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Metal Midas

Chapter Text

“Everyone against the walls! Put your hands in the air!”

The dim lights cast from the ceiling pulsed in nauseating, goreish red over the black floor, walls, and ceiling. Three loud warning shots rang through muffled air as dozens of sweaty bodies piled against each other, panicked and still turnt from their previous activities. Cash, beer, wine, and miscellaneous bodily fluids spilled across the floor. In the center of the entrance bar of the brothel, Colonel Roy Mustang adjusted the ugly green gas mask covering the lower half of his face. All around him, people scrambled over broken glass and porcelain litter. For a moment he merely stood there, stock still, suspicious, before suddenly he paced towards one of the open doors in the far corner that lead further into the building. His throat clicked.

“Lieutenant,” he called out, not turning his head in any particular direction. His throat clicked again. “Accompany me.”

A middle-aged woman, fully exposed but for the jewel-encrusted golden chain that adorned her body, strung out across her torso and limbs, ringed into her nipples in luminous, shining outlining, darted across his path. He shoved her aside as gently as he could, undeterred by her “oof!” as she skidded on her knees over cold tile.

“Yes, sir,” a soft, warm voice answered directly behind and to his right.

A tiny, satisfied smile tugged at the corners of his lips. He stormed onwards. The soldiers behind him could handle the arrests. He had one goal, and one goal alone.

Suddenly, his radiocom buzzed and a gruff voice amidst loud static spoke into his ear.

“We’re penetrating the lower floors. Do you got ground level?”

“Yes,” he answered.

They hung up.In the long hallways, the air was considerably cooler than in the hot chamber. He could only assume that it smelled less of the sex, alcohol, and weed that undoubtedly permeated the Ballroom. Riza trailed his heels, gazing about the two of them with both of her arms circling protectively and her fingers locked on the triggers of her handguns.

“Look for room 529,” he reminded warningly. “That should be our Metal Midas.”

Metal Midas -- yes, that was the name with which they’d dubbed the case. For five years, metallic statues of missing or deceased peoples of political importance and wealth had been turning up in the waterways and sewers of Amestris. They weren’t found often. They weren’t even always of people. But for five years, someone had been manipulating Amestris into fulfilling their desires. No one could tell what it was that they wanted. In fact, the victims appeared to have been chosen at random, but for that minor pattern. For five years, the case had been backwater to all teams, not really taking any particular priority in the chaos of Amestris. It was only after Eustus Hagstruss, an upstanding and long-time dedicated General stationed in Central, had turned up in a civilian family’s creek that the case was brought back to high attention.

That night it was Roy’s team’s job to finally capture the perpetrator, and he had a pretty solid theory of who that should be. Six years prior, he’d received a couple of letters in the mail from two children in the country by the names of Edward and Alphonse Elric. Their father had left them years before, and their mother had died of terminal illness on their living room floor while the boys were out playing. He’d stashed the letters away at the time, too busy with his own cases to deal with a couple of barts who’d clearly already found someone to care for them so that they could send their letters. Then, one month ago, he’d read them again.

Click.

I’m sorry.

Logically, he knew that he wasn’t to blame for their predicament. By the time that he’d arrived onto the scene, they’d abandoned the old woman who’d cared for them and the other young orphan girl they’d grown up with. In their old home, chalk dust still gathered in the floorboards of the room that they’d attempted human transmutation within, but the body --and more importantly, they-- were gone. After that, he’d heavily interrogated the old woman, Pinako, for every bit of information that she had. He’d been correct in assuming that the person that they’d attempted to transmute back to the land of the living was their mother. It had apparently failed and rebounded onto the brothers, taking the elder’s ability to control his own alchemy when touching organic matter with either his hands or his feet. The younger brother lost his body entirely, leaving the elder with no choice but to attach his soul to a suit of armor left behind by their father.

During the rebound, the only limb that the elder had lost was his leg. It was after he’d metalized the orphan girl’s dog as Alfonse carried him back that he chopped his own hand off out of desperation, following it up with his forearm and chasing the plague all the way to his shoulder. He was just lucky that the orphan girl was an automail genius.

“It should be three doors up to the left,” Lieutenant Hawkeye notified.

He nodded, immediately stepping to the left side of the hall and pressing his hand against it. He counted the occasional dips as his legs took long strides to his goal. One, two, three… bingo.

Throwing his body aside and pushing his back hard against the wall, he pressed his fingertips to the door and sparked. A second alarm, the fire alarm, began to ring. The door exploded inwards, bending and smoldering, flames chasing up and down its exterior. Inside of the room, someone gasped and coughed. Dark grey smoke billowed out of the chamber.

“Put your hands to the walls and surrender!” Roy commanded before diving in.

He and Hawkeye ducked swiftly inside, both with their eyes peeled for any signs of threat. The room was wide and expansive with a low ceiling. The walls were a deep maroon, te ceiling creamy white and the floor of a finished dark brown wood. Roy clicked his throat again. On a raised, circular platform in the center, a king-sized bed with a cream-colored comforter and a startling mass of fluffy white pillows upheld two figures. One was laid platform on their back, their hands grasping tightly onto the thighs of the one above them, who sat on their hips, their back arched tightly as they choked on the silver chain collar around their neck, strung up from the ceiling. They shuddered, before stiffening and trying to turn their head.

Roy threw an arm forth, his fingers poised to snap and light the two aflame.

“Colonel,” the Lieutenant warned, drawing up behind him. He stopped walking forwards.

“What is it?” he asked.

There was a paused and she breathed.

“The guy uptop is Metal Midas.”

He clicked his throat.

“Shorter, golden hair in a braid, golden eyes. One automail arm, one automail leg,” she described.

He reached down to his gun and grabbed it, his throat clicking again. Both of the figures had moved, although he’d gained that from the sound of shifting cotton sheets. The lower had raised their head to see the intruders. He first pointed his gun at them, then to the chain around Metal Midas’ neck and fired. A single gunshot rang out, and the links of the chain tinkled as it fell.

“Who the fuck are you?” a youthful, yet relatively low voice asked. Roy’s blood raced at the sound; they’d interrupted right after the climax. His blood rushed under his skin, and he was ashamed to realize that he was most definitely a bit aroused.

“Put your hands in the air where I can see them,” he demanded, his own voice a bit gruffer than he’d intended. He felt Hawkeye’s judging thoughts and winced. “You have the right to remain silent, Metal Midas. Anything that you say can and will be used against you.”

“You won’t give me the chance for that,” was his answer.

He clicked his throat. Midas -no, Edward Elric- was leaning down over the other figure, his own head half a foot above their own. His back was bowed, his wrists still tethered to the bed’s headboard.

“Do it,” a disgustingly older voice ordered. “Do it now, Edward, do it so they can’t prosecute me.”

Edward cursed. He lashed a leg against the mattress and reared back, breaking the chains that bound his wrists.

“Stop!” Hawkeye yelled.

A whistle of air buffered Roy’s hair as the Lieutenant ran past him, her boots heavy against the wooden floor before she leapt up, pushing off on her platforms and tackling the two. Edward yelped as his head hit the headboard. The old freak groaned at her extra weight.

“What the fuck are you doing, you bitch- mmph!

Roy clicked his throat again. Riza had Edward in a headlock. The three tumbled to the ground before two distinct pounds knocked his suspect and his suspect’s customer out.

“Colonel,” Riza called over her shoulder, panting hard. “Come help me detain them.”

He inclined his head.

“Of course.”

 


 

For once since his mother’s death, Edward’s night had been going smoothly. His week had been perfect. He’d received loads of cash for a few entertainment sessions with some of the old, married, dissatisfied, rich bastards of Amestris. He’d gotten to run around with Alphonse in the earliest hours of the morning, before the other civilians began to rouse. It’d been everything that he’d learned to hope for.

That was until his last servicing. It had been quite possibly the highest pay of them all. He wasn’t really in the mood going into it, and the dude was into some pretty tame, lame shit, but money always was worth being uncomfortably fawned over for his nigh-extinct features of golden hair and eyes. He’d decided that the fuck would be worth his time.

It wasn’t. It took him an unbearable hour and a half just to begin to get turned on, and by then he was far more interested in the prospect of just finishing and cumming than trying to enjoy himself.

Then the door had suddenly blasted into the opposite wall that it should have been on. Ed had jolted on the geezer’s dick, his soft walls squeezing as the chain around his neck yanked back against him, momentarily stealing his ability to breathe. A brief flash of pleasure shot up his spine and pulled his hot muscles taut as it bore through him, flooding his senses in a zap before everything went wrong.

Now, he found himself having awoken in a cold prison cell, his heart racing in his chest as he fought to keep his breathing soft as though with sleep so as not to indicate his wakefulness. Two voices drifted back and forth a few meters away from behind the bars of his cell, one distinctly masculine and the other soft with pity and some other emotion that he couldn’t place.

“It’s hard to believe that the boy’s actually Metal Midas,” the female voice murmured. “He’s only nineteen, according to our information.”

“We’ve had younger serial killers,” the male responded.

Edward knew those voices. They were the ones who had brought him in. A twist of anxiety unsettled his guts.

“He definitely appears to carry strong Xerxian genes,” the woman continued. “He’s short and well built, has an unobvious fake tan, and golden hair and eyes. They removed his automail for the time being, just for safety.”

I’m not a cripple and I’m not fucking short! Edward mentally screamed.

Ed breathed out perhaps a little too loudly, for one of them suddenly tapped their knuckles against the bar of his cell.

“He’s awake,” the man stated.

“It would seem so,” the woman answered.

“Metal Midas,” the man addressed.

Edward slowly cracked his eyes open and sat up, flexing his fingers as anxiety began to swell in his chest. He’d been right; they were the two who’d taken him in. The male appeared to be higher in rank judging from the medals adorning his navy blue military coat.

“My name is Colonel Roy Mustang,” he introduced himself. He gestured to the woman. “This is Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, who tackled you and left you a little concussed last night.”

Edward thought about the names for a moment, then froze. His eyes widened.

Colonel Mustang… Mustang.. Flame Alchemist… he’s--

“We have reason to believe that you are Edward Elric and that you’re responsible for the metalizing of several important government figures over the past few years. Can you confirm this?”

He could feel his heart pounding harder. He suddenly clasped his hand over his mouth, bending forward.

Breathe, Elric, he instructed himself. In and out, in and out. You need to calm down. Come on, come on, come on! Calm. Down. Bitch, get a hold of yourself!

He slowly removed the hand, letting it fall behind him to support him again, then nodded.

“Edward Elric,” he rasped. “That’s me.”

The two watched him carefully, closely studying his reaction.

“And the statues?”

“I didn’t mean to!”

The confession was sudden, a desperate outbursting cry. Edward flung himself forwards into the blankets, his hands grasping and squeezing and pulling. He buried his face into the sheets.

“I didn’t mean to! They were always accidents, I promise! I tried to warn everyone, it was in my rules that they couldn’t remove my gloves. I-I tried--,” he babbled, his fears growing as terror welled up in his chest. He could feel himself heaving, though he could no longer hear what either the Colonel or the Lieutenant were saying.

Suddenly, a harsh hand slapped against his face. It stung. He brought his hand up to feel it, the skin warm to the touch. He blinked, realizing that the Colonel now stood directly above him. The man made some clicking sound and, looking up, Edward realized something that he hadn’t noticed before.

Roy Mustang was blind.

The man then placed a hand on his shoulder, neither holding him down nor comforting him, but steadying him.

“You’re okay,” Mustang stated. “Just breathe for me, alright?”

Waiting outside the cell, tensed, stood Lieutenant Hawkeye. She watched warily, her untrusting eyes locked onto Edward’s hand.

“Colonel,” she warned.

Mustang turned to her.

“It’s fine, Lieutenant,” he addressed. He stepped away and back out of the cell. Then, locking it, he turned back to Edward.

“We’ll do everything in our power to keep you out of the others’ hands,” he assured. He then turned, as though to leave, and paused again. For a moment he merely stood there, before uttering two words that Edward hadn’t wanted to hear.

“I’m sorry.”

Edward sobbed into the cot, banging his fist against the wall.

“Your brother’s in a cell across the hall. Don’t break out before we can clear your names.”

Two sets of feet walked away. The door screaked as it opened and fell shut behind them. The locking of the deadbolt was louder than anything else.

There are two laws to alchemy, Edward thought to himself as he cried. One, the law of equivalent exchange. Two, that the dead cannot be revived.

This was not equivalent exchange.

Chapter Text

The scent of tulips and hot dogs seeped into the freshly lemon-cleaned wood of the Colonel’s office. A warm breeze blew into the room; it was a sharp contrast to the cold air conditioning meant to sterilize the building. Outside, the sun shone hot and acrid onto dark green grasses and sandy concrete. Not one fluffy cloud adorned the sky. It was the perfect day to be stuck inside, periodically switching between sitting and pacing restlessly.

That was sarcasm. It was the perfect day rather to be running through the city, chasing crime and picking up chicks. But Roy had a duty, and that duty was to provide a convincing argument in favor of converting Metal Midas to the military. So far, he had jack.

He buried his face in his hands and groaned, already beginning to feel his upcoming headache. In front of him, the pile of paperwork that he still had yet to skin and complete seemed to grow higher with every passing second.

His heart beat steadily, then suddenly skipped. He couldn’t wait around like this! He sat up straight again and reached over to the upper left corner of his desk, grabbing the bulky mint green telephone that sat there. He spun its dial and raised it to his face, waiting for it to stop ringing.

“Hello?” a feminine voice greeted from the other end.

“This is Colonel Roy Mustang calling to Maes Hughes,” he introduced.

“Maes Hughes… Hughes…”

He waited, his patience fading faster than he’d admit.

“Oh! Sorry, Colonel.” His smile dropped. “Hughes left earlier today for something about making a delivery. I can pass along your message, though, if you’d like.”

Damn it, Hughes, he inwardly cursed. Now, of all times?

“No, that’s fine, thank you,” he answered, his smile returning to help uplift his voice. “Have a nice day.”

He hung up and slumped over his desk again. His cheekbone ached where it weighed down against his coaster, which was disappointingly devoid of steaming black coffee. The thing would undoubtedly leave a telling imprint of his impotence on his face, but at that point he just couldn’t bring himself to care. He’d just pass it off as someone having accidentally tossed something… into his face. It wouldn’t be too difficult to convince others of, especially given the nature of his team.

Suddenly, the doors to his office busted open. He jolted upright to see just the man that he’d been wanting to speak to but in the flesh.

“Mustang!” Hughes greeted with his ridiculously bright grin, rushing in.

Something big and bulky followed after him. Roy trailed his eyes upwards and clicked his throat, taking in the mass only to realize that it was Major Armstrong. He leaned back against his chair.

“Hughes, General,” he nodded. “What brings you two?”

The doors fell shut behind them. Roy transmuted his windows closed, isolating the trio from the rest of Central. A temporary silence fell over the room, heavy with tension, and then Hughes began.

“Is it true? Did you find him?”

“Did I find who?” Roy’s question was simultaneously sharp and lazy, a contrast that he prided himself on his ability to pull off. He was already fully aware of whom the Brigadier-General was questioning him of, but nonetheless he figured that he’d best keep his image intact.

What image? The edgy hyper-efficient playboy?

“Metal Midas,” Armstrong answered.

Roy grinned sardonically, reaching for his pen and tapping it against his desk in morse.

Tap, tap-tap-a-tap-tap.

“Of course,” he replied. “What else did you expect of the Mustang Unit?”

“Only the best.”

They fell into temporary silence again and the pleasant atmosphere dropped. A chill settled throughout the room, the result of Central’s AC with no open windows to reliven and provide warmth. Mustang hoped to whatever deities that probably didn’t exist that there were no hidden audiophones with soldiers listening into his conversation.

“So, you’re going to try and take him under your wing, aren’t you?” Maes finally asked.

Roy nodded and continued to tap his pen.

“Of course. He’s just a boy after all, a year over eighteen or not. Even if his actions weren’t unintentional as he claims, he was likely coerced. Besides, his brother is still technically seventeen.”

“I can house them,” Maes offered.

Roy’s pen stilled. He leaned forward, settling his elbows on his desk and lacing his calloused fingers together under his chin.

“Are you sure that you’re okay with that?” he softly asked.

Hughes nodded eagerly. His eyes shone.

God, Maes, look at yourself. Such a good man.

“Of course. The military won’t allow someone with his record to board alone.”

Armstrong nodded slowly, bringing up a large hand to stroke his chin.

“That’s likely true,” he agreed.

Roy sighed, throwing up his own hands in surrender.

“So that’s settled, then,” he receded.

“Mm-hmm,” Hughes agreed happily.

“So,” Armstrong interrupted, tilting his face upwards. “What’re the boys like?”

Roy thought about his reply before answering. As of that moment, the two seemed finicky and on edge, overly cautious, but that was to be expected in their current circumstances. He knew not yet whether anything had come of the underground siege below the brothel or if they knew anything of the true nature of “Ms. Beau’s.” Speaking of, he needed to ask about that…

“They seem well-adjusted enough, given what they’ve been up to for these past few years,” he answered. “I haven’t spoken to Edward enough yet to gauge much other than that he’s pretty despairing right now. Alphonse seems to be a nice enough kid. He’s not as naive as he’d lead you to believe, though. The poor boy knows everything and nothing at once, as far as I’ve questioned him.”

Maes studied his face as he spoke. SUddenly he stepped forth, settling his right hand over Roy’s left shoulder.

“We’ve got this,” he assured.

Roy froze, his heart skipping two beats this time. It was all that he could do not to press up against the touch. Instead, he inclined his head and smiled.

“Move your hand before I hack it off like Edward did his own,” he threatened.

Hughes leapt back even though he knew the threat was empty. Roy began to laugh, at first restrained but then, deciding that it was alright for him to truly show his amusement, fully.

“I jest,” he excused. “Was my impression of Lieutenant Hawkeye good enough?”

“Of course,” Armstrong replied.

Hughes continued to stand back, his arms crossed over his chest protectively and his expression scandalized.

Someone knocked on the door. Roy raised his head.

“Come in,” he called to them.

The door opened slowly at first, the greyish light of the hall outside revealing the shadow of a person with a spikey head. Then the real Lieutenant Hawkeye stepped inside and closed it. She saluted before placing herself before the knob, her face innocent though her intent to keep anyone from leaving was clear. Hughes and Armstrong gulped.

“Lieutenant,” Roy greeted, not as thrown as the other two.

“Colonel,” she greeted back. “Major, Brigadier-General.”

“What have you to report?”

She took a breath.

“Woodeneye was killed by Scar this morning, about half an hour ago. All tunnels leading away from Ms. Beau’s were alchemically sealed off, and it’s believed that it was through one of them that she escaped. We don’t know where to any of them lead yet. The majority of individuals working for her reported trafficking or poor economic circumstances. Also,” she paused. “I spoke with Alphonse Elric earlier. He’d apparently pretended to be a regular, non-living suit of armor almost the entire time. It’s possible, but unlikely, that neither Beau nor any of her workers knew that he was a conscious person.”

The room grew so quiet that each of them could hear their own breath, could have heard dust falling in the air.

“For five years?” Maes finally asked.

“For five years,” she confirmed.

“Wow.”

Roy frowned.

That seems unlikely for a child.

Armstrong grabbed Hughes arm and dragged him to the door. Riza stepped aside to allow them passage.

“Time to return to work, then,” he grumbled. He opened it and stepped out. Then, just beyond it, he stopped to say to Roy, “Make sure that you don’t forget to finish that paperwork quick.”

The door closed. Riza walked over to Roy’s desk and sidestepped it, coming to stand next to where he sat. She leaned over his shoulder to read the documents. Though they were encoded in braille over the surface, the two had discovered that Roy finished his work much faster with her reading.

Colonel Mustang of the Amestris Army,” she began. “Five years ago, my caretaker entrusted you with the duty of finding my boys.”

 


ONE WEEK LATER


 

 

Edward was bored. Not only was he bored, but he was also lonely. A bored, lonely Edward was by no means an Edward that Edward thought that anyone should every have to deal with. Not only was his sense of humor more obnoxious than any twelve year old’s (he was taller! So it couldn’t be), but when he was bored, he tended to gravitate to taboo activities in response to it.

Now, he wasn’t about to commit The Taboo again, of course. He’d learned his lesson the first time, though often he found himself thinking of ways that he could have fixed it. No, he either began to wreck the area he was in through means of alchemical entertainment or stimulating himself in order to pass the time.

Sometimes, he found himself wondering why he’d spent his teenage years selling his body for no true ends. He and Alphonse, they had a job. They needed to fix themselves. What had he been doing? He’d been playing victim to some powerful bitch who’d kidnapped him off of the streets after she’d witnessed him accidently metallize the poor youthful bastard who just so happened to be the newly promoted manager of Amestris’ most trusted bank. He’d only been trying to help the guy after he’d dropped his briefcase into a fountain, when his worn glove had allowed the tiniest touch of his skin to turn the guy into a dead statue.

Edward had been horrified. He’d promised himself and Alphonse both, Winry, and Pinako that he would never allow his hands to kill anyone after that night, when Winry’s dog had nuzzled his hand in worry.

Back then, her hair had been short. Her face, however, never changed, and neither did her wear. Something about her always threw him off, and it wasn’t just how she’d been able to overpower him and shove him against a brick wall in mere seconds.

He remembered screaming for Alphonse to stay back, to run. It was sheer luck that the woman never realized that it was the suit of armor next to the statue that he spoke of. He was eternally grateful that Alphonse hadn’t moved or spoken, that he’d frozen up as he had.

He didn’t know what she would have done had she ever realized that Alphonse was alive. Ms. Beau had no purpose for an empty suit of armor with a soul attached, after all.

It was only on the rarest of occasions that Alphonse would move. When he and Edward knew that they were alone, he would speak. When they were more alone than they could ever think themselves to be in the brothel, that was when Alphonse could finally show that he was a person, that he was truly still there.

Edward had received no hugs after submitting himself to the whims of his first customer, or his second, or even his third. There was just too much risk of Alphonse being caught for him to chance it. He could only receive familial touch through hugging Alphonse’s suit, though he rarely did as he knew it to undoubtedly be torment to his brother’s soul.

Philia, he received much more often. It was in the mornings, when the brothel was officially closed until the evenings came about again, that he and the other workers would get to play. Whilst cleaning the place up, they would often not-so-subtly brush up against each other or tussle with one another, even mess with each other’s hair and groom. Then came the games, their fun. Newspapers would be passed about, drinks and food dispersed amongst them as they enjoyed their lavish surroundings and despised their truths.

Lust, now, that was the most common of them all. Even when he wasn’t servicing anyone, Edward found himself often the star of many dances and an easy favorite of many of his coworkers. Sex had become something of a simple fact to him, a commonality even though he was possibly one of the loneliest people he knew. It didn’t matter whether or not he was into it or not, or if he was attracted to the person he bedded. No, all that mattered was their satisfaction.

He shivered and curled tighter into himself. His long golden locks spanned across the cot until they fell smoothly off of its edge, dangling above the cold floor. At the request of Colonel Mustang, he’d been provided with a sock for his foot, a glove for his hand, and covers for the ports of his shoulder and hip. His feelings for the man were mixed. On one hand, he seemed to be doing the most that he could to help Ed exist decently (although that, perhaps, was more so for the safety of the soldiers beneath him).

It was what he’d heard of the man in town with Winry and Alphonse that had driven him to mail the Colonel. He’d thought that, because he was said to really want to protect the people, that perhaps he might be willing to help them. Alas, there had been no response. He and Alphonse had found an alchemic instructor and run behind Pinako’s back after she’d denied them permission to follow in their father’s footsteps, likely due to the condition of his hands and feet. Then, after leaving the woman for about a month, they’d been snatched.

Had Roy Mustang only responded to his letter-- had he- Ms. Beau’s would have never known of them!

He clenched his fist, then released a breath and relaxed. The door to his hall of the prison opened. It was the first of the new wing, he and his brother being the only occupants as there were only two overspills of prisoners and they’d been deemed the most dangerous. Thus, he’d mentally named it and the one across the hall the Elric Branches.

If he had his automail arm, he would have alchemically indented the title into the wall of his cell.

A familiar face stepped inside, one with blonde hair and genial brown eyes. Lieutenant Hawkeye.

He sat up, stretching and popping his back before slinking into a lazy sitting position. He threw his leg over the side of the bed and waved his hand.

“Yo,” he greeted.

Two guards followed behind her, Colonel Mustang concluding the proceeding. The ensemble stopped before his cell, and Mustang came forth to unlock the iron door. It swung open smoothly. Edward raised a brow.

“Edward Elric,” Mustang addressed. “You’ve been found innocent by the courts of Amestris.”

Edward’s heart leapt into his throat.

What?

How?

He couldn’t believe it. He’d flat out admitted his crimes, he’d come clean immediately in hopes that it might earn him the slightest of merciful executions.

“I-.”

Colonel Mustang cut him off immediately.

“You are, however, to serve under my jurisdiction and obey every whim of the military until further notice. You will be staying with Brigadier-General Maes Hughes, and your brother will be accompanying you.”

He walked into the cell and stopped just before Edward. Ed’s mouth went dry as he stared up at him, at the grey eyes that seemed so much like they were boring straight through his own and into his soul. Though logically he knew that they couldn’t, he felt within him that they saw him clearer than anyone else.

The man dropped something silver on a chain into his lap. He blinked down at it and realized that it was a pocket watch.

“Welcome to the team, Fullmetal Alchemist,” he murmured.

He extended a hand, and Edward continued to stare. Then, after a few moments of silence, he took it silently, not knowing what to think let alone say. Roy wrapped an arm around his shoulders to support him as he hobbled out of the cell on one leg, his hand clenched around the silver pocket watch. It felt as though he weren’t there, that it wasn’t happening, that he was watching rather than being.

“Your brother’s waiting with Hughes already,” Mustang informed as they walked. “We’ll stop by to pick up your automails, and then you’re off. Ri-,” he fake coughed, “I mean, Lieutenant Hawkeye, will stop by tomorrow to get your sizing for your uniform.”

He glanced over, looking Edward up and down.

“Although, I don’t think that anyone makes them in your size…”

Edward blanched.

Chapter Text

Ed’s little entourage didn’t go straight to the waiting car. Instead, they took a pit stop before even so much as leaving the building to pick up Ed’s automail.

In hindsight, it made sense. Ed, however, was admittedly a bit more interested in getting to finally see and interact with his brother again.

He’d never expected that he’d be as nervous as he was. Though Alphonse had been with him the whole time, it felt almost as though he’d been alone. With only words to remind him that Al was alive as the armor, Ed had eventually begun to wonder if he’d just gone mad, if Truth had taken his mind with his leg and Al’s body. So many mornings he’d spent hugging the cold suit to no physical response.

On two occasions, someone had walked in on it. The first time, it was his partner for that night’s performance. At first, she hadn’t known what to make of it, but, being the self-assured woman that she was, she decided that if she anything from her home, she’d hug it as though her life depended on it, too. He hadn’t gotten so much as a word in, but she’d understood enough. He knew better than to spill his own beans.

The second time, whom he’d assumed to be a customer had been the one to see. He fit the bill, seemingly a high-up military persona who carried himself as though he owned the place. He’d appeared to be relatively familiar, but Edward hadn’t been able to place where he’d seen him before.

Perhaps, he suddenly thought, he wasn’t a customer, but an associate.

In Amestris, prostitution was as illegal as the selling of dangerous drugs such as cocaine or the act of murder via poisons. The risk of the spreading of STDs was widely feared after the outbreak in the military following the massacre of Ishbal. Even so, though, there was little reason to think that the military would take as high action as they had with Ms. Beau’s. It was relatively large for being what it was, but the questions that Edward’s interrogators had asked made little sense for a mere brothel.

Either way, he figured that he’d learn soon, given his new existence within the military’s ranks.

The man who’d seen him was relatively tall and beefy, but not overly so. His particular stature had made him seem shorter (but nonetheless imposing, Edward had been smug to notice) than he actually was. His short dark hair had been slicked back to his head, and he wore an eyepatch over his left eye. His right eye was a sharp blue that had immediately cut through Ed’s being when the door had opened.

Edward remembered feeling ashamed, sobbing out his despairs under the chestplate of what the man must have thought to be naught but a decorative armor. It couldn’t be helped, though.

What really had thrown Edward off was the glare that he’d directed at Alphonse. He couldn’t rightly tell if it was suspicious or not, but the slow pace at which the man grabbed the doorknob and pulled it shut certainly was. Edward could still hear the soft click when he thought back to it.

He groaned, burying his face in his hand as he waited for the military scientists to reassemble his automails so that they could be reattached. He didn’t know what he’d expected (honestly, exactly this), but from how long they were taking, they definitely had dissected the damn things.

Across from his seat in the waiting room, Lieutenant Hawkeye sneezed. He glanced up, eyeing her through his fingers. His left leg, or rather, the area where it would have taken up, ached. A jolt from nerves that weren’t there bolted along his bone. Whether it was from his port or simply phantom pains, he didn’t care to know.

On second thought, he realized, I probably should.

If there was one thing that Winry had made absolutely clear in regards to his automails, it was that he wasn’t supposed to allow any other technician to attempt maintenance. Their design, as with most automail, was unique. Because he’d attached his so soon after his loss, reattachment was even more dangerous for him than for most.

He sighed.

Sorry, Win.

He had to get them reattached. Not in any matter of longer-than-a-day timespan, either.

Suddenly, the doors to one of the labs flung open. A scientist with a long white coat, hair bonnet, googles, and a mouth cloth stood in the doorway and beckoned him forth. He shot an uneasy glance to the guard standing to his left, then accepted the man’s offered hand up.

Well, forearm up, that was. They then hobbled slowly over to the scientist and Ed switched out who he was leaning on for the scientist, silently cursing them all for not thinking to request a damned wheelchair for someone who was missing a leg and arm that could otherwise be used for balance.

It was fine. He’d have his automails reattached in no time.

No sooner than the door closed, he found himself pushed back against it by means of a full-frontal hug attack. He didn’t know how he hadn’t seen her coming. Her hands reached around his back, settling over his butt as her arms squeezed his sides.

“Ed!” Winry cried out, her arms rising as her hug grew tighter and tighter.

The back of his head slammed against the door and he choked, his heart racing with panic. He raised his arm in attempt to shove her back, his heel digging into the floor. She wouldn’t budge. His hand dug into one of her arms, pulling, but she’d become a vice wrapped around him.

“Get off, get off, get off! ” he yelled.

She immediately jumped back, her eyebrows raised and eyes wide in shock. Something heavy and flicking thumped repeatedly in his head. His breaths came fast and quick, his lungs burning as he shallowly heaved. He slid down to the floor, pulling his leg into himself as his hand clawed at his hair.

“Ed?” Winry asked, staring down at him.

Always from above. She was always above him. All of them were taller, higher, able to look down and see everything. He was exposed. They liked that he was short. They liked-- they-

She said something to the other scientists over her shoulder to stop them from racing about and then plopped down before him, her legs crossed. Her sky blue eyes, ever so concerned, found his. She slowly held out a hand, her palm facing upwards and fingers splayed.

It took him a few minutes, but slowly he calmed down enough that he didn’t feel as though he were in immediate danger. He dropped his gloved hand from his hair and placed it over hers, his fingers at first closed into a fist and then splaying to wrap around her own. Their fingers interlaced and he pushed off of the platform of his foot, throwing himself forwards and into her waiting arms.

This time, she gave him a moment before gently draping herself around him, gentle and easy to escape.

“Ed,” she softly whispered into his hair, “What happened to you?”

He shook his head, ignoring the wet burning in his eyes and trying his hardest not to let it escape. Something hot trickled down his cheeks and he realized that he’d failed.

I can’t even stop myself from crying.

A strange, unbearable sort of pressure began to build in his throat. Then his jaw released on its own accord and a long wail issued from his throat, carrying in it the pent up emotions that he’d done his best to suppress over the last few years, following all the way back to the day that his father had left.

Winry gently circulated her hand over his upper and mid back, massaging his tension away and murmuring as he trembled. He clutched at her shoulder before pressing himself fully against her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and burying his face in her neck. After a time the two parted. He sat back, sniffing, and twisted his leg around uncomfortably. It was a bright red from his crushing weight, the resulting pin prickles maddening under his skin.

It’s a damn good thing I’m so flexible , he thought to himself.

Instead of saying so aloud, he instead tried to laugh.

“Thanks, Win.”

She smiled and stood, offering a hand up. Her took hers.

“You’re gonna talk later,” she promised, her scary words and kind, happy eyes unmatching.

Back on his foot and without missing a single beat, he replied, “Of course.”

To think that he’d ever expected her to be the one crying were they reunited.

 


 

Alphonse really wasn’t used to human contact anymore. At least, not from anyone more than his brother, and even that had been severely limited for multiple years. He didn’t know what to say, how he should react, or how he should conduct himself. Maes Hughes was, for the lack of better words, someone new.

Just how long he’d spent sitting on the bench outside of the prison with the man as he rambled on and on about his wife and daughter, Al didn’t know. He didn’t want to know. All he knew was that he was delighted, anxious about his own seemingly dead ability to socialize, and entirely overwhelmed. He still had to actually meet the man’s family, too.

“So, Alphonse,” Hughes was saying, “what’s your brother like?”

Broken out of his thoughts and worried that he’d been caught not paying attention to one of the first people to talk to him after so long (surely, that must be a crime! right?), he froze. His voice just wouldn't work, though even if it did he figured that he’d probably weird his host out with a slew of nonsensical words or even just a steady, monotonous vowel.

He forced himself to relax, then answered.

“Ed’s a well-meaning rascal,” he started.

Hughes stared up at his facial plating.

“He cleans up well when he does, but he often just doesn’t. He’s been through a lot, and I’ve seen most of it, but he’ll do his best for you and your family.”

For a moment Hughes was silent. Al worried that he’d said something wrong, that he’d b been too honest. Then, the man tipped back his head and let out a loud laugh. It was boisterous, genuine, real. It encompassed all of the prison’s yard and surpassed its gates effortlessly. It was so far from the laughter that Al had grown used to hearing from Ed and his coworkers that Al found himself started by it. Hughes looked over to Al, his eyes shining.

“Is that right?” he asked.

“Uh… yes?” Al tried, still uncertain as to how he was supposed to respond.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw before he heard the windows of the prison break as a clear solid busted through them. It raced along the building, expanding faster than cars drove.

“Well, then, we’ll-- ! ” he began, only to be abruptly cut off as Al shoved an arm behind his back and threw the both of them forwards.

The horrible sound of metal bending and tearing and of wood cracking and breaking filled their ears not a millisecond later. Hughes gasped as he fell forward, the breath knocked out of his lungs. He rose onto his forearms and looked behind himself to see the prison contained in a block of blindingly bright, clear something . Alphonse’s left foot was stuck in it, the boy’s balance off but not so much that he would fall forth. Hughes groaned, his own leg cramping at the sudden stress, and stood. He paced back towards Alphonse and placed a hand on his calve.

“S-sorry,” Al squeaked.

“No,” Hughes denied. Something in his voice sounded off. It were as though the life that it had previously carried had vanished. He looked up at Al’s face again. “Thanks.”

Al couldn’t see what he did, but in the span of a second Hughes dug his finger into Al’s kneecap and then his leg thigh sprang free of its restraining parts. He hopped forwards to avoid falling, turning to see his knee and lower detached in whatever material had taken the building.

“Ah! My leg!”

His arms flailed.

“Calm, down,” Hughes murmured, pushing his glasses up onto his face. He moved to inspect the material, swiping a finger gently over it before raising it to his face to sniff it.

Isn’t smelling unknown substances largely unsafe? Al wondered.

“Ice.”

From his back pocket, Hughes flicked out a knife and suddenly thrust it into the block. The ice grew around it and he immediately let go, taking a step back. He didn’t seem surprised.

“Well, that’s no good,” he said.

He turned his gaze upwards. Alphonse followed his eyes to the roof of the complex, seeing it entirely frozen over. He then looked back at Hughes.

“What… is this?” he asked.

“Alchemy,” Hughes answered. He dropped his eyes to look back at Al. “I think we’ve got an escapee on our hands.”

Chapter Text

The violet light of potassium chloride and potassium bitartrate over fire pulsated in flickering flames through the bar. The crowd on that night was a collective murmur of sudden movements and grinding bodies, significantly quieter than during non-parties yet nonetheless restrained. Through it, with all the grace of elegant black swans, entertainers in revealing black bunny suits slipped around the ballroom chamber carrying trays of delicacies and drinks. The sweet, sharp upwards trill of a bronze and white gold trumpet cut through the well-conditioned yet still murky air. Behind the leftmost back doorway leading to his hall, a young Edward Elric peeped out at the party with wide golden eyes. He, too, wore the one-piece of a suit and the black stringy hosiery, the latter of which under constant threat of tearing by his automail leg. Unlike the other entertainers, however, he actually wore a pair of sheer, silky bunny ears atop his head. One stood straight up while the other flopped forwards in a bend in its center. His hair fell in a small, thick braid that ended between the uppermost part of his shoulder blades. He shivered, watching the scene from the safety of his hiding place.

In the center, under the crystal and white gold chandelier, he could barely make out seven faces sitting and standing around the only large, white-clothed table in the grand chamber. It and they were enclosed by a single golden chain fence. They were the most important guests of the night, the Armstrong family and their additions. His manager, Laura, as she’d instructed him to call her, also stood with them, though kept her distance by leaning back against the chain. She held a delicate, bubbly white wine in one hand, her other resting on one of the golden bars that kept the chain from slagging. Her hair pulsed black rather than its dark brown in time with the purple light. She caught sight of him watching her and smiled, beckoning him forth.

Edward gulped coming out from behind the door frame. Few eyes turned to him but for those sitting at the center table, the other guests too caught up in their own ordeals. Those which did were burning, were cutting. He did his best not to hunch his shoulders, instead throwing them back and relaxing his limbs to flow as he’d been trained to make them. He didn’t like this one bit, but Miss Beau’s orders were always final.

He took a breath and set his face in determination, his nose twitching before he took his first step into the room. Immediately, he found himself in the customers’ and his coworkers’ way; an entourage of waiters carting out a dinner with their lying, smiling faces and expertly positioned bodies barely avoided skinning him on their way past.

“Out of the way, newbie!” the one in the back, who had one foot on the cart itself and the other pushing off from the floor for speed, teased.

It was a five-person assembly: two waiters on the sides, one at the back to direct the whole of it. Recognizing the voice of the one who’d shouted, Edward pouted. It was his hall leader, a tall, lean, dark-haired, highly-requested, rambunctious, experienced idiot of a man that he had to listen and obey every word of. Charles was practically his mentor, being responsible for the training and well-being of the hall.

“Shut up!” he retorted a bit too loudly, earning himself more glances from guests.

Charles merely put a finger over his lips with a smile and turned back to directing the cart, ignoring his outburst entirely.

Stupid Charles.

Edward elected to forget about him, carrying on forwards with newfound vigor. Certainly, whatever Miss Beau wanted would be better to get to than giving someone like Charles any of his mind. A hand reached out to grab his human arm. It was undoubtedly feminine, the grasp digging into his skin with long black nails. He looked to the side to see that it was indeed the hand of a woman, one entirely unidentifiable due to the way in which her short, curly ginger hair entirely concealed her face from view as though she were some kind of monster with a human body. He reeled back in terror, yanking his arm free despite her clawing nails and bolting the rest of the way to Laura.

When he finally reached that golden chain circle, Laura forewent releasing the clip to let him in (which she was leaning right against to instead reach over it and hoist him over, showing off her biceps in the process. He yelped indignantly, clinging to her forearms ( what the fuck what the fuck whatthefuck?!) . She then set his feet on the floor again, and he stumbled back into the chain with a glare. She ignored it as he’d ignored Charles’s smile and turned to one of the few guests standing -- a tall man with long, fine black hair slicked back into a ponytail and a scarily fox-like face. She extended her palm to Edward before firmly grabbing him by the shoulder.

“This would be the new charge that I mentioned before, the one who looks to be of Xerxesian descent. I don’t know the Douglass that you’re looking for, but as I’ve said, he might have some idea.”

He tried to back away a little more, but disagreeing, she harshly stroked her thumb up his spine to grip the back of his neck and hold him in place.

The man walked around the table to his other side. Those who’d been eating looked down at him, curious. One, a young girl with light blonde hair pulled back from her face, smiled at him. She looked to be a little older than himself, though definitely more innocent, wearing a flowy white dress with lace around its square collar.

What’s someone like her doing in a place like this? he wondered.

The man leaned down, the tip of his nose mere centimeters from Edward’s own but pointedly above. His eyes, scarily dark and unreadable shallow pools of inky black, pierced Edward’s own, poisoning and uncomfortable. Suddenly, he was once again very aware of his surroundings, of his too-revealing uniform, of his age, and of his own distinctly non-existent power over the situation that he was in.

The man’s eyes traced down his body, taking in his unique golden features and winter tan, the thin satin bunny suit and short shorts and the short braid of hair that fell against his back. Edward felt as though he truly were a rabbit and the man were a fox, and he were about to be devoured. He wanted to punch or kick his automail limbs through the man’s gut and run, but he couldn’t. No, he was a servant of Laura’s now.

“How exotic,” the man silkily purred.

Edward shuddered in disgust, barely resisting the urge to duck away. Laura’s midnight blue nails dug into the side of his neck. He gasped a little at the sensation.

“Kimblee,” a harsh, saving voice barked.

He looked up to see the man staring at a woman sitting in the circle next to the girl. She was blonde as well, though she allowed one side of her hair to fall elegantly to the side of her face. Unlike who he assumed must be a younger sister or of some similar relation, her face was meaner, holding an unforgiving expression as she glared at the man. He noticed that her lips were unusually large, and she wore a royal blue military uniform despite being at a strip party. He didn’t know what to think.

“Yes, Olivier?” the man -- Kimblee, asked cockily.

‘Olivier’ refused the bait.

“You’re here for one reason. Don’t get distracted.”

Edward shot the woman a look of thanks, though she only glanced briefly at him with that same unforgiving look in return.

She doesn’t forgive my weakness, he realized with a sense of dawning horror that he didn’t know why had come over him. He didn’t know the woman, but something about her, something about her imposing existence, made being out of her favor a sensation of cold, liquidy dread. It made him feel even smaller.

Suddenly, Kinblee dipped down to the gloved hand she held around her cutlery, grasping it in his own and sinking down to plant a kiss on its backside. Her fingers clenched around her fork, and Edward got the subtle feeling that if she didn’t care about getting blood on the honey chicken she’d been about to press past her large lips, she’d have stabbed it through the motherfucker’s hand.

Rather, she merely raised her chin. Her face twitched, her expression that of an angry bull sighting a red flag, hell itself roasting her own skin and ready to burst past and burn the shitstains before her into ash as a means of disinfecting. Her eyebrows arched painfully into her forehead and her eyes blazed, her frown digging in so harshly that the mountains of the North rose from its valleys. A shockingly loud slap rang through the air, the sheer force of her steady hand knocking Kimblee to her feet. He clutched at his face with a gasp, his torso bent over her left knee. The heel of her right boot dug into the back of his neck. He heaved.

“You fucking bitch!” he shouted.

She dug her heel in harder, pressing down on his very spine. His teeth clenched. Edward heard one crack and saw a tiny chip of white break off and catch on his tongue before falling, wet with his saliva, to the immaculate black tile of the floor.

His face turned red and then paled, his blood rushing to his ears.

“My, my, Olivier,” Laura chuckled. “And here I was trying to conduct business.”

Olivier continued to glare down at Kimblee.

“He’s here as a consultant. Only as a consultant.”

Edward gulped again. Staring up at her, wide-eyed, he learned what true fear of another being was. Something rose and bubbled in his chest, but it wasn’t pleasant like his crush on Winry years before had been. With a start, he realized that in his singular, very brief moment of knowing of her, he’d come to admire and fear the woman.

“You, boy.”

He stiffened at her redressal of himself, raising his face. He struggled to maintain eye contact, instead settling his gaze on the space between her brows.

“You-,” she began, only to be promptly interrupted by the hand of the much older yet similarly featured man sitting beside her.

“Mira,” the elder warned.

She closed her eyes and dipped her head in acceptance, dropping whatever it was that she’d been about to say. If even she were obedient to him, then Edward certainly didn’t want to know what he could be capable of.

Across the table, nearer to himself, a younger man much closer to her age stood. He towered over the gated table, the top of his head almost as high as the lowest, central crystal of the chandelier. Edward’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. The man was bulky, his hands large and his jaw  almost as strong as his muscles looked to be. He wore black dress pants and a white dress shirt tucked in at the belt, the first few buttons open and the sleeves rolled as far up his forearms as they could given his musculature. He was a hunk!

The man cleared his throat, then reached out to Edward. His large right hand settled over Ed’s automail shoulder, the casual weight of it shoving downwards without intention. Ed spluttered at the resulting tearing pain at the base of his automail, where the wound was still sensitive and too recently connected yet for such stress. The man’s eyes sparkled.

“A private room, if you please,” he bartered.

Edward’s face paled even further. He was sure now that it must be as gray as an unpreserved corpse’s. At any rate, he was certain that that was what he soon would be. Air stopped flowing to and from his lungs. He needed to run far, far away.

“Hm,” Laura considered, her nails digging into the sides of his throat again.

He felt ill. Perhaps if he collapsed here and now, he’d be granted mercy.

Laura glanced down at him, pursing her lips and crossing her arms. She leaned back against the chain fencing further. “For how long?” she asked.

The man blinked once, twice, then answered:

“One hour.”

“That’ll be 32,000.”

Laura Beau was the image of sinuous, extravagant satisfaction. Her subtle excitement radiated off of her in waves. She spread her arms out, pushing her voluptuous breasts forward.

“I’ll take it,” the man answered.

Edward died inside. The hand on his shoulder tightened its grip. Laura gestured to another nearby entertainer, pulling him forwards by his short man bun and whispering the price into his ear. They nodded and beckoned to the man and Edward. She moved out of the way, unclipping the chain to allow them passage.

Oliver huffed.

They began to walk. The man kept his hand on Ed’s shoulder the entire time, almost as a sign of either comfort or -more likely- possession. Edward was fucked.

 

“You’re here for the paycheck, then?”

“Yes.”

“But if you needed- no, if you wanted to leave, could you?”

Edward pursed his lips.

“No,” he answered eventually.

The two were sat side-by-side on Edward’s bed, discussing the situation that Edward had gotten himself into. They’d already been at it for a good fifteen minutes, Edward avoiding the questions that he knew not to truthfully answer and keeping short those which he could.

“That’s rough.”

“Yeah.”

The man -Alex Louis Armstrong, his name was- shifted to look at him. Edward glared at the floor, kicking his mismatched legs. Finally, his hosiery caught just above his knee and broke.

“I and the other members of my family assume that you’ve committed taboo. Is this true?”

“Ye-,” Edward began, only to cut himself off. He sensed that it was best in his favor right now to remain truthful. “Well, which one?”

“Both?”

Edward smirked smugly for a moment, his shoulders dropping in his self-deprecation. His smile then dropped as well. His fingers clawed at his bed’s soft comforter.

“Yes.”

Armstrong sighed, raising a hand to rub at his eyes and forehead.

“Excluding the bear in the room-”,

That would be you.

“-Who for?”

Edward breathed out.

“My mother.”

“Terrible.”

Edward raised his face and tilted his head to look across at the Armstrong sat beside him only to see that he was crying. There was no indicator in his voice, only a tiny hitch in his breath, but the tears streaming down his cheeks were undeniable. He shifted away, then pulled himself fully up onto the bed and crawled behind him to awkwardly pat his back.

“It’s okay.”

I’m going to make it okay.

“No one else was harmed, were they?”

Edward’s blood went cold. He stiffened and withdrew his hands, his heart skipping a beat.

“No,” he answered. His voice was as cold as his automail, detached.

Alphonse!

Armstrong glanced down at Edward’s hands. His eyes then rose back up to his face. Instead of commenting just yet on his gloves, however, he merely stated:

“As Kimblee mentioned before, you do appear to be very peculiar. Skin tanned through even during winter, though perhaps a bit unsaturated for lack of sunlight. Golden hair and eyes. Are you by any chance heavily descended from Xerxes?”

Edward’s hands balled into fists. His fingernails dug into his palms as a heavy liquid build up in his throat. An image of his father, Hohenheim, standing in the doorway of his childhood home with his hand holding a briefcase flickered behind his eyes.

The very air of his room was still.

He huffed. Exotic, unusual, ancient, cursed, and now he’d been called peculiar for his genealogy.

“What does it matter?”

“It doesn’t, but for being a matter of interest. Historians, or the Government, would love you.”

A warning array traced itself upon Edward’s brain. He frowned.

That’s… just not right.

“Yes,” he finally answered, the word clipped. It stung, burned his tongue in its utterance.

Calm down, he told himself. Laura won’t be happy if you upset her customer.

“And what of your hands?” Armstrong gently, finally pried.

Edward closed his eyes and fell back against his bed, its soft, pillowy surface ‘oof’ing harder than he. He released his fists and aid his arms spread-eagle, though he kept his knees locked together for good measure. He breathed slowly, in and out and in and out again. Then, he stopped.

“They aren’t something that a veteran should have to see,” he murmured, his heart jolting into his throat as he turned his back to all of his alchemical teaching of not ever assuming. He had to play this right.

Armstrong tensed, seeming to pick up on the lie that he was implying. He strongly feared that the man would recognize it for what it was, then realized with an edge of disappointment in his own further breach of morality that the man definitely had. But then, if he were a soldier after all, then he definitely, too, had secrets to keep. Everyone knew of Ishbal, but no one knew the nitty gritty.

Then, rather than retaliating, Armstrong said instead:

“I’m sorry.”

 


 

In one moment, all was fine. Winry hummed as she finished up the reattachment of Ed’s arm, carefully avoiding his skin even with her green rubber gloves reaching past her shoulders as she fingered his port. Little sharp jolts bolted through his muscles, collarbone, and shoulder where they connected. Then, just as she announced,

“Done!”

A burst of ice busted through the door, crystallizing the hall and solidifying inside the room just before one of the mechanic’s faces.

“Ah!”

The man fell back, startled. His tiny, blackened spectacles slid off of his long nose and clattered onto the floor to be crushed beneath his own boot.

Ed jerked upwards in response, snapping to attention. Outside of the room, beyond the door, he could vaguely make out the shapes of a few officers running about. One of them approached the ice to lay a hand upon it. A soft orange light shone through, its consistency and color changing a little with the ice’s varying consistency and texture. The officer turned away and retreated.

“What the fuck?”  One of the nurses, a young man with short black hair, demanded.

Ed curved his spine back and looked up to see Winry’s eyes locked on the ice. He then gave it another look and stood, stepping towards it.

“Careful,” another medic cautioned.

He ignored them, springing at the last meter strictly in defiance. His eyes narrowed, and he clapped his hands together and leapt forward, slamming his automail hand into the ice. A high-pitched screech sounded from the alchemical reaction and impact, and it broke entirely apart, chunks and shards flying in all directions. Behind him, Winry gasped. Shoes squeaked on the floor, the team undoubtedly ducking for cover.

Edward stepped through the doorway to see that Colonel Mustang had been the one on the other side. A little ways to his left, though, stood someone entirely unexpected. His ears stopped picking up sound, instead blocking it out as though he were under water, his brain drowning in the pressure, too deep to have any hope of hearing or comprehending.

The man was abnormally tall and bulky with but one stray wisp of blonde hair upon his shiny head. He turned as Edward jerked back with a gasp. Behind Edward, the medical team and automail mechanics raced out as the ice began to reform. The man’s large, icy blue eyes locked onto Edward’s own. Edward froze faster than the door had, no longer processing anything else, entirely ignorant to Winry as she grabbed onto his shoulders.

“You’re-,” Alex Louis Armstrong began, his eyes widening comically, before he stopped and lowered his head in acceptance. He held out a hand in greeting. “It’s nice to meet you again. My sister will be most pleased that you’re out of Beau’s hands.”

Edward’s shoulder port ached in remembrance. He reached out to shake the man’s hand, but found himself intercepted as Colonel Mustang grabbed onto his arm.

“Gloves,” he warned. “Also, his shakes will turn you into a ragdoll.”

Edward abruptly snapped back into reality.

“So cruel, Colonel,” Armstrong wept.

“We have work to do,” is all Mustang answered with, reaching into his pocket and tossing a pair of white gloves at Edward.

Edward caught them in his hands and quickly slipped them on, still utterly speechless. He tugged himself free of Winry and stepped towards Hawkeye, who stood on Mustang’s other side.

Mustang stalked towards one of the halls leading out of the waiting room. It was entirely iced through, the door laying broken on the floor before it.

“Falman,” he barked. “Which wing holds Isaac McDougal?”

“Third East,” an older man who Edward hadn’t paid much attention to before answered. He had short, graying hair and a face lined by age and stress.

“Right,” Mustang nodded. He turned to the equally-iced over windows and pointed.

“We’re breaking through these.”

 


 

 

“A criminal,” Alphonse acknowledged. He looked back up to the ice around the building. Yes, the one who froze the prison would definitely have to be classified as such.

Ed and Winry are still inside , he thought. That Lieutenant and the Colonel, too. I hope that they’re all safe.

He turned towards Hughes, only to see that they man had already begun walking away. He then looked down at his stump of a leg and his full leg and resolved to abandon the lower part of his left leg and foot in the ice. He tipped to the side to try and follow, taking a step forward on his stump and dragging his full leg around. Immediately, he realized that it wasn’t going to work. He let out a childish sound of distress, despite his age, then with shame called out:

“Where are you going?”

Hughes continued on his way unfazed, raising an arm as the only indicator that he’d even heard.

The dismissal hurt.

“The East Third wing, to try and intercept the Ice Alchemist. Douglass is dangerous. Don’t come if you can’t move.”

He’ll have no use for a random suit of armor were words left unspoken.

I can move, Al mentally seethed. He briefly considered rolling before deciding that his shoulder spikes would make doing so much too difficult. Frustrated, he sighed, then realized with a start of dread his most logical next move.

Being merely a suit, Alphonse could feel no pain. So when he knocked his other knee out and fell face first into the moist grass and hard dirt, his only repercussion was the sensation of dropping a part as though it’d been something he held rather than part of him. He pushed himself back up with his arms, more disturbed than he could pay notice to in the moment, and waddled rapidly after Hughes.

He caught up to the man at the turn of the first Eastern wing. Hughes glanced to the side at him, Alphonse now only as tall as the lowest part of his upper arm.

“Smart,” he praised.

Alphonse gave a quick nod of acceptance as thanks.

“So, which is it?” he asked.

The prison wasn’t too complex of a structure, it being mildly in the shape of a spider with its lobby as the head and its body the medical centre. Its nine legs were its major branches, the split offs holding a mix of cells, showers, and kitchens. It was five stories high, quite a massive structure.

“Just as named, East Third,” Hughes answered. “The fourth hall from the end, right side from the door leading into his hall is Douglass’s cell. Fifth floor.”

“Then, he’s probably on the roof,” Al realized.

“Yes.”

Hughes’s voice was cold and detached, carrying in it none of the bright warmth that it had when he’d described his family. Alphonse glanced up at his face yet again. His cheery, carefree expression had broken away. His light eyes were now calculating, the dark ring around his sclera unsettling. It almost seemed as though shadows had fallen under all of the angles of his face. The sun reflected too brightly off of his forehead, nose, and cheeks. Al got the distinct feeling that he was standing next to someone more dangerous than he wanted to find out.

Who is Maes Hughes, really?

Al dropped down again, digging one of his fingers into the dirt and tracing it about. Hughes stopped walking and turned around to watch him. A few lines and circles, and then lines upon and extending from said circles. 30 degrees one way, 70 degrees the other tracing through a third of the circle and intercepting one of it’s own before hitting the circumference again. It was an alchemical array carved into the dirt, one easily recognized and well-practiced by he and his older brother. Wordlessly, Alphonse clapped his hands and pushed them against it.

The very ground that he and Hughes stood on shot up into the air a story as he bent over it. Hughes raised his arms to steady himself, then grinned. The pillar of dirt rushed around the building, passing one, two branches, each with two dozen halls extending, before looping to Hughes’s pointed forefinger. The summer air gushed cold around their bodies. A satisfied smirk settled on Hughes’s face as they came to a stop. His eyes gleamed with the mirth of  some idea that Alphonse wasn’t sure that he wanted to guess.

“Well done,” he quietly congratulated. He then turned towards the building and looked up.

Alphonse nodded at his silent oder and pressed his hands to the array again, unsure of when his suit had committed the incredibly bodily action of straightening up. The dirt shot upwards, climbing stories in tenths of seconds. Somehow, Hughes stood rightly through the downwards push of air fighting against them, his shoulders back and relaxed. He whipped something silver out of his pocket, extending his arm out before himself and raising it to his eye level just as they cleared the roof.

For a solid second, there was no sound. Then, a single shot rang through the air. A figure in a bright orange jumpsuit, dark against the eye’s adjustment to the sun, stumbled, one of its arms clutching its shoulder, and fell down the other side of the roof.

Chapter Text

What just…?

Alphonse stared up at Hughes in shock. It wasn’t as though it had been unexpected, his… action, but expecting its possibility and seeing it happen were two very different things.

“You shot him!”

A pillar of ice broke up towards them, and Alphonse leapt up to knock he and Hughes to the ground. He grit his mouthpiece against the rest of his helmet, knocking them over so that he’d be the one to hit the dirt before summoning another pillar to lower them slowly. It hit his back hard, and then gently fell back  to the Earth. Hughes gasped. Right where he’d been standing, a giant tapered icicle pierced the air. Had he still been there, it would’ve punctured straight through his left lung and heart.

Alphonse regretted to know this much due to his reason for knowing. The taboo hadn’t left his mind since his and Edward’s committance. Had only they not been so greedy, they’d still be safe with Pinako and Winry.

Well, he thought bitterly, Ed’s already probably seen Winry again by now.

He quickly shook the thought from his mind, releasing Hughes to let the man stand and pull himself up. All along the bottom of the wall that they stood next to, icicles like the first began to erupt forth, protruding like spears from a castle gate.

In a way, he supposed, the prison was like a castle. It was big, and it had dungeons. No ties to royalty, but dungeons.

“We need to move,” Hughes stated, watching the spears as, after breakage, they continued slowly forth. “Now!”

Just as he reached down to grab onto Alphonse’s hand to yank him away, several other spikes broke free from the premiers to criss-cross and zig-zag in some non-pattern across the field. The two took off running, Alphonse quickly letting go of Hughes to replace his stump legs with his arms to get away faster. Seeing just how much faster he, a suit without muscle that would tire could go, leapt onto his back and wrapped his arms around his helmet.

“Go, go, go!” he yelled.

They ran around the building, Alphonse only stopping briefly to alchemize the dirt to carry them faster as they continued to run. When they cleared a few good branches, Alphonse broke the dirt up to jump the gate, and they slid down the other side.

“Mother of fuck,” Hughes cursed, wheezing more from the adrenaline than physical effort.

Somewhere on the other side of the building came a loud boom . Both looked up seeing a large plume of dark smoke rising and spreading through the sky.

“Is that the Colonel?” Alphonse asked, his wonder obvious in his voice.

“Mm hmm” Hughes confirmed, nodding his head. “It should be. If it isn’t, then we’re either lucky to have someone else capable of so much, or we’re going to have a much harder fight.”

He turned to Alphonse. His eyes seemed much brighter again, though they still retained their dangerous edge.

“So, you ready to go after him?”

“Ehh, what?!”

Alphonse definitely wasn’t ready.

Rather than waiting for him to become, though, Hughes began to walk again. Quickly catching up on his method of getting shit done, Alphonse sighed and dug his fingers into the dirt.

 


 

If there was any one thing to be certain of in regards to Roy Mustang, it was that the man was badass as fuck. Edward honestly wondered if he’d been planning to leave he and the others in the medical room, looking back. He’d gone right up to the ice, melted a little bit of it, and turned around while he could just as easily burst through the fucking shit like it was made of thin hard candy and he had Alex Louis Armstrong’s fists.

Edward wasn’t salty. It’d probably been a test.

Yeah, a test. Totally a test.

… Or so he tried to convince himself.

By the time that Mustang had busted them out, however, they’d been gifted with the sight of McDougal’s gorgeously sculpted ass (and he would know) high-tailing it into the streets of Central, one hand over his shoulder. A viciously bright red liquid dripped from his fingers, prompting Edward’s frown as they chased after him. It looked as though the man had been shot. He didn’t know where his brother was.

Where the fuck fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck is Alphonse?!

This wasn’t an Alphonse-safe situation, to say the least.

Cars swerved as they pursued, Edward dodging side to side and narrowly avoiding getting hit multiple times. The front right corner of one brushed against his automail arm and he jerked forwards, diving out of its way.

“Mother fucking King,” he cursed. “Help, help, help, help, help, help, help meeeeeee !

A large, heavily-built bean-green vehicle bore directly towards him. He winced prematurely and jumped forwards, diving upwards and over, slamming his metallic arm onto its engine cover and hoisting himself overtop of it. He then leapt off of the back and onto the one behind it, the driver swerving and throwing him off. The wind whipped past his ears, buzzing and tearing.

“Fuuuuuuck!” he screamed, thrown from its non-balance, his back slamming into a hard brick wall.

Almost certain that he’d broken his ass to at least some degree, he blinked a few times and tried to regain his bearings. The back of his head had hit it hard, now feeling unnaturally soft like the sweet little red bean and rice flour candies that his father had given he and his brother from Xing when they were toddlers. His eyes spun, his tongue heavy in his mouth, his teeth cold. He groaned and clapped his hands, using the cement to push himself to his feet and immediately regretting it as the spinning in his head intensified, now aching dully as well, and the push against his cheeks had him suck in more air than he knew what to do with through his teeth.

Ha. That’s funny, he dizzily thought.

Roy, you little fucking bitch.

He then realized that he wasn’t speaking. He choked out a cough, then forcibly dragged his eyes forwards to see bright, painful bursts of light at the tip of Lieutenant Hawkeye’s machine gun. She’d discarded her coat as they ran, revealing a belt of bullets covering her entire torso up to her cleavage. He figured that that made sense, as it would likely be very painful to have such heavy weights on heavy… weights.

Welp. There goes my claim to being a nice guy.

Her face was scary, lines that he was certain hadn’t been there before now prominent, her teeth clenched with her mouth open. She yelled something to Havoc, who also had his gun drawn, and the man began to fire, too.

Someone grabbed him by the collar of his plain white tee, hoising him up and yelling in his face. He couldn’t make out theirs, and their words  His back hit the wall again, the back of his head bouncing against it. He oculdn’t tell what they were saying. His eyes opened and closed, rolling. He slowly raised his flesh hand to grab at their ear. He sloppily grasped it, feeling around for a minute before processing that it was, in fact, an ear. He pulled and it tore off.

Black. They were wearing lots of black.

They dropped him and he collapsed back onto the cement that he’d elevated. Finally more still, he began to focus.

Blood sprayed then poured from where he’d torn off their ear-- oh mercy it’s in my hand, it’s in my hand, it’s in my fucking hand oh fuck oh shit what is this no no nonononono-- before it grew right back onto their head. His eyes widened. He exhaled, the breath feeling somehow unnatural as he breathed it out. The man- it was a man- looked at the ear in his hand, then Edward, and his face was sharp, not like a fox but like a wolf, a conniving wolf, not like the conniving fox, and he sank his fist into Edward’s gut.

Edward coughed, a spurt of hot blood flinging from his lips. He could hear again, suddenly, whatever pressure bubbles that’d blocked out sound from his ears releasing. Metal crashed into metal, gunshots firing and explosions breaking apart what was already now rubble. His own breaths came rapid, burning in his lungs. The man bent down. He wore a pair of blackened glass sunglasses to hide his face.

That’s why I couldn’t see him. No, who he was. I can see him, that he’s there. I-.

The man turned his head to the side at the vehicle that had swerved and thrown Edward into the wall, then back at him. He began to speak, his words quick, almost too quick for Edward to immediately understand in his state.

“"My name is Greed. I want everything you can possibly imagine. I want money and women, power and sex, status, glory! I demand the finer things in life! You just killed one of my men. So that means that you’re mine.” He breathed the hot, acrid air into Edward’s nostrils as he spoke.

Edward twitched his nose against the smell of gasoline. His fingers scrabbled uselessly against brick.

Greed suddenly gasped and shoved an arm behind his back, the fingers of his hand wriggling.

“Fuck!”

Behind him, Lieutenant Hawkeye stood defiant, her burning eyes glaring through the destruction around her. Tiny and not so tiny fires alike, Edward realized, burned throughout the street. Shrapnel and pieces of vehicles littered the ground, safe and hurt civilians alike running for cover. A child kneeled over the body of a pregnant woman, clutching at her flower-print dress. Tears streaked down her face. Dried blood tainted her charred braids.

Greed released Edward again and turned around.

“Oh, come on,” he pleaded, seeing that it had been the Lieutenant who fired upon him. “Don’t tell me that I actually have to fight a woman. It really kills the mood, having to endanger people such as yourself, sweetheart.”

Edward closed his eyes, clapped his hands, and dove forwards to press them against Greed’s back. The man jumped slightly, his eyes widening as he turned his head back to see him.

“You-!” he started, before his guts burst through his skin and went flying forwards across the pavement

“FUCK!”

Pink, white, purple, grey, and bloody, his organs writhed on the ground, thinking they still had a chance. Greed twitched and let out a whine, falling onto his knees before pushing himself back up onto his feet. He turned to Edward, and then another bullet blew half of his face from his head. Lieutenant Hawkeye, Edward saw, had switched guns.

“I’ll be back for you, kid,” the man warned, then took off in the direction that they’d chased McDougal.

Edward breathed heavily, watching him go. He didn’t even notice as Hawkeye approached until she landed a hand on his shoulder.

“Not very helpful,” she said, then clicked her tongue disapprovingly. “Are you going to be alright?”

“Yeah,” Edward answered.

Clearly unsatisfied with his answer, she bent down onto her knees and removed her hand onto to pace it on his forehead instead, then pried open his mouth with her fingers. She stared into her eyes, then murmured, “Concussion.”

She stood up.

“Colonel, we need medical assistance.”

Her hands, he noticed, were gentle. As gentle as Miss Beau’s, though somehow more kind.

Looking up at her in his daze, he realized that that wasn’t the right term. No, they weren’t any the more kind, but they were more stable. They were there, they were backing him. Perhaps he’d become a mere pawn again, but this time, he was at least a mildly protected pawn.

Her fingers fell away from his cheeks as she stood, turning to move out of the Colonel’s way as he jogged up, his face red and his expression livid. He immediately dropped it for one of concern as he took in Edward’s condition, slowing to a stop.

“He’s not too good at road running, yet Sir,” Lieutenant Hawkeye informed. “He’s concussed.”

“Thaaat’s not good,” Mustang stated. He bent down and lifted Edward’s chin with two fingers. “You here with me, kiddo?”

His pale eyes seemed to stare into Edward’s own, too intense for him in that moment. Edward looked away, flicking his eyes in every direction but at Roy’s face.

He was so close.

The fingers pressed up into the soft spot under his jaw.

“I’m good,” Edward managed, the words sounding strangled to even his own words.

He arched his neck and turned his head away, trying to escape. Mustang sighed and straightened himself.

“Alright. Emergency care should be here soon. Don’t move until then.”

“HEY ROOOOOOOOOOOOYYY!

The Colonel jerked back just as another an in military uniform jumped at him, the other guy’s arms outstretched to hug him but immediately shifting to catch himself at the movement. They hit the pavement painfully and he pushed himself up, the movement not unlike that of a push-up leading into a jump. He beamed.

“Did you guys catch him?”

Roy didn’t respond. The man’s face fell.

“Well, shit.”

“Language, Hughes,” Mustang chided. He tilted his head towards Edward. “There are children present.”

Offended, Edward pushed himself from the concrete and the wall, stumbling forwards and tripping over his own toes into Mustang.

“You- lil bastard,” he seethed.

Mustang grabbed his arm to balance him.

“Well, shit,” the man breathed. “I’m assuming that he’s the ‘Edward’ that I’ve heard so much about from you and his brother?”

Edward sloshed his head to the side to look at him.

“And just who the fuck are you?” he asked, only realizing too late that he’d mouthed off exactly what had ran through his head at what was undoubtedly a superior. He paled, one hand clutching his stomach as everything did another spin. Something whirled and spun inside of it. He keeled over, disgusting, searing acid and bile rising in his throat. He choked it down, then promptly puked it out just past the tips of his shoes anyway.

The man watched with rapt attention.

“Damn, son, what happened to you?” he questioned worriedly.

“He got thrown off of a car,” Lieutenant Hawkeye informed.

Something clinging and clanging came up the street. Edward raised his face, then shock broke through his state.

“Ed?”

Edward blinked once, twice, then yanked himself free of Mustang to stumble towards the giant (and rather, he noticed, not so tall anymore) suit of armor running towards him.

“Al!”

Alphonse slowled remarkably, taking in his appearance, then ran faster. Edward noticed that his legs were gone, knees and below. Then, he was being embraced. Painfully. By metal. He winced.

“I’m okay,” he gruffly lied. “What happened to your legs?”

“We left them in the ice at the prison.”

Edward’s brow furrowed. He whipped his head around, immediately regretting it as the spinning again presumed, to glare at the new guy.

“We?”

“Mr. Hughes and I,”  Al answered. “They got stuck in the ice.”

Edward broke free from his brother’s hug, marching up to Hughes, ignoring Alphonse’s dismay. Coming up to the man, Edward raised himself onto his toes, pushing back his shoulders and bristling. He shoved a finger in the man’s face.

“Are you Maes Hughes?” he questioned.

“Yes,” Hughes answered.

Edward studied him. He was lean-buff, his dark hair was mussed but appeared to have been at some point slicked back, and he had a kind face, though his eyes were sharper than knives. Edward glared at him as hard as he could muster, his pupils dilating.

“Where are my brother’s legs?” he asked coldly.

“In the ice by the prison. It should be melting in about three minutes,” Hughes answered.

Edward huffed, stayed there for a good few seconds to make his point, and then stood down. He fell back a little, Hughes grabbing onto his shoulder to keep him from falling.

Sirens blared around them, no longer just from all of the damaged and/or destroyed cars, but from the ambulances sent in case of human harm.

“Let’s get you to a stretcher for now” Hughes murmured. He then smiled, his eyes losing their cutting detachment. “If they let you leave, you’ll get to meet Gracia tonight!"

Chapter Text

“Kid, I need you to open up and tell me everything that you can about you and your brother.”

That was how Hughes had chosen to begin Alphonse’s interrogation. The two were seated across from one another in Alphonse’s cell. Hughes sat on a stool, Alphonse on his cot. It was barely approved, but something in Alphonse’s body language had Maes willing to risk it.

“What’s there to know that you don’t already?” Alphonse asked. “Brother… he was forced to prostitute himself in front of me.”

Hughes winced. That certainly hadn’t been as good of a start as he’d been hoping for, though it was blatant in the way that his report would need to be. However, he was the one meant to make it blatant, not his interrogee.

“Just… start at the beginning, when you two attempted to transmute your mother,” he tried.

Alphonse raised his head. The air was tense; it had been as soon as he’d walked in. Guided by a squadron made up Roy’s team, his introductions had been given by Hawkeye and were much too quick and impersonal for his own liking.

On the other side of the bars, Hawkeye stiffened. Maes, however, felt inwardly sort of glad that the boy was meeting his gaze as he was. The two red lights in his armor’s sockets burned intensely into his own, almost as if- no . That wasn’t a good train of thought to go along, but facing them evenly felt right. It was more comfortable, more real, if that made any sense.

“I won’t draw any circles,” Alphonse murmured, his head dropping a little again. Shadows stretched across his armor’s face at the angle.

“No, of course not,” Maes agreed, trying to keep his disappointment at Alphonse’s aversion to his face from reaching his voice. “Think of it as telling us a story.”

Yes, a story. The story of your life.

Alphonse dropped his head entirely into his armor’s large hands before beginning.

“When brother and I were maybe five or six, and dad was still with us, the Ishval war was somewhat underway. Past its beginning, but state alchemists hadn’t been fully inducted into it yet. We grew up in the countryside at Resembool, West of Risenburg. However, our mother’s parents lived at Cidade do Leste, just North of Ishval.”

Hughes stiffened.

Trisha Elric hailed from near Ishval?

“Mother feared that they were in danger, especially because their opinion of the Amestris military at the time was almost outright rebellious. They wanted to move to Xing, where our Aunt Maria had married, so she left us with dad to go and try to help them as far along their way as she could.

“Sometime during her stay there, the Amestrians released gas to kill off Ishvalan crops in their Eastern area. From what we had heard, the chemicals hurt people almost as much as crops.”

Hughes nodded.

“The PCD, Primary Crop Depletion,” he explained. “Many Ishvalan farmers and workers, as well as the elderly and children, were dropping dead in the streets during that time, though no reports ever made a dent in its usage. I remember.”

“Yeah, that,” Alphonse confirmed.

“There was also worry at the time that winds might’ve been blowing it Northwards, though nothing came of that but media outrage.”

“Our mother returned home sick after our grandma was found dead in her strawberry patch. It wasn’t long after that our grandpa became terminally ill as well, coughing up blood in bed. Ed and I listened in on mom and dad’s conversation. They thought that it had gotten into the water supply.”

Hughes fell silent, the accusation cutting.

“After a few weeks of coughing, headaches, fatigue, and a scratchy voice, our mom finally began to act energized again. She was never the same, though. Every so often, she’d have a few days of similarly-symptomed fits. Her doctor could never figure out what was wrong. He didn’t believe that it had anything to do with ‘PCDs,’ though.

“The day before Ed’s tenth birthday is when mom died. We’d been out playing in the fields.”

Alphonse’s voice caught as though he were choking on his words. His armor shook lightly, though not noiselessly, and Hughes realized that he was trembling. As much as he wanted to reach out, though, he knew that he couldn’t.

Keep it professional , he ordered himself. You’re just here for information.

He did, however, scoot his chair closer. At least, he figured, Lieutenant Hawkeye wouldn’t have his ass for breakfast for that miniscule bit of raised intimacy.

A quick glance to the side where she stood had his resolve immediately melting. Her lips were pursed, her left brow furrowed.

“Brigadier General,” she warned, her hand ever so slightly closer to ghosting at her gun.

He nodded at her, then returned to his task. Alphonse, he realized, had looked to her as well.

What did I expect? The kid’s not stupid.

“Please, continue,” Hughes softly ordered.

Alphonse gave a quick nod, his armor clanking.

“Before that, we’d received alchemical training from an alchemist in Dublith. Combined with our knowledge from deciphering father’s notes almost from circles alone because they weren’t exactly all written in Amestrian, we’d accumulated a decent background on alchemy and even how to create commands.”

Hughes nodded. Though it was impressive for alchemists to learn to construct circles, it wasn’t unexpected. The boys had to have created their own circles in order to pull off any sort of attempt at human transmutation. All state alchemists were expected to understand how to create their own arrays as part of their certification, to be able to conduct their own research. Most people who used alchemy primarily as a means of mere doing never bothered, but those who did, the researchers, they were qualifiers.

“What language, if I might ask, were your father’s notes in?” Hughes interrupted.

Alphonse paused, then admitted:

“I’m not entirely certain, myself. I think they were written in Xerxian because the language was Eastern but didn’t seem remotely similar to those of his Xinguese books. It was closer to ancient Ishvalan, if anything, though still distinctly different.”

“You seem to know a lot about linguistics,” Hughes commented. “Qualifications?”

“Ehhh,” Alphonse laughed, bringing up a hand to rub at the back of his helmet. “I liked looking through his foreign books. Ed did, too, but he was more interested in the circles. We both took turns switching between who tried to read and who looked at the circles, and to be honest, we’d usually both end up doing both, but I’ve always had a bit of an affinity for finding the meaning of every nook and cranny in the text.”

“Is that so?”

The way that Roy had explained it, Edward had been the genius of the two brothers. If what Alphonse said was true, however, then the two brothers were probably both geniuses, merely with very (very) slightly different strengths.

Hughes could use Alphonse in Intelligence.

“Yeah. Please don’t misunderstand, though. Brother loves books and digging through information just as much as I do, and that’s how he spends the most of his time, but I just tend to care more about digging through what might be less relevant but still seems interesting. Sometimes, I’d find stuff that turned out to be kind of important. Other times, it would just be the rest of the sentence, which we wouldn’t actually need and could already understand the gist of.”

Hughes chuckled.

“I understand that.”

He noticed the slight relaxation on the other side of the room, how even the Lieutenant wasn’t immune to it.

“But, back to as I was saying,” Alphonse redirected. Immediately, the tension returned, even if it was now slightly lesser. “After our mother passed, Granny Pinako took us in. We’d return to our house after chores and meals to continue studying alchemy, and it wasn’t long until we’d deconstructed masses of theories preluding to human transmutation. Few of them seemed to have been tested before, but father had them in his study nonetheless. Some of them were in super old books, others in regular old ones. Not all of them had been published. A few… a few had been written in his handwriting, though they bore no signature or theorist’s name.

“When Granny found out, she was mad. Really, really mad. For all that she tried, though, she couldn’t stop us from continuing our research. We could hide everything with alchemy, after all.”

Alphonse’s voice had gone wry. Hughes absently wondered what his expression would be like were he in a human body. Then, his armor began to shake again.

“I wish that she could’ve. I truly wish that she had. We spent two years pouring over theories for our transmutation alone, going over symbols and catches and everything that we could think of. We had little time to work to bring in Pinako money, growing plants alchemically and non-alchemically in our mother’s garden, to compensate for the cost of raising us. Most of it actually went to theory books. It was our excuse for spending so much time at our old home.

“The transmutation itself was awful. Just after the beginning, too late to stop it, is when I got goosebumps. The transaction was working, everything was right, but something about it felt unbearably dangerous. If you can imagine walking through knives thin enough to slice right through you without you ever noticing, but fully aware of them, that’s the feeling.

“There can be no safety symbols on a human transmutation circle. There can’t be any preventative measures taken in case of backlash or rejection. Our circle was very much a win-all or lose-all commitment. We hit lose-all because it wasn’t until we’d already begun it that I realized we’d forgotten about the cost of the person to go with the body.

“I can remember parts of myself being torn away, and Ed as well, but then nothing. He was terrified, one of his arms already gone, but he was reaching out to me, looking at me. Then, I woke up in this suit of armor.”

Alphonse gestured to himself.

“Ed was laying passed out on the floor, and what we wanted to be mom…  she was a body. A breathing, moaning body, but her entire being was black like charcoal. I tried to talk to her, to get her to help us, to help brother, but she couldn’t understand what I was saying. I had to get brother help, so I did. When we returned, she was gone.”

Hughes’s eyes widened.

“That wasn’t in Pinako’s letter.”

Alphonse froze, slowly raising his head. Hughes realized his mistake too late.

“It makes sense that you would’ve read it, I suppose,” Alphonse then, surprisingly, accepted. “You’re not just interrogating me, are you?”

Hughes breathed, then admitted, “No. I’m definitely interrogating you, but I’m also the head of Intelligence for this case.”

“Hughes!” Hawkeye scolded, raising her shoulders and tensing like a cat raising its hackles.

He snapped his head up at her.

“It’s fine, Lieutenant. He can know,” he stated.

She glared.

“Don’t regret your decision.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he waved her off, returning his attention to Alphonse. “Don’t worry about it. Now, kid, if you would continue?”

Alphonse seemed a bit put-off by the intrusion, but he continued nonetheless, though much more hurriedly and less detailed. Hughes mourned his falling of trust.

“In Granny’s yard, Winry’s dog thought I was a threat, especially since Ed was bleeding all over me. I didn’t realize that I was a walking, talking armor suit, yet, somehow. I think my mind was in shock since my body couldn’t have been. At one point, he jumped up and his paw brushed against Ed’s hand. That’s when he turned into gold. A pure golden statue. That was when I realized that even more was wrong than even what was clear to see.

“Granny wrote a letter to Colonel Mustang in Central, since our ‘mother’ had vanished and Ed’s hand and stump turned everything into gold and she worried that the situation would escalate. Nothing came back. A lot of golden statues of insects gathered under Ed’s bed. He… oh, please, no, I don’t want to talk about this, he….”

Alphonse trailed off, left hand rising to clutch at his right. He was silent. And then:

“He chased it up his own arm one day, while everyone was outside. When Winry and I stepped into the house, he was in the kitchen, crying against the floor, surrounded by blood, his own upper arm, and golden insects. He’d hacked off his own arm in rings past his shoulder with a meat cleaver.”

Hughes took in a breath.

“What?” he asked.

Surely, surely not.

He felt bile rising in his throat, could taste it on his tongue. His stomach swam, his heart beating slow and heavy, his ears ringing. Several images flashed in his mind, memories of dismembered peoples. Ishval.

“After a few months of mixed depression and grief, brother finally responded to Winry trying to bait him back to life with stories of a Philosopher’s stone to return our bodies. For a long while, he ignored it, but she wouldn’t give up. Then one day, out of the blue, he requested that Granny and Winry make him automails. They eventually agreed, but he took it a step further. He had them make a tab for him because he wanted them to be made with the best model they could come up with for him. It was damn expensive, and we still haven’t paid it off.”

His guilt was evident at the last bit of the statement, his shoulders sagging.

“Before you ask, the goldifying re-extended to his automail hand. Brother took about half of a year to recover, in which we continued to make money through mom’s old garden. We put a lot of the money towards his automail, but brother secretly kept tiny portions of it, allowing them to build up with the remains of what we’d gathered before the transmutation. Then, we snuck out one night. We got on a train for Central, and life continued to get progressively worse.

“It was only third night in Central, after having not found refuge for two days, that Miss Beau found us. We were standing in front of a waterfall in the Northern half of the city. Brother was starving. She had every advantage over us, and she was strong. Brother tried to fight her off, tried to tell me to run, but had I moved, she would’ve known that I was alive. She had him pinned against an alley wall when she invited him to her servitude. I think it was his features that had grabbed her attention. She’d definitely been looking for only a fight in the beginning, but after she really took a look at him, that’s when she made her offer. Shelter, food, and money for working in her ‘bar.’ She wasn’t a good person, but brother needed those.

“He passed me off as his sole possession, his family’s legacy. It wasn’t long after he’d begun working, though, that he realized the true nature of his contract with her. He was scared and pissed, but she was still stronger. Brother’s coworkers, too, were strong, but none of them as much as her. They fully obeyed her.

“At first, brother just helped out in the kitchens. Then, he was shifted to the cleaning crew. That had to have been horrible. He wasn’t allowed to be in any positions with customer interaction until she decided that he’d proven that he wouldn’t rat her out. His room was either too cold or too hot, depending on the time of year, and he had no time to keep it clean amongst all of his other work. It was cramped. I couldn’t do anything, either, since I was acting as a plain suit. His food portions were small. The conditions were awful. Eventually, he conceded. I think that I know how he proved himself, but I don’t want to confirm it. I’ve never asked him, even when I was daring enough to whisper.

“Instantly, he was given a much better room, a chamber. It was the chamber where he would entertain most of his customers, as well, and where most of his training took place. I had to... be there through it all. Through everything.”

Hughes stood and walked away, leaning his head against his arm against the opposite wall. Alphonse, he was certain, had he a body, would be crying. Even with multiple years, having to watch silently, completely, still, as his own brother... and what of the undoubtable fucked up bastards? Just what all had the child been forced to watch, unmoving, unable to do anything to help?

He breathed in deeply, trying to keep calm.

What the actual fuck?

It was bad enough that Edward had been a child prostitute. What made it worse, though, what he hadn’t seen in cases before, was that his own brother had been in the same room, still as a doll, for years, watching and hearing, unable to possibly block any of it out.

He could taste the bile on his tongue again, trying not to think. Not just not about it, but at all. He needed his mind blank.

“I’m so sorry,” he heard himself wheeze.

There was only silence. Then:

“You didn’t know we existed. It’s not your fault.”

But he had known about Laura Beau, whether Alphonse would ever know or not. Intelligence had known about her for a long time. But, they were kept from acting.

“Tell me about the golden statues, were they his ‘customers?’”

There was another long stretch of silence, during which his heart fell weaker.

“Yes. Every so often, there’d be an accident. They wouldn’t listen to his top command, the only one that Laura truly enforced, and there was nothing that he could do.”

They got what they deserved, Hughes inwardly thought. He would never say it aloud to Alphonse, or to Edward when he met the kid, but he was certain that Mustang’s team felt the same.

Mustang’s team.

Maes looked over to them, seeing that all of them appeared as sick as he felt. Falman’s expression was grim. Riza’s face was murderous, though her posture more protective. Hughes was only half surprised that she’d somewhat broken stance. There was a dangerous glint in Havoc’s eyes, and he looked like he wanted to storm out. Fuery held his hands over his mouth, his face green.

Yes, they certainly felt the same.

He took a breath, held it for a moment, and released it, then turned back to Alphonse.

“I’m sorry for making you recall all of this,” he apologized. His words sounded impersonal to even him, and he hated that their routine was the only ones that he could think of after what Alphonse had been through. He was just… disgusted, enraged, wordless. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and walked forward, passing his stool and not stopping until he stood directly in front of Alphonse. Then, he placed his hand atop the kid’s helmet, that’s what he was, after all, a kid, and smoothed it over the metal. “You two won’t be put in situations like that again, ever. I promise.”

That it was he and Roy who were leading their defense remained unspoken. He walked to the bars of the cell, and Hawkeye opened the door. Her expression was grim.

"Are you okay, Briga-?" she began.

He cut her off with a sad half-smile, then nodded back to Alphonse.

He, Roy, their teams, and anyone else who decided to get involved or were dragged in had their work cut out for them.

Chapter Text

Winry was concerned. Edward and Alphonse had gone missing for an entire decade, then she’d received a post in the mail from the same Colonel Mustang that they’d rambled about in Central. It had nearly given her a heart attack! She’d been devastated when they left, only to years later be told nothing but that she was needed for automail repair, not even that they were being detained in a damned fucking prison for crimes that she also wasn’t made aware of. She smiled, she laughed, oh, good ole’ Ed and Al!

To say the least, she was pissed. When Edward ran off with that Colonel, even after seeing him blow a hole through a good eight or so feet of ice and the wall inside it, not pausing to maybe try and stop the fire since there were prisoners still in the building, her worry began to build even higher. It continued to stack and stack until she was sitting on the ground with the medic team outside of the hospital he’d been taken to, staring into her palms with the backs of her hands on her knees as she tried to piece together whatever the actual fuck was going on.

Someone came to sit beside her, crawling into a pretzel position.

"They’ll be fine,” they murmured.

She turned her head, seeing that it was one of the nurses who’d spoken. She was female and quite tall with short, shiny black hair parted in the center. Winry realized now that she’d never heard that particular nurse speak, even though she’d been one of the ones to wheel him out, unconscious from heavy sedation. Her voice was lower than Winry would’ve expected for someone with her appearance and build.

Her name was… ah.

What was it, again?

Winry gave a nod, then turned her eyes back to her hands.

“Yeah. He’s got this, whatever it is.”

She looked back to the nurse, who’d shifted to sit instead across from her on her knees. Two gentle hands placed themselves on her own, fingers softly tracing her wrists. The nurse smiled gently. Winry shuddered, the touch tickling.

“Your name was Winry Rockbell, right?” the nurse asked.

Winry nodded.

“My name is Erisa Blanc,” the nurse introduced. “You can just call me Erisa, though. I worked with your parents for a time,” the nurse murmured. “They were very kind people. They didn’t care what someone had done in the past or where they’d come from. They were honest. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Winry nodded again.

“Yeah.”

A moment passed and then Erisa continued.

“You won’t have another today or in the future. Colonel Mustang, he’s amazing. So is the Lieutenant. That entire team is in general. Your patient’s in safe hands.”

Winry snorted a little, feeling strangely more reassured than she’d expected.

“Patient? Yeah, right,” she chokingly laughed, still feeling more betrayed than anything else.. “He’s more like the brother you have to keep patching up because his dumb ass doesn’t know how to not get hurt.”

Erisa laughed. She threw her head back, and Winry’s eyes widened. Her laugh twinkled like the sound of wind whipping through chimes on a pine tree during the Winter Solstice.

Winry’s heart beat wildly in her chest.

What the actual fuck? Why is her laugh so pretty? This is illegal! No! No!

Winry was sure that her face had turned beet red. She quickly turned her head to hide it, though she couldn’t quite tear her eyes away. The sun caught and reflected off of Erisa’s dainty face and lightly tanned skin. It shone in her light green eyes.

NOOOOOOOO, FUCK. FUCK, WHAT DO I DO?

BITCH, WHAT THE FUCK DO I MEAN, WHAT DO I DO?

She abruptly stood, the suddenness of it tipping her brain in her head. She pressed a hand to the wall for support, then took in a breath and pushed off. Erisa, too, stood. The woman had to be a good foot and a half taller than her at the least, no, taller. She was tall. Not as tall as Sir Armstrong, of course, but she was tall.

“Then you’ve nothing to worry about. They’ll be back soon.”

Winry nodded, feeling a little better already. She took a breath and set her face, now determined.

That little short-ass fucker had better be. He owes me an explanation, she thought.

Just then, the door to the hospital opened. Out stepped Colonel Mustang and Brigadier General Hughes, Mustang rubbing the back of his neck with his hands while Hughes grinned.

“She really doesn’t have to do that,” Mustang was saying. “Havoc’s running Riza up to order a custom pizza for my team’s party in the office tomorrow night. I’m sure that they wouldn’t mind-.”

“Roy,” Hughes interrupted, “I’ve already made the call. Besides,” he joked, “we already have his measurements because I work in intelligence. One of my crew said she was going to Fifth Street around this time today with the files anyway, so it’s not like the three of them won’t have his sizing and photos. Trust in my babe’s fashion sense!”

“Brigadier General Hughes! Colonel Mustang!” Winry called over.

Two heads turned in her direction, one pair’s eyes settling on her and the other next to her head. She walked forward, waving to them.

“How’s Ed?” she asked.

The Brigadier General considered her question briefly before shrugging and snapping his fingers.

“Out like a light for the moment, but he should wake up in a few more hours. Thanks for helping Gracia, Elicia, and I set up the other guest room for them, by the way.”

Winry nodded enthusiastically.

“Of course! It was fun!” she acknowledged.

Behind her, Erisa let out an amused chuckle.

“And how have you two been, Roy, Maes?” she asked.

Hughes blinked, then seemed to recognize her.

“Erisa!” he yelled, Roy jolting next to him at the sudden sound. He tugged the man forward.

“We’ve been well as ever. And how about you?”

“Peachy,” Erisa answered cautiously.

Winry stepped back to observe the scene.

“You should talk to Roy. Roy, Roy, quit being shy.” His eyes caught on something in the distance. “I think I can see some of my guys up there. I’ll be right back.”

He ran off down the sidewalk, leaving Roy to fend for himself in conversation. Roy almost seemed to watch his haphazard jog, then sighed and turned back to the nurse. He held out a hand to her.

“Shall we go for some coffee?” he asked.

She took it, turning her head to Winry in offering. Winry shook her own, too worried about Ed herself but still taking amusement in her elders’ antics.

“We shall,” Erisa nodded.

 


 

Dainty glisterings of prismatic light reflected in shining droplets from the cement streets of Central, gorgeous colors interrupted and redirected every so often by the varying black shades of vehicle tires against the roads. Every so often, a horse and a buggy would trot past directly below Ed’s window next to the sidewalk where sat on a wet wooden bench the infamous Colonel Roy Mustang babysitting a cute, husky-like dog of unknown reckoning.

Edward clenched the white linen of his cot between the metallic fingers of his right hand, laying his left hand over it as though to soothe his own mind. He was still thrown off that the medics had sedated him enough to knock him out. All he’d done was clung to Alphonse a little too much and maybe threatened them for trying to hospitalize him!...

Yeah, doing so really wasn’t one of his best choices.

At least the rain had finally cast a cooling spell onto Central’s dry, infernal heat. The sky had changed considerably from its rumored consistent clear light, glowing almost a dark blue now and broken by low hanging clouds all across it like particles caught upon the surface tension of dome of water. A chilled breeze blew into the room he inhabited as he waited to be released, easing the built-up heat that it had caught and stored over the past few weeks of drought that he’d never even heard about.

With it, however, his bones ached at their attachment to his automail. His ribs, as well...

He stiffened, peeling back his pale yellow cotton hospital shirt to see his entire upper torso encased in white bandages.

Holy fuck.

He could feel the impact of the car slamming him against the wall again, could feel its front bumper crushing his hips. He shoved his hand down his pants to check and see if there were bandages there as well.

There most certainly were. He couldn't even feel his hands against his body, which was more concerning to him than anything else.

Just how strong of meds have these bitches put me on?

He glanced at his flesh arm, for the first time noticing the multicolored medical drips attached. His brow furrowed. Painkillers and scientific minds... had it even been a decade before, he would've worried about whether the chemicals they were shooting into him would hinder his intellect.

It was odd, how much he missed out on learning (as well as what he didn't) while lost in the world of its own that was Miss Beau’s. The red-light bar had entirely encompassed the lives of her employees, having been set up almost as its own reality in that the workers had struggled to maintain their entire lives under its jurisdiction. They’d been allowed to choose their own outfits from allied merchants who stopped in every week when there was cash to spare, and all of their luxuries had come from themselves. Money was traded around for anything that the heart could desire, though most often it would be spent on last-minute touch-ups before events or before they would go out to entice and service customers.

Releasing his own hand and the cloth, Ed turned his attention away from the window and to the door on the other side of the room. With the sun once more concealed behind a cloud, the pale yellow walls of the room were shaded in an ugly shade of grey that didn’t really inspire or invigorate him to move. However, he had a brother and a Winry to look around for, and he absolutely refused to let them see him looking like an out-of-it patient on too high a dosage of painkillers who could be taken down by the careful advice of puny, evil doctors.

They’d lose in a fight against him immediately. He was at least seventy percent ready to fight at all times. He always made sure of that.

Tossing the sheets onto the floor over the iron end of the cot’s frame, he swung his feet towards the ground and stood. Immediately, gravity dipped around him. He shoved a hand to the wall and gasped, struggling to remain afoot, and tore a good three medicine-leaking wires from his arm.

There were four other cots in the room, though all were vacant but one. Whilst his cot was at the very end of the room, the old guy's was at the beginning, inhabited by a bald old guy sleeping in light green pajamas. They were probably softer than the rough cotton sheets. He definitely wasn’t envious.

… Or so he told himself.

Taking one last glance out the window to check if the Colonel had moved, he was ecstatic to determine that the man hadn’t noticed his planned escape, still petting the dog with his face to the road, his stiff posture betraying his wariness even as the dog wagged its tail and rolled onto its back to expose its stomach. Ed turned back and began his trek out.

Step, step. It was one after another, each sending echoing jolts through his body, numbing the feeling around his brain. Were brains meant to feel sensation in the same way as skin? No, yet he was certain that it was numb, even if his racing heart wasn’t. Why was his heart racing, anyway? He couldn’t fathom the idea that his escapade was making him nervous. So, why did he feel as he did?

The tile of the floor was cold against the bottom of his organic foot, and it clinked against the metal of his automail. He figured that he’d have to be careful not to break it on accident. Just a little too much pressure would surely chip or even shatter a tile.

Suddenly, the bald old man gasped, coughing to life. Edward whipped away, his back hitting the opposite wall.

Shit, that bitch is awake!

The old guy sat up, his thin, wrinkled skin clinging to his bones and tendons like something out of a modern eldritch hospital horror story. He yawned in a low moan, stretching his equally thin and wrinkled yet also freckled arms above his head. His wrists- no, all of his joints, Ed realized- were thin and green. He cracked open one of his eyes and then the other, staring energized and calculating right into Ed’s own with faded blue irises.

“Up and about so soon?” he asked.

It took Ed a moment to process the question.

“U-Uh, yes?” he answered, pressing himself harder against the wall before breaking away and shuffling forward awkwardly.

Foolish boy, he scolded himself in his alchemy master’s wise yet cruelly direct and honest voice. Respect your elders. There’s no need to fear this man.

He still didn’t understand why he feared him in the first place. Perhaps it was the situation, the reminder of the kickoff to every other time he’d been in anything remotely resembling a medical bay.

Most likely, his automail procedure or the time one of his patrons had accidentally shattered a glass dildo inside his ass while getting a little too kinky with a hammer.

He still wasn’t sure if Beau had taken his side or the woman’s after that had happened. A lovely manager, she had been.

The old man studied him for a moment before shrugging and scooting to rest back against his pillows and bed frame, closing his eyes again. Edward wasn’t sure what to make of it, and so elected to continue on his way out, this time tip-toe style.

When he was just within the doorway, the old man spoke again.

“Your brother seems like a good kid, Metal Midas. You should take care in how you apologize to him for all that he’s done to humor you.”

Edward whipped his head back around, stuttering out an audible, “Eh?”

Had that motherfucker really just said that to him?

But the man’s eyes were already closed again, wheezing snores exuding from his long, bent nose as though he were some kind of veteran with ash-filled lungs from the Ishvalan war.

Edward sniffed and turned away, back towards the hallway, and pointedly stepped out. He was petty, and he was fine with it. Knocking him out and throwing him into some sort of hospital… the others had a high price to pay.

It ain’t gonna fucking fly. Hick or not, I’ll show these motherfuckers that they can’t just send me here!

From somewhere down the right of him came quiet chatter and a disproportionately loud clanging. Against the light green walls of the hall walked three shadows. Then, their causations walked around the corner. His eyes widened.

It took him a moment, and then he broke into a run, outstretching his arms to gather the two that he actually cared about into a hug.

“Al! Winry!” he yelled, entirely uncaring that he’d probably awoken any other patients who’d been sleeping.

“Ed?” both asked, stopping, before Winry broke out of her haze and leaped back, out of his range, tugging the third person with her.

“Your hands!” Winry screamed.

Not missing a beat, he jumped on his right foot to redirect himself solely towards Alphonse, wrapping his brother in a giant bear hug instead of the both of them. It took Al a moment to process it, but then he was lifting Edward’s feet off of the ground, crushing him into his chest plating.

Now that, that Ed could feel in his chest. However, he chose to remain silent, too busy taking in the sensation of Al's arms, Al's Beau-worry-free contact, around him.

“Brother!” Al greeted.

Ed buried his face between Al’s helmet and neck barrier. He breathed in, closing his eyes as Al clung to him, decidedly ignoring that Al was holding him up. A lump formed in his throat, his chest and organs swirling with a bout of sudden anxious sickness.

“I’m sorry,” Ed apologized. “I’m so sorry.”

There was a pressure growing behind his eyes. He did his best to lock it back, the knot in his throat growing as he did so, his head throwing itself back on reflex as his spine stiffened. His hands, both gloveless, shook.

“What for?” Al asked, sounding confused and worried.

His worry tugged at Ed’s heart, his guilt.

How could I have done all of that in front of you? My fault, my fault, my fault. I should’ve killed myself first, but then you’d have been on your own- you could’ve been free-!

“I wasn’t strong enough,” Ed murmured. “I couldn’t get myself out of there, or you. I couldn’t help either of us. I-I should have tried harder, I did, but I-.”

Alphonse let go abruptly, and Ed crashed back to the floor, his eyes wide.

“-Ed, shut up,” Al commanded, looming over him.

Edward clamped his mouth closed, surprised. Then, he asked, “Al?”

Alphonse stood there for a moment, contemplating how to respond, then decided:

“None of that was your fault. There was nothing that you could have done to get us out of there. You did what you had to. It hurt, having to watch you. It really did. But you survived and I survived and that’s what matters. We can finally continue trying to get back our bodies. We have people who know what we’ve gone through and what we need to do. They’re here with us to back us.”

Ed stared up at him, momentarily stunned. His eyes began to water and he looked down, quickly brushing his arm over them before scampering back to his feet.

“Yeah. You’re right,” he affirmed. He thought of the Colonel, of Riza, and of Winry. Briefly, he considered the mysterious man- Hughes, before deciding that he didn’t know enough about him yet. “Thanks, Al.”

Alphonse nodded.

“Thank you,” he answered.

Behind Al, the third member of their little party began to clap. It was the guy who’d come with Al, Brigadier General Hughes. Winry’s eyes had begun to water just as Ed’s had and she appeared to be on the brink of running forth to wrap the both of them in another hug. However, she held herself back, undoubtedly deterred by Ed’s gloveless hands.

“Well said, Alphonse,” Hughes congratulated. His light green eyes focused on Edward, appraising him. “And you, Edward, do you think you feel well enough to leave?”

Ed stiffened, throwing his shoulders back. He cracked his knuckles against metal, straightening his posture.

“Hell yeah, although I still don’t know you.”

“Ed!” Al whined.

Hughes snorted.

“You’re a little off-balance, tilted like that, but I’ll accept it.”

Edward glanced down at himself, only just realizing that his legs were leaning a bit to the left.

Hughes turned away, beckoning for the three of them to follow him. They began to walk, Winry in step with Ed and Al just behind, Al practically bouncing on his feet while Ed sulked in the Brigadier General’s shadow.

“Gracia stopped by earlier after collecting Elicia from school with a change of clothes for you. She’s a literal angel descended from the heavens, the kindest and most delightful person you’ll ever meet. Absolutely stunning.”

He paused.

“Oh, but do try not to annoy her. It’s difficult, but once you do….”

His entire demeanor darkened.

“... She’ll be scary.”

A moment passed in tense silence.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, Winry added on, “Gracia seems like an incredibly pleasant woman to me.”

Hughes laughed.

“That doesn’t begin to cover it. Oh, oh, and Elicia! She’s the sweetest girl, just turned six last winter.”

He suddenly turned around to walk backward, shooting them all a deathly glare.

“Don’t intrude upon my fatherly time. I only get so much of it, what with my work and her school.”

“Got it!” Ed and Al cried.

He smiled a wry smile and turned back around. Ed released a breath of relief.

The fuck was that?

 

After Ed had finally changed out of his white prison garments and into the crimson cashmere crewneck shirt, rough, dark green cargo trousers, brown leather work boots, and most importantly, gloves, that Hughes and Gracia had afforded, the ensemble stopped by the counter to check Ed’s impatient ass out and made their way out to where Colonel Mustang sat, now next to Lieutenant Hawkeye, who played with the dog.

As they got closer, it barked, running up and sniffing around Winry’s legs.

“Black Hayate!” the Lieutenant hollered.

The dog stood still momentarily, glancing over its shoulder, one paw in the air, then licked Winry’s ankle. Enthralled, Winry squealed, bending down to pet it.

“Is that her dog?” Ed asked Hughes as Alphonse, too, bent down to pet it.

Hughes nodded, watching as the Lieutenant stood to walk over. She wasn’t wearing her military coat, only the pants, boots, and the apparent black shirt that she wore underneath. Colonel Mustang, too, stood, turning to stare blankly at their group. It wasn’t at anyone in particular, couldn’t have been, though for some reason Ed felt as though his clouded eyes bore right into his very soul.

“Yeah. Black Hayate’s a shiba inu. Fuery, one of Roy’s men, found him roaming the streets one day and decided to bring him to their office. Riza’s loved him ever since.”

“Oh.”

Wait a minute…

Edward stiffened, his hairs raising with his excitement.

“Did you just say shiba inu…?” he asked.

Hughes glanced down at him, concerned.

“Yeah?”

Edward looked up at him slowly, his eyes raising jump by jump.

“Then that means,” he began, before suddenly taking off towards the dog. He threw himself over it and hugged it, rubbing his hands behind its ears and over its body. Winry leaped back just in time to escape.

This dog and I are going to get along great.

“Who’s a good boy?” Ed asked it, cooing and awing over it as it barked at him before pressing its head into his chest. “Aww, Black Hayate’s a good boy.”

Lieutenant Hawkeye came up to stand over him, staring down at him as he pet her dog. After a few moments of hugging it, Ed finally looked up at her.

“Hi,” he greeted.

“Hi,” she replied.

Just then, a black military-issued vehicle pulled up on the curb next to them all. Roy walked towards it as the Lieutenant gathered up her dog into her arms, and the entire group slid in. It had three entire seating rows, which were quite necessary for the crowd. The driver, a man who’d been part of Roy’s squad that Ed remembered from earlier, was the driver. Next to him sat Roy. Behind them, Lieutenant Hawkeye, Winry, and the Brigadier General all sat side-by-side. In the back, Ed and Al barely managed to squeeze in, the fit even tighter than it was for the row of three.

“Al, you have to hide that dog in your suit,” Ed whispered.

“Ed!” Al spluttered. “You’re usually the one who discourages me!”

“You have to. Listen, they're totally well-known for being cool!" Ed then lowered his voice into an even lower whisper and added, "as well as assholes."

The Lieutenant whipped her head around, her arm a flash in the air before suddenly there was a black handheld pistol in Edward’s face.

“No one’s stealing Black Hayate,” she warned.

“Yes, ma’am!” Ed whimpered.

She glared sternly at him for a moment, then at Al, and finally at Winry between Hughes and herself, then muttered:

“Good.”

Up in the front, Colonel Mustang laughed.

“If you thought you had a chance at keeping that dog, you’re a fool.”

“You wanna go?” Ed challenged.

“Ed!” Winry scolded indignantly, reaching an arm over her back to lightly slap him in the face. He caught it and swung it in his own hand with a grin before releasing it. She pulled it back into herself, annoyed.

In the mirror above his face, the Colonel’s face was contemplating. Before he could make any sort of decision, though, their driver cut in.

“Believe me, kid,” he advised, “You wouldn’t stand a chance.”

But he’s blind!

Ed frowned, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth as he crossed his arms. He could feel it in his chest now, spots of fractures that'd been reset slowly but surely becoming more obvious as time dragged on. His hips, though, were far worse. He released his lip to grit his teeth as unnoticeably as he could manage as the car raced over a bump, the force jolting his body up only to slam his hips down again with the addition of his buckle catching on them in between.

“Brother picks a lot of fights,” Alphonse informed.

“Believe me, I can tell,” the man chuckled. He lifted a cigarette from between his lips that Ed’s betrayed soul hadn’t realized was there and let it fly out of the window, leaving his arm out to feel the breeze. “The name’s Havoc, Jean Havoc. You guys are Edward and Alphonse Elric.”

“Yeah, but you’ve already seen us,” Edward muttered.

It hurts.

“Doesn’t mean that it’s a proper introduction,” Havoc replied, tapping his fingers against the wheel. A puff of grey-white smoke floated out of his window.

The city raced them by, buildings slowly changing from stone to brick, growing in length apart until houses with yards began to pop up. Suddenly, he made a swooping turn into a gated community surrounded by a wrought iron fence. Within it, wide roads were surrounded by averagely sized yards with multi-story brick houses and fountains every few blocks. Ed pressed his face against the vehicle’s glass window, taking it all in, awestruck.

A few blocks down, they took a sharp right, and then after a few houses, another into Hughes’s driveway. They pulled up and stopped before his pale green garage doors, Havoc parking the vehicle and cutting the ignition. Everyone began to open the doors and file out. Edward followed suit, wincing as he stepped tentatively out, stretching his arms over his head and feeling the sun’s revitalizing touch against his face. In front of him, Winry did the same. The air had steamed up quite a bit since he’d awoken, but with the sun lowering in the sky, it would easily cool down enough to avoid Central becoming a hot, humid swamp of a city.

“Well, boys, Winry,” Hughes said, gathering everyone’s attention as he turned to observe their reactions, “Welcome home.”