Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside
-Karn Evil 1st Impression Part 2, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
“Colonel, Colonel, Colonel!” The Fullmetal Alchemist charged into Mustang’s office, waving a handful of luridly colored slips of paper. “There’s a circus! And I got free tickets!”
Mustang winced at the noise and lay down his pen. “I take it you want permission to go?” As a State Alchemist, Fullmetal didn’t need official sanction to take a day off as long as his research was submitted in time for the annual review. But when Mustang sponsored the then eleven-year-old boy, the upper echelons made sure he assumed full responsibility for the kid, and it helped to rub that in now and again.
Edward Elric frowned at his commander, then shrugged. “Al and I are going. I have lots of tickets, do you want to take the whole office?”
“How did you come by these, Edward?” Hawkeye examined the ticket she was offered. It looked legitimate, admittance for one to Barton’s Traveling Magnificent Multifarious Menagerie and Amazing Aerial Extravaganza. Side Shows and Midway extra.
“Me and Al-”
“Al and I,” Mustang corrected absently, earning the death glare for interrupting.
“Al and I fixed some stuff for them and the Ringmaster gave us a bunch of tickets.”
“This didn’t have anything to do with the disruption of the military train schedules in Wulf Valley and the rerouting of several-” Mustang began.
“They have a baby elephant!” Ed continued loudly.
“Because there was an issue with the switching station and an entire platoon was stranded-”
“And sixteen clowns, and bareback riders, a calliope and a merry-go-round.” Ed handed around the free passes.
“Interestingly enough, civilian trains carrying cargo such as fresh food, mail,” Mustang pretended to consult his paperwork. “and oh yes, a circus, managed to get past-”
“They have lions and tigers and a rare leopard from Xing, too.” Al put in quickly. “And the cutest little monkeys dressed in doll’s clothes.”
Mustang gave up.
“Sounds like fun,” Havoc said, taking two tickets. “I wonder if that new girl in the cantina is doing anything Saturday?”
“That would depend on how late I keep her out Friday night, I imagine.” Mustang smirked as Havoc sighed.
“Not a lot of places to canoodle at a circus, anyway. Me, I love carnival food,” Breda helped himself to a ticket. “The roasted peanuts and lemonade just don’t taste the same anywhere else.”
Falman took two and Furey took five, so he could take all his siblings. Hawkeye contented herself with one, which left two tickets. Ed flapped them at Mustang.
“They have stuff for old people, too – fortune tellers and a maze and a lady who dances with a snake in a skimpy dress.”
Recovering from being called ‘old’, twenty-six year old Roy Mustang murmured, “And how does a snake keep a skimpy dress on, exactly?”
Ed rolled his eyes. “Come on, Colonel, don’t you want to go?”
“No, thank you Fullmetal. Circuses are not my… forte.”
Eight years previously
Roy Mustang wandered in, his nose in a book, and was greeted by his roommate. “Take a gander at this, Sparkles.” Roy snapped his fingers without even looking up.
“Whoa, you almost got me that time. Do you wear those gloves everywhere? I mean, seriously, isn’t that ignition cloth a bit rough when you take a leak?”
“If you must talk to me, call me by my name, Hughes.”
“But your name isn’t Hughes. I’m Hughes. Poor fella, he’s got brain fever from studying too much.”
Roy glanced up to make sure he didn’t miss this time and paused, poised to snap. Maes Hughes was cooing to the ugliest baby Roy had ever seen, explaining how Roy had lost his mind by burning too much midnight oil.
“Good God, what is that?”
Hughes held the little figure up proudly. It was a small monkey, dressed in a pink ruffled diaper cover and clutching a matching pink blanket. “Isn’t she adorable? Her name is Daphne.”
“If it had red hair, it could pass for Smythe in Section Two.”
“Aw, she’s not that ugly.” He cuddled the monkey protectively.
“Hughes,” Roy said wearily, “Why is there a monkey in our dorm room?”
“I borrowed her. Going to do a kid’s show, for the Community Service thing.”
“Couldn’t you just take KP like I did?” It hadn’t been so bad. Roy discovered if he propped the book up, he could read and peel potatoes at the same time.
“What’s the fun in that?” Hughes’ idea of fun is what got them both Community Service in the first place. Good thing the Commandant had a sense of humor. And that his wife didn't mind goats.
Something pinged in Roy’s mind. “Wait, borrowed? Is this normal people borrowing, in which you are given permission to use something that is not your own or is this Maes Hughes style borrowing, in which -”
“They’ll never miss her,” Hughes said confidently. Roy nodded grimly. He’d heard that one before.
“Where does one borrow a monkey from?” Roy held up his hand. “Don’t answer that. I suspect I’m better off not knowing. Hughes, take it back. You can’t keep a monkey in a dorm room.”
“Among other things, they are incontinent. And I object to anything that throws its own feces on principle.”
“That’s what the little diaper is for.” Seeing Roy’s expression, Hughes sighed. “I’ll just take her out and show the gang. Do you like cats?”
“Oh, good. You can watch the ocelot.”
“Yeah, they are just like house cats.”
“Just like house cats,” Roy muttered, dabbing iodine on his various cuts and scratches. “Only larger, more evil and completely feral.”
“Holy cow, what happened?” Hughes came in with Daphne still on his shoulder, clinging to a handful of his hair. He looked around the destroyed room and at his bloody and disheveled roommate. A sense of dread crept over him. “Where’s Chloe?”
“If by Chloe you mean that vicious cat, it’s gone.”
“Gone? Where? How?”
“I tried to give it some water and it leaped out of the crate, attempted to give me an appendectomy, clawed its way around my body, shot up my back, danced on my head, and vanished out the window.”
Hughes ran over to the window and leaned out, grabbing the monkey just as she tried to go for the ivy covering the walls. There was a large tree in easy cat jumping distance. He groaned. “We have to find her!”
“Well, you let her get away. I'll help you get her back.”
“I don’t want her back. That cat nearly killed me.”
“What if someone gets hurt?”
“Someone did get hurt!” Roy sighed and pulled on a clean shirt. Guilt was a powerful motivator. “Can we at least use the monkey as bait?” Daphne gave him a wounded look.
Hughes shook his head. “They do an act together.” He peeled off the little monkey and handed her to Roy. “Pop her in her cage with a treat and meet me outside.” Hughes took the faster route of dropping out the window. Good thing they were only on the second floor.
Roy crammed the little monkey in her enclosure with one of the oatmeal raisin cookies Riza Hawkeye sent from time to time. They were a bit burnt and slightly stale, but Daphne didn’t seem to mind. He raced down the stairs and caught up with Hughes, who was trotting through the park area, scanning the trees.
“They are mostly arboreal,” Hughes explained. “If she’s upset she’ll go high and only come down to hunt.”
“I don’t see why she’d be upset, unless it’s over the fact that she failed to kill me. What do they hunt? Other than alchemists?”
“Dogs, mostly. A big dog can take her but she goes after the little ones like a chipmunk going for popcorn.”
“I like dogs,” Roy protested, walking faster to keep up with Hughes’ long legged strides.
“So does Chloe. Cats are heavy into irony.”
Across the way, a woman screamed, “My Fifi!”
They broke into a run.
They almost caught Chloe, would have had her, if it weren’t for the fact that neither cadet had remembered to bring any way to contain an irritable ocelot. By the time Roy got some chalk out to sketch an array, Hughes was a bloody mess. It didn’t help that Fifi’s owner tucked the dazed but largely unhurt little dog under one arm and used her free hand to beat Roy soundly with her pocket book. Hughes was forced to let Chloe go or lose some fingers; Roy was fighting the urge to set the old biddy on fire. He went with the wiser choice and dragged Hughes back to the dorm for first aid.
“A strategic retreat; we need a better plan.”
Hughes nodded in agreement, wincing as he bathed his hands in iodine. Daphne, upset by either the blood or being ignored, bounced around her cage hooting and flinging what Roy sincerely hoped were the raisins from the cookies.
Roy brought out his stash of quality whiskey to help ease their pains and assist with serious plotting. It had been cleverly stored in a beaker amidst his alchemical supplies. Roy noticed the level had dropped noticeably and frowned at Hughes. He just grinned back.
“All right,” Roy said after he knocked back a healthy hit. “What sorts of things do cats like?”
Roy preferred not to be the center of attention until it was a situation he’d carefully crafted himself. Growing up in a whorehouse gave him enough notoriety to last a lifetime. Granted, it also bestowed a certain amount of self-confidence and savoir-faire, among other marketable skills, but even so, Roy hated making a fool of himself.
Which just went show, Roy thought, that Maes Hughes was a dangerously persuasive man. He resolutely walked down the path, dragging a salmon on a chain behind him.
“I say, Old Man,” Vickerson from Section Four drawled, “I’ve never seen a fellow successfully fish in the grass before.”
“He’s taking it for a walk,” laughed one of his other classmates.
“A drag, you mean,” added another wit. “What are you doing, Mustang, trawling for pussy?”
“Leopards,” Mustang corrected crisply. “Well, ocelots.”
“I’m trawling for ocelots.” He saw, out of the corner of his eye, Chloe hunched on a branch above Matheson. Roy tipped his hat and moved on, hoping to lure the ocelot away from the other cadets. Naturally, they chose to follow him.
Chloe solved that little problem herself by launching out of the tree, landing on the wit, and rebounding off to attack the salmon. The boys fell back, shouting in alarm, and Chloe puffed up, prefatory to scrambling back up into the boughs to hide. Roy flipped the fish around invitingly; Vickerson had enough presence of mind to grab his buddies and run as soon as the cat was distracted.
Roy kept jiggling the salmon around, walking slowly around the area. The ocelot was fascinated by a very edible smelling toy and watched intently. With no warning at all, she suddenly dove forward and nabbed her prize.
As soon as Chloe pounced, Roy ran. Most of the salmon shredded out of the ocelot’s grip and bounced along the lawn behind him. Unable to resist, Chloe followed, periodically falling on the fish and getting in a few kicks and bites before Roy wrested it away.
“Faster!” Hughes called. His encouragement was not as effective as Chloe’s occasional swats to the backs of Roy’s legs.
Roy made a large circuit of the quad, gaining speed and allowing the salmon to arc out wildly behind him. Chloe leapt and bounced, occasionally vocalizing with what Roy hoped was delight. Then he charged the large cage at a dead run, dropping the chain at the last second and bounding over the container. Hughes quickly kicked the fish inside and slammed the gate shut when the ocelot followed. They could hear purry growls as Chloe enjoyed her treat at last.
Hughes grinned at Roy, who was bent over, hands on his knees, panting. “Damn, you’re fast. Have you considered going out for track?”
Roy was adamant that the animals had to be returned right after the show. Hughes demanded his assistance, correctly pointing out the difficulties of carrying an ocelot and a monkey on the cable car. Roy wondered briefly how Hughes got the creatures into the dorm room in the first place, but dismissed that line of thought. Hughes never let little things like laws – physical, natural or Amestrian - slow him down.
He showed up at the orphanage where Hughes was doing his Community Service, lugging Daphne’s cage, and a smiling Matron led Roy down the corridors to a large airy room. Chloe’s crate had been set in a sunny corner, and she slept contentedly inside, unperturbed by the occasional visits from curious children.
Most of the kids had their attention firmly affixed on a figure with a white face, red rubber nose, and giant shoes, who was standing at a table at the head of the room. The clown was currently trying to explain, in a very serious voice, how to make paper roses. Daphne, now dressed in a miniature matching outfit, ‘helped’ by throwing bits of paper, stealing the scissors, and attempting to eat paste. Once a rose was finally successfully created, the clown pulled more roses out of his pockets. And more and more. Daphne hopped over and pulled handfuls flowers from the clown’s other pocket, to the children’s utter delight.
When there were enough so that every child could claim one, the clown cleaned up his work area by scooping up and juggling his tools. One by one they vanished, either into his pockets, under his vest or up his sleeve, until only Daphne remained. She bowed and ran up the clown’s body to hide under his hat.
Smiling, Roy joined in the enthusiastic applause. Hughes let the Matrons distribute the paper flowers while he coaxed Daphne out of his hat and into her container. Roy donated another of Riza’s cookies to ease the transition.
“What do you think?”
“You are surprisingly good at that. It also solves the mystery of your civilian clothing.”
Hughes bumped him in a friendly fashion. “C’mon, I have to get the girls back to the circus before the evening show.”
Come to think on it, there had been some gaily-colored tents on the outskirts of town. “How did you talk the circus into letting you have the animals? And if they were willing to do a charity act for the orphans, why not send a real clown?”
“I am a real clown,” Hughes said, pretending to be hurt. “My folks own the circus.”
And didn’t that explain a lot.
“Most kids dream about running away and joining the circus, not running away from the circus and joining the military.”
“Ah, well, you see, most circus folk are very law abiding citizens.”
And some weren’t. Roy could guess which group Hughes belonged in. His choice had probably been reform school or the military. Hughes was lucky his family could afford the more expensive option.
Hughes saw no reason to change out of his costume despite Roy’s hints, so Roy was forced to ride through town with a clown, a small monkey dressed as a clown, and an ocelot. At least the last two were in cages. Roy tried to pretend he wasn’t with and didn’t know Hughes, but Hughes chatted with him the whole trip. Also, Roy was stuck carrying Chloe.
“It’s hard to walk in these shoes, and if I drop her and she gets away…”
“Just to clarify, what are the odds of you dropping Daphne’s box?”
Hughes scoffed. “She barely weighs anything. And she’ll come when called.”
“And you can’t change shoes because…?”
“Look, this is our stop. See you at the circus!” Hughes added loudly for the people staring at them. Most of them smiled and nodded. Roy suspected they were relieved there was a logical explanation for Hughes.
If only it were that simple.
They wove their way past tents and concession stands, around wagons and through crowds. Roy craned his neck, trying to see everything at once. "Your family really owns all this?"
"My maternal grandparents, yeah. My dad did the books, once he married my mom she incorporated him into the act - she threw knives at him. Mom said it helped keep him faithful."
"I can well imagine." Roy noticed Hughes only spoke of his parents in past tense, and bumped his shoulder in sympathy.
Hughes smiled crookedly at him. "Shot during a robbery attempt. People get the idea traveling shows have a lot of money because we deal in cash. They don't realize it all goes right back out for vet bills, permits, equipment and all that." He shrugged. "The show must go on, right?"
Hughes guided Roy over to a shady spot were some side show wagons were arranged between small tents. "Cool your heels a bit here and I'll return Daphne and Chloe. The animal trainers don't like strangers wandering around the back yard."
Roy nodded and paused to wait near a sandwich board claiming The Mystic Melphonia could solve all his problems with 5 cenz and a card reading. Futures revealed! Pasts explored! Questions answered! Closed for lunch!
"You don't look like the type to hang out with some clown."
Roy glanced over, took in the impressive curves and long platinum blond hair and smiled. "He's a friend of mine, Maes Hughes."
"Oh, I know Maes." She was well dressed for an afternoon at the circus, a blue suit with matching pumps, gloves, and hat. "What I want to know is your name." She took out a cigarette which Roy gallantly lit for her, earning an arched eyebrow. "And how long you are staying."
"Roy Mustang. We should head back to school soon and get some studying done."
"Ah, yes, Academy Boys. Always so studious. And healthy." She made that sound filthy and promising. Roy pondered his options and his schedule and moved a little closer. She responded by brushing back her pale, heavy hair and smiling. "Tell me, Roy Mustang -"
"Sorry, Frankie," Hughes said cheerfully, reappearing like a genii. "But I need to borrow Roy for a while."
Frankie rolled her eyes, but Hughes was already hustling Roy away. "Just bring him back in good condition," she called after them. Hughes answered with a wave.
"Frankie is too old for you." He said, dragging Roy along.
"I like older women."
"Yeah, well, Frankie isn't exactly a woman. Not all over."
Roy blinked at him. Well, that was a new kink.
"Anyway, he's engaged to my cousin Jess. Jess the sharp shooter. Can hit a moving target at 80 yards. From horse back. A small target, like a man's head."
Giving that due consideration, Roy wondered, "Is your cousin Jess a man or a woman?"
"I never asked!" Hughes laughed.
"So your mother was a knife thrower and your cousin is a sharp shooter?"
"Our whole family has crazy hand to eye coordination." Hughes stopped and put his hands on Roy's shoulders. Seriously, he said, "The hand truly is quicker than the eye."
Roy stared up into Hughes' cat green eyes. Then rolled his own. "Maes, give me my wallet back."
"You never saw me move! Or felt it, either." He was pouting.
"No, but I know you. Give it back."
Grinning, Hughes held up Roy's comb. "You don't know me as well as you think." He examined the comb. "I didn't even know you owned a comb, the way that mop of yours usually looks."
"I don't, now."
"Here, you can borrow mine." Hughes tossed the comb back to Roy, who put it away with some grumbling.
"Maes!" A very small, stout woman marched up.
She packed a lot of anger in that small frame and Roy quietly drifted away. Better part of valor and all that. He spied some lithe figures in spangles and headed that way.
"Maes," The woman repeated. "You actually fed Chloe an entire salmon?"
"She liked it, Aunt Marguerite."
"She has a show tonight! You know how nervous she gets, she'll throw up all over the place!"
"Aunt Marguerite, there aren't a lot of forces in the world that can stop a cat from eating salmon."
"Was it at least poached in white wine?"
"More like dragged raw through the yard."
She gasped and clutched her amble bosom. "You are a heathen, Maes Hughes. I would say an animal but that is too much a compliment!"
"Great to see you, too, Aunt Marguerite. Oop, gotta go rescue Roy. Bye!"
“I just had a very strange conversation with a trapeze artist.”
“Aerialist. They shouldn’t be giving you a hard time, I told them you were my wife.”
"That was part of the strange conversation, yes." Roy ran his hand through his hair. “Maes, did it ever occur to you that as a traveling enterprise these people may not have time to catch up with local idioms? Such as 'wife' being slang for 'dorm mate'?”
“What else would they think I meant?” Hughes tugged Roy along, his giant shoes making a flapping noise against the sawdust and straw strewn area. “Don’t mind Antonio, when a man wears sequined tights for a living he acquires a certain attitude.”
“He also acquired certain ideas, which I suspect will be all over the circus in an hour and all over town by tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry, circus folk tend not to be overly judgmental about things like that.”
“It’s not the circus I’m worried about,” Roy muttered.
"Ah, never mind that. Come meet my grandfather, he's the Ringmaster, a great guy."
Behind the back drops and brightly colored wagons and tents were smaller, more drab wagons and tents. People bustled around with an efficiency that put the military to shame. Roy slowed, then stopped, watching people erect tents, move animals, cook, do laundry, and practice acrobatics all in a tightly controlled space. It was all in the set up, he realized. If you pick your place and the pattern, you command the whole area. He smiled.
"And then I told them you wrestled ostriches for a living."
"Ah, welcome back." Hughes grinned at him. "I was saying, Gramma and Pop's wagon is over this way."
"Maes, I'd like to come back and see how the circus is taken down and moved. This is incredible."
"You are easily impressed. You should see us when we're actually performing instead of just living." They both paused to watch a crowd of very pretty women in very small robes pass.
One of the ladies noticed Maes, did a double take, and squealed with glee. Soon they were surrounded by delighted women and Roy was finally starting to feel in his element. Hughes made a few introductions. "Clara and Sarah," he said, indicating identical twin blonds. "They do a synchronized bareback show."
"It's all in the timing," They both said.
"Cressida, the Cetran Enchantress. She dances with a snake in a skimpy outfit."
Smiling, Roy asked, "How do you keep the skimpy outfit on the snake?"
"Carpet tacks," Hughes replied, cuffing Roy. The women laughed. "Oh, there's Pops!" He darted off, leaving Roy with the ladies.
"Abandoned again," Roy said, mock tragically.
"We'll comfort you," one of the as yet unnamed beauties offered. The others chimed in with their support.
"Ah, but are you all real women?"
A redhead purred, "Would you like to come back to my wagon and check?"
Hughes was such a good friend.
"Is that your wife, there?" Pop asked. He was a tall regal looking man with a salt and pepper beard shaved Quaker style.
"My dorm mate, yes. He's a good guy."
"My money's on Arachne."
Hughes followed Pop's gaze to where Roy was flirting outrageously with the show girls. "Oh, not Arachne. I should get over there."
"She won't hurt him." Sure enough, Arachne broke away from the crowd, laughing, and Roy was following. The other show girls continued on their way to the cook shack.
"I really should go stop this." Hughes murmured as Roy and Arachne disappeared into her wagon.
"It will be educational for the boy."
"Yes, but-" The door to the wagon flew open and Roy fell out and down the steps. He landed doing a shoulder roll and was up and running in a half a heart beat. Hughes and his grandfather watched Roy race across the back yard, dodging performers and leaping obstacles like an all star hurdler. Maes found his voice. "Roy is really afraid of spiders."
Arachne peeked out, petting a large tarantula. She shrugged philosophically and went back inside.
"Damn fast, I must say." Pops sounded impressed.
"He's going out for track."
It took some coaxing, but Hughes managed to get Roy to come back to the lot and meet his grandfather. They gave Arachne's wagon wide berth.
"Why would anyone pay to see spiders?" Roy shuddered.
"People like exotic things. They want to be thrilled and titillated."
"Or terrified and repulsed."
"No one is going to stand in line to watch his granny darn socks." Pop smiled and held out his hand.
"Pop, Speedy here is Roy Mustang, my roomie and soon to be a State Alchemist. My grandfather, Pop Manning."
Roy pulled himself together enough to try for a good impression. He even managed a bit of charm. "A pleasure to meet you, Sir. Maes talked a lot about you." Compared to his other relatives, at least.
"All lies," Pop said quickly. "I have witnesses who will swear I was with them the entire time."
"That concerns me as he was very complimentary."
"Definitely lies, then." Pop and Hughes had identical grins.
Hughes looked around. "Where's Gram?"
"We have members of the press with us today. Including photographers." Pop sounded apologetic.
Hughes' jaw dropped. "She's performing? Pop, she's getting too old to juggle those axes."
Pop draped one arm around Hughes' shoulder and the other around Roy's, turning both boys towards the tents. "Maes, Bertie and I have been married 47 years and one of the reasons we've been married 47 years is, I learned early on not to argue with her while she's holding a battle ax."
Since the Big Top performance ran until after the boy's curfew, Pop insisted Roy take one of the star seats in one of the smaller tents and at least see Daphne and Chloe's act. Hughes left him comfortably ensconced with a paper cone of caramel corn and went to visit with some of his clown buddies. A photographer from the local paper moved about, taking snap shots of the acts, loitering clowns, and happy patrons. Roy was close enough to over hear a clown tell the man he'd have to stop taking pictures once the show started.
"Nothing to fret over, Pal," the photographer said. "I have flash bulbs, I can keep shooting in the dark."
"No flash! You can blind the performers."
The photographer solemnly promised to obey the rules. Roy didn't trust him, and it was clear the clown didn't either, but was hampered by instructions to be courteous to the press and their free publicity. Roy kept an eye on the man until he was distracted by the events in the ring. The show made a series of jokes about being smaller than the Big Top and thus having smaller acts, which culminated in a spiel about the wonders of what the patrons who wisely chose to purchase a full pass would be enjoying later that evening. One of the main attractions was an act in which a beautiful girl rode a lion, even as it jumped through a flaming hoop. The ooohs and ahhhs, of the audience changed to laughter when the scaled down version was revealed: the little monkey Daphne riding the ocelot, Chloe.
Daphne was dressed in a Xersesian style gown and cape; Chloe had a fur collar to mimic a lion's mane. She jumped lightly around the equipment set up in the ring, responding to signals from Hughes' Aunt Marguerite. After an impressive run up and down a pillar, Chloe stopped on a small platform. The pitchman casually stepped up by a large hoop and struck a match. The crowd held its breath as the ring caught fire, all eyes on Chloe who's tail twitched with agitation. She tensed, sprang forward, and the photographer snapped his picture.
Distracted by the flash and pop, Chloe missed the center of the hoop. Daphne's cape was just long enough to fly up and hit the flames. Although not on fire herself, the little monkey could see and smell the fire and she dug her fingers into Chloe's fur and screeched a protest. Already upset, the ocelot went for her comfort zone, heights, and shot up the wire wall enclosing the ring. Chloe kept going up once she reached the top, leaping easily to a support pole and heading for the rigging in the top.
Roy was with a large crowd in a canvas structure with a sawdust and straw floor. And it was on fire. He pulled on his gloves, ignoring the startled cries of the people around him. The band started up, playing Green, White and Gold, the Amestrian National Anthem. Clowns poured in from all sides; Roy spotted Hughes' lanky frame among them. The pitchman got everyone on his feet for the National Anthem and to honor Our Boys in Blue, and the clowns lead people out in small, orderly groups. Outside small special events like elephant rides were already setting up. "A short intermission, folks," the pitchman promised. "Have some lemonade, half price! The show will resume in a jiffy."
Roy sighted on Daphne and at least got her cape out before she or the cat were hurt badly. He tried to muscle his way down to the ring, against the flow of humanity fleeing the tent. The same clown who had been talking to the photographer before stopped him. "All the action is outside, Buddy. Go have some fun."
"But the cat-"
"Never fear, she's tame as the tom that sleeps by your stove at home. Go on out."
Roy could feel combustion starting in the sawdust nearby - where the hot spent flash bulb had fallen. Magnesium fires were next to impossible to put out by normal means. He held up his hand, showing the array on the back of his gloves. "I'm an alchemist." Technically, Roy was an apprentice alchemist, but fire suppression was the first thing Master Hawkeye had taught him. "I can put out the fires."
The clown hesitated. Then a woman swooned and decided the matter for him. "Don't get hurt," he ordered, and ran over to help.
Roy started with the flaming hoop and moved on to the smaller fires starting from the sparks from the flash, and then the flash bulb itself. The tent emptied out, leaving only Roy, Aunt Marguerite, and Hughes. Marguerite was trotting around under the rigging, trying to coax Daphne and Chloe down. Hughes' more direct approach was to kick off his over-sized shoes and shimmy up the king pole.
"What a scoop!" The photographer had been among the first to leave the tent - he was forcibly ejected by two large clowns. Since they were distracted, he took the opportunity to sneak back in.
"You are supposed to record the news, not create it," snapped Marguerite.
The photographer chuckled and took a picture of her.
"If you drop that flash, you'll be sorry," Roy growled, scanning the complicated network of ropes over their heads. He snapped out another smoldering spot.
"Because I'll shove it up his posterior like a suppository!"
"Aunt Marguerite!" Hughes sounded like he was trying not to laugh. "Such language!" He was stretched out on a guy wire, reaching for Chloe, who was hunkered in the web. Daphne, happy to see a familiar face, jumped to Hughes and ran, chattering miserably, up his arm.
The photographer lifted his camera and took the shot, already writing in the human interest caption.
Chloe did not like flash one bit and she yowled and threw herself forward. She knew Marguerite was below, offering security and comfort. Hughes instinctively recoiled from the cat jumping for his face and lost his grip on the guy line.
Chloe landed lightly and ran to Marguerite, who scooped her up.
"Maes!" Roy shouted, trying to get the formula clear in his head in to blow Hughes back up to the ropes.
"I'm ok," Hughes called down. He'd caught a guide line in his left hand and managed to hook his leg over a horizontal rope. Daphne hopped up and down on his stomach, hooting with alarm.
Satisfied that his best friend wasn't about to die, Roy turned on the photographer. The camera he raised didn't block Roy's haymaker punch and the man crashed into the chicken wire enclosing the ring and went down with it.
"Nice move," Aunt Marguerite said. "Who taught you that?"
"My foster mother." Roy blew on his knuckles. His gloves did not have nearly enough padding for that.
With a snap like a gunshot, something gave way and the rope Hughes had been clinging to fell, dragging other lines with it. One of the queen poles near the walling of the tent shivered and cracked, falling inwards. The top tilted and sagged, deflating on that side. Hughes fell a few feet and stopped, caught by his ankle in the rigging.
"...I'm not all right."
Neither was Daphne, who tumbled with Hughes. She tried to grab his head with her tail as she fell, and then his hand with her feet, but fear and momentum were against her. Marguerite shrieked. Roy raced forward and caught the little monkey, who thanked him by messing all over his gloves and shirt front. She ran over his head and jumped for Marguerite, taking refuge under the woman's hat.
"I'll go get help," Marguerite said. She kicked the unconscious photographer as she passed.
"Maes, hang on!"
"You know, I would, except what I'm hanging onto seems to be falling."
Roy ran his hands through his hair, then made a face. Monkey poop, yuck. The sound of ripping canvas refocused his attention on Hughes. Desperate, Roy managed a soggy snap and superheated enough air to blow Hughes over to the king pole.
Then the hot air forced its way out the small tears in the top, making them big tears, and whole fragile structure came down.
Half smothered, covered in saw dust, straw, and monkey crap, Roy looked at the destruction wearily. “I hate you so much.”
“No time for that!” Hughes straightened his red nose and fished in his voluminous pockets until he found a stick of chalk. He tossed that to Roy. “Make with the repairs while I go distract Gramma.”
Roy caught the chalk and hunkered down to start drawing arrays. “Gramma?”
“Yeah, Battling Bertha? She throws hand axes at me.”
“I didn’t know you were in her act.”
“I wasn’t, she just never liked me very much.”
There was a bellow of “Maes!” and Hughes dodged out of instinct. “I gotta go. Don’t worry about the lion, he’s just been fed.”
“How can circuses not be your forte?” Fullmetal asked incredulously.
“Maybe he’s afraid of clowns,” Breda said. “Lots of folk are.”