The train can’t get to Lior soon enough. Roy doesn’t know what’ll be waiting for him but he’s sure Fullmetal will be there somewhere and that alone spells trouble. He lets out a long sigh and presses his forehead against the window. The scenery’s rapidly changing to a more barren landscape so they must be getting close. At least this train takes him directly into Lior. He can’t count the number of connections he’s taken to even get to this point. He wishes there’d been a direct route from Central because it feels like he’s wasted so much time.
He adjusts the cuffs of his sleeves as he thinks about the call that has him headed out this way. He’d give anything to get the memory out of his mind. How many times has he wished to hear that voice again? But to hear it with an obvious undertone of maliciousness turned his stomach. He doesn’t know who did it or how they did it but it’s enough to make him ready to kill. No one uses Hughes’ voice. No one. Especially perverted like that. He’s not sure what’s worse, that someone’s capable of impersonating Hughes or that they know they can effectively use it against him.
Roy slides a hand into his pocket and runs his fingers over both sets of gloves. He’s never used the alkahestry one for battle and to be honest he hasn’t worked with it since he healed Havoc. He didn’t see the need especially with how dangerous it is to combine with his flame alchemy. He’s lucky he didn’t incinerate himself in the process of healing Havoc, but it was worth it. After a couple months of physical therapy, Jean’s walking again and thankfully due to the paperwork mess from his near retirement he hasn’t been transferred. But if what Roy was told is correct, he could be in harm’s way again. He should’ve made sure Jean was still in Central before he left, but there wasn’t time.
Someone’s screwing with them. No question about it. It’s a good thing Alphonse’s frantic phone call came before he tore out of Central. He assumed this was all about him, but with Ed getting a call too it changes everything. Roy was willing to walk into a trap if it meant confronting Hughes’ killer, but Ed was lured in by a different method. Someone wants them both in Lior despite knowing how powerful he and Ed are. That can’t mean anything good.
Roy leans his head back against the wooden bench and shifts in his seat. He could’ve secured a private train car that would’ve been more comfortable, but he didn’t have the time to wait. He took the first available ticket going East and worried about the train transfers station to station. Considering how volatile Fullmetal can be there wasn’t any time to waste. According to Alphonse, he and Ed were down south in Resembool when Ed got the call Havoc was in jeopardy. If that wasn’t enough, the caller also baited him with the possibility of information about the Philosopher’s Stone. Someone was obviously setting them up, but it still had Ed ditching Alphonse at a train station to head for Lior. Thankfully Alphonse called and asked what to do. He wasn’t happy about it but Roy was able to convince him to go back to Resembool and wait. At least one of the Elric brothers trusts him enough to listen.
He looks out the window again and frowns. It’s one thing to try and lure Fullmetal with the Stone…but to use Havoc too? There has to be a reason he’s not seeing yet. The person doing this must’ve been watching them. Few people would even know about the friendship Ed and Jean struck up during his rehabilitation, but someone knew they could use it against him. Why? Why bring in another variable? And why would Ed go anywhere without Alphonse? Roy leans his head back again and closes his eyes. Maybe he’ll get some answers when he finds Ed…if it’s not already too late.
“Hey Mustang! How’s it feel to hear from a dear old friend? The desert in Lior’s a lot better than the one in Ishval.”
He winces as the words echo through his head once again. It was Hughes’ voice. There's no denying it and the familiar sound has him hoping for a miracle where he’ll find him alive and well in Lior. But he knows better. He could hear it in the undercurrent of the words, something only one other person would notice. It was a malice Hughes never had, evil and twisted, and it feeds his deep seated fear that whatever called him might not just have his voice. If someone is wearing Hughes’ face, nothing in this world will protect them. Roy fists his hand against his thigh and grits his teeth. “I will make them pay, Hughes. I swear it.”
The train rocks hard and his eyes fly open at the unmistakable sound he hoped to never hear again. It’s war and it’s worse than the reports. There’s a revolt taking place in Lior but the military was dispatched from Central months ago. It should be under control. The train rocks again and all the news he’s heard about the situation being under control was a lie. His stomach turns because it’s much too familiar. He swallows against the bile in his throat and forces himself to take a slow breath as the train slows. They must be nearing the station and he can think of only one thing. He needs to find Edward. He has no idea what he’s gotten into.
The squeal of train brakes hit much too hard nearly sends him flying out of his seat and he holds tight to the wooden bench in front of him. The train’s nearly empty and it’s no surprise. Most people avoid a war zone. He looks out the window and sees smoke billowing in the distance. The sky outside is dark from a dust haze that obscures the crumbling buildings and casts everything under a reddish glow. The train station they’ve pulled into is barely standing under its sagging eves. Countless battles have no doubt weakened the building’s supports and lent to its ominous welcome. Scattered rubble and broken timber litter the ground while notices flap against the walls unread. He’s unsurprised when the conductor comes into the car to warn passengers from exiting. It seems the only reason he stopped the train at all was to unload food and supplies.
Roy pushes off the wooden bench and drapes his long coat over his shoulders. He makes his way down the aisle to the door where the harried looking conductor attempts to block his path. “I’m sorry, sir. We’re not letting people off the train. It’s too dangerous. Hostilities have worsened the past few days. Please, take your seat and we’ll be leaving as soon as the supplies are unloaded.”
Roy rests his hand on the man’s ample shoulder and gives it a reassuring squeeze. He’s right. No one else should be disembarking, but he knows Fullmetal. Nothing would stop him, and if Havoc is here, he needs to get him out as well. “Thank you for your concern. It’s duly noted but I will be getting off at this stop. Please, do your best to make sure all the other passengers make it out of here safely.”
The conductor nods but hesitates. He’s seen too much of this conflict, and it speaks volumes he would still come here at all. He’s a good man, but right now Roy can’t waste anymore time. “Please,” Roy says firmly, more a command then a request and this time he does move to the side. Roy quickly slips past him and steps out of the train car into an all too familiar hell. Roy brings his hand up to cover his mouth as the dust kicked up by the train is nearly suffocating. He strides through the station as quickly as he can, his long coat swirling around him.
The building is still standing, but from the creaking timbers and trembling foundation he doesn’t think it will be much longer. Roy kicks open a door that’s barely hanging on its hinges and stops the instant he passes through it. The station and the damaged buildings on the outskirts of the city were bad, but they’re nothing compared to the carnage that are the streets of Lior. Toppled piles of stone stand where buildings used to be with mangled metal poking through as if clawing for air. It’s lucky if every couple of blocks there’s a single wall still standing. He stands paralyzed by the sight for a moment but he quickly shakes it off. He slides his arms through the sleeves of his coat and wraps it tighter around himself, there’s no point in advertising rank in a place like this. He moves quickly from the station and scans the streets for signs of anything: Edward, Jean, Maes, but all he sees are the ravages of a war torn city.
This can’t be the same city. It can’t. He and Al stopped Cornello! They showed the people what a sham he was. People saw the truth, so how can there still be riots between Letoists and nonbelievers? This should’ve all blown over, not turned into an outright civil war. It doesn’t make any sense! Ed flinches when another explosion goes off a few blocks away and he should get out of here but that thing from the Fifth Laboratory has Havoc and he has to do something. He won’t be responsible for someone else’s death. That’s why he came alone. The voice on the phone said if he brought Al with him Havoc would be done for good. He can’t let that happen. He won’t!
He walks down another empty street and he snarls as he kicks at a stray rock because he doesn’t even know what he’s looking for. The message didn’t come with any directions other than to come to Lior and, well, he’s here. Unfortunately the bad guys aren’t wearing a sign and didn’t provide a welcoming committee. This part of the city has more standing buildings but that doesn’t mean he’s had any more luck finding where he should be headed. He sighs and looks into the next abandoned building for something, anything, that might make sense of any of this.
Al said he should call Mustang about this, but how could he? The bastard broke his trust when he used that damn glove against him. He knows Mustang just wanted to fix Havoc but it was too dangerous. How could he stand down when he knew that to heal him Mustang would have to fry himself with his flame alchemy to carry the reaction? It shouldn’t have worked. It should’ve done so much more than sear him on the inside. Somehow the bastard got lucky, but that still didn’t give Roy the right to incapacitate him. He still remembers the way it felt to have his nerves short circuited all at once. That fucking alkahestry is as much a weapon as it is a blessing and he’s been on both ends. That’s why he couldn’t be with him anymore. That’s why it had to end.
He growls at the thought and picks his way through more rubble as he works his way down the street. Stupid Mustang and all his stupid rules about blind trust and following orders. It’s one thing to trust him in the bedroom, but quite another to follow orders that don’t make any damn sense. He was trying to stop him from hurting himself, but Roy wouldn’t listen. He expected him to follow after him like his damn unit does and he still doesn’t get it. Sure Havoc has a reason to be grateful, but what about the rest? They all follow him like he’s some kind of a God and Ed doesn’t understand it. How can you blindly follow anyone, regardless of their damn rank? He kicks a rock and watches it skitter down the dusty street. It was good while it lasted, but it’s in the past. Now he just needs to—
He’s flying through the air before he has a clue what’s happening. He hits the ground hard, landing on his automail shoulder, and pain radiates through the attached nerve endings. His ears are ringing and he can barely see through the thick cloud of dust from what must’ve been an explosion. Children’s screams ring out and he looks for the source of the cries. They’re coming from the burnt out husk of a building about to collapse with a mother and two children huddled inside. He shoves himself to his feet then sprints across the street, clapping his hands together as he dives for the ground. The building shudders from the aftershocks and there’s not much time. He slams his hands down into the dust and dirt and transmutes a rock arch from the earth to temporarily shelter those inside.
“Get out! Get out now!” The woman hesitates then she scoops up the little girl in her arms and grabs the hand of the boy. They run from the building just as a crack runs up his his newly made support. Ed sees it coming but he still barely manages to step back far enough before the second story of the building collapses. The whole damn thing comes crashing to the ground, engulfing him in a cloud of dust. He coughs even after he covers his mouth with his sleeve and stares in shock at the pile of rubble that moments ago was a makeshift shelter. How can things be so bad? This was a good town, a happy place when he and Al visited. Sure they were all following a crazy man, but they were safe and happy. Did he cause this? Is this all his fault?
Ed gets so wrapped up in his own head he doesn’t see the secondary wall support collapsing and falling his way until it's too late. There’s nowhere to run and his eyes widen. He tries to move but his feet have forgotten how. He crouches down to make himself as small as possible and braces for the impact but then he’s suddenly jerked hard by his collar. He flies back several feet, out of the crumbling stone’s path and he lands hard on his ass. Ed stares at the rubble that was nearly his grave. How many others have ended up buried beneath stone and sand? How many deaths is he responsible for?
He hears the voice but can’t respond. He can’t move. How can people do this to other people?
“Fullmetal! On your feet!”
He blinks at the command and he’s pushing up off the ground and looking around before he realizes it. He’s tugged off the street by the same strong hand as before to the side of a much sturdier looking building. He sees the flare of the long coat, the jet black hair, and there’s no mistaking the possessive grip on him. “Mustang? What’re you doing here?”
Roy’s head whips around and he can tell he’s surveying him for something as his eyes sweep over him. He tugs on his arm again and doesn’t stop until they’re well off the street. Why is he here? Why is he leading him around like some damn puppy? And what if someone sees him? The homunculus told him that he had to come alone, that if he brought Al something bad would happen to Havoc. Now Mustang’s here! What if they think he brought him here?
“Mustang, you have to get out of here! They could see you.” He tries to pull from his grip but Roy holds firm. “Dammit Roy, let go of me. You have to leave! Now! I didn’t ask you to come. Get out of here!”
Roy’s hand finally falls away and he gives him that searching look that always infuriates him. Ed shoves him as panic settles in the pit of his stomach. “I’m serious! You can’t be here. No one can. Not even Al.” Roy grabs both his shoulders firmly and Ed tries to shake out of his grip. “Let go. I told you—”
“That’s enough, Fullmetal.” His words are commanding and clipped and it makes Ed want to fight him even more, or punch his smug ass face. “I’m here for the same reason you are. I got a call too.”
Ed stops struggling and gives Mustang a hard look. Is he lying? Ed’s certain Al must’ve called him. He tried to talk Ed into calling him but that wasn’t going to happen. There’s no way he’s ever going back to this manipulative bastard for help.
“You’re lying. Al told you. You’re just trying to fuck with me. Again.” Roy’s face darkens and the grip on his arms, flesh and automail, grows tighter. Roy’s eyes turn even blacker than usual with anger and Ed actually flinches at the malice he sees directed at him.
“You’re still an arrogant little shit I see.” Roy's lips turn up in a sneer and Ed tries to jerk away again but his grip is iron. “It’s not always all about you, Fullmetal! I told you, I got a call telling me to come here as well.” His eyes narrow dangerously and Ed stops fighting him. He looks like he’s ready to incinerate someone and he’s not sure if he could stop him if he used it on him. “It was from Maes.”
“Wait…what?” Did he hear him right? Has Roy finally fried his own brain? He pushes at his chest and this time Roy lets him go. Ed takes a step back to process the information but no matter how he turns it around in his head it doesn’t make any damn sense. “What the hell are you talking about, Mustang? Brigadier General Hughes is dead.” He swallows hard because even after all this time it hardly feels real. But he needs to say it because obviously Roy has gone off the deep end and forgotten.
“You think I don’t know that?” Ed’s met with a dark scowl and that’s when he notices Mustang’s wearing his ignition gloves. There’s a slight rasp between his fingers as Roy rubs them together and Ed’s eyes widen. Roy only wears those when he plans on using them. What the hell is going on? “The person on the phone was using his voice.” Roy’s eyes turn as hard and cold as Ed’s ever seen them and it sends a shiver down his spine. “It’s the thing that killed Hughes. I’m going after it. Are you in?”
“Try to stop me.” Mustang nods but Ed looks around him to see if he’s really alone. “Al didn’t come with you did he?” It’s one thing if he and Mustang were both lured here but his message specifically said no Al.
Mustang shakes his head. “I sent him back to Resembool to wait for you.” Ed watches Roy scan the streets. He’s doing the same thing he was earlier, looking for anything that might’ve been left as a sign for them. “He’s safe, Fullmetal, don’t worry.”
“It’s not that.” Roy finally turns his head to look at him and Ed shrugs his shoulders and sighs. “It was in the message. No Al or no Havoc.” Roy nods once then turns to make his way up the street but unlike Ed he stays to the side. Ed frowns as he follows along behind him and pokes at Roy’s side. “What gives? Why are you keeping so close to the buildings? Didn’t you see the one that collapsed earlier?”
“Yes. But it’s obvious we’ve both been invited into a trap. I’d prefer to keep out of sniper range if that’s alright with you.” Ed scowls at the tone but says nothing more. He’s used to fighting people one on one, not thinking about guns and assassination attempts. But why would there even be an attempt?
“Do you really think we were invited here just to be killed?” Ed looks around the war torn streets and shakes his head. “You’d think they could think of a better place than this.” Anyone who had to come here to set them up would be putting themselves at risk too.
“War is a good place for assassinations. It happens all the time.” Ed stares because he says it so matter of fact as if it’s something everyone should know. Ed sighs and follows after him, still looking for any signs at all. “Were you told anything else? Anything at all?”
Ed glares at his back. Roy didn’t even bother turning to look at him when he spoke. He huffs and shakes his head. “Not really, just that I might find out some information about the stone too.” Roy stops short and Ed nearly runs into him. “What the hell, Mustang?” Roy turns around and the serious look on his face takes him by surprise. What’s got him so damn on edge? There are always rumors about the stone. To be honest he didn’t even put much stock in it.
“I need to tell you something.” He pulls Ed between two crumbling buildings and Ed shifts on his feet at the intensity of his stare.
“So what? Are you going to keep me waiting all day?”
“Be quiet, Edward, and listen.” Ed opens his mouth to snap back but the look on Roy’s face is all business so he sighs and crosses his arms. “There’s a chance the people behind this could be homunculi.” Ed shrugs because it’s not like he hadn’t figured out himself. “If they are then you need to know, the core of the homunculi is the stone.”
What? Ed blinks and stares at him unbelieving. He knew this and never told him? He had to have figured this out when he killed the other one and he didn’t even mention it! All the time they were together, all the things they did, and he kept this from him. He was right to put an end to it. He really is nothing more than a manipulative, fucking bastard. “How could you not tell me! We could’ve been looking for one all this time.” Ed reaches out and grabs him, both hands fisting in his coat as he shakes him. “You manipulative piece of—.”
“Stop it, Fullmetal.” Roy’s hands circle his wrists, but he doesn’t let go. He could’ve found one. He could’ve gotten Al’s body back. He could’ve at least tried. “This is exactly why I didn’t tell you because it can’t be separated.”
“Bullshit! You’re just saying that. You can’t know that!” He shakes him hard again but then he’s forced back by a sharp, openhanded blow to his chest. “You bastard!”
“Edward, listen to me. Your life could depend on it.” Roy’s eyes are deadly serious but he doesn’t care. “It would just be a ploy to distract you. I know. I saw it.” Ed scowls and he feels like wrapping his hands around his fucking throat and squeezing, hard. “Listen, Fullmetal. The stone is the homunculus. It’s the core. I know. I held it in my fucking hand and the damn thing regenerated around me. It only died once I wore it out with my flame and the stone disintegrated.” Ed looks away. He doesn’t want to listen. He doesn’t want to hear it but Roy won’t stop. “I had it in my hand and ended up skewered in the side. Trust me, Fullmetal, anything they try to tell you is nothing but a lie to distract you.”
Ed hangs his head and sighs as he lets go of him. On some level it makes sense and it’s just not fair. He turns sharply and slams his automail fist into the side of a wall leaving a small crater in the stone. All this time, to be so damn close…it’s not fair. He feels Mustang’s hand on his shoulder and he wants to shake it off but…on some level he understands, even though it still pisses him off.
“Edward….” His voice is soft and even. Too soft and it reminds him too much of things he needs to forget. He turns around expecting to see those same dark eyes that could see straight through him, but instead all he sees is a hard mask of indifference. Ed blinks because the only time he’s ever seen him this cool and indifferent was when he pretended to incinerate Lieutenant Ross. His eyes lock with Ed as he speaks again. “I need to know you won’t try to do anything stupid.”
There’s no apology in his words and Ed shrugs his shoulders. “You have my word, Mustang. I won’t try anything.” Roy’s gaze continues to bore into him, but he won’t look at him. He won’t give him the satisfaction. Instead he looks around him into the street and he sees a young woman run by. He narrows his eyes because there’s something familiar about her. He leans to the side to get a better look and when he sees the flash of pink in the dark hair he knows he’s right. “Rose! Hey , Rose, it’s Ed. Rose!”
He turns to go after her, but a hand on his shoulder stops him. Ed snaps his head around and glares at Mustang. He may out rank him but that doesn’t mean he’s running the show. He’s not one of Mustang’s devoted, deluded men who will follow him no matter what. “Let me go, Roy. I know her.”
“Are you sure?” Roy’s hand tightens on his arm and Ed yanks it away. Damn superior bastard.
“Yes, I’m sure. Her name is Rose. Al and I met her the first time we were here.” He doesn’t even look back this time, he just runs after her. “Rose, wait up!” If she’s still here she has to know more about what’s going on. Maybe she even knows where they can find whoever is behind all this. Either way he’s going to find out and not wait around for Mustang to figure out his best course of action.