yuuo: (Pandora's Box)
[personal profile] yuuo posting in [community profile] pandorasuniverse
Character/Series: Edward Elric, Cast; AU to the original series
Rating: MA
Notes: Written based on the 'what if' idea that Ed had never been able to bind Al's soul to the armor. Please heed all warnings. All chapters can be found here.
Title: Pandora's Box: Chapter 4: Me And A Gun
Author: [personal profile] yuuo
Word Count: 7097
Summary: Nina was gone.




me and a gun
and a man
on my back
but i haven't seen barbados
so i must get out of this
-Tori Amos

Nina was gone.

Huddled down under my coat in a tiny cell that stank of mildew, a horrible smell only slightly overpowered by the blood that still clung to me, that was the only thought I could muster past the cold and the numbness that had settled in somewhere in my chest. I couldn't think to try to clean myself up, not even with alchemy, instead ignoring the blood on my gloves, my coat, my face and my hair. All I could hear was that one thought that whispered like an accusing jury about to find me guilty on all charges.

Nina was gone. And I'd failed to protect her.

Just like him.

Footsteps echoed against cold stone walls, somewhere distant, approaching: two sets. The sound bounced against the corridor and seemed to fill my cell, ricocheting and folding back on itself and surrounding me. Each one hit my gut like a bullet, rattling my nerves and teeth like the threat of a death sentence. My fist tightened against my steel shoulder and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block out awareness of anything around me.

Murderer.

Guilty.

Two shadows passed between me and the poor excuse for lighting coming from the corridor ceiling. I lifted my head just enough to peek out from under my hood warily. Bradley and Grand.

The threat of a firing squad hung over my head like an executioner's axe.

Bradley studied me quietly a moment. "It's a shame," he finally said, "to see a boy your age in a place like this. I'm a bit disappointed in you, Edward." I flinched, expecting to hear that my certification was revoked at the very least, and with it would go my one good chance at getting Al back. Bradley looked over at Grand. "What do you think, Brigadier General?"

The expression on Grand's face had all the warmth of chiseled marble. "Murder of a State Alchemist is a capital offense, sir."

"So it is." Bradley looked back at me and I withered under my coat, ducking back under the hood like a child trying to hide from the boogieman. "Of course, Edward is a unique situation. It wouldn't look good for the military to execute a child, now would it? And after all, seeing Shou Tucker's crimes would frighten anyone into such a thing, don't you think?" The whole time he spoke, he had that serene little smile he always had, as if talking about my fate was the same as talking about the goddamn weather.

Some tiny little part of my brain took satisfaction with the way Grand twitched at the underhanded reproach. "He failed to report his suspicions and entered a restricted area in direct defiance of orders. Shou Tucker's crimes were unforgivable-" I could hear the way his teeth were grinding from saying that "-but disobedience is disobedience. The matter should and would have been handled far better."

Right, like he didn't know. He knew what Tucker was doing the whole time. Nina's gone and he didn't give a shit.

Bradley looked thoughtful. "A very good point, Brigadier General. Edward can't be valuable if he cannot carry out orders. Then it's settled." That serene smile turned into a broad grin that I almost would've described as 'shit-eating.' "Thank you for volunteering, Brigadier General. I'm certain a little training with you will teach Edward the value of cooperating with orders."

My stomach tied up into tight little knots at the very idea. Grand was furious with me, that much was obvious. Being put under Grand would be like walking down the last mile to the firing squad range.

To his credit, Grand didn't seem any more impressed with the idea than I felt. "Perhaps there would be someone better suited for that task, sir," he protested through clenched teeth.

Bradley looked at him. "Nonsense! I have the utmost faith in your abilities to train our young alchemist here. And I'm certain he could be useful in sorting through the Sewing-Life Alchemist's research. Or are you saying you're not capable of training a young boy?"

Grand looked like he was swallowing down bile at that remark. "No, sir, nothing of the sort."

And of course, I didn't get a say in this at all.

"Excellent!" Bradley waved to someone down the hall, then glanced back into the cell. "Welcome back, Fullmetal Alchemist."

He was so damn perky, I wanted to scream.

Grand didn't waste much time trying to find use for me. Anything to get him out of his hair. Er, relatively speaking, anyway. He immediately took me back to Tucker's house.

I huddled down under my coat as I followed Grand through the rain from the car to the front door of the Tucker residence. Memories of that basement made me feel sick to my stomach.

The two guards at the front door nodded and allowed us into the house. Grand didn't speak to me, something I was used to and just as glad for; the man was as cold and unfriendly as a fucking blizzard. His resentment towards me towered as high as he did, and I hadn't missed picking up on it. Well, I couldn't say I exactly had any warm and fuzzy feelings for the bastard either, so I supposed that made us even.

Grand stopped outside the doors to the basement, then turned and looked at me. "I am assigning you to sort through Shou Tucker's notes, Fullmetal," he told me. "I expect your analysis on the data within four days. This is classified information, as you should well know, so you will speak to nobody but me about your findings, and you shall make no copies for your own personal use. This is military research, boy, not information from a public library."

Like he needed to tell me that. If it hadn't been classified, I wouldn't have been in near as much trouble as I was in the first place. If it hadn't been classified, I wouldn't have been kicked out and maybe would've been able to save Nina.

Like Grand gave a shit about any of that, I was sure.

"Four days?" I signed, glancing up at Grand and away from the basement door.

"Is that a problem, Fullmetal?" Grand asked, giving me a look that suggested any answer other than 'no' would be unacceptable.

I glanced back into the basement, looking at the stacks of books, the arrays on the wall and the notes and papers scattered everywhere. Four days. I'd be spending most of my time in here. "No, sir."

"Good." Grand started to turn to go. "You may have one of the enlisted men bring you meals to work in here if you feel it is necessary," he said, the concession apparently a last minute thought.

"Thank you."

The gratitude fell on deaf ears, or blind eyes, as the case may have been, as Grand turned away and left. I sighed, looking into the basement again. This was gonna be a monumental task, and in only four days?

The first thing I noticed as I set to work was that by and large, Shou Tucker was a second-rate alchemist. His only true genius shown in the production of chimeras, but he'd been so obsessed with replicating his first success with the talking chimera that any other useful discovery he might've made was lost.

Mostly useless garbage. Bet Grand would love to see that. I wondered if I could get away with putting that in my report.

The fact that Grand had put me on this assignment made me wonder if maybe Grand hadn't already realized that Tucker's work was mostly second-rate crap.

Hours passed before I remembered to request a meal, a meal I barely poked at as I read through page after page of notes that looked like they'd been scrawled by a madman. Tucker's grip on sanity wore steadily thinner over the years, it looked like, as pressures from Grand and the military and his own string of failures piled up. It wasn't hard to see how desperation would've driven him to using Nina to replicate what he'd done before; if there was a god, only he knew how sane Tucker had been to start with, using his wife in the first place.

That didn't make me feel much better about it.

I was still chewing on a bit of roll from my meal when Grand stopped by to check on my progress. It was obvious Grand didn't trust or like me- the feeling was entirely mutual- so I wasn't surprised to see that he was looking in on me. The faster I worked, the faster Grand could get Tucker's research out of my hands.

"I trust your analysis will still be completed on time, Fullmetal."

I looked over at him and nodded, wiping some crumbs off my hands to the floor. "Yes, sir. You may not like it, though."

"Whether I like it or not is not your concern," Grand said, "as long as it is thorough, honest, and complete."

I nodded. "It will be." I glanced back over the notes, figuring Grand would leave, and then paused, seeing something. "Sir, may I ask a question?"

Grand hesitated at the doorway, looking at me. "That depends on the answer."

Fair enough. "Tucker was looking into ways to create a Philosopher's Stone. Is the military really interested in research like that, or should I assume it was personal research that can be omitted?" Maybe I wasn't a soldier and couldn't speak like one, but I could speak like a scientist, which, in this case, wasn't terribly different.

"Include it in your report," Grand said somewhat dismissively. "I will decide what was personal and what was military business."

I took that to mean the research on the Stone must've held some interest to the military. The answer was too ambiguous, and Grand hadn't proved to be an ambiguous sort of person, unless he was discussing classified information. Which was interesting. I couldn't imagine why the military would be after something that was nothing but an alchemical fairy tale.

Unless there was something to the stories.

Something like the Philosopher's Stone, if even a prototype of it was real, could be exactly what would make up the cost for getting Al back. My arm hadn't been enough for more than a minute to try to grab just Al's soul, and my voice had only paid for a few stolen seconds when that minute had run up. I knew it would take something large to pay for Al's safe return, whole and healthy. Something almost legendary.

Something like the Philosopher's Stone.

I would just have to see if I couldn't choose that as my field of research once I was done with this 'training' I'd been sentenced to.

***


I spent the next week running around Grand's office, playing office gofer for him. It was like he didn't know what else to do with me, so he gave me menial tasks to do. I did them, of course, as mind numbing as they were, and I did it with a disgusting obsequiousness. I was still somewhat in shock over Tucker's death, and I didn't want any more trouble than I was already in. Quite frankly, I thought I was getting off easy.

To be perfectly honest, I was.

Grand obviously decided he'd had enough of that, though, and his anger with me hadn't been properly spent by demeaning me with mindless tasks. He sent for me one day, after I'd run some papers down to Communications, and when I got to his office, I saw another man there with him, an officer that I figured was a lieutenant colonel. His shoulder stripes looked like Mustang's had before Mustang had been promoted and swept to the East.

The lieutenant colonel wasn't particularly tall, but he intimidated me nonetheless. It was his cold eyes that did it; if I thought Grand was cold, this man was ice. I gave Grand a clumsy salute as he'd started requiring. "You called for me?"

"I did, Fullmetal. I want you to take these papers to Processing, then go pack your bag. I'm reassigning you for your training to Lieutenant Colonel Archer." I blinked, looking up at the man, who looked back at me with an impassive face that chilled me. I did not like how that man looked at me.

I took the papers down to Processing, not bothering to look at them. I wish I had, I'm pretty sure they were the transfer papers that would take me to the north, and if I'd known, I could've warned Hughes. So much would've turned out differently for me, better, maybe, but I wasn't going to stick my nose where I was sure I'd get into trouble for sticking it, so I didn't look.

Once I was down in Processing, I discovered it was hectic, which wasn't surprising. Processing usually was. What wasn't usual, however, was seeing Hughes down there. He typically sent one of his own office workers that were low on the totem pole to do that kind of thing. Whatever he had to deliver must've been important.

"Ed!" he called to me as soon as he'd spotted me. I gave him a small smile that I didn't entirely feel and waved. He pushed his way over to me. "Where've you been? We've been worried sick! Someone shows up at my house, demanding your suitcase, and we have no idea where you've gotten to."

I shrugged. "Got assigned to Grand's command for training of some sort," I answered evasively. I didn't want to confess to Tucker's murder, and I didn't want him to worry that I'd been in prison, or what kind of training this was. So far, it was just learning to obey orders by being an office rat, nothing big, but I knew Hughes, he was a perpetual fusser. And I had a feeling either he or Mustang would try to get me under their command instead, and I didn't want them getting into trouble for it.

Hughes frowned. "Grand, huh? Who ordered that?"

"It sure as hell wasn't him," I said, still being evasive. "He hates me. I can't stay and talk, I'm just dropping off some paperwork for him."

Hughes reached into his coat pocket and I sighed dramatically. Not the pictures again. Before I could do more than lift my hands to protest, he held up a hand with a smile. "Just for the road," he said, pulling out a picture and scribbling something on the back of it before handing it over. "Since I don't know how long it'll be before you see her adorable face again, you can always cheer yourself up with this."

I didn't want to tell him I had a picture of another face that cheered me up more than Elysia's, because I didn't want to hurt his feelings, and I especially didn't want to get asked to show it off. That picture was mine and mine alone.

I tucked the picture into my inner coat pocket, next to my travelogue, and waved him off. He gave me a rueful look, then waved and went back to his business while I went back to mine. Once he was gone, I took out the picture and looked at the back.

Come to me if you need anything.

It was nice to know I still had him on my side, at least. Not that it ended up doing me a lot of good.

After I dropped off the paperwork, I went off to pack my suitcase, which wasn't hard, since as usual, I'd never unpacked it. I lived out of that thing, and didn't want to put down any sort of roots until I was certain what I was going to be doing with my life.

For now, it looked like travel was in my future.

We left right away, on the first train out, which seemed unusual to me. I thought the paperwork had to process first, but Grand had Archer and I out of there ASAP, and I figured he just couldn't wait to get rid of me.

I tried asking my new commanding officer where we were going. He wouldn't answer, flat-out ignored my signing.

I kept quiet after that, watching the countryside fly by as the train chugged its way along the tracks, heading what direction, I wasn't certain, until snow started to appear on the ground and the air got increasingly cold.

"Are we going up north?" I asked Archer. He looked at me, then ignored me, the ass. I tried again.

After a third attempt, he finally scowled at me. "The train is quiet enough, you can use your voice, Fullmetal," he snapped in a coldly professional tone. "Your hand waving means nothing to me."

I recoiled a bit, not expecting to have my head bit off like that. Clearly, I was going to have a problem with this guy. He didn't know sign and probably refused to learn it, judging from his attitude. Which meant either a translator, or using what little remained of my voice on a constant basis. The idea didn't appeal to me.

"Where are we going?" I asked again, trying for as much volume as I could muster.

It was just barely enough, as he leaned forward, frowning, processing what I'd said, then sat back. "Up north, to a supply station called Acheron. It services several firebases just over the Drachman border. You will learn to be a proper soldier there."

I blinked. "Soldier? I'm a civilian advisor," I protested, looking at him as if he were somehow stupid.

The look he gave me froze a glacier. "Not anymore, you're not. Not until your training is complete. Get used to the cold, Fullmetal, we will be here several months."

"Several months?!" I squeaked indignantly.

"Yes, several months." Archer scowled at me. "Until you have proven that you can obey any order that you are given and obey it faithfully, the way a proper soldier should. And everything you have shown me proves that we have a lot of work to do."

I gaped at him, then settled back in. I could show him obedient. I'd lick his damn boots if it'd get me back to Central and back to my research sooner. I figured it'd be stupid shit anyway.

The train finally pulled in at Acheron a couple long, annoying days later, in which I was stuck in silence, refusing to talk to Archer, not willing to use my voice. It hurt to do that, and I wasn't sure why he couldn't just learn field sign. It was simple enough, and it just proved he had no experience in the field whatsoever if he didn't know it. Everyone who'd served in Ishbal seemed to know it.

I already missed Mustang, even though I didn't want to admit it to myself. He hadn't shown up when I needed him, so maybe I was better off without him. But even he was better than this guy.

When we got off the train, I stretched for the first time in days, then started for the main building, or at least, I guessed it was the main building. The whole place was run down, and in serious need of repair.

"Fullmetal," Archer called to me. "You will stop and help unload the supplies first."

I turned to look at him. "Why? The men have it," I protested.

"Fullmetal, that was an order," he repeated, ignoring what I said.

I finally had enough of his attitude and did something incredibly stupid. I flipped him off and started towards the building again, stomping through the muck and the mud as freezing rain pounded down on my head.

So much for licking boot polish.

I heard his footsteps behind me about a half second too late to turn around as he grabbed the back of my head and pushed me forward, headlong into the brick wall of the building. I stumbled and fell, striking a loose clip on the drain pipe with my forehead. I dropped to the ground, my face skidding along the brick as I landed on my ass in the mud.

I blinked in shock as blood dribbled into my right eye. I lifted my hand, pressing it to my forehead; my fingers came away bloodied. I looked up at my commanding officer. "That was an order, Fullmetal," he said as if he hadn't just shoved a child into a brick wall. "Get to it, then get to the infirmary."

I wiped away blood and went to work. By the time I was done, my hands were both bloodied from wiping blood out of my eye and I was shaking from cold, exhaustion, and the desire to puke my guts up as the blood brought back memories of Tucker, and of that blood array I used to try to save my brother.

I was probably looking pretty pale by the time I carted my sorry, muddy, wet, and bloodied ass into the infirmary, clutching my suitcase like a lifeline. The doctor looked over from some reading of some sort, and stared. "Good lord, how old are you? Nevermind, come in, come sit down, let's get you cleaned up and warmed up. You're not dressed for this weather. What were you doing out there? I haven't heard of any civilians in the area."

I shook my head, wobbling a little before I took a seat as instructed. I felt numb, and I wasn't sure if that was from the cold, which I really wasn't dressed for, or from the blow to my head. Either way, I felt shaky and numbed out, and followed through the motions as I was instructed out of my cold, wet clothes and into some medical scrubs.

"I can fix my clothes," I said a bit weakly as he began cleaning the cut on my forehead over my right eye.

He looked down at me. "Field sign? Did you learn that from an older sibling or something?"

I didn't dare shake my head as he started putting stitches in. Apparently, I'd hit my head pretty hard and ripped open a nice gash. "Lieutenant Hawkeye taught me," I whispered hoarsely. "I can't use my voice."

The doctor made a noncommittal noise. "So I hear. Now, tell me, what's a civilian doing here?"

I pulled out my watch and he froze, staring at me. "My god. A child your age, in the military? What are they thinking? And what is a State Alchemist doing at this nowhere little dump?"

"Training," I answered, starting to get some strength back now that I was in dry clothes, cleaned up, and in a warm building.

The doctor snorted. "Training? For what, hell? That's all this place is."

"I did something wrong," I explained, being purposely evasive about it. "And now I have to train to make sure I don't do it again." Incredibly simplified, and I realized after I said it like that that I sounded like a much younger child than I was, but I was still feeling a bit unsteady. People tend to regress a little when they're in shock.

The doctor drew back to look at me. "Hogwash," he said. "I'll talk with your commanding officer, we'll have you out of here in a jiffy. This is ridiculous, he must see that. Who gave him these orders?"

"Brigadier General Grand. On the führer's orders." That would stop the doctor from doing anything to piss Archer off at me.

The doctor stared. "The führer ordered this? He's gone mad." But he seemed to have abandoned his plan to talk Archer out of keeping me here, which I already knew would be an exercise in futility. Archer wasn't going to give up until I was obedient, whatever that meant. I hesitated to wonder what sort of challenges he'd throw my way.

I didn't even really get why I was there. I'd been obedient to Grand, I'd done what I was told. What, did I not salute well enough? Did he just want to get back at me still? I didn't understand exactly what was going on, except that I was now working under a sadist who thought it was funny to shove a kid against a brick wall and make him work in the cold he was under-dressed for.

A clap of my hands summoned the alchemical energy to clean my coat and clothes, and I quickly changed once the doctor had checked over me to his satisfaction. "I should go see what else he wants me to do," I explained.

"If he tries to send you into the cold without proper attire again, you let me know, I'll speak with him," the doctor said. "Medical decisions can override his."

I gave him a grateful smile and headed out.

Archer was waiting for me in his office. "Enter," he said once I'd knocked.

I opened the door and stepped in, leaving the door open behind me. "I assume you wanted to see me?" I said, not giving a shit that he couldn't read my sign. He'd just have to get a translator, wouldn't he?

"Come in here and shut the door, Fullmetal," he said, settling back in his chair. Once I'd closed the door, Archer continued. "You still have marginal use of your voice, correct?"

Reluctantly, I nodded. It was technically true, although I couldn't do much more than whisper. Occasionally, sound crept through, cracking and whistling through damaged vocal cords.

"Good. When in an environment that is conductive to its use, you will speak when addressing others, particularly me. Your signing means very little to me, and accommodations to a handicap should only go so far as to allow you to work efficiently. You can speak, so you will."

The man was a lunatic. He'd never looked at my medical file, he couldn't have, or else he'd know I was missing half my vocal cords, or if he'd just listened to how I sounded before, he'd know that talking was really out of the question. I opened my mouth to say something in protest.

"I recommend you put that attitude away, Fullmetal. I am your commanding officer, and I have issued you an order. Obedience should be absolute. I care very little if you don't like my orders. All you should be concerned with is following them to the fullest extent of your abilities. Should this prove problematic for your health, only then will I amend the orders." He smiled congenially. "After all, I'm not here to destroy or endanger your health. A soldier who is sick is no more useful than a weapon that is busted. And make no mistake, while you are here, you are no longer a civilian advisor. You are a soldier."

That idea didn't make me comfortable. I didn't want to be a soldier, I didn't sign on to be a soldier, and even I knew I was too goddamn young to be a soldier. All the rest of my fellows up there would be at minimum six years my senior.

"If the call to true war goes out, you will have to wear a uniform," Archer continued. "When that time comes, you will already know what to do, allowing you to serve the führer faithfully. That is the soldier's creed. Serve faithfully."

I wasn't sure what to make of that. I hadn't considered that when I'd tried for that test, that the call to war may go out. I knew about it, of course. My teacher had warned us about it. But I hadn't really given it much thought. I was so focused on getting to where I could get Al back that everything else had become secondary. I finally squeaked out a pathetic-sounding "yes, sir."

"I'm glad you understand." Archer stood up and went over to the filing cabinet, pulling out some forms that I wasn't sure what they were supposed to be. "Now, I am requisitioning a uniform in your size for you, and a length of something called 'hairfelt'. It's an insulating material worn over automail to prevent the metal from becoming so cold it causes frostbite around the ports. You'll have to transmute it to fit your limbs. You will also be issued your sidearm. Is there anything I have missed that you may require for care of your automail?"

A uniform. They were really sticking me in a uniform. I couldn't believe it. But at least I was getting cold weather accommodations. I quickly thought what else I might need to take care of my automail that Winry hadn't already sent with me in my suitcase. "Nickel," I finally said.

He raised an eyebrow. "Nickel? Care to explain why?"

"To add to the alloy in my automail," I explained. "It makes the steel less brittle in the cold."

"Acceptable then," he said, going back to writing. After a moment, he waved me over and handed me the form. "Take that down to Sergeant Kelly in the supply office. He will see to it that you get what you need. And then report to the gun range. The corporal there will teach you how to disassemble and clean your sidearm. You'll be learning to use it once you've learned to care for it."

I made a face. I had no desire to learn how to use a gun. They were just weapons for killing, something I didn't need to do.

"Is there a problem with my orders, soldier?"

Archer's tone told me that I shouldn't argue, but I couldn't help myself. "I hate guns."

"And? I suppose you think you'll be allowed to not carry one?" Archer shook his head. "Your personal dislike is irrelevant. Every soldier has their sidearm. It will be used when necessity dictates it, and you will learn to shoot to do more than temporarily disable an enemy. Or would you rather sacrifice the lives of our own soldiers to save the life of someone trying to kill you?"

I hesitated. "But that's-"

He cut me off. "Are you arguing with me?" He sounded unamused. I didn't get a chance to reply. "You will conduct yourself as a soldier in a war zone, Fullmetal. You will shoot to kill, you will defend your fellow soldiers and this base and the valuable supplies it has for the firebases across the border. You will salute when you enter the office and when you are dismissed, you will address me as sir, and you will stand straight and watch your attitude. I have been very patient with you today, but I will not allow you any more of such freedom. Failure to comply will be met with punishment. And Fullmetal?" Archer smiled. "The military's regulations on what is and what is not acceptable punishment are very lax in a war zone. You will learn to behave as a proper soldier and respect orders given you so that we never see a repeat of what you did to the Sewing-Life Alchemist."

I felt sick as my eyes widened. He was talking about corporal punishments. I was twelve! Was he insane?! But the reminder of Tucker brought back the guilt and I realized that this is exactly what I had coming. I was a murderer, you didn't treat them with any regard. If I'd just obeyed orders, Tucker would still be alive, and Nina wouldn't be any worse off.

Not that Tucker particularly deserved to be alive, I realized after remembering Nina, but at least I would not be there.

Archer went on when I said nothing. "If you push too far, I will submit to General Grand that you have failed your training and your State Certification will be revoked. Now, I don't need to know your reasons for obtaining it at your age in the first place, but I am quite certain you would not appreciate losing it."

The idea of losing my certification I'd fought so hard for, my one chance at getting Al back, made me feel even sicker and I felt like I was pale and trembling again. I'd do anything to hold onto that chance to save Al.

"Now," Archer continued, his tone more pleasant than it had been a moment ago, "have I made myself clear?"

I nodded vehemently. Oh, how I nodded. I understood, and I'd do whatever it took to make sure I toed that line, or so I thought at the time.

Archer waved me off. "Good. Now go on, you're dismissed."

I turned to leave, paused, then turned back, saluting clumsily before hurrying out with the forms to find the this Sergeant Kelly in the supply office.

***


Supply stations are routinely fairly boring. I wasn't sure what Archer intended on training me in, besides how to shoot at targets, because there just wasn't much else to do there. Of course, that was just my first week, so I figured to give it time, something was bound to happen.

He ran me through hard labor in unmerciful conditions- I didn't get the cold weather wear the others got for many outside tasks while we waited for something in my size to be made and sent in from North Headquarters. He never pushed me far enough to really endanger my health, but enough to make me miserable.

My problem, I found very quickly, was not obeying the orders; I could take anything the bastard could dish out, as far as I was concerned, although the heavy labor he frequently had me doing was building me up faster than rehab had, that was for sure. No, my problem was I could never remember to salute or call him 'sir'. And I had a tendency to smart off. At first, he seemed to just mark it down as a point against me. I had no idea what he'd do when I got to whatever arbitrary number of marks he decided on, but I didn't care to find out.

I found out anyway.

I don't even remember what I said that sparked it; I mouthed off about something, probably the guns again, and he grabbed me by the ear, and dragged me the whole way across the compound to the main building from the shooting range, to his office. That hurt, don't let it fool you. Having your ear tugged like that makes the poor thing ache like a bitch.

He slammed the office door shut, dragging me across the room to his desk, where he let go of me and pulled a gun out of his desk drawer. "On your knees, Fullmetal."

I froze for a fraction of a second, thinking that he was about to play Drachman Roulette with me or something. He couldn't possibly be actually putting my life in risk, not with how valuable I was, right? But not wanting to push his patience, I sank to my knees in front of him, trying to hide the fact that I was now terrified out of my mind.

"Let's see you put that smart mouth of yours to a better use," he said, reaching for his pants with one hand while the other kept the gun trained on me. "Maybe in the future, you will remember this before smarting off again."

I was numb as he pulled out his dick. My life wasn't in danger, although he kept the gun trained on me, probably as insurance that I wouldn't try to bite or anything, but he was making me suck him off. A grown man was making obedience so absolute that a child was sucking him off with a gun to his head.

What choice did I have? I did what he told me to, even though my mouth was really too small for that kind of thing, even though it hit the back of my throat painfully and made me wanna retch, even though my mind whirled crazily and I gagged and almost vomited when he came and it shot down my throat.

I admit, I wanted to cry. I was twelve, I wasn't stupid, I knew what a violation that was, and it made everything inside of me wither as he straightened and zipped up his pants. "Now, Fullmetal. Every five marks against you, this will happen, or I will come up with something new when this loses its effect. I recommend you watch your mouth in the future."

It happened two more times before I finally got my thoughts to where they didn't vocalize. I had a short trip between my brain and mouth, and Archer pushed all of my buttons that would normally set me off. He even took to making comments about my height to purposely test me as soon as he found out how fast I'd start trying to yell at that.

I eventually learned to keep my mouth shut and take it. It was better than the alternative.

I suppose, in retrospect, it makes me feel a little better that there was no real attraction or joy in the act for him, as much as it was just another form of punishment, just another way to force obedience. It doesn't make me feel much better, though, especially not with what it ultimately taught me.

Nobody at that base knew what was going on, either. Archer kept it carefully quiet, and I sure as hell didn't say anything. But I started dreaming about getting away. Forget making it through training, I had to get out of there. I remembered the picture Hughes gave me, and decided to try to contact him.

Archer kept me busy from wake up time to bedtime, so it wasn't until Doctor Remington put me on medical leave for a few days for my throat that I got a chance to make the call. I looked around for any sign of anyone besides the communications officer as I snuck down to the phones. All I had to do was pick a phone up, have the operator connect me to the Investigations Department in Central HQ, and I was home free. Hughes would get me out of there as soon as he found out what sort of treatment I was getting.

The idea of telling anyone made my stomach drop into my feet, but I wanted out of there so badly, I'd chance it. I picked up the phone, glancing around again, then ducked against the booth a bit. I had no doubt that Hughes would go to the führer with what Grand had done and I would be brought back, given an apology, maybe put under Hughes's command in Central. I wouldn't mind that, always having access to the First Library. I could get my research done, the very thing I had joined the military in the first place for.

Hell, I would just be glad to say goodbye that uncomfortable uniform and be free to wear my attire of choice again.

"How may I direct your call?"

Just hearing the operator's voice was a welcome relief and a promise of return to where things made sense again. I forced my voice to give as much volume as I could muster. "Major Hughes in the Investigations Department in Central Headquarters, please."

"One moment, please."

That moment felt like it stretched on into eternity until finally I could hear the ringing of Hughes's line. "Hello?" came Hughes's welcomingly familiar voice.

The connection abruptly cut off before I could say anything and I looked at the phone in my hand, then over at the base unit. Someone's hand was pushing down on the phone cradle. Fear coiled low in my stomach as I looked over, staring in fear at Lieutenant Colonel Archer. "I do hope that call wasn't important, Fullmetal," he said. "Particularly since you're supposed to be on medical leave to prevent use of your voice."

I swallowed tightly. "I'm sorry, sir, I just haven't had a chance to make any calls until now."

"There's a reason for that, Fullmetal," Archer snapped, grabbing the phone handset away from me and putting it back on its cradle. "This is specialized training, a mission from General Grand that both of us are to fulfill to the best of our abilities. This is also highly sensitive work, meaning it's not something you can go around advertising. You're to be allowed no contact outside of this station until you have successfully completed this training."

In other words, Archer knew damn well what I had been doing. And Grand did know what Archer would be doing in this training, and didn't want it getting back to make him look bad.

"And don't believe for a moment that you can send any other form of communication behind my back," Archer warned. "Now. I suggest you return to your dorm or find something else more productive to do. And do take care of that voice of yours." The last part was said with a smile that would've made a native Drachman shiver. I knew that I damn near did, that was for sure.

For the first time, watching my commanding officer walk away, I felt like going to the range and working off some anger.
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Pandora's Universe: Fullmetal Alchemist AU

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