Edward pushed the office door open without giving one thought to the fact that it did indeed have a handle. The poor mistreated door bounced against the wall as he stepped through it, announcing his and his brother's presence with a half cheerful half grumpy "We're back!"
"Brother, don't always slam the door like that!", Alphonse whispered while he waved a greeting to the colonel's loyal team. An unusual quiet loyal team.
Edward looked at them with a frown. It wasn't unusual to come in and find them all working silently, but normally this silence was either pretended, in case someone else decided to crash in the office for an unannounced inspection, or it was accompanied with big stacks of paperwork they had to go through, for once working really hard. Either way, they would look up and greet the brothers, happily asking about their journey, in the first scenario relieved that they weren't someone else and in the second to allow themselves a break. Today though the silence was neither pretended nor from diligent work. It was something else, hanging over the office like a suffocating layer and keeping the occupants from doing more than look up and wave with a somewhat forced smile before they went back to whatever they were working on. It instinctively made Edward go into a state of alarm.
"Good morning you two, how was your journey?" Hawkeye finally asked, standing up and walking over to them. Her smile seemed sincere as always, though somehow she looked tired and sad.
"Uh, mission accomplished, like always and no new leads on the stone, like always.", Edward said, not sure what to make of Hawkeye's unusual readable emotions. "I'm here to bring the Colonel his beloved report and then annoy him 'till he digs up a new lead.", he tried to lift her mood with a little humor. Hawkeye smiled indeed a little more at the joke, but it made her look even more sad, too.
"The Colonel isn't here Edward, in fact, he won't be for quite a while. He's in the hospital."
"In the Hospital? What did he do, trip over his gigantic ego?", he asked carefully, now absolutely not sure how to handle the situation.
"That would be nice, man.", Breda murmured with a forced grin.
Edward ignored him and looked at Hawkeye questioningly.
"Twentyone days ago the Colonel went missing, five days ago we were able to find him.", she explained, talking like she had used the words a thousand times in whatever reports were asked from her. "He had obviously been held captive and tortured for unknown reasons, most likely to gather information on the military or make use of his alchemical abilities since remains of transmutation circles were found. He had been in a life-threatening state of body and didn't wake from coma ever since."
Edward stared at her. "Coma? He's comatose?"
She nodded and bit her lip. "They say he's got a good chance at waking up again. His body is healing well." The last part made her look a little more hopeful.
Edward looked down at the report in his hands. He just couldn't believe it, had never thought that Mustang could get into a situation like that. Whenever he thought about the colonel the man was sitting save behind his desk, grinning smugly and thinking of comments about how tall Edward was.
"Are visitors allowed?", asked Alphonse next to him, pulling Ed out of his thoughts.
"I can call them and tell them I deemed it okay to let you see him if you want to visit him.", Hawkeye suggested. "Maybe you can annoy him to waking up again then, Ed.", she added, trying to continue his little joking and keep the mood light. Though there was some unbelievable sincere hope behind the words.
"I suppose I can try," Ed answered, trying for a grin.
"Let's visit him then, brother.", Alphonse said and grabbed his arm to pull him along.
They left the office and HQ in silence, walking over to the hospital.
"I would have never thought that something like that might happen to the colonel.", Al finally said. "He always seemed so...untouchable."
"Yeah, maybe we've seen him behind that desk too often to remember that he goes on missions or pokes his nose where it doesn't belong, from time to time.", Ed concluded, studying the pavement to his feeds.
"I hope he didn't find out things like Mr. Hughes did," Al whispered, staring at the ground, too.
"They would have just killed him then, wouldn't they?"
They fell silent again and stayed like that until they finally reached the hospital. Edward marched up to the receptionist.
"I'm Edward and he's Alphonse Elric. We're here for Colonel Roy Mustang."
"Ah yes, Miss Hawkeye called and said you were allowed through. Just let me call a nurse."
Five minutes later a young, brown-haired nurse came to collect them and guide them to Mustang. She looked at them with sympathy.
"How is he?" Alphonse asked a little angsty as they walked with her.
"Stable and healing well, but still no sign of waking. No wonder though, he was after all almost through death' door. They thought he was dead when they found him and he just managed to save himself by opening his eyes when they were about to declare him as such."
"They were about to declare him dead?!" Edward yelled in shock.
The nurse looked apologetically. "His pulse and breathing were so weak and slow, they couldn't find it and he did look like hell. He kept his eyes open until they had him in the ambulance, then he went completely comatose. We're not sure how much he still registers of his environment, though. He always smiles when his Lieutenant shows up."
"Sounds like him." Edward murmured.
They stopped in front of a door and the nurse opened it and let them in. "I'll leave you alone for a while.", she said with a small smile.
"Thanks," said Alphonse and the both of them shuffled in the room, nervous and unsure.
Mustang lay on the hospital bed, his skin as white as the sheets. He was hooked up to various machines, but Ed could only name the heart monitor. The thing beeped a slow but steady rhythm.
He walked over slowly, not daring to make a sound that was louder than that beeping that was Mustang's life, and looked at the pale face. Shadows circled the closed eyes and more or less healed cuts and bruises were littered over the once smooth skin, some still patched up with bandages. A particular nasty cut on the forehead looked stitched.
But the worst were the hollow cheeks, depriving Mustang of his usual, slightly babyfaced look, making him look so different, exhausted. Ed liked to call him old for fun, but those cheeks had always reminded him that he was wrong, that Mustang was still withstanding the world with that special energy that could only come from youth.
He looked away, from that still face and let his gaze travel over what he could see from Mustang's body. The light blanket was pulled up to his chest, but it was easy to tell that Mustang had lost some weight. Both his arms were bandaged from the shoulder to the fingertips, some fingers splintered, telling Ed they were broken. What wasn´t covered by the blanket was covered by the lithe green hospital shirt and some more bandages. Bruises covered the pale neck where it had been strangled. Edward tried to swallow past the lump that was suddenly there in his throat.
"That's so awful.", Alphonse whispered sadly.
"Yeah." Ed murmured softly. He looked back up to Mustang's still face. "Never thought I'd want to see him smirk one day." The heart monitor in the corner did a double beep, the rhythm fastening for one beat. Ed stared at it for a second, then he crossed his arms, determination set on his face.
"Hey, Mustang! Wake up you lazy bastard! Being in the hospital is a really bad excuse to not do your paperwork! First, because it makes your people worry and second because it makes you look old."
He waited. No reaction.
"So you didn't realize we are here, hu?", Ed asked softly after a while, the determination slowly fading. "C'mon, I even brought your report and it's not written with crayon this time! Al bugged me to do it right the whole train ride! And now we're here and you're..." he stopped. The heart monitor had picked up its beeping speed again, just when he asked Mustang whether he´d realized that they were there. "So you did get it? Then show it, do something Mustang! We are here, where are you?"
A nurse rushed in, looking from the crazy going heart monitor to Ed who with wide eyes stared down at a Roy Mustang who trembled like he was trying to wake up from a nightmare.
"Step away!", she ordered and grabbed Edward´s arm, trying to pull him out of her way.
"Hey let me go!", Ed instinctively yelled.
"But you need to-"
"Hands off him!"
The whole room froze, all of them staring at Mustang. The Colonel sat upright in his bed, panting heavily, one hand clutching his side, the other poised to snap even though there was no glove and the fingers were splintered. His eyes were wide and not really focused, showing that he didn't understand the whole situation apart from one thing: Ed's arm was grabbed by a stranger an Ed didn't want it to be. This pure determination to protect was the only thing clear in those glazed over eyes and it hurt and warmed Ed's heart at the same time.
The nurse let go of Ed and stepped back a little gathering her cool as the first.
"There is no danger, Mr. Mustang, I was not trying to hurt him. I just needed him to step aside to check over you. You are hurt."
Mustang blinked a few times, as he tried to process what the nurse had said. Finally, he focused on his outstretched arm, slowly relaxing the fingers and realizing that he was threatening them without a weapon anyway. He dropped the arm to his side, trying to focus on them instead. He swayed and Edward thought he would collapse back on the mattress, but he kept sitting upright stubbornly until finally, he had fixed his gaze on Ed. The black eyes widened and became clear. Then his gaze snapped to the side, taking in Alphonse for a second bevor snapping back to Edward.
"They want you!", he rasped, his usually smooth voice rough and hoarse from exhaustion and not being used. "They couldn't get me to do it now they want you. Get Hawkeye here. You need to... need to..." His breath hitched and he coughed and started hyperventilating. His body shivered from the strain he put on it.
"You need to rest!", said the nurse, rushing over to try and push Mustang back on the mattress. The Colonel shook his head, looking even more panicked.
"Can't, need to tell'em, can't- can't- I need to protect them!" he stared at the nurse with such determination that she did a step back.
"You don't protect anyone if you kill yourself! Lie down and catch your breath, dammit Mustang!", Ed now shoved the nurse aside. It felt strange to put his hands on Mustang's shoulders to gently make the colonel lie back. But it was nothing to the feeling of seeing Mustang freaking out because he wanted to protect them. It felt so warm, and he knew he'd felt that warmth somewhere before but right now he just couldn't pin it down so he concentrated on convincing Mustang to breathe. The Colonel gradually calmed down. Finally, the pale man closed his eyes, took a deep breath and opened them again, this time completely clear.
"If I'm still alive than they don't know that I'm here or Hawkeye put up good security. Either way, the place is safe for now. If they didn't see you enter. How long have you been back?"
Edward felt relief wash over him. Mustang's eyes were fixed on the ceiling but they were focused, focused and sharp as his mind and that was just wonderful because if Mustang could think then Mustang was there and alright. Well more or less.
"A few hours ago. We went straight to the office and then we came over here," he answered.
Something in Mustang's gaze changed during the last words but the Colonel pushed it aside before Ed could tell what.
"Call Hawkeye, tell her not to come alone and to bring someone to draw an identikit so they get the faces." He looked at the nurse. "Can you bring me some paper? Then I can write down what I know before I forget anything."
The Nurse looked like she didn't think that was a good idea.
"Listen," Mustang groaned. "I wouldn't be pushing if it wasn't important, so please just go get the paper and talk to nobody about me being awake."
She still didn't look convinced. Mustang settled an icy glare on her and pointed a splintered finger at Edward. "Do you want him to end up like me or worse? I don't think so, so GO GET THE PAPER!" He barely raised his voice but the effect was frightening as hell none the less. The nurse fled from the room. Mustang sighed.
"Alphonse I really hate to ask, but can you go call Hawkeye? I don't think I can get out of the bed and I don't want the nurse to get in too deep and Fullmetal is a target."
"Of course, I'll hurry!" Alphonse went for the door immediately.
"Thanks, and watch out for people watching you!"
"Alright!" And Alphonse was gone.
Edward stared at Mustang who closed his eyes. A thin layer of sweat was forming on his stitched-up forehead.
"Do you want some water?", he asked, not sure what else to do.
"Would be nice.", Mustang mumbled.
Ed looked around. Thankfully there was a mug on the small side table next to Mustang's bed, so he grabbed it and filled it at the small sink in the corner.
"Here," he said, awkwardly holding out the mug.
Mustang sat up again without opening his eyes. Ed could see the pain flashing over the colonel's features but Mustang hid those slip-ups fast and finally opened his eyes, face seemingly indifferent.
"Thanks," he said with that hoarse voice that clearly needed the water. He had some difficulties to grab the mug but finally managed and sipped the water slowly.
"So what did they want from you and what do they want with me?" Ed asked when Mustang held the mug out for him to put it aside.
"Information on the military. First said nothing, then fed them nonsense and lies when they started with the really mean things. Thought they were happy then. Turned out they just played a game to break me. They wanted me to spill what I know about human transmutation and then perform one. Told them it's impossible and did nothing. After a while they realized that a) I can't write down transmutation circles with broken fingers properly anyway and b) even if I could I wouldn't do so. So they started asking questions about you. Wanted me to tell me where you were, wanted me to call for help and get you over there and all such things. Stupid assholes." A sinister grin made its way on Mustang's face. "I think I ruined one of them the face, should make it easy to find him again and torch him for good. Or put him in jail and visit every day with a smug face." He coughed a little from speaking so much after such a long time, though his voice already sounded better from the water.
"I'd prefer you to do the latter, this way I can give him a piece of my mind, too.", Ed growled.
Mustang raised an eyebrow.
"And killing is bad.", Ed added to mask his slip up a little.
To his surprise, Mustang did smile a little.
The Colonel shook his head. "Nothing, just surprised."
Ed stared at him. Then at the ground. "Just 'cause I think you're a lazy old bastard doesn't mean I like people to hurt you," he finally growled, finding his cheeks turning a little red.
Mustang smiled a little more, reached out and ruffled Ed´s hair before drawing back almost shy.
"Me too, just change the bastard thing in little brat." His lips quirked up some more into a smirk and Ed took a deep breath.
"WHO ARE YOU-"
The door opened and the nurse rushed in, placing a tablet, paper sheets, and a pen on mustangs lap.
"Thanks," the Colonel said, flashing the surprised nurse a charming smile before he took the pen in his hand as good as he could and started scribbling.
Hawkeye arrived, Falman, Havoc and some other military man hot on her heels when he had drawn some sort of rough map and was halfway through his second sheet of notes.
The Colonel and his Lieutenant looked each other in the eye for a moment, exchanging a smile without moving their mouth, then they sat to work.
Mustang talked to the strange man, describing three faces, one of them twice, in a burned and unburned state. Hawkeye went with Falman trough the information Mustang had already written down, while Havoc stood guard.
Ed and Al watched and tried to help and gather as much information as they could.
Two weeks later Edward visited three miserable men in a jail cell and gave them a piece of his mind before they were sent to the firing squad. He gave a smug nod to a grinning Colonel Mustang who walked in after him, still looking a little banged up, but not willing to miss that chance.