non-silly moment of depth and I wanted to give it to him.
From: [identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com
Wilde apparently threw them both straight down the staircase, then invited them to a sherry party. ♥
This is so fucking beautiful. Why has nobody made a superhero movie about Oscar Wilde; maybe that'll be the next descent into madness now that 'culture' has produced "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter". XDDDDD

Also, I like giving her a job she's good at outside the home. With Elysia seven years old now and military widow's pensions only going so far, it's realistic that she'd be working, but I've always liked the idea that she's a nurse. Good nurses are BAMFs.
I meant to mention how much I loved this, too! :3 We generally see her at home in canon, but I feel like, in addition to the monetary situation, of course, she'd want to be doing something. And I think someone as amazing as Gracia could hit the perfect balance of having her own life and being so very close to Elysia to keep the family together. ♥

makes me sad because it just makes me think what a great marriage they must have had
*in the corner, crying*

Dryden or someone else 17th/18th century with too many baroque flourishes
omg yes
Next time I crack and write a real-world FMA AU, Armstrong is going to be that English professor. XDDDDDDDDD
From: [identity profile] bob_fish.livejournal.com
- I've always liked that story. XD And yes, there's totally scope for a cracky superhero movie, although I don't know if it would be terribly fun or just plain terrible.
- yes, totally, this is how I was thinking! I feel like at this point in her life I can see her getting some satisfaction and fulfilment out of it.
- Armstrong would so be that English professor. He'd make everyone read his favourite terrible long-forgotten pet epic poem.

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