Something was wrong.
They knew it as they saw their King falter. They saw the dwarf grow. They knew it as they staggered outside to see the dead bodies of their countrymen, the life ripped from them now inside, screaming souls panicked and vengeful.
The three turned. Their father stepped forward, his chin lifted, his eyes blazing.
Their enemy would not leave this place alive.
“Fuck me,” Ed whined as he dragged his third suitcase from the baggage compartment. He probably should have learned by now, that traveling light was always the best option, but Aerugo had had such a fascinating range of alchemical theory that he had grabbed every little bit he could get his hands on. In his defense, alchemy work that he didn’t know had become stupid rare at this point, so of fucking course he had to bring it all.
He’d memorize it later, get it all stuck in his head where it would never come out, but—well, sometimes you had to high-tail it out of a place in a hurry.
He ignored the dirty looks from other passengers as he dragged the fourth out. He had a lot, okay? And if his ignoring involved shooting dirty looks right back, well, they fucking deserved it.
But that still left him with four suitcases and a walk four blocks to the Gilded Hotel.
He glanced around, grimacing as the mass of former passengers rushed past him, shoving the suitcases out of the way before they could be trampled. Now, had Amestris set up a nice cab system like in Creta? God, places that couldn’t keep up with the times were the worst—
Ed turned, the cheerful voice grating on him but hey, nice to hear that some kids offered respect to people who deserved it. Ed knew very well that he didn’t look a day over seventeen, so anyone who called him mister? Yeah, good karma in his book.
“Help you carry your bags, mister? Two hundred cenz, I get you where you need to go!”
Ed leaned back, taking in the girl: ten, maybe twelve years old, judging by the gap where one of her teeth was missing in her beaming smile. Lighter skin than Ed’s golden brown, though still darkened slightly by the sun, with twin braids on each side of her head gave her a look of innocence that immediately had Ed wrinkling his nose.
“Sure thing! And I know Central like the back of my hand. You’re new in town, yeah?” She looked Ed up and down, narrowing her eyes critically. “Gotta be from somewhere far-off, with what you’re wearing…”
Ed straightened indignantly, eyes flashing. “What the hell? This jacket is classic!” He flipped the tail of the red garment back, sending it fluttering dramatically in the station’s slight breeze.
She glanced at it, but then flicked her eyes back to his chest. A waistcoat in matching red and black damask, finished with black buttons with a silver braided trim, small raised flamels on each one. Pinstripe pants with skull embossment. Shoes with stitching in the shapes of bat wings. So basically fucking awesome.
“It’s so… old.”
Ed scowled ferociously, giving her a glance up and down. She was wearing some… ratty pair of pants in a blue color he hadn’t quite seen before. A fabric he hadn’t seen before, in fact: rough but durable, with belt loops and pockets that seemed to somehow only increase the casual nature of the garment. Her button up shirt fit just as poorly, bagging at her elbows.
“And you’re so… shabby,” he snapped, turning away. “Fine. I’ll do it my own damn—“
But the girl had already zipped over, picking up two of the four suitcases. “Two hundred fifty cenz,” she said primly. “No takebacks!”
She turned on her heel and headed towards the door. Ed wrinkled his nose, but fuck, the kid had spirit. Might as well. He sighed, reaching down to grip his other two. He had exchanged his Aerugonian pentes for Amestrian cenz on the train, and he had a bunch to spare. Besides, he had plenty more pentes waiting to be exchanged. In the suitcase in her left hand, actually. He squinted at her, but followed.
“So, where you headed? I know the fastest way to get there, guaranteed.”
“I already know the fastest way.” When she glanced back at him, big blue eyes wide, he sighed. “Look, I am from here, okay? At least, I’ve been here before.” Ed grimaced again. “It’s been a while, and I have no idea if I’m ever going to get used to this goddamn smell.” Smoke, automobile emissions, asphalt—the smell of industrialization. He had caught hints of it in the last few countries he had visited, but here it was strongest.
He did feel a little smug at that. Of course Amestris would have moved the fastest. Worked the hardest. Come the farthest.
“You don’t gotta be a jackass about it,” she muttered, rolling her eyes and waiting for him to take the lead. “Really, I can show you—“
“No thanks,” he cut off, striding forward and taking the lead. God, he wanted to be there now. Though the Gilded Hotel had always been a little… pompous for his tastes, no other place in Central had complimentary food for its residents. And it was fucking delicious. They had threatened to stop the practice, after his last visit, but he had promised to leave quietly, and he had most likely been forgotten by now, so…
The streets bustled with an expediency, almost an urgency, and though it merely seemed the sight and sounds of a population focused on efficiency and results, Ed caught something else occasionally. An undercurrent of something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. An exchanged glance between shopkeepers; the sudden stop of a conversation between two sweaty men on their way home from work. A surprising number of people on street corners, clothing dirty and torn, begging for cenz. A noticeable avoidance of Ed’s path, despite no one actually looking directly at him.
Well, fuck him. He wasn’t dressed that weirdly. Yeah, a lot of the Amestrians seemed to have totally fucking sold out and transitioned to the more uniform, simple, casual wear similar to his escort, but c’mon, surely some people still dressed tastefully around here.
Oh, well. Fuck them instead, if they were going to be so… rude. Really, how had it all come to this, where a once-friendly population became so distant? He glared at a skinny white dog that came sniffing up to his pants leg: instead of scurrying away, it bared its teeth and growled.
The girl made a shooing motion at it, and it cringed for a moment, then turned and loped off. Ed watched it out of the corner of his eye, making sure it didn’t come back.
A solid wall of brick met Ed’s face in a most undignified fashion, and he stumbled back, rubbing his cheek and glaring at whatever structure dared to suddenly shoot up in the middle of the street—a fucking rogue alchemist, probably; he’d show them—
A giant, sprawling building, six stories tall and stretching half a block, stood in his way. Where once had been a nice shortcut to the road with the Gilded Hotel…
“What the fuck?”
The girl squinted over at him, as if trying to determine his mental capacity. “Unless you can walk through walls, don’t think we’ll be going that way.”
He took another step back, inspecting it. Apartments. Dozens of them.
“Didn’t—this wasn’t—when did they—!”
She shrugged. “Been a few years at least. Central got so busy, was no place for people to stay. So lots more stores, houses, apartments…” She nodded at it. “Rich folks like to be in the middle of things.”
“Yeah,” Ed muttered. “Like in the middle of the path to my goddamn hotel.”
“And which one’s that?” she asked, voice innocent, and he pressed his lips together. Well, fucking fine. He guessed that he could ask for her help after all.
“Gilded Hotel. Shouldn’t be too far—“
“Oh, I know where it is!” she chirped, then held out a hand.
With a sigh, he reached into his pocket, peeling off two bills and two coins and handing them over to her. She accepted them, then held out her hand again. His scowl deepened, but she didn’t seem to care.
“What’s this for?”
“Adding services. Them’s the breaks.”
He could stand here and argue this girl around, but—he was hungry. He wanted to rest. With a growl, he yanked out two more bills—two hundred cenz—and shoved them into her hand. “C’mon. Let’s fuckin’ go. If I miss their free dinner, I’m gonna be pissed.”
She turned, trotting down the street at a completely different angle. Ed followed as she started up chatter. “You mean that old place? Nah, they haven’t done that for—for years, least as far as I know. I definitely don’t remember it.”
He gaped at her, but seeing as it was at the back of her head, she couldn’t see. “Wha—you mean they don’t give out free food anymore? But that’s the entire point of going!”
She turned back to shoot him an incredulous look. “Free food? In Central? You really do gotta be from far off. That’d be the day.” With a shake of her head, she turned onto a smaller street, leading a sulking Ed along.
Would it even be worth staying there, then? What kind of deals did they offer now? Had they kept their price the same? Like hell he was gonna pay the same for less service. He glared at the ground in front of him, thinking hard. So hard, in fact, that he barely caught the flicker of movement in front of him, and when he did glance up, the girl had vanished.
“Fuck!” he swore, eyes widening as he looked around frantically. All his money, all his notes—fuck! He froze, listening—
And heard a pattering of footsteps of someone running down a side alley.
Ed hissed a foul word in a language not Amestrian, gripping his own pair of suitcases and bolting after her.
He skidded around the corner just in time to see a pair of braids zip around another, and he darted towards it. He had better fucking be able to outrun a little girl! Especially carrying that much shit!
But Central had become even more of a rat warren in his absence, and the alley he turned down was narrow and dark, so much so that he had to angle sideways slightly to dart through the gap. The three branches he passed seemed to have nothing down them.
Ed froze, holding his breath, striving for another hint of a sound…
More footsteps sounded from his left, and Ed took off. The Gilded Hotel might not have free meals anymore, but he was sure as hell going to have one, and it was going to be of little girl when he caught up with her—
He rounded another corner, teeth bared. There.
The girl had stopped, and though she still held the suitcases, she leaned back against the wall, panting. Upon spotting Ed, however, her eyes widened, and she turned to dash away again.
“I don’t fuckin’ think so!” he yelled. He clenched his fists, the left shoved into his pocket, and his flesh fingers met a small, hard, cold object. Though mostly smooth, familiar irregularities pressed into his palm, and as he gripped it, he felt his anger sharpen, his focus hone, and his alchemy leap to his command.
Lifting his foot, he stomped it down onto the pavement.
The ground cracked open, spreading from his shoe and zig-zagging towards her as red bolts of lightning crackled through the air, leaving the faintest whiff of burning. She shrieked and dropped the suitcases to lighten her load, but the ground swallowed her up before she could take another step, snapping shut around her waist.
She threw back her head and screamed.
Ed made a slashing motion through the air, and the sleeves on her shirt unraveled, shooting towards her mouth and stuffing it full of cloth. “Better stop screaming, girl. You know,” Ed admonished loftily, chin lifted, feeling pretty badass if he did say so himself, “if you hadn’t pretended to help me and then tried to jack my shit, you wouldn’t be waist-deep in the mud anyway.”
She spat out the gag, utterly recalcitrant as she glared at him. “I wouldn’t have tried to help you if I had known you were an alchemist.” He narrowed his eyes, finally setting down his suitcases, then stepping forward.
“Hey, I never did fucking anything to you. You’re the thief here, and if you’re gonna steal from someone who clearly just got here and leave ‘em stranded in the middle of a new city, you got what’s comin’ to you.”
She spat at him, and he had to jump back quickly to dodge the spittle. “Fine. I’m done arguing.” With an annoyed sigh, he clapped his hands together, letting the alchemy run through him properly this time. White-blue lightning crackled, and a long blade split through the side of his right sleeve, stretching out and extending from his elbow to past his fingers, then ending in a hook.
The girl made a terrified noise, eyes widening, trying to squirm back in her prison.
“Oh, calm the fuck down,” Ed snapped, turning to pick up his dropped baggage and slipping each handle over his automail protrusion. “You’re not worth enough to bother with, anyway.” He grimaced, rolling his shoulder at how heavy a load it put on the arm, but… he’d be fine.
Suitcases loaded up, he knelt, leaning forward and reaching towards where her pocket vanished into the earth.
“Hey! Stop!” she yelped, trying to slap his hand away, but he elbowed her aside, retrieving his bills.
“Keep the change,” he drawled.
She lunged forward and snapped her teeth in his direction, and he yanked his hand away to avoid being bitten. “Well that’s not very—“
“What is going on here?”
Ed’s head jerked up at the new voice, this one much deeper than either of theirs. Angry, too. And stern. And probably pretty sexy, if the anger was directed towards someone besides Ed. It had better be.
Ed straightened, eyeing the newcomer. A royal blue uniform with white trim and gold braid, the waist cape fluttering dramatically behind him. Ed had always thought it would look better in black and red, but, well, there was no accounting for Amestrian taste. He was glad they had kept the collar design, though. The stars on his shoulders marked him as a colonel, and his imperial demeanor matched that. Oddly enough, the man actually looked Xingese, though he wore his black hair short, as was the Amestrian style (again with poor taste, and ironic besides). He watched Ed with narrowed, black eyes. Apparently, Ed hadn’t been the only one to smell the alchemy. Or maybe the guy had heard the screaming.
“Just handling a little business.” Ed stood, waving his hand dismissively, the bills still in it—and the man’s eyes zeroed in on them.
“It looks to me like you’re robbing a little girl.”
Ed let out a bark of disbelieving laughter. “Oh, please. She tried to rob me first! I’m just defending—“
The girl, of course, promptly let out a sob. “I never! Please, sir, he just came up and—“
“Shut up, you brat!” Ed snapped, gaping as she started to cry. On fucking cue.
“Nina Tucker?” The military man glanced down at her in surprise, and she froze, then glanced back up. So the two knew each other. Yeah, well, it was time for Ed to get the fuck outta here, since the odds seemed to be stacking against Ed.
He turned on his heel and darted around the corner as quickly as Nina had earlier.
The amount of weird stares increased as he stormed through the streets of central with four suitcases on a hooked arm, but at least it made people want to be rid of him quickly—so quickly, in fact, that they gave him instructions to the Gilded Hotel, sending him around new fountains and buildings that he would have been able to navigate himself. He just didn’t want to deal with the aching shoulder as he took the time to do so.
Though the hotel staff shot him furtive, concerned looks as well, they quickly concealed their expressions and rushed to assist him when he announced that he needed a place to stay for quite some time. He rolled his shoulders as they took his suitcases—watching them carefully, of course—and leaned on the wall as the man checked him in.
His eyes took in the place: it didn’t quite live up to its name now; or perhaps it did, but the gilded surface had since peeled away to show the much less impressive material underneath. The once rich wall paintings had faded, some of them painted over completely, some of them darkened by dirt. The chandelier was now missing a good half of its crystals and had been left unlit. Well, shit. An alchemist could have fixed all of this in five minutes; why hadn’t they brought one in? He hoped the rooms were still cleaned. His eyes glanced over to the counter on which the receptionist had placed the book, sliding up the crack in the marble.
As the receptionist turned a page, murmuring about finding an opening, Ed reached out, pressed his finger to the crack, and sent a jolt of alchemy across the desk. As the man leaped back in alarm at the flash of red light, the crack mended, melding together into the seamless, elegant marble that it had once been.
The soft murmured chatter of the room immediately went quiet.
“Can’t get a discount for that, can I?” Ed drawled.
“You’re an alchemist!” the man gasped, jaw dropping, eyes going wide. “An alchemist! Here!”
The murmurs started up again, but this time they all seemed to be variations on the man’s announcement. An alchemist. Would you believe? Is he sure? Is this some sort of trick? Maybe he’s military—no way; look at those odd clothes—
Ed turned his head to see if he could spot and glare at the last speaker, but no luck, so he turned back to the receptionist, who wavered, hesitant.
“Okay, so maybe a discount isn’t somethin’ you can do, but rumor has it that you’ve stopped your free meals, yeah?”
“I…” The man swallowed, looking for all the world like someone who was completely over answering this question. “Yes. A few years ago, Mr. Elric. Food prices have gotten too high—we simply can’t do so without increasing charges for our customers.”
“Hmm.” Ed tilted his head, watching him. Why did everyone seem so shocked to see an alchemist in Amestris? Much as Al would argue otherwise, it was the gem of alchemic knowledge. Surely they couldn’t be that rare. “Tell you what. Consider reinstituting that deal, just for me, and I’ll fix this place up for you.”
The man straightened, glancing around, looking mutedly excited before clearing his throat, settling his expression.
“I’ll ask my manager.”
“Great.” Ed smirked. “In the meantime, how about someone shows me to my room?”
With the promise of free food, Ed got to fucking work.
The chandelier was his first project: he couldn’t create crystals out of nothing, so he went a completely different route. More of a focus on the candles, setting several more branches spreading out from the center. The tarnished brass wasn’t worth fighting with: he went with near-black metal, gleaming attractively in the flashes of the light that did reach it. With all those flames when fully lit by candles, it would go from fire-red to dark gold to black in dramatic flickers. The big crystals just distracted from the intricacy of the design now, making it look garish, so he split them and hung them from the center in dark strands of beaded festoons. Over time, he fleshed it out into proper Aquroyan style, complete with a flourishing finial in the same dark metal.
By the time he finished, he had quite the audience. Well, he supposed that an impeccably dressed young man standing on a platform created from raised earth would do that. Still, were all of these people residents of the hotel?
“Calm down, folks. It’s just alchemy.” He grinned down at them as he lowered the platform back into the ground, waving.
“It’s rare enough to find someone who can do it, though!” an older woman called, peering at him as he stepped down. “You’re not from around here, though, are you?”
Ed sighed as she peered at his clothes. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in Amestris. But yeah, I’m from here. More or less.”
She snorted. “Can’t be that long. You can’t be a day over sixteen—say, what do you say about coming over to fix my sink? I’ll pay!”
Ed grimaced at the assessment. Sixteen? Yeah, right, not even close—
Clamored requests for Ed’s talents sounded in the lobby, and he had to hold his hands up. “Hey, hey, there’s only one of me. And right now, I just got back into town, so I got a lot to do. Hire your local alchemists! I’m sure they’d love the business.”
He fended off other requests and pleas, and eventually the hotel security managed to disperse the crowd. Ed cleared the dirt off the dated paintings—he could leave those, he guessed—and spruced up the staircase a bit (he wouldn’t call it a grand staircase, not after seeing some of the amazing architectural feats of Aerugo, but it was damn impressive), and the lion’s heads on the bases of the bannisters really added to the atmosphere of the place. He had the pointed arches and vaulted ceilings of the inside gleaming in the predicted five minutes, and hell, he was such a generous guy that he decided to tweak the outside, too. It had the white marble thing going on, so he knew that black wasn’t really a viable option (besides the occasional accent, of course). A beveled rose window was a given, of course—what else are you going to do with white marble?—and he finished off the buttresses with gryphon motifs. Among a few other things. Like gargoyles. As a final flourish, he added some triangular stepped battlements, an homage to the architecture of Xerxes, an acknowledgement of from where Amestris had come.
When he stepped back, the place looked more like it—like Amestris—used to. Didn’t fit in with the neighborhood, but who the fuck cared?
“Well,” the manager said slowly, standing next to Ed, looking up at the new and improved Gilded Hotel. “It certainly stands out.”
“Damn straight,” Ed declared cheerfully. “You’re gonna attract a fucking ton of visitors this way. I’ll send my order to the kitchen.” He turned, tilting his head. “So why haven’t you gotten an alchemist in here to fix it before?”
The manager blinked. “You really… aren’t from around here, are you?” He glanced Ed up and down. “You can’t be Isvhalan, but…”
Ed waved his hand. Had his darker skin tone really become so uncommon since he had gone on his wanderings? Come to think of it, most—all of the Amestrians he had seen were so… pale. “I’m from here or there. I used to live here, but it’s been a while.” At the odd look from the manager, Ed glanced away, admiring his handiwork. “Anyway, so what’s with the alchemist shortage?”
“No one studies it anymore.” The man shrugged. “Hard to get hands on the materials, from what I understand, though it’s never really been my area. You might ask around at some of the bookstores. They’d know the laws better’n me.”
Laws? About books? What the fuck was going on in Amestris?
An amazing night, a terrified kitchen staff, a wonderful lunch, and an afternoon of unpacking later, Ed made for the nearest library.
He had tried searching for the nearest alchemical bookstore, but several weird looks put a stop to that task, and he soon found himself on the way to one of the larger libraries in Central. He knew for sure that it had a decent selection of alchemy textbooks—he had made sure of it, last time he was in Central, to make alchemy available to everyone.
But when he went searching for the alchemy section, he found nothing.
After a couple of laps—they might have moved it, or something—he finally tracked down a librarian, the badge on her dress marking her as such but the pile of books around her—and the one that she had her nose in—indicated otherwise. Ed cleared his throat, leaning on the nearby bookshelf.
She promptly shot three feet into the air.
“Oh no—no no!” she gasped, scrambling for the book she had just dropped. “My spot!” She snatched it up, leafed through it frantically, then sighed, shoulders slumping. After a moment, she glanced up, spotting Ed—and promptly froze.
“Oh, I’m sorry, were you—did you need me? Please don’t tell that I was reading!” She reached over and piled the books haphazardly, then popped promptly to her feet. At Ed’s wary glance at the teetering stack, she waved her hand. “It’ll be fine! How can I help you?”
Ed glanced at her name tag. “Yeah. Hi, Sheska. I can’t find your alchemy books. Where’s the section?”
“Alchemy…?” She blinked at him. “We don’t have an alchemy section.”
“Sure you do.” Ed crossed his arms, growing impatient. “I’ve seen it myself.”
She shook her head, sticking a toe out to stop the stack of books from toppling over, trying to nudge it back into place. “Nope. Not since I’ve worked here, and I’ve read every book in this place. I mean, I think we used to, but that was a long time ago…” She paused, squinting at Ed. “Hey, you look familiar. Have we met?”
Ed glanced her up and down; he was pretty sure that he would have remembered meeting someone with her haphazard brown hair and large glasses. “Don’t think so. I just got into town.”
“Oh, that explains it.” She shrugged. “In Amestris, alchemical books are all considered restricted knowledge. Property of the military. If you want any of those, you have to be a member—a State Alchemist, actually, but I mean, without the books to learn, who’s gonna be able to become one…” She trailed off, adjusting her glasses and glancing around.
Ed stared at her, skeptical. State Alchemists were preventing access to books by citizens? What the hell? “You’re sure,” he said flatly. “That it’s the military.” Yeah, he hadn’t been in Amestris for a while, but he had plenty of friends and influence within the State Alchemist program the last time he was, and though he had never been one himself, anyone he knew would have never.
“Oh, definitely sure. They raided one of my favorite bookstores a while back; said it had some Xingese alkahestry book. Turns out it was only a history that mentioned it, their golden sage, kind of like ours, you know…?” She peered at him again. “Actually, speaking of, are you sure we haven’t met?”
“Positive. But back to the—“
“No, that’s it!” She smacked her open palm with her fist in realization. “This way!”
Sheska darted off, and the pile of books crashed over. With an aggravated sigh, he followed; sure, he’d play along, if only to get her back on track…
And then he promptly stopped short.
She had led him to the entryway, a nice affair, clearly old and well-kept, unlike the Gilded Hotel. But that wasn’t what he paid attention to. Following Sheska’s triumphantly pointing finger, his eyes slid up to a portrait hanging in full view of the entrance.
The man in it looked like him. Not passably. Exactly like him. The high ponytail, the sharp eyes, the darker skin—it still weirded him out, how that had changed—the slight scowl. Even the fashion sense, with its dramatic reds and blacks, white gloves covering what might very well have been automail.
How the hell had he missed that?
Other patrons began to stop and stare—with a girl pointing dramatically in the middle of the room, who wouldn’t?—and then turning to Ed, murmuring their surprise and confusion.
“That’s our founder! He built this library for the citizens of Amestris. You look a lot like him, actually! See, he believed—“
“I know the story,” Ed muttered, glancing around. Even more people had stopped to stare at him, and a couple were coming closer. What the fuck was that painting doing there? He had never been told—but anyway. “Yeah, uh, I have—my relative—“ Shit, how many generations would that have been? He wasn’t used to having to scramble like this. “I’m descended—“
She gasped with delight, spinning with stars in her eyes as she beamed at him. “Your ancestor was the great—!“
“Actually,” Ed said loudly. “I think you’ve made a mistake. I’m just gonna—anyway, see you later.”
As he turned on his heel—again—he thought that he was really doing way more running since coming to Amestris that was even close to fair.
“Move along, kid. Go play in a fountain or something.”
Ed’s lips twisted in disgust as he glared at the soldier guarding the Central Military complex. The heart of the city, the seat of the government, and no civilians allowed?
“I’m fuckin’ older than you,” he snarled, more tired than angry. The soldier couldn’t be more than mid-twenties at the most; it wasn’t Ed’s fault he had a… baby face.
“I don’t care if you’re my own grandma,” the guy drawled back. “No civilians, not until the Assembly of Protector Generals determine that the threat has passed.”
Ed crossed his arms. “The fuck is a Protector General?”
The soldier glared back. “If you’re going to visit Amestris, at least bother to learn about its government. They run our country. Better than—what do you have in yours, a king? Ours take care of our people.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Ed snapped, glancing back over his shoulder. He had never seen the road in front of Central Command so empty, and the few people who did walk past averted their eyes determinedly. Even the homeless, who Ed had continued to see on nearly every street in Central, gave this area a wide berth. “Doesn’t it just have Protectors? Aren’t they supposed to be in charge? Whatever happened to them?”
“Look, if you don’t stop harassing me, I’ll have no choice but to report you as a threat to security and have you detained.”
Ed’s eyebrows shot up, then his eyes narrowed. “Who the fuck do you think you are, abusing your power like that? You’re part of the fucking military! You were just jawing on about protecting the people and being there for them! I’d like to see you fucking try!”
The soldier’s eyes narrowed. “Look, I’ve still got a while on guard duty, and you probably don’t want to spend the night in a jail cell. If you walk away now, we can both forget that this ever happened.”
“Is that so?” Ed scoffed. “What’s the matter? You too afraid to take me on?” He leaned in, glancing over at the rank stripes on the man’s shoulders and smirking. “Private?”
A beat, then the man’s hand darted out to wrap around Ed’s wrist, clenching hard. If he had grabbed the flesh hand, it might have—oh, okay, he grabbed the flesh wrist, and ow.
Ed found both wrists bound behind his back. Since when did soldiers carry handcuffs?
“In the name of Amestrian military, I am detaining you under proclamation…”
At least Ed wasn’t facing him; that way, he wouldn’t see Ed’s smirk.
This wasn’t even close to the first night he had spent in jail.
Not that he’d be spending the entire night, of course. But he’d done this before. They were planning on leaving him with an uncomfortable cot to sleep on, and the next morning, letting him go with a slap on the wrist and a lecture about how he had hopefully “learned his lesson.” They hadn’t even processed him or asked his name, just tossed him in a cell. Clear indication that they didn’t actually give that much of a shit.
Just made it easier for him to vanish once things settled down a bit.
He killed a few hours with a nap—as predicted, the cot was plenty uncomfortable, but Ed could sleep anywhere—and as the sun went down, as the place filtered out, he planned his escape.
Really, he just made his escape. They didn’t even have anyone in guarding him. What the hell. He didn’t run into anyone at all until a few transmuted sets of bars and doors later, when he spotted the soldier who had arrested him and the superior who had supervised his incarceration. He ducked into an alcove and let them pass, listening in on their conversation.
“You’re sure he’s foreign.”
“Fairly, sir. His clothes, and he spoke about Amestris like it was a different country than his own.”
“Better for us, then. No one to look for him if he simply vanishes.”
Ed froze, forgetting even to breathe.
“Understood, sir. I’ll make the necessary arrangements.”
“Excellent, Private Douglas. You did well to inform me. Dismissed.”
Ed stayed still and silent for several more moments. He would really like not to start a fight here, for once. Contrary to popular belief, he did understand the value of stealth. Especially when people wanted to fucking kill him for—for what, mouthing off?
The voices eventually receded into the distance, and Ed crept forward.
No sign of anyone. He went the opposite way of the soldiers, peering around until—there. A locker room. And the lockers were labeled. Ed quickly found the one labeled “Douglas,” transmuted off the lock, cursed the obnoxious private’s obnoxious size, and made some quick alterations.
He always had looked good in these, he though, as he examined himself in the mirror. Not that he would have ever actually joined the military, but… well, sometimes you gotta wear what the locals do.
No one gave him a second glance as he sauntered out of the detention center.
At least he remembered the layout of Central Command well enough. They had expanded in the time since he had visited, but the main wing of the military’s library remained in the same place as ever—though it surprised him with how quiet it had become. Even in the evenings, he would have expected to see it bustling with visitors, military and civilian alike, sharing knowledge and researching and basking in the greatest bastion of knowledge in Amestris—arguably on the continent (suck it, Al).
But he caught sight of, at most, six to eight patrons, all soldiers—and all men; what the hell?—browsing its shelves and sitting at its tables.
Clearing his throat, he stepped up to the circulation desk.
The man sitting in the chair glanced up, clearly bored. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah. I just transferred in from, uh, East City. I was wonderin’ if I could take a look at your alchemy section.”
“Signed approval from a colonel or higher?” the man droned, glancing at Ed’s shoulder ranks and holding out his hand.
Ed stared at it. “Huh?”
“You’ll need a signed permission form from a Colonel or higher.” The man pushed a stack of papers over towards Ed, who glanced down at them and promptly choked.
“You gotta fill out all of this? Shit, this’ll take weeks!” He could have done it with alchemy, he guessed, but anyone else?
The librarian glared up at Ed. “That’s the rule. What kind of circus are they running out at East City?”
“I—“ Ed hesitated, then shrugged, smirking casually. “We ain’t got shit out there, honestly. Never really came up. Just thought I’d poke my nose into it now that I’m stationed somewhere with resources.”
“You thought you’d ‘poke your nose’ into a restricted subject,” the man repeated flatly. “Just on a whim.”
Though the skeptical tone left Ed gritting his jaw, he shrugged again. “Shit, I didn’t know Central was the home of an Inquisition. Like I said, we’ve got fuck all in East City. Just tryin’ to suss out the rules here. Why’s it restricted?”
The man placed his hand over the stack of forms and drew it back towards himself, watching Ed warily. “How long were you in East City?”
“Since I enlisted. Never been to Central, actually,” he added, playing up his Eastern accent. “Was just wonderin’. Everything’s so new and big.”
“Alchemical study is restricted due to its high level of threat assessment. It has historically been used to carry out attacks on both civilians and military and government officials, so head Protector General Bradley decreed that the sale or distribution of alchemical texts would be prohibited, and that only State Alchemists or those with the proper permissions would be able to access them. If you have a problem with that, you’ll need to take it up with the Brigadier General.” At Ed’s blank stare, he sighed and continued. “The head of the State Alchemist program.”
Ed didn’t even know where to fucking start with that. This Brigadier General figure seemed like a real fucker—how the hell were you supposed to get more State Alchemists when you wouldn’t let anyone study alchemy? Unless that was the point, warping and twisting the ideals of the State Alchemists—be thou for the people, dammit—to get more power themselves. And since when had alchemy “historically” been used to attack civilians and—and there was this fucking Protector “General” shit again—wait—
“Head Protector General?” Ed sputtered. “Like a single leader? Since fucking when—“
“Whose unit did you say you were with?” the man cut in, watching Ed with renewed suspicion. “Come to think of it, I haven’t heard of any recent transfers.”
“I didn’t,” Ed replied, trying to force his voice back to “casual.” “Not important. Sorry, was just—like I said. Rules are stuff I gotta get used to.” He started to head towards the door. Maybe he could sneak in—the books had to be here somewhere. Or maybe go bully a high-ranked official into telling him how the fuck all of this had happened.
“Wait just a minute.”
Of course, he’d have to get out of here first.
He ignored the command, keeping his walk casual. The guy could have been talking to any one of the… six to eight other people in the library. He focused determinedly on the entrance, doing his best to look like he belonged.
“Hold it! That’s an order, private!”
He quickened his step just a little.
“Hey, you two—someone stop that man!”
Okay, time to run.
He bolted out the door the moment the man shouted, hearing booted feet crash along behind him, and immediately dodged right. He debated a quick change of clothes, to get them off his track, but honestly, he would be much more conspicuous on the military campus in something besides the uniform. He skidded around the library’s corner, squeezed through a passage between two buildings, then slowed as he turned the corner, quickly tugging his hair out of its tie and braiding it over his shoulder to disguise himself a little. He fell into step with a couple more soldiers, all turning in for the evening, tucking his hands into his pockets and ducking his head as he ambled on.
Ed’s cover of people looked up, glancing over at two men running up to them. Ed did the same, though out of the corner of his eye, keeping his face angled away just in case—
“We have an intruder in Central Command. He seems to have stolen a uniform and is impersonating a private. Keep on a high alert; we have reason to suspect that he is here to harm the Protector Generals, possibly even head Protector General Bradley himself.”
They really needed to get a fucking better name than “Head Protector General.” What a fucking lousy mouthful.
“The suspect is male, long blond hair, likely tied back in a ponytail. Golden blond; an unusual shade that shouldn’t be too hard to spot, and eyes to match. Speaks with an Eastern accent. He appears to be quite short—“
Ed whirled at that, gasping in outrage, but knew better than to yell in protest. Still, someone caught his eye, did a double take, and peered at him.
“Hey, I haven’t seen you before…”
The other man, also blond but with short hair and chewing on a cigarette, also had an Eastern accent. That caused a few more people to turn, his appearance causing a few murmurs. “Hey, that looks like…”
Al would have told him that he was an idiot. Al would have told him that he had ages of experience, and that he should know better, and how to keep cool by now. But then again, Al probably wouldn’t have gone through with this crazyass plan in the first place. And Ed—well, he fucking panicked, okay?
He wound back with his right hand—the automail one—and popped the guy in the nose.
He fell back with a strangled yowl, clutching his bleeding nose. Everyone else froze in shock, which gave Ed the moment he needed to run—again, fucking again—in the vague direction of the exit. He hoped.
And the chase was on.
Your basic angry soldiers, Ed could outrun. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the same when you had a military campus on high alert, lights pouring out of windows and in your general direction. Or your exact direction. Fuck.
Catching cries of “over here!” and “cut him off!”, Ed made for the nearest building, barreling through the door and transmuting it back behind him—
“Hey! What the hell are you doing in here!”
Ed whirled, panting, and caught sight of a short, outraged man in a lab coat.
“Just takin’ a shortcut,” he drawled, shoving past the scientist (presumably) and heading further into the building. Wall, wall, all he needed was another wall and—
“Security!” the man shrieked. “Intruder!” A few moments later, a blaring siren rang out through the building, a voice coming on over the loudspeaker. “Intruder in the labs! Stop him at all costs!”
More crashing sounded from behind and around him, and he veered to the right just in time to avoid being clotheslined by a very startled looking officer. He burst through another door, skidding to a halt when he nearly crashed into stacks of cages.
Chimeras. Dozens of them, each crammed into a cage too small for any sort of comfort, looking hungry and angry and sad—Ed’s breath caught, and he froze, fury rushing over him. How fuckin dare—what in the fucking world did they think they were—
“There he is!”
It was his anger that drove him to do it. Normally, he would have thought, hey, these guys can’t be that bad. In with some not cool stuff, but not evil. Seeing those chimeras, however…
Ed crashed his hands together again, then gripped the bars of one of the cages. Bolts of alchemy shattered through the air, sending the doors to the cages flying open. Without looking back, he sent the alchemic reaction arcing towards the opposite wall, carving out a gap just small enough through which Ed could fit.
He did pause at that, at the anguished cry from behind him, a woman’s desperate voice. But when he turned, he could only see the soldiers scrambling out of the room, not a single woman among them.
Much as he would have liked to stay and ruminate on how Amestris seemed to have gotten way more fucking sexist lately, he also had bunches of angry chimeras to avoid. Ed darted through the hole in the wall, turning to seal it up—
Something hard and metal plowed into the side of his face, sending him flying an impressive distance and slamming into the wall with a nasty crack and an explosion of pain.
“What’s this? A rat?”
Ed groaned, feeling things shift in ways that they probably shouldn’t have as he pushed himself off the wall, then staggered forward, lifting his hand to wipe a line of blood away from the corner of his mouth and glaring up at his attacker.
“Hardier than you look, eh?” The man glared across at him, bald head gleaming in the nearby lights. And the mustache—what the fuck was up with that mustache?
“Gotta say the same for you,” Ed drawled back. “How many times you come close to puttin’ an eye out with that thing?” He settled into a fighting stance, crouching, balling his fists.
The man lifted his hands, and Ed could see his metal gauntlets—so that had been what had clobbered Ed. In a display of strength, he punched them together, apparently to show how fucking tough he was or something. “You will suffer for your disrespect.”
“Respect you? How could I, with that facial hair? They look like whiskers.” Smirking, Ed made a “meowing” noise as he waited for the fight to—
The man slammed his gauntlets into the… wall? What the hell? As Ed stared in bewilderment, noting the insignia on his shoulders—Brigadier General!—he didn’t pay attention to the wall beside himself.
Unfortunate, because the alchemy chose that moment to take effect.
The stone and metal warped, bulged, and within moments, Ed found himself facing an arsenal of massive guns, all pointed at him, and without any time to dodge.
Ed dove in a downward direction as the artillery opened fire, but not quickly enough to avoid the spray of bullets. His automail arm took the brunt of it, hand shattering completely, forearm hanging from the elbow joint by a couple of wires. Others grazed him—his back, his neck, his leg—and some hit directly, burying deep into his flesh with ripping agony, cracking ribs and severing muscle and tearing up his good thigh, too. He tried unsuccessfully to choke back a scream as two struck his automail port, sending explosions of pain electrifying through every nerve of his body as he collapsed to the ground, writhing mindlessly.
And in the absence of his mind, others’ awoke.
Despite his rage from earlier—his rage now—this was not the same. His was a water droplet in comparison to the roaring tidal wave gathering in and crashing over him, nearly sending him levitating off the ground to his feet. He managed one ragged, choked, agonizing gasp before he lifted his head, teeth bared as red light began to shimmer around his fingers, then arms, crackling across every part of his body like a warm, exhilarating buzz. Bullets scattered when he straightened, one working its way free of his jaw with an audible clink as it dropped to the ground.
Bloody and torn and filled with the rage of a white hot sun, Ed lifted his hand—and let go.
Holes ripped themselves in the ground, turning into a maze of crevasses and spikes that sent the man crashing down. The alchemy, the rank—this fucker had tried to kill Ed, and he was the head of the State Alchemist program?
Monster. Look at him, abusing his power. To the people.
When Ed came to, staring at the moving earth, teeth gritted, he realized that his hand had found its way into his pocket, wrapped around something cold and hard and smooth and familiar. Of course it had. He pried his fingers free, lifting them again to ready himself.
The man rolled out of the way just as a mass of rubble collapsed onto the spot where he had just been.
Ed lunged forward, knowing that he must look like a nightmare, eyes glowing red, an aura surrounding him as he dipped into his alchemy like a well, yanking it out in fistfuls to cast it over to the man’s weapon construction, warping it, aiming it again—
This was his alchemy. It did not control him. He slid his hand into his pocket again, gripping his focus until it warmed.
Ed tugged the alchemy back, drew it into him, barely noticed the shocked and terrified expression on the other man’s face. When he saw Ed start to disintegrate the contraption, however, the man slammed his fists together, transmuting a knife, and flung it towards Ed.
Ed simply turned his head, leaning away slightly. The knife whirled past, nicking a graze of blood into Ed’s cheek, but otherwise did no harm.
“What are you?” the man hissed, stumbling backwards.
“It’s not who I am.” Ed narrowed his eyes, voice low as he stepped forward. “It’s what I do.”
With another sharp gesture, the ground split open yet again, swallowing the man as it had Nina. This time, however, it snapped up his arms as well, slamming shut on them with a force that cracked the gauntlets like Ed would crack a peanut shell.
The Brigadier General struggled, eye wide and panicked, as Ed continued to walk forward—and then froze, they both did, when a growl rang out through the air.
Apparently, Ed’s opening hadn’t been too small for other things to find their way out.
The man took up his struggle again, a downright thrash this time, and Ed reversed his advance as three chimeras padded up out of the darkness. Lizard, lion, wolf—Ed couldn’t begin to identify all of the animals that made them up.
“Release me this instant!” the man snarled, twisting to look behind him, then back at Ed, glaring. “You are surrounded. There is no chance of your escape, not with Central Command on alert. If you want to avoid the firing squad, you will turn yourself over, and recapture this military property—“
“You know,” Ed interrupted, voice still calm and low as he stared impassively down at the man. “If you were smart, you’d learn to keep your mouth shut when it really mattered.” Though, he supposed it didn’t, in this case. Someone like this, with a high rank, clearly abusing his power and complicit in grotesque experiments?
Ed didn’t want to watch this. He turned away, still feeling the anger and alchemy course through him, blocking out as best he could the sound of snarls and screams and, later, tearing sounds behind him.
He reached into his pocket again, fingers finding what they sought, gripping it yet again. After a minute of considering, Ed reached out with his free hand, made a flicking motion, and the ground opened yet again.
This time, after it slammed shut, there was no noise to be heard, not besides the distant shouts of the soldiers regrouping, trying to find Ed again. The noise from the guns would likely draw them in, so he headed quickly in another direction. He had dodged his immediate pursuers; at this point, if he kept his head down, walked slowly, he could probably make it to the wall without any trouble.
And they certainly wouldn’t find any trace of the Brigadier General to tell them where Ed had gone, either.
Ed finally unballed his good fist to transmute his injuries closed, examining himself in the mirror and sending red sparks skittering over bullet holes, leaving pink flesh in their wake. He gritted his teeth as bones ground and fused, sending sharp bursts of pain up his side. He closed his eyes, trying to shove it away. He hated this part, he really did, but he needed his ribs.
He dumped the uniform onto his floor—he’d fix it later—and peeled off his proper clothes soaked with sweat and blood. Unloading its pockets of precious cargo, he hopped into the shower, rinsing off dirt and blood and letting his muscles unknot in the spray of warm water.
And there he seethed.
He could feel his warm breath, the steam of the shower, across his lips, and for a moment he wanted to breathe fire. Chimeras. There had been chimeras in that alchemic lab. That State Alchemist had known about them. How the fuck had the military gotten into something so… depraved? While he would have rather gone hungry than actually joined the State Alchemists, he had worked with many, so very many, across the years. True, you’d run into the occasional bad apple, but they usually got weeded out and the rest had been good people. The military had been founded on the principle of protection and defense of civilians. When had that fucking turned into disappearing people? Into shooting on sight? Yeah, he might have broken in, but they were the ones who had made it necessary.
He massaged shampoo into his hair, scrubbing it fiercely, and then started in on the conditioner—a nice luxury, after traveling for so long. It helped, a bit, as he scrubbed up and slowly relaxed—much as it pissed him off to only have the one arm to do it with. Still, alchemy did a hell of a job where other things didn’t, and if he had to transmute some soap away after he stumbled out of the shower, well…
Well, he didn’t really have anything to say about that. Too fucking tired.
He collapsed on the bed, staring dully at the ceiling before turning to glare at his right arm—or what was left of it, jagged bits of metal and exposed wiring, maybe half of a bicep left, if he was being generous. This was exactly what he had wanted his first week in Amestris. A dead State Alchemist, a costly automail repair bill, and a government that was quickly looking to be up to no good.
The only upside he could see was that he got free breakfast in the morning.
Ed shoved open the door to the automail mechanic’s, listening to the bell tinkle. He squinted around. Empty.
He waited for a few moments to see if someone would respond to the bell, taking the place in. A damn mess, really, with concrete floor, exposed ceiling, and all sorts of wires and half-finished limbs and tools and god knew what else hanging from walls and ceilings, piled on shelves. He couldn’t even begin to see the layout of the place, not with how many twists and turns and “hallways” the shelves seemed to create, and it seemed to have at least four rooms branching off. More, if the view from outside was any indication. Nostalgia twinged in his chest, just a bit; while he had no doubt this place’s operation room was spotless, all automail mechanics seemed to breed clutter in a similar fashion.
“Anyone here?” he called, impatient. “I walked two miles with a busted arm in a hot-ass jacket to get here, the sign said you were open, so—“
“I’m sure your problem is a true tragedy. The truest tragedy in Central, in fact.”
A dark haired man with impressive arms and a scruffy beard-mustache combo rounded the corner, lifting a hand to wipe grease off his face. He only succeeded in smearing it further.
Ed froze at the motion, eyes widening as a breath of memory seized him, an image of someone else—
“Damn straight it is,” he snapped, yanking the aforementioned jacket off in a dramatic show of fluttering red cloth.
“Holy shit,” the mechanic sputtered. “The hell’d you do to that thing?”
“Fight with the military,” Ed deadpanned. He didn’t feel like expending the energy he would need to lie, and the odds of the man believing him…
The mechanic smirked, shaking his head. “Good one, kid. Sense of humor, even if I can already tell you’re gonna be a disaster. Jacob Ballara. I’d shake, but…” He shot Ed’s automail a meaningful look.
“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered. “Fucking rub it in.” He had enough experience squirming out of things one-armed that he managed to tug off his shirt without being prompted, following the mechanic through twists and turns of piled machinery over to what had to be the workbench and hopping on top of it. “Edward Elric.”
“Demanding little shit, ain’t you,” Jacob muttered, following.
“I’ve got cenz that say—“
“I mean, what a kind, understanding customer. Truly, my humble shop is honored by your presence.”
“Clearly it’s in sore need of a witty tongue. I’d be happy to provide it.”
“Sore need of smartassery, maybe.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say—ow!”
“Oops,” Jacob said flatly, holding the remnants of Ed’s detached arm up for inspection. “Should I have warned you?”
“Nope,” Ed gritted out. “’M fine. Totally fine.”
Jacob continued to look over the arm, making disapproving “hmm” noises that Ed knew all too well. He carried it over to a worktable, picking up a wrench and beginning to fiddle with a few pieces.
“Yeah, this’ll take a while. I’ll write up a bill for you. You wanna wait or come back and pick it up?”
Ed thought about walking the streets with a missing arm, already standing out plenty, drawing that much more attention to himself. He thought about the hypervigilance of this Amestris’ military, of what might have spread about last night’s activities and their perpetrator.
Jacob shrugged, grabbing some goggles, switching on the radio, and getting to work.
Ed watched the radio with fascination. Though an Aerugonian had invented the device, she had been in Amestris when she had done it, studying at one of Rush Valley’s technological centers. Radios had only just started to make their way past Amestris’s borders and outward. He had seen one in Aerugo, near the end of his stay, but hadn’t gotten a chance to look at it close up.
Winry would have loved it.
He listened, enraptured, to the two voices coming out of the radio, and quickly realized that he should have definitely tried this earlier—he learned more about Amestris in five minutes than he had in the past few days.
“So from what we’ve heard, food shortages have reached a historical high, despite the predicted bountiful harvests this year. Unconfirmed rumors report that the military has been requisitioning unprecedented amounts of crops at a reduced rate, leaving many of us wondering how those farmers are going to afford next season’s planting costs. What do you think, Sean?”
“Well, Veronica, we’ve received the reports that military recruitment is up three hundred percent, both due to the shrinking job market leaving only the one opportunity and the military’s drive for new members. Whether this is due to the ostensible border guard the Head Protector General has insisted we need, we can’t know, but Brigadier General Mustang, always with our interests at heart, continues to speak out against such exorbitant spending. ‘If we can afford to hire so many more recruits, we can afford to pay market price for produce,’ he said in a recent press release. And thank god that we have someone like him up in Central Command.”
Ed stared at the radio, a little numb—too numb by now to be surprised. When had a military member with the people’s interests at heart become unusual?
“One man ain’t gonna change shit,” Jacob muttered from where he was bent over Ed’s arm, untangling and stripping wires. “Nice to know he’s got our backs, maybe, but just a matter of time before they do him like they do the others.”
“The others?” Ed asked, a little dully. He thought back to the conversation he had overheard about his own incarceration; the question was mostly for show. Jacob didn’t even answer.
The radio continued to blather on, talking about the state of Amestris. At this point, none of it surprised Ed. More about the military—the two hosts seem to have reached their limit with criticism, because they moved on to actions that put the military in a more favorable light, such as an attack stopped, a town protected, a group of dangerous criminals apprehended.
When the fuck had they combined the military and police, Ed wondered distantly. Even he had known that was a stupid idea. But come to think of it, he hadn’t seen any police around at all, and on inquiring of Jacob—
“It’s been that way as long as I can remember. From what I’ve heard, there was some trouble with whose jurisdiction was what. Never a good idea to get into it with the military over anything, really, but they didn’t know that. Next thing they knew, you got a huge scandal with corruption all up in the higher ranks of police, and the military just swallowed ‘em on up.”
“Of course they did,” Ed murmured. “So all that—that talk, what we’ve heard in Aerugo, about the military being for the people?”
Jacob snorted. “I’m pretty sure that we all knew that weren’t the case after Ishval.”
The two of them went quiet at that. Ishval. Ed knew the word, and had no doubt that every Amestrian in this country did the same. Their darkest hour, one that left what felt like a mass of writhing snakes in his gut at—at the responsibility.
The silence stretched on, and Ed turned around to go sit on the workbench as he watched Jacob continue to mend the arm.
“And—what? Hold on a moment, viewers.” Ed did, not realizing that he was holding his breath, and then Veronica’s voice crackled to life again, urgency filling her tone. “We’ve just gotten reports that a riot seems to have broken out in the commercial district. While they seem to be due to the recent price increase we mentioned, we don’t have any confirmation yet—“
“The hell’re you doing?”
Ed paused, turning to look wildly back at Jacob, already halfway to the door. “I’m going to help, you dimwit!” he snapped, glaring furiously. “There’s a riot, or didn’t you hear?”
“’Course I heard.” The radio crackled to life again (“We’re hearing that there are hundreds of people, all out in full force, many of them armed with sticks and fire pokers and whatever they could—“) but Jacob raised his voice. “And what good are you gonna do them? Sit your ass down, you one-armed idiot. You’ll just add to the mess. I don’t care how good you usually are.”
Ed nearly told him to stuff Ed’s arm up his ass, poised to run out the door, wound so tightly he nearly trembled—
And then thought about what the sight of him, wielding circle-less alchemy like a weapon, might do to an already agitated populace, both short and long-term. He might not be in military blue, but would it be much different to them, given what he had learned about the rarity of civilian alchemists?
A younger Ed might have charged out there, damn the consequences, he had people to help. But this Ed—he had memories. A desert city, barely eking by, ruled by a tyrant, freed—and then collapsed. His own alchemy, sought out so desperately that he had seen people trample over their neighbors in an attempt to gain it for themselves. Standing out had its advantages, and even when it didn’t, Ed tended to do so anyway. But with consequences this dire… Ed already had blood on his hands. Plenty of it. He didn’t need any more.
“You clearly got in enough trouble here already. No need to add more to the pile.”
More recent memories, ones of last night, flashed through his mind. The Brigadier General. The soldiers, on the hunt for him—for his blood. No telling who might be out there.
With a swallow, Ed stepped back over towards the workbench, hanging onto the radio’s every word.
Ed listened to the coverage without another word. Though Jacob shot the radio distasteful looks, clearly wanting to turn it off as the announcers rambled frantically, he didn’t actually do so, for which Ed was grateful. He clenched his fist as Sean and Veronica relayed, in hushed voices, the measures that the military was taking to restrain the civilians, sometimes bloody, sometimes violent, eventually reading off official releases from the military in stilted voices, informing all listeners that no disruption of the peace would be tolerated and that these perpetrators would soon be brought to justice.
He did eventually stick his head outside, swearing to a glaring Jacob that he wasn’t going to get involved, just make sure that the riot wasn’t getting too close to them—the commercial district was only a few blocks away—and caught a glimpse of it when he walked those few blocks, catching sight of a mass of people through a perimeter that the military had set up. They didn’t seem to be able to get through—yet—but that didn’t stop the noise, the dull roar of something that seemed more machine than human, the shouts and screams—“We need food! Our children are starving!”—of desperation.
Ed couldn’t agree with what they were doing, but how could he blame them, either? The real enemy had set themselves up to be poised as the heroes, stopping these injustices and protecting the good, law-abiding citizen.
“We’ll be okay for now,” Ed muttered to Jacob as he slunk back in through the door, the tinkling of the bell disconcertingly cheerful for the situation. “Don’t think they’ll get past the barrier, but if they do, I dunno what can save us.”
Jacob finished peering at a screw, then set it down. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“Wouldn’t worry—fuck, did you miss the giant riot outside?”
Instead of responding verbally, Jacob pointed at the radio, then returned to work.
“—And the State Alchemists have just arrived onto the scene, wading into the thick of things!”
Ed could feel the blood drain from his face, the anxiety turn his chest to stone as he remembered his encounter with the awful man from last night.
“Oh, god,” he whispered. “They’re gonna kill them.”
Jacob paused, then turned, staring at Ed like he was crazy. “What the hell? The alchemists? They can take on plenty more than—“
“No, no,” Ed choked out, reconsidering his plans to interfere. “The alchemists are gonna kill the rioters. It’ll be a massacre—“
Jacob lifted his goggles, and Ed didn’t understand the perplexed expression on his face. “The alchemists are the only thing that can solve this godforsaken problem. It’s a shock they didn’t bring ‘em in already. Best way to end this without bloodshed.”
Ed stared at him, feeling as if his world had just been flipped upside-down and inside-out—again. “But—but the military is the one causing the problems. The alchemists, wouldn’t they be the attack dogs? From what I’ve seen…”
“Hey, watch your damn mouth! Dunno what State Alchemists you’ve been talking to, but they’re what’s left of the best of the military. Be thou for the people and all that. They’ll get this fixed within the hour. Mark my words.”
“But the Brigadier General…” Ed began slowly. “He’s one of the good ones, too?”
“One of the best! We were just talking about him. Brigadier General Mustang, remember? He’s probably out there now, settling the crowd. Hell, he might be able to sort this out with just who he is. He doesn’t get out enough that people know him by sight, but if word gets around that he’s out there, trying to stop this, I doubt most folk will have the stomach to keep going.”
Ed thought back to last night again. Somehow, he doubted that knowledge would spread, at least not truthfully. Had he already done it? Had he already fucked things up in Amestris? He had sworn to himself, ages ago, that he wouldn’t do this. He wouldn’t get involved in politics, he wouldn’t make a country’s decisions for them. Each time he had gotten even close to skirting that rule, disaster had followed close behind. Now was not the time to start breaking it.
Even if Amestris was his home.
“How much longer you got?” Ed mumbled, reaching out to switch the radio off.
“Not too much longer. Whoever built this thing knew what they were doing; bit of an older design, but what was left of the parts fit together like a dream, and I’ll bet it looks pretty similar to what you had.”
Ed peered over, and his eyes lit up at the sight. Not perfectly the same, no, and the fingers still needed some work, but it was at least recognizable now.
“This is Rockbell work, ain’t it?”
Ed froze at the name, watching Jacob, who didn’t look up. “I… yeah, it is.”
“Though I recognized it. Practically a standard these days, but nothing beats the originals. Hope I’m doing it justice.” Jacob leaned back, turning in his chair to wrap an arm around Ed’s waist and tug him in.
“Woah, hold the fuck up—really not lookin’ for romance right now—“
“Calm your ego. Your port’s damaged.” He reached out with his other hand to wiggle a piece of metal, pulling it free. “That definitely shouldn’t come out.”
Ed snatched it back with his good hand, wedging it back in there and letting a spark of red fuse it to the remaining metal. “There. Fixed?”
Jacob snorted. “Hardly. You’re gonna want to go back to the Rockbells to get this one repaired. It’ll do you for now, but with the damage you’ve got, I’d just make it worse if I tried to fix it. Can do some basic work that’ll keep it functional, but it’ll give you trouble the longer you go without talking to the person who put it in.” He pulled back, eyeing Ed. “Unless you wanna have the port pulled out and the surgery redone.”
Ed let out a very visible shudder, feeling himself pale at the thought. “No fuckin’ way. Do what you can.”
Jacob nodded, returning to the detached hand. “When I’m done with this.” He paused, clearly considering something, then, “An alchemist? Gonna go for the State Alchemist’s exam?”
“Not a damn chance,” Ed snapped firmly, turning away to stomp over across the room. “Just tell me when you’re done.”
The commercial district didn’t even begin to resemble the bustling, rambling set of charming and mismatched buildings and stands Ed had seen his first day in Central.
His return to the hotel last night had taken him past the mess, but military had still been cleaning up what remained after the riot had broken up and the low light had made it nearly impossible to see anything. Now, upon his return, the carnage spread out under the rising sun left his chest hollow, unable to breathe for several moments at the sight.
Though he saw no bodies—they would have been removed, if there had been fatalities; Ed hadn’t listened long enough to find out if there were—the scene resembled the destruction of battlefields that Ed had walked afterwards, shattered wood and glass and scattered rocks strewing what might have once been called streets. He inhaled sharply, gut churning as he saw a few people picking through the ruins.
Ed stepped up to one of them, an older woman digging through a heap of smashed fruit.
“You… are you all right? Can I help with anything?”
She straightened immediately, lifting her arms defensively and glaring. “I haven’t got nothing for you! I’m armed!” She scrambled through her pocket, and though Ed could have easily disarmed her in the meantime, he chose to step back instead as she pulled out a small knife. Ed winced, not at the weapon, but at the fact that she so readily went for one.
“I don’t want any trouble, ma’am. I’m just here to see if there’s anything I can do to help anyone here.”
She watched him for a few moments, suspicion clear in her eyes, then “hmph”ed as she shoved the knife back into her pocket. “Not unless you can get me a new stall and new stock, lad. Rioting for food, but doesn’t look like they took a single piece, just decided to smash it to smithereens. Who ever heard of nonsense like that?”
Ed stepped back, bringing his hand to his mouth and taking it all in consideringly. He recognized the fruits, he was pretty sure, and though he hadn’t done this specifically before…
“Excuse me.” Nudging past her, he stepped forward, clapping his hands together, and shoved them both right down in the mess.
“What the hell—!”
The woman’s voice cut off as white light shone from the pile, streaming from Ed’s fingers—not that you could see it, given the muck they were buried in, but. Ed tweaked his transmutation a bit, drawing from what he knew of Xingese alkahestry (shut up, Al) and its connection with living (or once-living, in this case) things to pull together cells and seeds and skin and flesh and—
Apples, lemons, melons, peaches, cherries, berries—a veritable wealth of fresh produce slowly took shape as Ed guided them back together. He might have found a grape-fig mix fascinating, but this woman’s customers might not have such an exquisite palate. He moved on to the pile of wood nearby: he doubted that all of it was there, but he could stretch it out, make it fit, form it into something resembling a fruit stand, even if it didn’t look like the original.
Finished, he drew back, beaming at his handiwork.
“Holy hell! You’re one of them alchemists!”
“Yes I am.” Ed beamed at her, at the stunned gawping. “Here to help you folks out.”
The shock transformed into a grin, and she threw her arms around his neck, dragging him down and hugging him tightly.
“Hey, watch it, lady—“
“Everyone, we’ve got an alchemist out to help! And lordy, look at his eyes!”
Ed winced as people dropped what they were doing and meandered over, finally managing to get free of her grip and breathe again. They murmured as they caught a glimpse: Ed’s eyes, gleaming with the gold of a glittering sunset, had always attracted attention, even moreso in Amestris, where their tale of a golden scholar who founded the country permeated many aspects of its history. Add that to his unusual alchemical abilities—the scholar had supposedly taught Amestris alchemy as well—and you had a bit of an awkward situation, despite Amestris’s founding being hundreds of years ago. People were superstitious or something.
“Okay, okay, yeah yeah, I get it.” Ed waved them off, trying his best to appear nonchalant. “We got more important things to do, though. Who wants my help next?”
Though the murmuring didn’t subside, he got more people paying attention to his stated mission than however the fuck he looked. A hand on his sleeve tugged him over to a storefront, its display window shattered.
“They looted the daylights out of it, but if you can fix it up, I can probably—“
“Say no more.” Ed clapped his hands together, smirking, and gripped the doorframe.
Ed had gotten so used to an audience after barely an hour that it took him maybe a quarter of one to realize that he had a very specific type of onlooker.
He was constructing a building from scratch—splinters, really; he didn’t think that the structure he had created had too terribly much of the original in it, but as long as it was functional, right?—when he caught a glimpse of deep blue out of the corner of his eye. The moment his hands were free, he whirled, glaring.
He recognized the man there; Ed had seen him his first day in Central, “robbing” a little girl. Faintly Xingese looking, messy black hair, smirking face, still obnoxiously handsome.
Ed’s scowl deepened.
“The fuck d’you want?”
The man raised an eyebrow, looking Ed up and down. “I’m here to assist with the repairs.”
Ed snorted, taking in the sight of military blue. “You mean take whatever else food you can find back to Central Command. Not on my watch.”
“Of course not.” The man gestured to his right, and Ed followed the movement to a covered truck, from which uniform-clad men—and women!—unloaded crates. “I brought food.”
Ed crossed his arms. “Yeah, okay. What’re you watching me for?”
The man tilted his head, still seemingly unperturbed. “I’m watching you because you’re an unauthorized alchemist, and I need to make sure you’re not destabilizing or otherwise causing untoward mischief.”
Unauthorized? Un fucking authorized? “Since when d’you gotta be authorized to do alchemy in Amestris?” Ed spat.
“State Alchemists are authorized by the government as—”
Ed drew himself up, eyes flashing. “Yeah, well, as mentioned in the charter, it doesn’t stop anyone else from practicing. Just institutes federal funding for the study of those who want to join and manage to make it into the program.”
The man watched Ed carefully, tilting his head. “Of course,” he finally said. “Though my concern was with the method of learning. The Administration of Knowledge Act of 1909 instituted a ban on—“
“The sale and distribution of alchemical texts,” Ed parroted. “Yeah, I know. Not from around here, or can’t you tell?” He gestured at his clothing: though he had eschewed the jacket due to the heat, the gold of his vest contrasted with the rich forest green of his pants, snakes entwining around the borders of the brass buttons. He had tugged the laces of his slightly oversized white shirt loose, leaving his neck and a little bit of his chest bare—he thought, but wasn’t sure, he saw the man’s eyes flicker to it and linger there for a few moments. “No one else has shut up about it.”
“Antiquated as your clothing might be, you speak Amestrian the way only a native would. You’re from the area, not visiting.”
Ed narrowed his eyes. “Maybe I’m just good with languages.”
The man smirked. Fucking smirked, the smug bastard. But then again, most of the military seemed to be bastards at this point. “You also know the details of the State Alchemist charter. I think not.”
Ed crossed his arms. “Been fuckin’ traveling.”
Something flickered behind the man’s eyes—disbelief? Disappointment?—but he shrugged. “I’ll accept that.”
Ed snorted. “You’d fuckin’ better. I don’t answer to you.”
“I would never suggest you did,” he replied lightly. “It’s good to see others here. Helping.”
Ed had just opened his mouth to tell him that he could help his foot up his ass when another soldier ran up, panting.
“Br—uh, Colonel—uh, Chief, hey. We’ve got a lady over here who says she needs us now.”
Ed turned to tell the soldier not to worry, that Ed could handle it his goddamned self—and froze.
He recognized the face, the blond hair, even caught a hint of cigarette smoke in the slight breeze. He definitely recognized the bruised nose from where he had slammed his automail fist into it two nights ago. Well, shit.
The man—first lieutenant, judging by the shoulder lapels—blinked at Ed for a few moments, and Ed tensed slightly, ready to fight at the inevitable exposure.
“Who’s the kid?” the second man drawled in an obviously Eastern Amestrian accent, glancing back towards the colonel, unconcerned.
Ed sucked in a brief breath. Yeah, the encounter had only been a few moments, and it had been dark, but had he really gotten lucky enough that the lieutenant didn’t recognize him?
“Someone here to help, apparently.” The colonel smiled dazzlingly at him, and Ed shook himself slightly. He’d seen better than this Colonel Asshole. He managed to keep his shit together just barely enough to notice that the lieutenant nodded, satisfied, glancing away. Ed had gotten that lucky!
He cleared his throat, shaking himself slightly. “Anyway. So yeah, I’m here to help. Stay out of my—“
“Would you like to have lunch?”
Ed choked, gaping at the interruption, at the smirking colonel in front of him. Had the bastard really just… just asked him out?
Ed, well, of all the things he had been expecting, this was not it. He hadn’t been lying about having seen better, but not in recent memory, and he did have a great voice, and Ed hadn’t been out in ages…
“One of the store owners has told me that she’s putting out a spread for those of us helping with repairs. Very generous of her. Would you like to join us?”
Ed sputtered for a few moments, praying that his face wouldn’t betray the heat rising in his cheeks. He doubted his luck would persist.
“I’m sorry,” the Colonel asked innocently. “Was I clear enough?”
“Fine,” Ed gritted out. “You were fine. Sure. Let’s eat.”
As the men turned, Ed caught the lieutenant shooting the colonel a despairing look and wondered what that was about. Whatever. Free food.
“My name is Roy,” the colonel said, glancing back at Ed. “This is First Lieutenant Jean Havoc, but you can just call him Havoc.” That Roy had given Ed only his first name, forcing Ed to call him by it in a fashion of blatantly more intimacy than Havoc, didn’t escape Ed. Nor, judging by the wink and smirk in Ed’s direction, did it escape Roy.
“Ed,” Ed offered cautiously. “What, you’re not gonna try to have me arrested for being robbed?”
Roy chuckled, a low, dark, rumbling sound. Ed hated it, hated the way he knew it would make him shiver if he wasn’t careful.
“No; if you had bothered to stick around—”
“I thought you were gonna fuckin’ arrest me!”
“—then you would have made yourself privy to the discovery of my error when I realized the identity of your captive.”
“Sounds like y’all have a story here,” Havoc muttered, turning to eye Ed.
“Yeah, and I apparently only know a fuckin’ quarter of it. The hell are you talkin’ about?”
“Nina Tucker,” Roy said simply, and Havoc made a noise of comprehension.
“Yeah, that’d do it.”
Ed watched them both distastefully as they stepped up to the woman handing out plates of food. “You gonna share with the rest of us?”
Havoc glanced back, mildly surprised, but Roy smirked slightly, waving Ed over to a blanket where a couple of other soldiers had already sat down to eat.
“Ed was robbed by Nina Tucker the other day. I came across his… alchemical detainment and his retrieval of his money and thought that I had stumbled upon a robbery of a young woman. He ran as I recognized her, before I could explain that I had misunderstood the situation.”
Ed caught a soft snort of amusement from the rest of the company, but when he glanced over, all of them looked innocent. “So, you know this Nina kid?”
Roy let out a sigh. “It’s hard not to, as a State Alchemist. Her father was arrested for… a rather heinous project that he attempted to submit at the qualifying exam. This left her homeless, and she took to the streets, refusing any attempt to find her a proper home. I don’t think she really understood what her father did. She’s always blamed us for it, especially the leader who had her father arrested.”
“Well, who can blame her,” Ed muttered. “Guy’s kind of a dick.”
That choke of laughter again, and one of the other soldiers, a heavyset man with red hair, called out, “Hear that, Roy? He’s a dick.”
For his part, Roy looked mildly surprised. “Oh? And why is it that you say that? Have you met the man?”
“Have you?” Ed shot back, then hesitated. He didn’t need this guy asking too many questions, nor did he need Havoc remembering the night that the Brigadier General had disappeared. “I mean—no, just, that’s what I hear. From people.” He thought back to Jason Ballara, who had defended the Brigadier General fervently. “Sometimes.”
“I see,” Roy said neutrally. “And is there any reason for this dislike?”
Ed shrugged uncomfortably. “Makes snap decisions. Could hurt someone. Who knows if this girl’s dad actually did something awful? Did they even tell you what it was or did they threaten to ‘disappear’ you if you asked?”
Roy straightened, eyes glinting coldly as he stared Ed down. “The State Alchemist program does not work like that, despite any outside influences that attempt to sway it to the contrary. Shou Tucker was arrested and executed for fusing his wife with a crocodile to make a human-based chimera. We abhor chimera creation on principle, and effectively murdering someone to create one makes it that much more despicable.”
Ed snorted. No chimeras, huh? But he guessed he couldn’t expect a foot soldier to know the secrets of his leader. It left his skin crawling, that the inner workings of Amestris’s government could become so corrupt and disgusting without those who served it even realizing. How had things come to this?
“Fine, fine. I get it. State Alchemists are all a paragon of righteousness, you can do no wrong—“
“Oh, I didn’t say that. Trust me, there are still some less savory types who slip through the cracks. But it’s harder to be one there than in the rest of the military.” He turned to the others on the blanket. “Present company excluded. But we do our best to weed out the rot.” He took a deep breath, then fixed Ed’s eyes with his own, narrow and black. “We also found evidence that he was researching how to create a Philosopher’s Stone.”
The words slammed into him with greater force than the bullets from the other night and hurt ten times as badly.
“What?” he croaked out, trying desperately to remember how to breathe around the panic that had settled in his chest.
“We burned it all, of course,” Roy continued, watching Ed levelly. “If you know about the charter, you’ll know that the Philosopher’s Stone is considered the greatest alchemical evil, even beyond human transmutation. It was that knowledge that sealed his execution. Brigadier General Mustang is the only one who saw it, thankfully, so besides him, that knowledge died with Shou Tucker.”
And now the knowledge had died completely… unless the man Ed had fought had passed it on or written it down before his own death. Had he even destroyed it? God, Ed didn’t know if he was going to vomit or faint or scream in fury.
“How?” Ed managed to croak, heart slamming against his ribcage. “How did he… there shouldn’t even be anything…”
“We don’t know,” Roy replied, voice quiet. “But it shouldn’t be an issue any longer. Two months later, the Administration of Knowledge Act went into effect.”
Ed’s lips twisted. Hard to argue with that—not that he wouldn’t try anyway. Given the totalitarian nature he was beginning to uncover, he was sure they had jumped at the excuse for censorship.
“It’s gotta be hard, then recruiting for the state alchemists when no one knows alchemy,” Ed murmured, watching Roy idly. “Or do you not worry about that?”
“It is,” Roy replied simply, spreading some mashed potatoes over a slice of bread and taking a bite. Ed tried not to give the mixture too much of a weird look.
“So how do you get more State Alchemists, then? If you guys are so ‘well-respected,’ seems like you’d have people lining up if they could only learn.”
“Funny you should mention that.” Roy took a bite, chewed, and swallowed. Ed tried not to watch the way his neck moved. “The exams aren’t held traditionally anymore. We review applicants on a person by person basis. If you’d like to see change done, why not help effect it yourself? If you’d like, I can try to set up an examination—“
“Like fucking hell you will!” Ed snarled, recoiling. “You want me to become a State Alchemist? Hell no! Especially not for this mess of a government you people have—“
“Us people have?” Roy asked, voice still mild. “We just established that you’re Amestrian, and as I just said, if you’re upset with the way things are, come help change it.”
Ed thought of working under a man the likes of the one he had killed the other night. It wouldn’t have been the first time, either—he thought back to the last time he had worked under a government in an alchemical capability. Thought back, thought of all his work, all of his study, and what it had led to.
He inhaled with a choked gasp, shuddering.
“Like fuckin’ hell,” he hissed, glaring. “Which is where you can go.”
Roy lifted his hands defensively. “No need to get nasty. I didn’t know that you’d be so opposed to the idea. We’re not all awful, you know.”
“No, just some of you,” Ed snapped.
“Of course you’d say that.” Ed shoved a spoonful of mashed potatoes into his mouth the proper way. “Dropping the fucking subject, got it?”
“Dropping,” Roy murmured, voice still unconcerned. “Though, maybe, if you’re interested in a spirited debate—and you seem like the type—perhaps we could discuss your concerns.” At Ed’s deepening scowl, he lifted his hands again. “Not to continue my recruitment attempts. I just value constructive criticism.”
Ed was about to fire back with sneering skepticism when Roy continued, “Perhaps over drinks?”
Ed inhaled sharply, eyes widening, feeling, again, as if he had walked up a set of stairs and miscounted by one. Was the fucker playing with him? Or was he serious? God, that idle way his eyes flicked in Ed’s direction, the casual toss of his perfectly messy hair, the tantalizing curve of his smirk, it all left Ed very… frustrated. That he couldn’t read Roy. Ed was no blushing virgin or naïve, fumbling teenager, not by a long shot. He should be better than this.
The stern word came from another soldier, a blonde woman with her hair up in a clipped style that resembled a bird’s tail.
“Yes, Lieutenant Colonel Hawkeye?” Roy asked innocently. The woman only continued to glare, and he sighed.
“Fine, fine.” He turned back to Ed. “Perhaps after you’ve had some time to settle into Central? Learn more about the program as it is now, perhaps gather public opinion—“
“All right, all right, I got it,” Ed snapped, turning away, trying not to blush or scowl too much. Great. The one semi-decent State Alchemist Ed had met (out of two, but still) and the guy seemed to be hopeless and insincere flirt. Ed supposed it beat ‘malicious,’ but it still didn’t leave him especially impressed.
“So,” Roy continued, still smirking at Ed. “You said you’ve been traveling. Tell me about it.”
Roy probably hadn’t been expecting a rambling account of Ed’s research in Aerugo, a long and intricate detailing of new alchemical theories in development and that he had studied while abroad. Ed hadn’t expected to share it, either. But Roy, obnoxiously flirtatious as he was, at least avoided the ‘useless’ moniker. He seemed to have a decent grasp of alchemy—which did make sense, after all, given his status. He asked incisive questions, ones that demonstrated a mastery of the subject befitting a State Alchemist, but also ones that revealed gaps in knowledge, particularly in areas of alchemy based in other countries, that told Ed more about the culture surrounding knowledge in current Amestris than he could have gleaned by simply asking.
The conversation continued through lunch, and Ed barely noticed that he had followed Roy to one of the areas of worse damage. Without being prompted, Roy split off to the right to begin transmutation circles into the foundation, and Ed headed left, clapping his hands together and smirking.
His building rose from its remains, groaning and creaking as it reformed itself, first as a frame, then as a full structure. Planks gradually reformed, nails warping into their proper shapes, hinges settling into place.
When Ed finished, he turned to see that Roy had… repaired a window. He smirked.
“Takin’ long enough over there, you think?” he taunted. “I’d say we make it a competition, but it’d be more like a slaughter.”
Roy stared at Ed for a long moment, then lifted his chin, staring down his nose at Ed—just dramatically enough for Ed to catch that he was trying just a bit too hard. “And initiate a ‘contest’ that would inevitably result in lower quality work? It’s completely—“
“Oh, so you’d produce lower quality shit.” Ed smirked. “Good to know.”
“No, I’m simply not interested in a childish—“
“So you’re afraid you’ll lose.”
The aggrieved look on Roy’s face just told Ed how much he was right. “I would do no such thing.”
“So it’s a contest, then. Let’s make this fun.” Putting a few free meals up as the stakes for a bet he was sure to win never went amiss. “A friendly wager. If you win—“
“You tell me how you do your alchemy,” Roy interrupted, eyes flashing.
Ed paused, blinking, startled. He hadn’t expected serious stakes, but now that Roy had thrown the challenge out there, his plan for a bit of free food seemed so… childish. Especially with all of the shortages going on. He should come up with something useful.
He nodded cautiously. It couldn’t do that much harm; after all, no way could he lose. But if Roy was going to try to get something out of Ed, Ed might as well return the favor.
“And if you win?” Roy offered gallantly.
Ed stayed silent for a moment, then, “You help me get access to the military library’s alchemy collection.”
Roy’s eyes met Ed’s, utterly unreadable. Something in the back of Ed’s head, nothing more than finely honed suspicion, niggled warningly, as if he were playing right into Roy’s hands. That made no sense, though: how could Roy have known what Ed was going to ask?
Roy stuck his hand out, gloved in white, just like Ed’s. “Deal.”
As they shook, Ed spotted something else: a transmutation circle on the back of Roy’s glove. One that Ed, of all people, had never seen before. How the hell?
“And you tell me what’s up with those gloves,” Ed added quickly as Roy tugged his hand back and raised an eyebrow.
“Ah, ah. No changing the terms once the wager has been made.”
Ed grimaced; it had been worth a try. “Fine. I’ll just kick your ass extra hard, then.”
“If you can reach,” Roy murmured, and Ed whipped his head back, gasping with fury at the innocent expression on Roy’s face.
Reaching down into his pocket and grabbing his focus, Ed stepped forward and got to work.
“So how does it feel to be a loser?” Ed crowed, practically dancing circles around a resigned-looking Roy, barely paying attention to their stunned audience. The commercial district practically sparkled. Not a single shred of splintered wood dared show its presence around their handiwork. They might not have been able to recoup the stolen wares, but they had at least saved these people a hell of a repair bill.
“Classy, a sensation I’m sure you find unfamiliar,” Roy muttered, looking vaguely like a peacock who had just discovered some of his feathers were crooked. It was this that left Ed utterly unperturbed at the words. They both knew who the winner was here; Ed could allow some grumbling, he supposed.
“So.” Ed tossed his hair loftily, ponytail swinging in a merciless arc. “You’ve got yourself a shadow for the time being. I expect full access whenever I’d like.”
“God you’re demanding. I’ll do what I can to oblige,” Roy muttered, but there was enough of a drawl and a smirk there to send prickles down Ed’s spine—god dammit, Roy did not have the right to go around making innuendo that left Ed shivering, not when Ed had won so thoroughly. That was fucking unfair.
“You’d better,” Ed snapped. He busied himself transmuting up some paper and shoved it at Roy. “Now write and sign me a goddamn note so you can’t duck out later.”
Roy sighed, finding a seat and a spare block of wood. Bearing down on it, he began to write.
“I was going to add you to the approved visitor list,” Roy grumbled as he scribbled, rolling his eyes. “I’m hurt that you don’t trust me.”
“With that smarmy face?” Ed drawled, biting back his thought of ‘You’re way too pretty to trust.’ “Not a chance.”
“Well, at least he pays attention to my face,” Roy murmured to ‘himself’ with a sigh. Ed just rolled his eyes, snatching the paper up as soon as Roy dashed his signature across the bottom.
“Don’t flatter your—“
The sound of pounding footsteps cut off what Ed was sure would be a terribly witty and scathing response. Both of them looked up, spotting a tall man with grey hair that didn’t match up with his apparently young age.
“Falman?” Roy asked, looking mildly concerned, though not nearly as alarmed as Falman. Falman staggered to a halt, panting for a moment, then straightened, snapping into a smart salute.
“Brigadier General Mustang, sir!”
The words didn’t quite process at first, not really. Ed seized onto them, trying to parse through them in his mind, so distracted that he barely noticed the Falman guy continuing to speak. Surely they had to mean… something else, right? Ed had killed the man himself; no way could he be… could Roy be…
Ed looked down at the note in his hand. Past flowing, neat script and an elegantly-worded order to allow the bearer access to Central Command, his eyes settled on the signature.
Brig. Gen. R. Mustang.
“You’re General Mustang?” Ed yelped, jerking his head upwards, gaping at Roy. “The head of the State Alchemist program? You?”
Roy winced as he closed his eyes, then cracked one open to glare in Falman’s direction. “I would appreciate you lowering your voice—“
“Lowering my voice?” Ed snarled. “You told me you were a Colonel, talked to me like a fucking—a normal person, not the one who runs the State Alchemist program—“
“Ed, please!” Roy reached for Ed’s arm, but Ed yanked back.
“What was this? Some kind of fuckin’ joke, to reveal and be like, ‘ahah, here I am! Actually a general!’ Or—“
Roy slashed his hand through the air frantically, and Ed broke off, glaring. He took a breath to continue his tirade…
“General Mustang!” he heard someone hiss, and he jerked his head to the side—and saw that a crowd had gathered to stare.
The whispering started.
“That’s the General!” “Mustang himself!” “He came down to help!” “He brought food! For us! From the military stores!” “He said he was a Colonel, though—“ “Well, yeah, he’s never cared about recognition—“
“Now,” Roy gritted, voice low, so only Ed and a sheepish Falman could hear them, “do you understand?”
Ed was beginning to, and a man stepped forward out of the crowd, others quickly following.
“General, please, our family’s wagon is broken—“ “—can’t afford to fix the roof—“ “lost my job and need some work—“
“And this is why you never work with amateurs,” he heard Havoc mutter as the rest of them converged to attempt some crowd control. “Move aside, please,” he said in a louder voice, stepping forward. “Make a line and we’ll see what we can do for y’all. Nothing’s gonna happen until we get organized.”
“I’ll, uh,” Ed said weakly, watching Roy close his eyes again. “See you later?”
“Look forward to it.” Though Roy didn’t look at Ed, instead focusing on the crowd of people lining up to have their grievances heard, his voice soaked the air between them with sarcasm. “You’re making this up to me.”
Without an acknowledgement—though he probably should, he figured—Ed slunk off in the opposite direction, determined not to fuck anything else up today at least.
Ed tapped his right index finger against the table as he scribbled with his left hand. The gloved automail left a muffled thdthdthdthdthd echoing through the corner of the room, earning him glares. Ed barely noticed, and he definitely didn’t care.
The scattered paper in front of him was covered with circles—and other shapes, but mostly circles—some completed for transmutation, others half-formed, and a few just frustrated doodles produced during dead-end moments.
He had made some headway, at least—the Central command library did have an absolutely stunning collection of alchemical texts, plenty that even Ed hadn’t seen before. There must have been a good deal of learning and advancement before this fucking Administration of Knowledge Act. He had found out that the circle had something to do with fire, and a discreet inquiry had confirmed that Roy—“Brigadier General Mustang”—was known as the Flame Alchemist. Uninventiveness of the title aside (seriously, what was Amestris coming to?), it hadn’t proven terribly helpful. Fire wasn’t matter. It couldn’t be transmuted. It could be created by alchemy, by the manipulation of matter, but you couldn’t control it, thus making alchemy useless for anything beyond starting a fire. And the symbols for earth and air played a significant part in the array’s construction as well, so maybe if Ed—
“You didn’t waste any time, did you?”
Ed jumped about a foot into the air in surprise—then promptly identified the voice and thrust his arms out to scoop all of the papers into a messy pile. Please, please let him have covered the centerpiece of his investigation—
Right on top, his rendering of Roy’s transmutation circle stared accusingly up at him. He snatched up the paper and flipped it over.
“You agreed to full access,” Ed snapped as he turned, going immediately on the offensive. “Not that you’d show up and come hover over my shoulder whenever I was here.”
Roy raised his eyebrows, looking mildly taken aback, but in that lofty, pretentious way that left Ed scowling at the blatant condescension. “I only came to say hello. Someone notified me that you were here about ten minutes ago.” His eyes swept up Ed’s workspace, corner of his mouth crooking slightly. “My, you do work fast.”
Ed turned fully, then looked up to squint at him. “What do you want, Mustang?” He threw the name like a challenge, letting Roy know that he hadn’t forgotten the deception of two days ago, letting him know that he considered any attempts at “making nice” to be immediately suspect.
“I told you,” Roy replied mildly. “I just came to say hello.” He tugged a chair out, sitting in it without an invitation, and Ed sighed. “And find out how your research is going. Care to share anything?”
Ed snorted, arranging his pile of papers into something more organized, shuffling the more incriminating ones to the bottom of the stack. “Like you just said, I’ve only been here twenty minutes.”
“Actually, I said ten—“
Ed shut him up with an aggrieved look. “I’ve been here twenty. Don’t be a fucking pedant. I spent some of it taking a look through the collection of books. Pretty extensive; what, you got all of Amestris’s alchemy texts in here?”
He let the jab sizzle between the two of them for a moment, pretending to look innocent and knowing he wasn’t fooling Roy one damn bit.
“It would seem that it comes close,” Roy finally murmured, watching Ed. “It’s been a difficult few years. I’ve been pushing for a repeal of the Act, or at least a modification. I’m hoping that this nonsense will sort itself out soon.”
“A repeal,” Ed repeated, not bothering to hide his skepticism. “You mean you didn’t have anything to do with the Act? Seems like you were pretty alarmed about the Philosopher’s Stone that Tucker guy was trying to create.”
Roy glanced around at Ed’s mention of the Stone, but continued. “Concerned, yes, but I don’t think that it means we should suppress all knowledge about a subject from the populace and only allow the people in power access.”
Damn straight. That was how dictatorships formed, and how one seemed to be forming in Amestris. Ed continued to watch Roy, suspicious.
“So you had nothing to do with it. And the fact that you’re the ones who benefit from the restriction and are the only ones allowed access to that knowledge has no bearing on your opinion.”
“No, the lack of their access has everything to do with it. You mentioned it the other day, when we were discussing this issue. What happens when citizens can’t learn alchemy? What happens to my unit? What happens to me?”
Ed’s brow furrowed, and he thought back to their conversation, putting pieces together. “You… get starved for recruits,” he finished slowly. “Which means that your unit wouldn’t exist after a while. That you wouldn’t have…” He blinked, some more pieces clicking. “That you wouldn’t have nearly as much power as you do now.”
Roy didn’t say anything, but Ed could see the pleased expression on his face. Ed thought some more, still pulling from memories of that day.
“But that’s not what happened,” Ed protested, frowning again, suspicion returning as he squinted at Roy. “It just made alchemists rarer. More valuable. You got swarmed when they found out who you were. They love you, god knows why.” When Roy drew back, mock-offended, Ed just stuck his tongue out. “It hasn’t fucked you over nearly as much as you’re saying it does.”
“That you see,” Roy corrected gently. “And also, do note that consequences of an action and… intended outcomes of one don’t always match up, especially when said action is taken against a specific person. When that person has the proper skills and flexibility, they might be able to turn a poor situation advantageous.” Roy smiled crookedly. “Driving the initial offenders crazy, of course, and possibly leaving them to consider removing their interference.”
Fuck. This guy talked way, way too much. Ed hadn’t smelled words that reeked “politician” so distinctly in… well, he wasn’t sure if he ever had.
“You’d still better not be trying to recruit me,” Ed muttered halfheartedly, but he didn’t think Roy was that stupid.
“No, not that.” Though Roy’s voice was wistful, he did sound sincere. “Just explaining the situation.” He smiled indulgently over at Ed.
“Of course you were,” Ed sighed, closing his eyes so he didn’t have to see that goddamn stupid face. Unfortunately, that allowed Roy to get closer than Ed would have normally permitted. The scrape of paper was his only warning, and when his eyes popped open again, Roy’s face hovered only inches from Ed’s, indulgent smile morphed into something much more closely resembling a smirk.
Ed gasped, scooting back in alarm, nearly toppling backwards as his chair teetered wildly on two legs.
“So what have you been working on?” Roy murmured as he whisked the top sheet off Ed’s pile.
“No!” Ed yelped, lunging for it. He recovered his balance, but not the notes, leaving him frozen in mortified silence as an annoyed librarian hissed shhhh! at him and Roy smirked down at the array.
“Make any progress?” Roy asked lightly, eyes sliding up to—to ogle Ed. The fucker was mocking him.
“How am I supposed to when I don’t even know what you do?” Ed snapped, metaphorical hackles rising. No way was Roy pinning this on Ed’s incompetence. “The fuck kind of title is ‘Flame,’ anyway? Fucking boring is what—“
Roy drew his other hand from his pocket, still smirking, wrist arched dramatically as he paused, fingers poised, strained with tension—
He snapped, and the room lit fire.
Not completely, of course; much of a jerk as Roy might be, he wouldn’t destroy the literature that he ostensibly wanted to redistribute. The stream of flame, a respectable size that could have wrapped Ed in a cocoon if Roy had felt so inclined, arced through the air, looped back on itself, and then vanished.
Ed could only stare, jaw hanging open, eyes wide. A quick glance at the fussy librarian from earlier revealed that he was watching Roy carefully, but he said nothing, probably due to Roy’s rank. Traitor.
“No!” Ed blurted out. “You can’t—that’s not—“
“Can’t I?” Roy murmured, blinking slowly.
Ed made a disgusted noise, reaching out to snatch his rendition of Roy’s circle back. “Fire isn’t matter. It can’t—you can’t use alchemy to control it. It doesn’t make sense!” he finished, gritting his teeth, still wanting to protest further despite the clear evidence before his eyes.
Roy simply leaned back, watching Ed, idle and patient. “When you figure it out, I’ll take you for a drink.”
Ed’s jaw dropped yet again. Perpetually an asshole! He took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts, plotting his retort—
Roy promptly winked, turned on his heel, and strutted away.
Despite two more hours in the library, researching what he could, he didn’t make a single step forward in his research. After the first hour, he set it aside, not giving up, but taking a break. His next course of research was much less pleasant, though equally fruitless: nothing on chimeras beyond the usual “theoretical” discussions, and soul alchemy and Philosopher’s Stones seemed to be completely absent. A small, if noticeable, relief.
But still, that didn’t mean that the military had no access to the information at all. Clearly they had more than first appeared on chimeras, too. It just meant that Ed wouldn’t find that information here.
Had Roy given him access only because he had known Ed’s search would turn up empty, or was he as in the dark as Ed? More, even? The first step would be to find out the identity of the man he had killed and his relation to Roy. Maybe research into the labs and their work, too.
When requesting a list of current State Alchemists, however, the stuffy librarian looked down his nose at Ed, declaring in a haughty voice that those records were not available to the general public of the library; they were confidential.
“The note I gave you said complete access!” Ed snapped, totally fucking done with this bullshit.
“Complete access does not include confidential files,” the man replied, lifting his chin. “Even the Brigadier General must obtain individual approval to access those records.”
“That’s fucking bullshit! It’s his own damn regiment!”
“Then you should ask him for it,” the librarian retorted, bored and superior. “We follow procedure here.”
This guy was worse than the one from the night Ed had snuck in! At least Ed hadn’t seen that one around; the two could have been a terrifying duo. He opened his mouth to continue arguing—
A hand crashed down onto Ed’s shoulder, startling the shit out of him. He jumped and whirled in the direction of his assailant, ready to kick some ass.
“You’re Ed, aren’t you?” the terrifying giant boomed, a manic grin plastered across a bespectacled face. “Roy told me you might be here.” The hand on Ed’s shoulder, miraculously still in place, steered him away from the reference desk. Only the mention of Roy’s name kept him from knocking this fucker’s arm away. “Yeah? And who are you?”
“Maes Hughes. Roy must have mentioned me?” At Ed’s blank stare, the man shrugged. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. No harm! You get the chance to hear about my girls firsthand!”
Ed stared at him, uncomprehending. He glanced around, trying to figure out if he was in some surreal parallel universe. Those around, however, simply glanced over at the two of them and then away, a sharp contrast to their suspicious looks from earlier.
The arm slid around Ed’s shoulders further, Hughes’ other hand digging into his far pocket casually. “Just go with it, kid,” he muttered, nudging Ed in the direction of the door before whipping out a wallet. Ed followed, immediately on alert for whatever might be the matter.
“This is my wife, Gracia, back when we found out she was pregnant. Isn’t she a goddess?”
Ed glanced over at the picture, expecting to see some sort of message, maybe a note with instructions, but indeed, a pretty brunette lady smiled over at Ed from a hospital bed. It left a little twist of discomfort in his stomach, seeing such a happy family.
“And this is Elicia, the light of my life!” The next picture was of a very ugly baby, redfaced and screaming. “She’s grown up since, though!”
“Lucky her,” Ed muttered, barely managing to hold back a comment about unfortunate-looking babies as the discomfort grew. He glanced away; he didn’t want to see this, had never really enjoyed seeing family photos. He grit his teeth tighter as Hughes steered him out of the building, chattering on about his wife and daughter. As soon as they cleared the stairs, Ed twisted out from under his arm, scowling.
“The shit was that about?” he snapped, interrupting Hughes mid-gush. Hughes blinked at him, as if bewildered at the idea that anyone might want to talk about anything else, but then sighed and put the wallet of photos back in his pocket.
“Roy was concerned that, if you tried to leave without someone in uniform, you might get swarmed. They’ve been cracking down on intruders lately.”
Ed coughed slightly. “Really? It’s just in the library, which is already locked down, clearly…”
“You’d be surprised. We actually had a receptionist reassigned the other day for letting someone get away who was trying to break in.”
Ed blinked at that, carefully masking his guilty expression. “Shit. Pretty harsh.”
Maes glanced over at Ed. “Well, security is pretty important here. They won’t even let my daughter visit!”
Ed snorted, suspecting that ban had more to do with productivity than security. “Still. Keeping the roster of State Alchemist under lock and key seems to be kinda… bullshit.”
“Well,” Hughes replied lightly, “ostensibly, some State Alchemists are on covert missions and their identities need to remain a secret.”
Ed turned to squint at Hughes, a picture of innocence in his crisp blue uniform, with a genial and guileless smile against a backdrop of puffy white clouds in a blue sky and immaculately trimmed greenery. Uh huh. Even he wasn’t rusty enough to fall for that. “And not ostensibly?”
Hughes shrugged, watching a pair of birds perch on a bush. “I dunno. Maybe to hide how many people are in the program from the average person?”
Ed thought back to his and Roy’s conversation on the topic. “Which is how many?”
“Weren’t we just having a conversation about how that information is hidden?” Maes retorted cheerfully. “I dunno! You’d have to ask Roy.”
And tell him what Ed was looking for. “I’ll bet.” He sighed, then segued casually into his next question. “So how does that work with his rank, anyway? What if a State Alchemist outranks him? Do they still have to listen to Roy, or do they become the new leader of the program? That seems a little impractical.”
He knew the answer to the question damn well, so he had to keep himself from gritting his teeth when Maes smiled indulgently at him.
“That’s not likely to happen. Roy’s a bit lower-ranked than most leaders of the program have been, yes, but Amestris only has so many ‘allowed’ general spots, and we’re full up on those already.”
Ed’s eyebrows shot up; thirty generals at one time was highly unusual for Amestris, even in times of war—
“—and even if one of those sixty spots come open, if that person was a State Alchemist, whoever got the spot would come in as a Brigadier General, same as Roy. No one’s gonna beat Roy to the next rank, not in the State Alchemist program.”
Ed stared, still processing the ‘sixty’ in silence. How the hell had that happened? Amestris wasn’t at war; they should have a third of that at most. Who the hell had approved that fucking increased limit? What kind of country martialed like this in times of peace?
“Is…” he managed to choke out. “Are there any State Alchemists who have the same rank as Roy? How does that work?”
“Just one. He technically has to answer to Roy, as Roy is the head State Alchemist.”
Ed’s attention snapped back into focus, honing in on Hughes’s words. “Technically? That sounds like a story.”
Hughes grimaced. “He’s a bit of a favorite of the upper brass. I’ve always thought they’d like to have him in charge instead of Roy, but no way could they pull that off without starting a riot. Roy’s too popular.”
At least Amestris’s people still had some say in their government. “And who is he?”
“Brigadier General Basque Grand,” Hughes sighed. “The Iron Blood Alchemist. Combative sort of guy. Try to avoid him, if you can.”
“I’d never think to start a fight,” Ed drawled to cover up the way his heartbeat increased. “What’s he look like?”
“Tall, bald, spiky mustache, bulky, iron gloves. Can’t miss him. Brown mustache, though, not blond; Armstrong’s a different sort. Pretty decent guy.”
“Sounds good,” Ed murmured absently, feeling Hughes’s curious gaze on him and determinedly not looking over. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“I’ll bet you will.”
Hughes laughed as Ed rolled his eyes, stamping out of the entrance.
“Mr. Elric, sir!”
Ed froze as the gate guard called out his name, first instinct one to run. It didn’t sound like the guard from the other day, but he couldn’t be sure…
“Did your secretary find you?”
Ed stayed still for a few more moments, mind racing, forcing his expression into neutrality before turning back to face Hughes and the gate guard.
“Which one?” he asked, trying to pretend he had ever employed a secretary in his life.
“Mousy girl, brown hair, kind of short.” He gestured around his chin. “Glasses. Bookish look to her?”
“Oh! Yes, of course,” Ed bullshat, straightening and looking official. “She left ahead of me, yes?”
“Yeah, saw her on her way out a few minutes ago, but didn’t catch her—“
“Good,” Ed interrupted. “Which way’d she go?”
At the soldier’s pointing, Ed bolted.
He ignored Hughes’s surprised noise from behind him, flat out running down the street. Hughes had probably wanted to talk more about his kid and his wife—and the thought sent another jolt of resentment flaring through Ed.
He shoved it away, slowing a bit to keep his eyes peeled for his suspect. He should have known this would have been trouble, should have seen this coming after the awkward incident at the—
Ed slowed a little more, falling to a fast walk to appear inconspicuous. As inconspicuous as possible, anyway. It seemed to work. His target didn’t turn, not even as he reached out to grab a fistful of shirt.
His quarry yanked to a halt, then pitched back into him. He kept his grip and stepped aside, leaving her dangling from his hand.
She turned her head to blink up at him slowly, then widened her eyes in alarmed recognition. Forcing out a pathetic attempt at an innocent laugh, she tried to get her feet underneath her.
“Uh, haha, hi! Have we met? You seem to know my name, but I don’t—“
He shook his arm, drawing another alarmed noise from her. “You’re my secretary, remember?” He raised an eyebrow at her, voice unamused.
“Oh. Yes. Um.” She reached up, still dangling, to adjust her glasses. “See, about that…”
“What the hell is going on here?”
Ed glanced up, and when he saw the royal blue of the Amestrian uniform, groaned. Why did they always decided to show up when Ed looked like he was assaulting young women?
“Look,” he snapped. “I can fucking explain.”
“This is your secretary, huh.” Though phrased as a question, Hughes’s dry tone left Ed with no illusions that he didn’t believe it for a second.
“Aerugonian holiday,” he shot back, voice flat. “Shake your secretary around day.”
“I might believe it if you didn’t speak Amestrian like a native,” Hughes retorted with a smirk. Goddammit; Ed was going to have to start faking an accent. “What’s going on?”
Ed lifted his chin, squaring his shoulders and straightening even as he continued to hold Sheska. “Personal business. I’ll handle it.”
“Pleasepleaseplease don’t turn me into anything!” she yelped. “I’m sorry for following you!”
“I’m not gonna turn you into anything,” Ed gritted out, an ache beginning to pound behind his temples.
“I dunno. He might. Those alchemists are pretty scary. I hear Ed here’s one of the best, and can do some really nasty stuff…”
Sheska made a terrified noise, and Ed turned to glare at Hughes. “You’re really not—”
“If you ask nicely, he might just turn you into an animal instead of a rock.”
“No!” she yelped. “Animals can’t read!”
She had finally gotten her feet underneath her, but was cowering instead of trying to run, and Ed knew he’d be able to catch up with her anyway. He let her go. “Stop being a dick.”
“The military could offer protection, you know,” Maes mused, and Ed froze. “If you confessed, I’d probably be able to keep you from getting arrested.”
Ed whirled, fury flashing through him—at himself, for not seeing this coming. Of fucking course they would pull this shit. “Don’t listen to him, Sheska!”
“I’m sorry!” she burst out, arms drawn up to her chest, hands half-covering her face. “I didn’t mean any trouble! I’m sorry for following you! I just wanted to know why you looked like our founder, and then they let you onto the campus and into the library and I’ve always wanted to see it because I heard it’s huge—”
“And restricted,” Hughes remarked, voice wry.
“I’m sorry!” she wailed. “I won’t read any more!”
“Hold on.” Hughes lifted a hand as Ed pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering what sin he had committed to deserve getting stuck between these two. “You’re saying that you already have? That you managed to sneak in, evade security, and spend hours reading at the library without being caught?”
She looked down, hunching her shoulders. “The room off the corner of the second floor doesn’t have anyone in it.”
Hughes’s smirk slipped. “Because it contains sensitive and confidential information.”
Ed’s eyes cut over to Sheska at that. Maybe he should have invited her after all, had her get him that information.
“Look,” he cut in, stepping between them. “Sheska did something dumb, okay? But no harm done. I’ll scold her for you. You can go back to your wife and daughter.”
“I’m stuck here for two more hours.” Hughes waved his hand dismissively, eyes fixed on Sheska. “What is it you do?”
“Trying to poach my secretary?” Ed asked lightly, doing his best to conceal how much he wanted this conversation to be over. Hughes simply shot Ed a look that very clearly said, spare me.
Sheska swallowed. “I, uh, used to work at the Central public library.”
“I got fired. For reading on the job instead of working.” She sighed, eyes taking on a distant, resigned look. “Guess it’s for the best, anyway. I had already read everything.”
“Holy shit,” Ed broke in, knowing the charade was up and not wanting to insult either himself or Hughes by pretending otherwise. “Everything? How much shit has the military taken?”
“Oh, no, they just took the alchemy books!” Sheska corrected blithely. “I read fast, and remember everything, so rereading isn’t quite as fun, you know?”
Ed understood somewhat—he had reread many a book—but had she just said—
“Everything?” Hughes’s eyebrows shot up, and Ed turned to squint at him, convinced that this meant nothing good.
“Yeah, kinda weird, huh? No matter what, never leaves my head once it’s in there.”
“Sheska, you said your name was?” Hughes asked with a grin. She blinked up at him, eyes wide.
“Do you want another job?”
With a long, low, exasperated groan, Ed lifted his hands to cover his face.
“So it seems you’ve already made up your mind.” Tone irritated, Ed leaned back in his chair, arms crossed, lips pressed together. “Is there any point to my being here?”
“Hey, you were the one who insisted on tagging along,” Maes retorted cheerfully. “You tell me.”
“No need,” Roy murmured, earning a suspicious glance from Ed. “I’m here. He tends to show up in areas I frequent.” A turn of his head that dangerously resembled the flicking of his bangs had Ed’s glare shifting to a roll of his eyes.
“An unfortunate coincidence. I barely have any room, with how much space your ego takes up.”
“Civilian contractor,” Hughes corrected. “You don’t have a rank, but you’re still bound by the rules and regulations of the military. And confidentiality,” he added, fixing Sheska with a stern look as she did her best to look innocent.
“And information?” she piped up, looking eager, and Ed rolled his eyes, turning in his chair so he was propped up against one of the arms, legs dangling over the other. Could she be any more obvious? Despite covertness and secrecy not being his strong point, even he could tell that she would have made a terrible spy. “Top secret information buried by the higher-ups? Is it true that our country has been visited by beings from another planet? That the government engineered the food shortages? That they’re working on devices to control our mind?”
Hughes and Roy exchanged indulgent glances—though Ed couldn’t see why; the last two didn’t really sound outside the purview of this government—and then turned back to her. “While your job will expose you to certain confidential information, you will need to realize the sensitivity of it all, and treat it accordingly.”
Sheska wilted a little at Maes’s stern “dad” tone, then nodded. “I won’t tell, I swear. I just thought, well…” She glanced over at Ed, who raised an eyebrow at her. “I figure there has to be some truth to it, given that you’re working with Hohenheim.”
Ed choked and twisted towards her—and promptly fell out of his chair.
“What on earth are you talking about?” Roy murmured, watching her oddly for a moment before he turned his gaze to Ed and smirked. Ed scoffed, pushing himself upright, able to feel the strands of hair sticking out at odd angles.
“Well, I mean, he looks just like—“
“You think I’m him?” Ed choked out. He didn’t need this; the prodding into his family tree had been irritating enough.
“Now that she mentions it,” Roy murmured innocently, earning himself a glare from Ed, “you do bear a striking resemblance to our famous golden warrior.”
“Golden scholar,” Sheska insisted with a scowl.
“Okay, you two. Centuries haven’t solved that debate; you’re not going to come to an agreement in five minutes, and as flawless as my wife is, being married to an alchemist while being in the military means that I’ve heard this argument way more times than any man needs to in his lifetime. Putting a stop to it right now.”
“Well, if Gracia would stop bringing it up—”
Hughes’s glare could have peeled apples, and Roy shut his mouth. Grateful for the distraction, Ed pushed himself to his feet and sat back in his chair, glancing off to the side, feigning an air of unconcern. They could debate all they wanted—both were right—as long as they didn’t ask again about—
“…does kind of look like Hohenheim, doesn’t he.”
Ed turned just as Sheska nodded eagerly at Hughes. “Not kind of. Just like. There’s a portrait in the library, and the resemblance is uncanny.” She pulled back, squinting at him. “So naturally, the most obvious explanation is that he never died, and that the government has been keeping him alive to use in propaganda when they need it. Maybe even with a Philosopher’s Stone.”
“There is no Philosopher’s Stone,” Roy snapped, cutting in and glaring even as Ed covered his face with his hand again. “As the highest-ranking alchemist in the country, who has access to the most alchemic information in possibly the world, I might add, I have made damn sure of that.”
“That’s just what you’d say if you didn’t have—”
“You should probably stop, Sheska,” Ed cut in. Despite not wanting to draw any more attention to himself, sympathy for Roy twinged in his chest, and Philosopher’s Stones in general had never been Ed’s favorite topic of conversation.
She sighed and reached up to tug at her hair. “Okay, okay.” She glanced over at Ed. “Well, if you’re not him, then who are you? Why do you look so much like him?”
The question: the bane of his returns to Amestris. Still, unlike the surprise encounter in the library, Ed had prepared his answer this time: “I’m a descendant of the Hohenheim line. There aren’t many around. I like to keep it secret, because it generally garners me…” He shot Sheska a glare. “Unwanted attention. The looks run in the family.”
“As far as we know, Edris Hohenheim didn’t have any children,” Roy murmured, and Ed snorted.
“Yeah, okay. I think I would know better than you.”
Roy raised his hands in surrender, and Sheska turned to watch Ed, fascinated. “So do you have hidden stories about your ancestor? Secrets passed down generations? Alchemical theories that have never before seen the light of day?”
Roy’s head snapped up at that last one, watching Ed carefully, and Ed simply smirked. He knew exactly how to make Sheska’s day, and he would annoy Roy in the process.
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” he murmured in a low voice.
Sheska looked positively enchanted.
A knock on the door interrupted Roy’s glare. “Enter.”
They all turned as Havoc opened the door. Though he didn’t pant, Ed could see the rise and fall of his chest, more rapid than usual, suggesting that he had run here.
“Chief. Bradley’s called a meeting, and he’s gonna want you guys there.” He shot Ed and Sheska—mostly Ed—a significant look. “He’s sending some lackeys to pick you up, and I thought you’d want to know in advance.”
Roy nodded, expression quickly shifting to serious. “Thank you, Lieutenant.” He turned to Ed. “This is a meeting I’d like you—I’d like you both to attend, actually,” he corrected, nodding at Sheska. “There’s simply the matter of a uniform for you, however, Edward.”
Ed simply shrugged, clapping his hands together. “That ain’t gonna be a problem.”
“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Ed snapped darkly as he stepped beside Roy. “I look nothing like a woman. My build is all wrong, fuck if I can do the walk, and I swear, if you mention my height—“
“This isn’t about you looking like a woman,” Roy hissed back.
“You said I would be your Lieutenant Colonel Hawkeye!”
“And you look very nice in the bun. Trust me, no one will be paying enough attention to the adjutants for them to care. If I have a blond in a bun next to me, who keeps their head down and doesn’t cause trouble, it will be fine.”
“Have I told you lately that I hate you?”
“You can buy me drinks later to thank me.”
“Thank you? No way; this is gonna be on your tab, asshole—“
But Ed wasn’t stupid enough to continue his tirade as they stepped into the meeting room.
There, Ed got his first look at Head Protector King Bradley.
Although Ed knew very well that a cheerful façade could easily conceal malice, he had still built up a more menacing figure in his mind. The man in front of him could have been someone’s grandfather, with how kindly and honest he looked. His royal blue uniform, crisp to perfection, emanated an aura of professionalism, golden stars and stripes gleaming on his shoulders. A neatly-trimmed mustache framed his mouth, and an eyepatch concealed his left eye.
To all appearances, a fine military man. Sure.
As Roy had predicted, no one seemed to give Ed a second glance. Ed knew very well that he shouldn’t be vaguely annoyed, but he allowed himself a brief moment of petty indulgence before turning back to focus on the matter at hand.
So many generals. Not all of them, of course—gathering everyone in one place would be complete folly—but enough to send chills down Ed’s back as he took in the solemn faces around him, men (and it was mostly men, which left him gritting his teeth) with faces of grave concern or, even worse, eyes gleaming with ambition. Ed recognized the look in an instant, and it left his stomach churning. He had seen it many times over his lifetime, and it never ended well for those under the person’s control. And to see it here, in Amestris, his home, his country, hit him harder than it ever had before.
“As you all know,” Bradley began, quieting the room instantly, “the contents of this meeting are to remain in strictest confidentiality. Nothing in this room is to leave it.”
Ed glanced around at the dozens of generals, their staff, and even a few of lower ranks, such as Hughes. Why Hughes had been called here, Ed couldn’t say, but their confidentiality system really sucked. With what had to be almost a hundred people in the room, he had his doubts that absolutely everything would stay there.
“We have been receiving unconfirmed reports of crop sabotage. While it had initially seemed like an isolated incident, the destruction has recently become more widespread. We are following up with our informants to see if we can gain proof of this crime. We have nothing firm yet, but as you all know, we have been unable to determine the cause of such severe food shortages this past year.”
Funny, the people in Central seemed to have figured it out fine. Ed squinted at Bradley, trying to figure out if he was playing dumb or just that stupid.
“We do, of course, offer our commendations to Colonel Hughes for his work in alleviating those shortages where he has been able.”
As Bradley nodded in Hughes’s direction, Ed glanced over as well, a little surprised. The guy didn’t really strike him as the food management type. Nor did he look particularly happy, though Ed only caught the barest hints of that.
“What preliminary intelligence we do have points to Creta.”
Ed’s head snapped up, eyes wide, at that revelation. Creta? He nearly snapped out in protest, but bit his tongue. That didn’t make any fucking sense.
“However, as we do not have firm evidence—yet—we cannot make any formal accusations without incurring a diplomatic incident. I only wanted everyone in this room to be aware in the likely event we receive confirmation. The likely case is that they wish to force our hand, to purchase crops from them at a drastically increased price, in order to both profit and to drain our finances. To what end, again, we have no confirmation, but the conclusions are hardly difficult to make.”
Ed took a deep breath along with many of the others in the assembly. No, it wasn’t. War.
The four of them settled into Roy’s office after they returned, joined by Lieutenant Colonel Hawkeye. Roy quickly filled her in with the news of the meeting as she listened intently. Ed… not so much. He didn’t want to hear it again, not the thought of what might happen if what the Head Protector had been true. To see Amestris plunged into war would half-destroy him; interfering in it would do it completely. His country it might be, but to throw his power behind a politician, especially one as unsavory as this Bradley figure, would break the most important oath Ed had ever sworn.
And yet it was still the better of the two options. If Bradley had been lying, that presented an entirely new set of problems. Worse, and from where Ed stood, even more likely.
“I never suspected Creta,” said Sheska, sounding troubled. “Everything I’ve heard—whispers, rumors, and everything, they never…”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to believe it.” Roy finally sat, leaning back in his chair and glancing between Ed and Sheska. “Maes used to be the head of intelligence, but was reassigned some time ago to deal with the food shortages.”
“And I can tell you that those contacts don’t die easily,” Maes continued, usually jovial expression one of sobriety. “International politics don’t shift that quickly, either, and certainly not without certain parties being aware. I’d be cautious about what they’re putting out.”
“Creta’s food production also has nothing to do with us,” Ed added, nodding at Hughes, who returned the gesture. “They produce plenty, yes, but it’s not a huge market of theirs. Their exports include such delicacies as olives, wine, fish…” At the company’s blank stare, Ed sighed. “Aerugonian specialties. They’ve got similar climates.” Ed strode over to a map of the world, tapping on the two countries. “See the sizes, and the coastlines? This area here is Cretan farmland, but all of this is Aerugonian. Creta’s strengths lie in their workforce and production. Yeah, we get some food from them, but they simply don’t have enough to supply us through such a massive food shortage. I don’t know the state of Amestris’s imports right now, but if we start pulling more in…”
Roy broke in right as Ed tapped the country on the map. “We’re going to get it from Aerugo, not Creta. And if, as you say, they export similar food items, there’s likely some sort of rivalry there?” At Ed’s pleased nod, he continued, walking forward. “So this is the exact opposite of a smart decision.”
“If they’re the ones doing it.” Ed glanced up and over at Roy, who peered at the map with an intensity that rivaled Ed’s own, their shoulders nearly brushing. “I mean, they could just be idiots.”
“Or the military could be lying,” Sheska said from behind them, voice quiet. “Just… trying to shift the blame from—”
She gasped quietly, cut off, and Ed distantly pictured Hughes covering her mouth.
“The Cretan government aren’t idiots.” Hughes said the words matter-of-factly, free of any insinuation, and Ed nodded.
“Haven’t been there in a while,” he murmured, eyes fixed on the map. “Wasn’t sure.” The thought of the Amestrian government trying to pin this crime on a foreign country, one with which Amestris had historically had a good relationship, left a sour taste in his mouth. Though, despite its faults, the assumption that it was responsible for it left one just as nasty. Ed couldn’t allow himself to be too rash. Problematic as the local government might be, he had seen far worse.
“There’s also another option.”
He finally turned to face the other three, distantly aware of Roy’s proximity. They watched him intently, and he pressed his finger back to the map.
“Aerugo. Assuming this is a case of sabotage—and I’m not still convinced that this is—they would stand to gain far more. As Roy brought up, there’s something of a rivalry between Creta and Aerugo. Forcing this country into a state of emergency, a food shortage, would widen that gap, as we would be forced to seek that excess food from them.”
At the surprised stares, Ed withdraw his hand, scowling a little self-consciously as he shoved his hands into his pockets. “What? Don’t they teach you guys foreign affairs in school? I know they do at the military academy.”
Roy snorted. “Hardly. Everything I know, I know from Maes. External affairs aren’t exactly the sort of thing they care to have on the curriculum.”
Ed groaned and pressed his palms against his eyes.
“Well,” Ed finally said, after a few moments of silence, “I guess keep us up-to-date if you hear anything, Colonel,” he finished, nodding at Hughes.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ed could see Roy smirk. “Us? Why, Edward, are you concerned?”
Ed shot Roy a glare, scowling. “Of fucking course I am. Not you specifically. Don’t get any ideas. But the country, yeah. This is my home, and I’m not gonna let some assholes, whether that’s Creta, Aerugo, or anyone else come in and ruin things.”
The rest of the company stayed quiet for a few moments before Lieutenant Colonel Hawkeye spoke up, her voice commanding their attention despite its low volume. “Without further intelligence, we don’t have much else to go on. We can’t accuse the Head Protector of lying; he’s made no accusations. As for it being a mistake, all you have is suspicion. That’s certainly unacceptable, especially,” she continued, voice taking on a wry tone, “as your suspicions come from the knowledge of a person who attended the meeting illegally. Knowledge, you’ll note, that you have no reason for knowing, sir.”
“Eloquent as always, Hawkeye,” Roy sighed. “I do hate sitting around and doing nothing. It feels like that’s all I’ve been up to lately.”
“It feels that way for both of us, sir.” The wryness in Riza’s tone deepened to a level of near exasperation with hints of amusement. Given what he knew of Roy, Ed understood the latter and couldn’t fault her for it. “There’s always paperwork.”
Roy cleared his throat loudly, turning to face Ed again. “In the meantime, I do believe you promised you’d buy me dinner.” As Ed opened his mouth and took a deep breath to protest, Roy continued with a sultry smile. “However, I might be persuaded to pick up the bill.”
“Don’t let him talk you into putting out, Ed,” Maes called, a shit-eating grin on his face. “You deserve way better.”
With a grimace, Ed headed for the door. Right before he exited, he turned back, squinting in Roy’s direction.
“The Keys. Seven. Don’t be late.”
As one of the most expensive restaurants in Central, Ed found that he stood out far less at The Keys than he did in other places. He had opted on a subtler button down this time, a lighter smokey gray, though fastened with weathered gold cufflinks in the shape of tiny raven’s skulls. His dark charcoal pants and jacket, his vest a deep sapphire with a delicate frosted fractal pattern in silver thread, meant that he didn’t warrant a second glance. Well, maybe one or two, with the coloring of the vest, but Ed certainly wasn’t going to complain. When watching the clientele, he liked to be watched back.
“You look stunning,” murmured a low, pleased voice from behind him.
Ed turned, chin lifting proudly and tilting at an attractive angle, straightening just a bit. He pulled this off well, and he knew it.
But then again, so did Roy.
Seeing him in a color other than blue left Ed slightly dissonant; startled, even. His first reaction to the deep red button-down was that’s my color!, but upon taking in Roy’s full appearance, he realized… that was exactly the point.
Roy had eschewed the vest; a bold fashion choice, to be sure, but it worked for him. His jacket was a jet black, his thin tie the same shimmering gold as Ed’s hair, contrasting against the ruby of the shirt as it drew attention to Roy’s neck before disappearing down into the black of the jacket… and leaving the focus on Roy’s face.
Ed did quite a bit of that.
“You don’t look half bad yourself,” Ed managed to get out, sounding mostly collected and calm about the fact that Roy Mustang out of uniform, hair perfectly messy and leaving Ed itching to touch it, looked good enough to goddamn eat. The fact that he wore Ed’s colors? Yeah, the bastard knew what he was doing, and Ed found himself falling for it anyway.
Roy offered his hand, and Ed returned the favor, watching warily… until Roy lifted the gloved automail to his lips, kissing the air above it. “I’m honored at your company. Shall we be seated?”
Ed yanked his hand away, trying not to scowl too much—or to turn as red as Roy’s shirt—and turned to the host. “Yeah, if we don’t have to wait too long.”
“Not to worry,” Roy murmured, and the host stepped up, two menus in hand, and escorted them right in. “I called ahead. I have connections.”
“Of course you do.” Ed sighed loudly, earning a nasty look from a very proper-looking old woman as he passed by. He rolled her eyes at her, which he had meant to do at Roy earlier with the hand kissing, but forgotten for some reason. So he had to get it out of his system.
They sat, they browsed the menus—Ed noted that he had received the one without prices, though he knew from former experience how expensive a dinner here could be—they made small talk as they decided what to order, and then they fell silent.
Ed picked up a slice of bread they had set at the table and chewed on it, watching Roy from under his eyelashes. Roy didn’t seem to be paying much attention to him; he scanned the restaurant, looking pleased and relaxed, completely at home in the formal atmosphere. Ed watched Roy take in the other guests, the dishes, the décor, and realized this was the first time he hadn’t seen him look like a smug bastard.
It was a good look on him. Ed had to admit, privately, that the cockiness had its own appeal, but something about the way the tension seemed to ease out of Roy’s face had Ed smiling faintly himself.
And then Roy’s eyes slid back to Ed, and Ed’s focused intently on the butter.
“So, about Aerugo,” he finally burst out, at the same moment Roy began, “Automail?”
Ed blinked over at him, trying to put together what the fuck automail had to do with their conversations from earlier, and Roy simply raised an eyebrow, looking impeccable and amused.
“We’ve talked enough about our work for one day. For longer than that, really. I’d like to hear about you.”
“About me,” Ed repeated, blinking with surprise and trying not to feel too flattered. Well, he could see where the interest might come from, even if he couldn’t give Roy too much information, but he had thought that this would be more business and less pleasure.
With a faint smirk, he leaned back in his chair, giving Roy a quick glance up and down. He wouldn’t mind a bit of the latter.
“So, what do you want to know?” he asked, voice faintly teasing and more than a little smug as he picked up a glass of wine. “I understand that when a handsome stranger with impeccable fashion sense falls into your life, you have a million questions, but I do have a mysterious persona to keep up, so I can only answer so many.”
“But of course,” Roy murmured, picking up his own glass of his wine and sipping it as he watched Ed back, returning the smirk, though Ed could barely see it. “You’ve drawn me in. I can’t seem to escape your gravitational pull, low as it is.”
Ed’s left hand jerked at the words, squeezing tightly for a brief moment, the wine glass stem snapping in his fist. “Excuse me?” he gritted out.
Roy reached out to tug the two pieces from Ed, but Ed yanked them away, fixing it himself with a transmutation of his own. “Hmm? Something I said?”
“You callin’ me short?” Ed downed the rest of the wine, wondering if he had walked into an evening of mockery instead of subtle flirtation.
“I did no such thing. Don’t blame me for your own inferences.”
“I’ll take my inferences and shove them up your—”
“Edward! This was supposed to be a pleasant evening!”
Even as Roy gently chided, the smirk didn’t leave his mouth, the glimmer of amusement in his eyes twinkling away. Ed took a deep breath and rolled his eyes.
“Despite your best efforts? For that, you get one less question.”
“Fine, fine!” Roy, Ed had to admit, looked quite good when he laughed, white teeth flashing in a charming grin that seemed almost conspiratorial, like you were the only one it would let in on its secrets. Gross. “First thing. You said you’re originally from here, yes? Central, or somewhere else?”
Ed shook his head, settling back again. “Spent a lot of time in Central, but I’m originally from further east. Not well known. You’ve probably never heard of it,” he finished, having to hide a grimace at the words.
“You’d be surprised,” Roy replied, voice light, but he didn’t push. “That explains the accent. It’s faint, but there. Not nearly as strong as Havoc’s.”
Ed huffed. “Look, I’ve been to so many goddamn places, speak so many goddamn languages, I could put on any accent I want.” To prove his point, he said the sentence with standard Central pronunciation. “Don’t pretend that you know about me just because of the way I do things.”
“It’s called making conversation, Edward.” Roy, fuck him, only sounded amused. “I was raised here. I’m part Xingese, but my aunt, the one who raised me, is Amestrian through and through. I’ve never spoken the language.”
“Could teach you,” Ed offered before he realized what he was doing.
“I think I’m quite occupied with current projects, thank you, but I’ll let you know if I have the time.”
“Yeah? So tell me about these current projects.” Ed pulled up his chair a little, watching Roy intently. Not that he was going to get involved in anything, but he had wanted to get a better grasp on Amestris’s current state of affairs. Roy seemed the least of any evils through which he could accurately gain that information.
It helped that he was easy on the eyes, especially when he had the upper hand. Or thought he did.
“Oh, you know.” Roy waved his hand, also in its glove, and Ed found himself dealing with an unexpected urge to pull it off with his teeth. “Classified, and all that. Though I can promise you, much of what they have me doing officially feels more like running around in circles than anything productive.”
“Edward, I thought we weren’t going to talk about work.”
Ignoring Roy’s purr, his desire quickly shifting to one of kicking Roy under the table, Ed shrugged, popping another piece of bread into his mouth. “You said that. But really, d’you have much going on outside it?”
The wince those words earned was far more gratifying than any kick would ever be. “That’s… fair. Though are you really one to critique my social life? You don’t seem to have much going on.”
“I’m new in town.” Ed smirked. “You should be at least feigning politeness for me.”
“As you keep insisting, you’re actually returning. A local, in fact. Tell me, how long have you considered Central—Amestris—home? You’ve made it obvious that you’re older than you look. How much, might I ask?”
Ed flashed him a grin. “You may, but no way I’m gonna answer. Is it not considered rude anymore to ask about ages?”
“Oh, no, it is; I was hoping you wouldn’t realize, given your usual grasp of manners.”
Ed gave in with the kick. Roy’s smirk didn’t waver in the slightest.
“Just call me curious. How long has it been since you’ve been here?” Roy’s eyes flashed the tiniest bit—maybe? Ed couldn’t be sure, not in the low light—as he propped his chin on his hand. “I have to wonder if you’ve been here even longer than I have.”
Ed didn’t let his unconcerned smirk slip; no matter how subtle Roy could have been with that question, he had seen it coming miles off. “C’mon, Mustang. Away from fishing for compliments. You got a baby face, yeah, but you don’t look that young. And I didn’t come here to listen to your vanity.”
Roy sighed, drawing back, looking forlorn as the server brought the first of their plates. “One day I will enter into an amatory entanglement with someone who truly appreciates the finer things in life.”
“Maybe someday. But only after you stop counting your face on the top of that list.” Roy eyed Ed a smirk spreading, but before he could say anything, Ed continued. “Or your ass.”
“And yet, those two things come to the front of your mind when you think of ‘finer things.’ Interesting. I’ll remember your preferences.”
“As if you could forget,” Ed faux grumbled, shifting two plates aside for the rest of their meal.
Roy’s eyebrows shot up as the plates kept coming. “How much did you order?”
“Enough to feed myself.” Ed waved off the question as he eyed the filet of fish in front of him hungrily. He had always been partial to seafood, and while he knew it would be as fresh as what you could get in Aerugo, frozen transportation had come a long way. “Not like you can complain about me spending too much money. You’re the one who got me the menu without the prices.”
Roy exhaled through his nose and Ed dug in happily.
The conversation turned to Ed, and he replied with caution, though tried to avoid stinginess. Avoidance could be suspicious as fuck, and he supposed that no harm could come from answering Roy’s question of “Where did you learn alchemy” with “My dad,” “Where is he now” with “No idea; not like he was ever around anyway,” and “How about your mother?” to “She’s fucking dead.”
“So you’re not gonna get them to teach you this stuff, either,” Ed jabbed, though he couldn’t help but smirk a little at Roy’s politely stymied expression. “Go learn your own shit.”
Roy sighed, but shook his head. “Again, I’m just making conversation,” he said wryly, nudging his fork through his own fish.
Ed shot him a suspicious look, but at Roy’s deprecating grin, he sighed. “Okay, okay. So, conversation. You and that Colonel Hughes seem pretty close. How did you guys meet?”
Ed wouldn’t have caught it if he hadn’t been watching closely. Roy’s face flickered with several emotions over the course of less than a second—startled, wary, sad, resigned—before settling on composed again.
“Yes. He’s my oldest friend. We met at the academy, and he stuck on, sort of like a burr that keeps snagging on your sock. Eventually you just let it stay because it’s too much trouble to pull off.”
Ed grinned at the words; Roy’s fond tone left him with no illusions as to the true sincerity of that friendship. “I’ll bet. So he probably wasn’t dating his now-wife, then, otherwise you’d have probably pulled the burr off for good, huh?”
Instead of laughing at the joke, as Ed had expected, Roy hesitated again. Though he eventually smiled and shook his head, Ed had seen enough.
“Was he dating you?”
Roy’s eyes widened, leaving Ed with the answer to that question. “Well, fraternization isn’t—”
“You can say yes. Who am I gonna tell?”
Roy’s wry smile returned, though this time with a trace of bitterness. “All right. I generally try not to discuss exes on first dates—”
“Can’t decide if I should comment that you probably got a lot of those or that you shouldn’t go assuming this is a date.”
“—yes, we were involved. It didn’t work out, and that relationship is firmly in the past.”
Roy’s tone took on an edge that Ed hadn’t heard before, and though Ed wasn’t sure if he believed it—well, if he was going to be honest with himself, he mostly wanted to know more out of sheer curiosity—he let the matter rest. Not that he was intimidated or anything. But he could pick and choose his battles and come back to the others later.
“So now? How the fuck d’you go from head of intelligence to dealing with food shortages? Not that it’s not something the country needs, but they don’t exactly have much in common.”
Roy’s lips pressed together, and from the set of his jaw, Ed could tell he had touched a sore spot. “His abilities were needed elsewhere. Or so he was told. As was I, inadvertently, as I was very conspicuously present.”
With every indicator that the current government had it out for Roy—and for those close to him—Ed found he liked the guy even more, though he’d definitely keep that one to himself. “No shit. And the guy who took his place?”
“A very loyal individual.” If Roy’s voice had dripped any more sarcasm it would have seasoned his fish. “Understanding of the military’s needs and willing to see to them by any means necessary.”
Ed made a face, and it must have been damn entertaining, because getting Roy Mustang to laugh like that right after he was being bitter about his best friend losing a job because of him couldn’t have been something that happened often.
Pity. Ed would like to hear more of Roy’s laugh, deep and rich and vibrant. He would never call it gentle, or free, but the way it barely hinted at breaking out of its constraints fit Roy just a little too well.
Ed couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit bitter at who the fuck ever had blessed Roy with those vocal cords.
“Though,” Roy added, after Ed stopped making faces like a four-year-old, “he’s done quite well of it. Better than they’d hoped, I imagine. It helps that his wife is quite skilled at planning. Has a business of it, actually. Obviously not on the same scale, but as I’ve been told, similar principles apply.”
Ed pulled back, holding his fork in a vaguely defensive position, squinting over at Roy. “I haven’t secretly gone out with Hughes, have I? Am I gonna spend the entire meal hearing about how wonderful she is?”
Roy laughed again, this time gentler, but no less enticing. “Not the entire meal, I promise. But I think you’d like Gracia. She’s incredibly sweet—maybe it would rub off a little on you—”
“People have been hoping that for years. Don’t hold your breath.”
“—and she’s actually quite a skilled alchemist. She’s actually fine-tuned cooking alchemy to a degree that I’ve never seen. And even you’d be impressed with what she can do with design and architecture. She’d be a State Alchemist if the military weren’t so…”
“Devaluing of things like that?” Ed finished, grimacing. “That’s shit, what this place has turned into.”
“It could use change, couldn’t it?” Roy murmured, and Ed glanced at him sharply. “It’s good to meet people who have similar ideas as myself. And who have the power to reach for those goals.”
Ed stiffened, suspicion creeping back in. “Look, if this is about me coming to work for you—”
“For heaven’s sakes, Edward. Not everything is about you.” Despite Ed’s tone bordering on hostile, Roy sounded amused, if a bit exasperated. “Can’t I discuss how it’s nice to see people who agree with me? Your joining the military has nothing to do with it. You’re out helping victims repair their homes when most others would have shaken their heads and been done with it. I was only,” Roy finished, voice lowering both in volume and in pitch, “expressing my pleasure.”
Ed was going to need to see a doctor for neck pains at the rate of all of this mood whiplash—defensiveness, shame, then what the fuck ever Roy’s voice had just done to him. He didn’t like it. Well, he did, and that was the problem. No one should be allowed to wield a weapon like that, which caused involuntary reactions from Ed about anything.
He cleared his throat and made a particularly vicious stab at a potato, then remembered that he had wine and nursed himself with that.
“So,” he finally said, voice too loud for his own ears. “Tell me about your team. That Hawkeye, how does she put up with you?”
“With great fortitude,” Roy sighed, that gorgeously charming deprecating smile firmly back in place. “But she keeps me in my place, as is her right.”
At Ed’s raised eyebrow, Roy leaned back, watching Ed thoughtfully, as if weighing whether to trust him with a particularly tasty bit of information. Ed did his best to look as innocent as possible. He’d gotten better at it, with practice.
“Her father actually began the research that would eventually become my flame alchemy. I sought him out for just that reason. Asked to become his pupil. I couldn’t have been much older than you are now. Well, probably about your age.”
“Right. Older than you look. Anyway, he taught me alchemy, but never did reveal his research into flame alchemy. As I studied with him longer, I learned why. He had made progress, and despite not having reached perfection, had dabbled in even greater forces without having first gained control of the initial one. Not just fire, but other means of energy and such. Radiation. Electricity. It went… badly.”
Ed nodded jerkily; he could imagine. Those were areas of alchemy he had done cursory research into, but never had the time to investigate in-depth, ironically enough.
“He lost control. Hurt her quite badly. She took his research notes and left. He didn’t try to stop her.” Roy lifted his hand to his mouth, the second knuckle of his index finger resting against his lower lip as he stared thoughtfully at the rim of his plate. “Much of the rest is boring details you probably don’t want to hear. But when I finally did find her, when I managed to convince her that I would use it for good, for the betterment of Amestris instead of to hurt others, she made it clear in no uncertain terms that if I went back on my word, she would make me regret it. You might say I’m at her mercy.”
“Kind of a scary place to be,” Ed muttered, hoping it would ease the tension slightly.
“Indeed. But I’m glad for it. I’ve always had my goals, always striven to work for what I believe is right, but having someone there as a reminder not to lose course, a physical manifestation of my responsibilities and duties, has proven to be invaluable. And on her end, she has the control and influence over what happens with her research. Because it is hers, really; she may not have been the one to create it like her father, or shape it into a working array and transmutation like myself, but she has the best judgement of any of us, and thus is best fit to be its guardian.”
Ed listened carefully, nodding. In a corner of his mind, he noted the difference between the way Roy talked about Hughes and the way he talked about Hawkeye: while his demeanor discussing Hughes spoke of fondness, affection, and even bordering on the amatory, whether former or possibly lingering. Ed heard none of that with Hawkeye. While he had no doubt of the depth of their relationship and intensity of their closeness, the two simply had very different vibes.
“I guess I can forgive you for not handing it over to me the second I ask, then.” Ed started in on his second plate of food, a pasta dish this time, amused, cocky tone belying the reluctance of the words. “I’ll have to earn her trust as well as yours. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to be the type to be swayed by a pretty face.”
Roy tilted his head. “Not yours, anyway. She’s quite taken with a lieutenant in another division, and I’m fairly sure she returns Riza’s affection. But I have to say, I’m quite offended at the thought that you think I’m that predictable.”
“Why, because it’s true? Colonel Hughes warned me about you.”
Roy shot Ed a sour look. “Actually, I was just keeping the research from you because I enjoy seeing you annoyed.”
At the way Ed’s head snapped up, mouth dropping open in outrage, Roy’s sourness melted into delight, and he let loose another of those laughs, sending tingles all the way down through Ed’s toes. Including the automail ones. Fuck.
Ed scoffed and turned away before remembering that he had to at least sort of face Roy in order to eat. Well, he could stuff himself with his filet steak coated in pâté, duxelles, and pastry while ignoring Roy.
Who, of course, continued to speak.
“Mm, answer me a question? Just to assuage my curiosity.”
Ed glanced up, the motions of his steak knife more vicious than they strictly needed to be.
“Why do you hate the government so much? Or the military?” Roy tilted his head. “It’s strange. One moment you don’t seem to believe that we’re—it’s capable of these horrible things; the next, you’re criticizing it quite viciously. And yet you don’t seem to be interested in taking steps towards involving yourself in positions where you might be an influence. With talent like that, you certainly could be.”
The savory, buttery deliciousness took on a taste that reminded Ed of sawdust. He glanced suspiciously up at Roy as he swallowed, wondering if this was more of a recruiting effort, but he looked genuinely curious.
Ed took a deep breath. No way was he going to spill his entire life’s story tonight, but he could explain a little to Roy, he guessed.
“My talents make me somethin’ of a target. Not for attack, but for… well, influence.” He offhandedly realized that he had lowered his voice, which was dumb; who the fuck would be listening? “Country leaders. That sort of thing. When I was younger, a lot younger—and a lot stupider—I let it go to my head, the ‘use’ I was able to provide, the difference I was able to make. It ended up badly. Lotta people dead. And I can’t let that happen again.”
He almost expected to hear Roy drawl, “Well, wouldn’t it be better if you could stop people from getting killed?” this time, the way that so many others had tried to talk him around. Always the same, never understanding—
“I understand,” came Roy’s quiet voice.
Ed glanced up, trying not to show his surprise, and was met with Roy Mustang’s serious expression, not a hint of teasing or flirtatiousness to be found.
“You’re not the only one who’s made mistakes in the attempt to do what you thought was right. Would help. Would make things better, at the behest of your government. You’re not the only one who’s made mistakes there, either.”
Ed caught a flicker of pain in the depths of Roy’s dark eyes, a haunted look that reminded Ed of those he had seen in the faces of soldiers fresh from a battlefield. He thought back to the things he had heard about Amestris that had drawn him here.
“You’re talking about Ishv—”
“I think that’s enough sharing about deeply personal issues for tonight, hmm?” Roy’s genial tone interrupted Ed’s murmur, shattering the moment of sobriety between them. “So, a very important question that will determine the nature of our relationship from here on out.”
Ed frowned slightly, watching him carefully.
“Coffee or tea?”
Ed made a face. “Coffee is disgusting. Who drinks that swill?”
“You, I’m afraid, are dead to me, Edward.”
“What the fuck ever. More tea for me.”
Roy had walked him home, like the perfect gentleman. Had made an impressed noise at the sight of the Gilded Hotel, freshly renovated. Took him up to his room, lingered in the doorway.
“Despite your questionable taste in, well, everything, I’d like to do this again. Am I correct in the assumption that you agree?”
Ed smirked. “Just for that, I should tell you no. Fuck your assumptions.”
“That had two extra syllables beyond what I’d like to do,” Roy murmured innocently.
Before Ed could protest, snarl that he wasn’t putting out tonight, go to hell, Mustang, Roy leaned in and pressed his lips against Ed’s.
The man kissed with more delicacy, more finesse, than Ed had expected—he had braced himself for a deep, demanding kiss; skilled, yes, but a tool of seduction. This was soft, a gentle capture of the lips that lingered, slow and gentlemanly. Warm, yearning, coaxing…
Ed reached up, grabbed Roy’s shirt, and slipped his tongue into Roy’s mouth.
He swallowed up the delicious, startled noise from Roy’s throat, doing some coaxing of his own, and within moments, Roy had returned the favor. Ed moaned around Roy’s tongue, tilting his head as Roy slid his arms around Ed’s waist.
When Roy’s hand slipped down to Ed’s thigh, Ed tugged away.
“I’m takin’ your best friend’s advice,” Ed murmured, trying to ignore the urge to pant, though quite pleased with the matching rapid rise and fall of Roy’s chest. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Ed tugged away, sliding his key into the doorknob and heading inside before Roy’s tousled black hair, his kiss-swollen lips, could change his mind. The lingering hand on his own almost did, but Roy released his fingers with reluctance, and Ed closed the door behind himself without a look back.
The euphoria of the evening didn’t last long.
At first, as Ed divested himself of his jacket and vest, he couldn’t stop the stupid grin from stretching across his face. Though he had kept his calm—mostly—during dinner, now, playing back the little gestures, the smirks, the wit, the conversation, the laugh, left Ed near the point of laughing himself. Like a goddamn giddy teenager.
But by the time his fingers undid the buttons on his shirt, his mind had flitted back over dinner. Back to their conversation about more serious things. About Amestris.
And Ed felt exhaustion creeping in.
He dropped the shirt to the ground, not bothering to even put it in the laundry hamper. Before he realized what his hands were doing, they had found a pen and paper and set it on his desk.
Ed’s automail hand found its way into his pocket as his flesh one picked up the pen, dipping it into ink. Metal fingers clinked against something hard, and though the sensation of automail would never be the same as skin, he could still feel edges and roughness as his thumb traced around it.
He began to write.
I need help.
How do you do it, stand by and watch a country you created fall into possible ruin? When I gathered the people who would become Amestris, I taught them everything I thought they would need to avoid Xerxes's fate. A corrupt leader, caring only for his own gain and nothing for the well-being of his people. I couldn't let that happen again. They have nothing like the philosopher's stone in Amestris, no way to create it, but these men... if they knew that it could be done, they would stop at nothing to create it. Or to take it, if they knew it existed.
I could stop this. I could at least try. This is my home, what I have left after Xerxes fell. But who’s to say that I wouldn’t just usher another tyrant into their place, worse than the last, knowing what I can do? What alchemy is capable of?
Even hundreds of years of living hasn't prepared me for this.
I miss you.
Ed’s pen paused after the last period, an ache settling in his chest, so fierce that it left him gasping. Really, what good would it fucking do?
He shoved himself back from the desk, chair skittering across the wood, snatching up the letter and crumpling it. A quick clap of his hands, an effortless transmutation, and the paper dissolved into dust.
With a snarl and a whirl, Ed stalked over to the bed, collapsing back onto it and covering his face with his hands.
He wished he’d be able to sleep tonight.
Ed had determined that, of all the things that had changed for the worse in Amestris, the food was not one of those. The chefs at the Gilded Hotel didn’t skimp on his meals, despite Ed technically not paying for them, and he had found more variety in Central’s restaurants than he had seen in hundreds of years of visiting on and off. He couldn’t believe that they had finally embraced the virtues of Xingese cuisine, but like hell was he going to complain about it.
But he really did focus on other things besides the food. Refamiliarizing himself with Central, for one—industrialization had caused more changes in the country than Ed had seen in all of his visits put together. And with that came something of a neverending stream of people who needed his help.
Sometimes this was simple enough, like overhearing a girl on the street crying about how her father’s locket had broken and she couldn’t afford to take it to a jeweler to fix it. Sometimes it was more complicated, like a girl yelling at him for poking his nose where it wasn’t wanted; doesn’t he realize conversations are private?! This, of course, sometimes devolved into a yelling match—don’t be so damn loud, then!—and eventual resolutions by her brother, who had the decency to ask what Ed had meant and then for his help. And Ed hadn’t even charged them.
Also, he took care of other things, like rebuilding more houses and purifying water supplies. And maybe a couple of fights with a few criminal types who had taken advantage of the lack of police funding to start demanding things like “protection fees” from upstanding citizens.
Y’know. Minor stuff.
It also, however, meant that he became something of a recognizable figure over the next few weeks. Add that to the already favorable attitudes of Amestrians towards golden-haired individuals, and Ed began to sympathize with Roy’s desire for anonymity. Unfortunately, Roy had the advantage of being able to do so: though not especially common, his Xingese ancestry wasn’t terribly remarkable, and the uniform ensured that if Roy (or his companions) didn’t advertise his identity, no one could know who he was. Ed, with his coloration and unique fashion sense, did not retain that luxury. In his haste to help, Ed had failed to take any precautions, and was now kicking himself for it.
Intellectually, he knew that he would find little, if anything, in the library, but he still found his way there to research, partially because it provided a haven in which citizens couldn’t find him (he had tried the public library; the first time someone had tracked him down there, he had nearly broken bones trying to get out before they noticed the similarities in that awful fucking picture). And, well, there was always Roy.
“Is it really him?! Our celebrity alchemist, hero to the people, in our humble library?”
After the momentary surge of panic at being discovered and the subsequent douse of relief that Roy meant his recent status, Ed rolled his eyes. “Yeah, ha ha, I can’t imagine why I might be somewhere people can’t find me. Not like I wanna be left alone or anything. What do you want?”
“The pleasure of your company isn’t enough?”
Ed’s lips twisted at that, and he returned to his book to hide the vestiges of a smile. “Then sit and don’t run your mouth. My company’ll still be here.”
Roy tugged a chair out, taking Ed up on the offer, apparently. He, of course, made sure to scoot back in quite close to Ed, their arms grazing, and whenever Ed lifted an arm to turn a page, his left elbow bumped against Roy’s right arm.
“I don’t suppose I could get you to run yours, then? After all, your charming take on matters just fascinates me. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing you speak.”
Ed paused his reading, turning to squint at Roy, examining his face for any trace of mockery. He found none, which left only one other option.
“What the hell do you want?”
Roy’s eyebrows shot up. “You wound me, thinking that I’m after something! I only wished to come say hello—” He caught Ed’s hand as Ed flapped his hand dismissively at it. “—and express how honored we are to have you as a guest at our esteemed facility.” Running a gloved thumb over the back of Ed’s hand, he leaned in and kissed it gently.
Ed promptly yanked it away, turning his face away in case the flush he could feel building on his cheeks became visible, determinedly not thinking about the feel of the fabric of Roy’s gloves, how it stretched over those hands…
The crack of a book hitting the table startled Ed so much that he jumped, then turned to glare at Roy, who was now sitting in front of an old, thick, dusty manuscript.
“Thought you might enjoy taking a look at this,” Roy practically chirped. “See, I recognized the last name, but not the first. It looks innocuous enough, but I have a feeling that it’s more than it appears. Especially as I’ve been unable to find any other books by this title anywhere else, and trust me, I’ve been looking.”
Ed nudged a finger open and flipped it open, glancing through the recipes. “Maybe because this sucks. Who the fuck pairs cream cheese and sugar? God, this looks disgusting.”
Roy drew himself up, offense flickering for a moment across his face. “It’s called cheese—you know what, never mind.” He sighed. “I just thought you might want to take a look.”
Ed flipped through a couple of different pages—the recipes were fine, but unremarkable, and clearly old. “Yeah, well, I don’t see…”
He flicked the book shut and leaned back—
Had he been moving, he might have fallen out of his chair. As things were, he inhaled sharply, eyes wide, as he stared at the name.
“I know. The name of the youngest State Alchemist in Amestris’s history. Now, what it’s doing on an old cookbook wedged into the Military’s library, and why it’s not the same first name, I couldn’t tell you.”
Ed opened the book again, this time more gently, taking a deep breath. He knew the name well. The Evergreen Alchemist, pioneer in healing alchemy who left the flora of Amestris flourishing, who led to an era of growth and prosperity. What the hell had happened to that?
His hand found its way into his pocket, fingering the smooth object, running his fingers around its seams. He remembered blond hair tumbling into blue eyes, a stupid fucking haircut, and a wicked smirk when Ed brought that fact up. He remembered viciously exhilarating wit, soaring confidence hand in hand with crippling deprecation, and a hidden streak of tenderness that could leave the most stoic man breathless.
Ed jerked his head up to meet Roy’s eyes, their darkness a sharp contrast to—
No, he wouldn’t think about that.
“I’ll take a look,” Ed murmured, already pulling up a notepad and grabbing a pen and starting to scribble.
“It looks to be about the same era as Russell Tringham. Fletcher, too. But as far as historians know, neither of them had children, so I’m thinking…”
“Father,” Ed murmured, not looking up. “Nash Tringham was the name of their father.”
“How did you know…?”
“I’m something of a trivia aficionado,” Ed snarled in a tone that brooked no argument. Roy drew back, somewhat alarmed.
“I didn’t realize the question would elicit such a contentious response. I’m only trying to—”
“D’you want my help or not, Mustang?”
Roy fell silent as Ed continued to scribble. As he did so, more pieces of the code fell into place. He knew this unsettlingly well.
His stomach twisted as he did; he had his theories on what he would find. And as the ancient, familiar keys echoed through his ears, Nash Tringham’s work unfolded.
Ed didn’t know what to tell Roy.
The simplest option, the one that tempted him the most, was to deflect. Lead him off on a rabbit trail. After all, the book had clearly been sitting in the library for hundreds of years, undisturbed. What harm could it do to remain that way, or to vanish entirely?
But Mustang didn’t seem to be the easily dissuaded type. While Ed had no doubt that he could make this information permanently inaccessible to him, such an action would not end well for any of them, possibly destroying any relationship that Ed had built with the military, never mind the personal on with Roy. At the very least, it would put tremendous strain on things.
The question wasn’t whether or not it was worth it. Ed would do it all in a heartbeat to keep destructive research out of irresponsible hands. The question was whether or not those hands were irresponsible at all.
He thought back, to everything he had learned of Roy, everything Roy had done, the way this oppressive government had stacked everything it could against him. His denouncement of Shou Tucker flashed through his memory, and though Ed had met many good actors in his long lifetime, it would take quite a lot of skill to pull that off.
By the time Roy had wandered back around to him, murmuring an, “Any progress?”, Ed had made up his mind. After all, what was another Basque Grand?
“More than you’d like,” he replied, voice low, but Roy didn’t seem to catch the seriousness.
“I sincerely doubt that,” he laughed softly. “Am I to assume that you’ve solved the riddle, then?”
Ed took a deep breath.
“It’s for something called a Red Stone. As the name suggests, it’s something of a precursor to the Philosopher’s Stone.” In the back of his mind, Ed noted that he could hear no sound from Roy, not even breathing. “It discusses the creation of red water, a highly toxic mixture of alchemical amplification substances, and the most effective way to introduce it to the water supply of pregnant women, whose body will, instead of developing the fetus, self-abort and nourish the substances instead. Maybe.” Ed snapped the book shut. “That, or create a humanlike creature that, while stillborn and crystallized, provides enough living energy to progress the creator that much further towards a Philosopher’s Stone. You can imagine what happens to the hosts after giving birth.”
To Roy’s credit, his face had taken on a slightly greenish tinge, and if Ed hadn’t known better, he might say Roy had just swayed on his feet. But Roy set his jaw, fire glinting in his eyes.
“How is that possible? Russell and Fletcher Tringham—they’re some of the greatest alchemical heroes this country has ever known. How could they have come from a person like—”
“Stop,” Ed snapped, voice sharper than he had intended, but the words needed the tone. “They spent their entire lives—Russell… Russell Tringham especially—trying to escape from his shadow. Not publically, maybe, but it was personal for them. They had nothing to do with it. The Tringhams have gone on record discussing bad relationships with their father, and how he strayed into alchemical territories that despite their relation, couldn’t—”
“All right, all right, I believe you. And whatever biography you’ve read on them, I’d like the name of, if you don’t mind. Now you have me interested and I’d like to satisfy my own personal curiosity.”
Ed nodded jerkily, forcing his shoulders to unknot. Better Roy think that he was some kind of obsessed history nut than the alternative.
“How the fuck did you find this, Mustang?” Ed asked, voice quiet. “I find it hard to believe that you just happened to stumble upon it.”
Roy shook his head slowly, eyes fixed on the manuscript in Ed’s hands. “No. A subordinate recommended it to me, but Major Armstrong wouldn’t—it sounds like someone might have…” He sighed. “If I were caught with that, especially deciphering, that’s tantamount to collecting information on the Philosopher’s Stone.”
“Which would ruin your career.”
“If I were very lucky.”
The two of them sat in silence for a few moments, and Ed eventually lifted his eyes to meet Roy’s. Though still not entirely sure, he had to make a decision, and it might as well be this one.
He held up the book, pressing it forward into Roy’s hands. A second pair of white gloved fingers curled around it, and Ed drew back, watching him wordlessly.
Roy sighed, drew back as well, book in one hand. He stared at it for a few long moments before lifting it, holding it out between the two of them.
Before Ed could ask if he wanted Ed to take it back, Roy lifted his other hand and snapped.
Flames rushed from the gesture, flickering out to devour the pages, licking around the covers and up the spine. Before it could reach Roy and burn him, he released it, and by the time it hit the floor, nothing remained but a smoldering pile of ash.
And though Ed fixed his eyes on it, on the remains of a man’s entire life’s work, watching the pile settle as embers burned themselves out, and saw destruction…
He could feel his mouth slowly curving into a smile.
A flicker of movement drew Ed’s attention back to Roy, and when he looked up, he found Roy watching him with a considering expression. Ed watched back, tilting his head slightly, making sure to mask any expression. Several moments passed before Roy spoke.
“Come with me. I want to show you something.”
Of all the things Ed had expected to see when he stepped into Hughes’s office, a very frazzled and frantic Sheska had to be near the bottom of the list. Hughes paced around her desk, mouth and scruffy chin buried behind his hand as he inspected a sheet of something in his hand.
“All right, now we’re going to need you to copy out what you found in—Roy!” Hughes’s head jerked up, his normally jovial face somber, a crease between his eyebrows. “You’re here. And…” His eyes slid to Ed. “You brought someone.”
“We can trust him, Hughes,” Roy murmured, voice low, and Ed tried not to shiver. Totally inappropriate for the occasion. “I’ve made up my mind.”
“About damn time,” Hughes muttered, shaking his head and turning back to his sheet of paper. “We could use someone to help us go through these documents. Sheska’s wonderful, but, well…”
“Hey! I’m right here!” she protested, even as she scribbled furiously. “I’m doing what you asked!”
“And that’s great. But we need someone who knows what to look for, too.”
“So, what is all this?” Ed asked, voice dry. “Finally inviting me to your party?”
Roy snorted, but Ed could hear the smirk in his voice as he replied. “Oh, trust me, I’d skip the party and go straight to—“
“Gross, guys!” Sheska whined. “If I’m going to be stuck copying classified information for weeks on end, then you should at least go out of your way to not make me totally want to retch while I do it!”
“Hold the fuck up,” Ed choked out. “What?”
“We have you to thank for it, really,” Maes said proudly, beaming between Ed and Sheska. “After all, she reads like no one I’ve ever seen before and remembers every damn word of it. As the one in charge of solving these food shortages, I have limited access to classified information, and hey, if I happen to sign her in to do some reading on potential bioweapons that could be causing them, she’s got to stay there to read them for a little while. And if she happens to come out in the time it would normally take someone to read through those books, who knows how much other information she’s accessed?”
“You’re all crazy.” Still, Ed could feel his mouth stretching in a grin, hear the admiration in his tone. “And, what, she’s so burdened with the weight of all of these secrets that she just has to commit them all to paper?”
“Now you’ve got it!” Maes chirped. “And now you get to help us go through them all for things that shouldn’t be there.”
“God, drag me into your busy work, why don’t you.” Going through the secrets of Amestris’s military—its government—and pulling out its misdeeds to fix them? No other way he’d rather spend his afternoon.
“Take a folder, each of you. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
Ed and Roy both obliged, the latter taking a seat like a normal human being, the former sprawling sideways in one of the chairs with his feet dangling over the arm.
Much of the information, though “top secret,” didn’t surprise Ed. Not really. Run-of-the-mill military stuff. Yeah, potentially devastating for an enemy of the state to get their hands on, but Ed could care less about that. He wanted the dirty secrets.
And he found them, in the tenth stack of papers he skimmed through.
“Chimeras,” he said quietly.
Roy’s head snapped up the fastest of the three, dark eyes wide. Maes glanced at the two of them with concern, savvy enough in the ways of alchemy by virtue of his friendship to one alchemist and marriage to another to know that something was wrong. Sheska, of course, just glanced around in confusion, as if trying to figure out what the heck everyone was so upset over.
“It looks like,” Ed continued quietly, “that separate alchemists, under direct employ of other branches than yours, have set up labs to continue those experiments. With the full knowledge and consent of the higher-ups.”
Roy stood upright immediately, sending papers scattering. “What? That’s depraved—how could they—what were they—continue?”
Ed chewed on his lip, reading through the pages again, this time more carefully. “I’m not sure if you are aware, but human chimeras have some historical basis. There have always been rogue alchemists who push the boundaries, and you’ll remember that… a century or two ago, there was evidence of actual success of these experiments.”
Roy nodded slowly. “I do remember hearing rumors of those… sorts of things.”
Ed swallowed. Darius and Heinkel had realized the depravity of those experiments and turned to the State Alchemists for help, using themselves as evidence. Now it looked like the military was the one causing that problem—might even have used the rumors of their existence as an excuse to dig deeper. “I’m guessing that whoever is in charge wants to succeed again. They would make good soldiers, human fused with animals, especially if…”
“If we’re looking at war in the near future,” Roy sighed, sounding tired. “But human chimeras. That sounds a lot like Tucker.” Disgust flickered across his face, and Ed winced.
“Uh, yeah. About that. You might want to sit back down.” At Roy’s glare and obvious disregard of Ed’s recommendation, Ed rolled his eyes before returning to his intelligence. “They have his research on the Stone.”
Roy strode over in two steps, snatching the papers from Ed’s hands. “You’re welcome,” he muttered, even as he watched Roy’s impeccably-clad form with worry.
“No. No. This is impossible,” he hissed. “I destroyed this! I had it burned! No one but me—there has to be some mistake!”
“Does it look like a mistake?” Ed asked tiredly, gaze unmoving. “You saw it. You know what’s there isn’t pulled out of someone’s ass. It’s authentic. Not complete, but authentic.”
“They must have gotten their hands on it somehow,” Roy continued, appearing almost as if he didn’t hear Ed, tone sounding lost. Empty. “How could I have let this happened? This… how many more copies of it are there?” His head snapped up, and Ed caught a glimpse of pain in his eyes before he whirled to face Hughes. “What if they’re creating one themselves?!”
“Hey, hey, hold on.” Ed stood, lifting his hands, trying to placate Roy as Hughes and Sheska looked on, alarmed. “D’you know how far off this research is? Even without knowing anything about it, you knew that it wasn’t even close to complete.” And Ed, of course, knew it more intimately than anyone else alive, but Roy didn’t need to know that. He reached his right hand into his pocket, once again finding reassurance as he curled his fingers around the small object. “Even if they are—and that’s a very big if, even for these guys—where are they gonna figure out how to do it? You’re one of the best alchemists in the country, and they’ve dried up their own pool so much that it would be next to impossible. You really think they’re gonna try to do that if they’re wanting to crack the biggest secret in alchemy?”
Roy stared at Ed for, looking like he didn’t quite see him for a moment before he seemed to pull himself back to the present. “Right. You’re… you’re right. I just… how did they get their hands on that research?”
“We should keep looking,” Ed said firmly. “That could give us the answers.”
They didn’t find much else.
Quite a bit of information on Creta, of course, but that only supported their suspicions that the military had it out for the country, not confirmed them. Ed and Hughes both murmured platitudes about how everything had its uses, but Roy didn’t look convinced. When they finished everything they had, Hughes assured that he would have Sheska continue to look in other areas, and Roy nodded tiredly.
“Cmon,” Ed piped up, reaching out and snagging Roy’s arm, leading him out of the office. “We’re going.”
“What? Where?” Roy glanced back over his shoulder to see Hughes waving them off, then back at Ed, frowning slightly. “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah, sure, I guess, except for the fact that it’s almost ten at night.”
As they stepped out into the evening air, Roy glanced up and around, clearly startled. “We’ve been at it that long? That’s…”
“God, you’re such a fuckin’ workaholic.” Ed looped his arm through Roy’s, still leading. “It’s my turn to buy you a drink. You look like you need it.”
Roy muttered something involving the world “pushy” under his breath, but followed along, sighing and eventually succumbing to Ed’s coaxing until he was led into a small hole in the wall bar, as different from their dinner restaurant the other night as night was from day.
Ed nudged Roy over to a table—not the bar; he wanted to be able to watch Roy, just to make sure he was all right, of course; nothing to do with studying Roy's features—and headed off to get them two drinks as Roy collapsed back into the booth with a groan. Ed started off basic, ordering several sandwiches as well as some of the local liquor. Everyone liked moonshine, right? He set the two highball glasses down on the table when he returned, smirking as he slid into his own seat.
"The good stuff, huh?" Roy murmured, watching Ed with a tired little smile on his face. "You really are treating me."
"Don't let it go to your head." Ed scoffed, but he returned the smile, attempting to ensure that his own was more confident than Roy's. "It's just 'cause you look so pathetic."
"A change from your normal situation, hmm?" Roy took a sip and still managed to smirk while he did it, and Ed glared.
"God, remind me not to be nice t'you again, if you're just going to insult me—"
"When your 'being nice' involves insulting me only slightly less than normal, I don't think it'll be that great of a loss." But Roy was grinning, and Ed shook, his head, trying not to smile back as he sipped, the liquor burning at his own throat. He relaxed as it did; Amestris, interestingly enough, had developed similar spirits to Xerxes, and drinking here was always like drinking at home. He honestly had had nothing to do with it besides a few books transported painstakingly over miles and miles of desert, everything he could save, but he supposed that when humanity had the right resources and wanted to do something right, they would follow the same path as those before, over and over again, even without realizing. It always left Ed with a smile: he would never forget the taste of Xerxes, and sometimes, he was able to catch a ghost of home that wasn't the whispers of the millions screaming inside of him.
Still, despite his brief flashes of humor, Roy continued to look haunted. Ed sighed.
"C'mon. Your damn pretty face is gonna get wrinkles if you keep looking like this, and you'll make a lot of people cry."
Roy tilted his head, another flash of humor crossing his face, this time lingering. "Will you cry? Edward?"
Ed rolled his eyes. Fuck. "Yeah, sure. I'll hold a national day of mourning for Roy Mustang's pretty face."
"And I'll hold a national commemoration for the day you told me that you thought my face was pretty."
Ed's leg darted out to kick Roy in the shin, earning him a wince. "You know I always have. Stop rubbing it in."
"That is true." Roy tilted his head, looking as if he were considering something carefully. "From the first day, actually. You stared like you had never seen someone as gorgeous as I am. Like you thought I was a gift from above."
"You definitely came from somewhere in a vertical direction, but I doubt it was above. Wouldn't use the word 'gift,' either."
"Oh, Edward. It's difficult to express these feelings. I assure you, I understand—"
"Yeah, 'cause you haven't been doing such a good job yourself, have you? Talkin' about how pretty you are when you should be flattering me," Ed scoffed, lifting his chin.
Roy's eyebrows shot up, and he watched Ed carefully. "So, would you like me to wax on about how you're utterly stunning? A breath of gold in an otherwise dull, drabby world? A wire of electricity and energy that speaks of a drive that leaves me breathless?"
Ed stared after Roy in surprise. He had been around the block a time or hundred; those words shouldn't be hitting him like this. But they left his stomach leaping, spinning, fluttering, as well as his face heating.
"I can get more specific if you'd like. The angles of your face, a regal countenance that belongs to that of kings of old. The shimmer of your hair, more precious than any metal dug from the dirt, though no less a strikingly beautiful contrast. The curve of your back as it meets—"
"Okay, okay, I get the picture!" Ed snapped, snatching up a sandwich from the plate that their waiter set in front of them. "That's enough. Eat something." And with that, he shoved a sandwich in his mouth.
Roy, blessedly, allowed Ed to eat in silence, taking only two of the sandwiches and allowing Ed to eat the rest. That, or Ed got to the rest before Roy had a chance. Ed didn’t really pay attention past the food in front of his nose.
They returned to their drinks; Ed bought another round, acquiescing to Roy’s request for a good Bourbon. They clinked glasses, sipping for a few more moments, savoring the alcohol, before Roy spoke again.
“You asked me about Ishval.”
Ed froze, glass nearly to his lips, and took in the sight of Roy carefully. Roy watched him back, gaze level, eyes glinting determinedly. Ed finally took his sip.
“Yeah, i did. I’ve heard lots of rumor, but no facts about it, not really. No one here wants to talk about it, and internationally it’s all kinda on the hush-hush. Lotta people believe Amestris could never do that sort of thing, not with its reputation, but from what I’ve seen…”
“Whatever you’ve heard, it’s worse.”
Ed sucked in a breath, setting the glass down. “But Roy, you don’t—those were innocent people. They can’t have—”
“Weren’t you the one telling me about how someone abused your power once and a lot of people died?” Roy asked quietly. “I’m sure plenty of them were innocent. Mine is a similar situation, though I have the suspicions that I’m significantly more at fault than you were.”
“I doubt that,” Ed muttered tiredly, but Roy simply continued.
“They told us that Ishval was preparing to invade. They had always been something of a mystery to us, you know. You said you’re from the East; you might know a bit about that.”
Ed nodded. They had actually taken him in when he and Al had stumbled from the ruins of Xerxes, stunned and traumatized, unaware of the magnitude of what had just happened to them. They had spent years with a nomadic tribe of Ishvalans, recovering, learning, and unraveling the truth of their situation. But, well, Roy didn’t need to know that much.
Ed finally settled on, “They’ve had alchemy much longer than us.” The Ishvalans’s knowledge had rivaled that of Xerxes’s, and in a different fashion, drawing from the movements and pulses within the earth rather than within the objects themselves. Al—Almas, then—had picked up on it with much more ease than Ed, and even after Ed had taken his leave, gone westward to gather the people that would one day become Amestris, Al had stayed behind, studying the differences and gaining mastery that he later passed to Xing.
“Yes, they have,” Roy sighed. “And different, too. I suspect that worried a few people. It surprised us. Ishval had always been a cordial, if distant, neighbor. But our government had always striven to do right. To protect. It also helped that I was young and stupid at the time. Not an excuse, but a reason. I never believed they could be in the wrong. Neither did Maes—we were stationed together. Everyone else on my team, Hawkeye, Havoc, Breda, they all came in after this. So they never saw that change.”
Ed’s stomach began to twist. “This was before things were like the way they are now. They were like they used to be.”
Roy nodded solemnly. “And we left with strict orders to only provide a military presence. We were not to engage unless we had to defend ourselves. The Ishvalans weren’t pleased to have us on their land, but they couldn’t afford to force us off. Not without things immediately collapsing into bloodshed. They had to accept our assurances that we would not attack unless provoked.”
“As far as invasions go, I guess it counts as polite.”
Roy grimaced. “But it was an invasion. It didn’t sit right with us, not really, but understand that we were blinded by patriotism, a need to protect, and a desire to prove ourselves by upholding the purported “greatness” of Amestris. Again, I give you these not as excuses, but so you can understand how it became the powder keg that would eventually explode.”
“So what was the spark?” Ed asked quietly, shivering a little at the symbolism, eyes sliding to Roy’s hands, devoid of their usual gloves.
Roy smiled bitterly, showing that the wording had not escaped him. “Gunshots. Fired on our encampment. Bombs, makeshift but deadly, lobbed at us from afar. One moment we were patrolling streets, the recipients of nothing more than mistrustful glares from the locals; the next, dozens of us were dead, under siege from enemies that we couldn’t even see.”
“You panicked,” Ed murmured, watching Roy intently, taking in the haunted expression on his face, the agony in his eyes. “A fringe rebel group…?”
“That’s what some of us thought. The rest of us… well, didn’t. The response was instantaneous. I’m sure to many of the Ishvalans, it seemed like we had gone mad and struck first. The Amestrians thought they were defending themselves, but that doesn’t excuse…” Roy took a deep breath, shaking his head. “Not what happened. That was only the first domino. By the end of that night, the war had begun. It roared up the countryside faster than any fire I’ve ever seen.”
Roy stared down at the drink in his hands. “We killed—god, we leveled villages, Edward. I’m sure there were militants in there, but the innocents outnumbered them, and—and we were the ones who created the militants in the first place.” He laughed hopelessly, then tossed back his drink, signaling the bartender for another. “I’ll never forget the way that burning flesh reeks. It stays with you, the stink, gets into your clothes and hair and under your skin, and every time someone looks at you, stands next to you, you swear that they can smell it, that they know every one of your sins just by breathing the same air.”
Ed nodded jerkily. A feeling he knew all too well.
“And now you know what broke my faith in the military. In the government. And that’s why I’m going to fix it.”
Ed’s head snapped up at the steel ringing through Roy’s voice, a startling contrast to the weariness of earlier. Roy’s eyes, haunted moments ago, had taken on the glint of fire of his namesake.
“When I returned, Riza nearly killed me. She hadn’t gone—as a cadet, she had graduated just after the war had ended. I had sworn to her that I would use her father’s alchemy for good, but then turned around and murdered—hundreds. Thousands. Ironically enough, staring down the muzzle of her gun wasn’t the first time I had been at the brink of a bullet in my brain. But I hadn’t had the guts to do it, and something in me hoped that she would.”
“Fuck, Roy,” Ed breathed, eyes wide. He had been there, too; guilt at being one of two survivors of an entire country had left him in places he wasn’t sure he’d have come out of without Al.
“Lucky for me—I think—she saw that. I don’t know if it was the relief in my face, or a pleading look, or… well, whatever the hell it was, she lowered the gun, looked me square in the eyes, and said, ‘I’m not going to make it that easy, Mustang. You told me that you wanted to change this country for the better. And that’s what you’re going to do.’” Roy let out another of those bitter laughs. “I guess it’s a good thing someone believed in me, or I probably would have been done for.”
“Another way she’s kept you accountable,” Ed prompted, hoping to gently nudge Roy back towards his determination of earlier rather than allowing him to wallow further. “And why you’re working so hard now.”
Roy straightened, taking on a bit of a clearer look, just as Ed had hoped. “That’s right.” He glanced around idly, ensuring that no one sat within eavesdropping range, and lowered his voice. “The structure of our government, it’s simply too ripe for abuse of power. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time when it was created, but it needs significant updates if we’re to stay relevant and not become a tyrannical dictatorship.”
Ed straightened at that, doing his best not to look too offended at the suggestion that the government he had created was outdated and left loopholes for abuse. “Hey, when it works like it’s supposed to—”
“And yet it hasn’t, not for decades, at least. The families meant to keep protectorship—the Armstrongs, the Kimblees, the Fuerys—they don’t have the power that they used to. And even if they did, what inherent qualifications do they have to run the country?”
“It’s knowledge that gets passed down the family through different generations.” At Roy’s grimace, Ed continued, taking on a tone of protest. “Hey, look, it ensures that the people running things know what they’re doing, and it doesn’t leave it in the hands of one person, like a kingdom would. That’s plenty progressive!”
“For hundreds of years ago, maybe,” Roy interjected, looking slightly amused now. Ed was torn between snapping at Roy not to laugh at him and gladness that Roy had broken through his melancholy. “But there’s no assurance that those families will pass that knowledge down, not through so many generations. Eventually, you will have a break, either with incompetence, immorality, or simply those families not having the political canniness to resist manipulation and eventual loss of power to those hungry for it, as is the case right now. The power cannot rest within the hands of a few people, or even a specific class. It needs to rest within the hands of everyone.”
Ed drew back, staring at Roy incredulously. “This, coming from a military man? You don’t think that the military should have anyone controlling it? Do I need to tell you how much of a disaster that would be?”
“No, Ed.” Roy shook his head, eyes gleaming with excitement. “Consider: the military being accountable to someone, a leader, but that leader isn’t part of the military. The leader would appoint someone to lead the military, yes, but that person would then have final say over what happens within the military. Obviously you’d need to put provisions in place to prevent the general leader from dismissing the military one if there’s a disagreement, but…”
“You’ve thought about this a lot,” Ed muttered, voice dry. “But how would you pick the leader, then, if not by birthright or the military? You’re the one who says that you can’t have the power all in the hands of one person—”
“Elections.” Roy lifted his chin, clearly proud of this solutions. “Every adult in Amestris, able to cast their vote for the person they want to rule them. And with the ability to remove them from office, as well, if they so desire.”
Ed’s eyebrows shot up. “Well, shit. That’s one I haven’t heard before.” He had heard similar stories of ancient societies with models based off of those ideas, but, well, they had completely crumbled, with very few records remaining, and to his extensive knowledge, no one had decided to give it a go after that. “And a huge undertaking. And expensive.”
“Yes, but if we cut our military expenditures, stopped all of this expansion, and put more money into the actual economy instead of expecting local areas to provide free supplies in exchange for ‘protection,’ it would be feasible, at least. And once you have the infrastructure set up, you only have to maintain it. They’re not continuous expenses; it’s like building a railroad. The initial cost is in the setup. Once you’ve swallowed that down, the payoff will more than make up for it.”
Ed nodded slowly, head spinning, wondering how the fuck a twenty-something-year-old had managed to outthink a four-hundred-something-year-old in government within the span of about five minutes. “So, who’s going to keep this leader accountable, then? Who’s to say they just don’t get elected and decide that they’re gonna do everything their way, no matter who does vote?”
Roy’s smile slipped a little. “That… I haven’t quite decided yet. I’ve considered some sort of… civilian council, but…” He trailed off, eyebrow raising. “Why, are you interested in having an input?”
Ed paused, then leaned back, swiping his drink off the table with more force than necessary, droplets of vodka landing in his lap. “Hell no. I gave up on politics ages ago.”
“For the better, perhaps,” Roy mused, laughing at Ed’s grimace. “You don’t seem the type.”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re certainly smarmy enough.”
Roy smirked. “A trait I’m beginning to think you enjoy.”
Ed reached out to swat at Roy halfheartedly, but Roy caught his wrist, holding it gently, and tugged it in, leaning forward. Ed inhaled sharply, watching, as Roy pressed his lips against the inside of Ed’s flesh wrist, face lingering.
“Imagine it, Ed,” Roy murmured, his breath ghosting across the delicate skin. “Be thou for the people. I’ve worked like hell to make sure that is the creed of the alchemist. Now imagine it being the creed for the entire country’s government.”
Ed swallowed, though at the words or at the way Roy’s nose and eyelashes brushed against his wrist, he wasn’t sure. He closed his eyes and savored the sensation for a few more moments before pulling away.
Upon reopening his eyes, Roy’s face, smiling a little sadly, filled his vision.
“Drama queen,” Ed muttered, shaking his head and standing. Before the startled Roy could react, however, he stepped over to Roy, slid into the booth next to him, and pulled his face in for a kiss.
Their lips lingered as the night grew deeper, fingers twining, shoulders pressed together, sharing drinks that grew milder even as their kisses grew more heated. And by the time Ed left the cenz on the table, not even worrying about such a large amount, by the time they stepped out of the bar together, walking down the street, Roy’s hand in Ed’s felt like the most natural thing in the world.
Ed received the letter at his hotel address, elaborately scripted with an old-fashioned wax seal that left him smirking. The wyvern had been one of his better designs, he always thought, and given its continued use throughout Amestris’s history, everyone else agreed.
The contents of the invitation transformed his smirk into a grin: about goddamn time. Hell yes he would be attending the public commendation of Colonel Maes Hughes for his bravery and contribution to the nation. Would give him an excuse to dress up, too.
Dressing up ended up meaning a deep black waistcoat with a red stenciled dragon twining up his back, elegant claws inlaid with thread of real gold. The Xingese style was a remnant of his time in the country, the elaborate piece of clothing a gift from former lovers, and so perfectly matched to his tastes that he had seen to its upkeep via alchemy for all that time.
(The fact that it left him with lingering memories of Ling and Lan Fan, a smile on his face as his fingers ghosted across the threads of gold silk embroidery across the front, had nothing to do with it, he told himself.)
The ceremony itself was a snooze, lots of talking, long-winded old guys talking about how the Colonel’s work was beyond compare, how the country would be forever grateful for the lives and livelihoods saved.
Ed paid half attention, instead taking in the crowd. A surprising number of upper brass in the military had attended, plenty of the faces from the meeting on which he had sat in, the Head Protector included. He caught a glimpse of Roy among the generals and allowed himself a smirk: though he much preferred Roy with his messy hair, seeing him with it slicked back like this was certainly a treat.
He perked up when it finished, making sure to follow the stream of people that included Roy so he could find his way to the inevitable afterparty.
“Ed!” Hughes’s cried out, beaming, when he stepped through the door. “So glad you could make it! C’mere, I want you to meet my daughter!”
Elicia, as it turned out, had grown significantly less ugly since she was a baby, and in fact was pretty damn cute. Ed grinned and greeted her and Hughes’s wife, Gracia, who complimented his waistcoat and asked if it was Xingese in origin.
That led to a more in-depth conversation of the two of them discussing Xingese alchemy; Gracia’s knowledge of it impressed and even surprised Ed.
“Did you know that the Xingese have a similar legend to that of our Golden Scholar?” Sheska piped up, and Gracia turned, a delighted expression on her face.
“Oh, thank heavens; it seems my husband has finally befriended someone with some sense. General Mustang won’t shut up about the warrior nonsense. Honestly, if I were to be remembered for something, it would be for my contributions to knowledge rather than how good I was at hitting things.” She laughed softly, then turned. “Don’t you agree, Edward?”
Ed knew far better than to bet on a dog in this fight. He shrugged, glancing away. “Actually, I’ve always thought he might be both, maybe. Depends on how he’s feeling that day.”
Sheska wrinkled her nose. “You’re Mrs. Hughes, right? I’m so glad to meet you! I’m Sheska—”
“Oh, yes, Maes hasn’t been able to shut up about you! Tell me, do you practice alchemy yourself, too?”
“Well, no. I mean, I know about it, but it’s never really been an interest of mine…”
Ed took the opportunity to slip away, wondering if Gracia might end up with a student before the evening was over. He kind of hoped she would; it would probably make Hughes’s life more difficult, something that Ed fully supported.
Ed found their guest of honor charming a couple of Brigadier Generals, older men—of course they were men—who seemed pleasant enough. From the zen expression on Roy’s face as he lingered in the background, the slight smirk on his face one of pride, Ed figured that they had no intimate involvement in the deeper corruption in the military. Good to know that it wasn’t everywhere, even if those people not involved still weren’t trying to change it, for the most part.
“You’ll be one of us before you know it!” one of them chuckled, lifting a glass of champagne in Hughes’s direction. “And can I say, it would be wonderful to have you among our number!”
Hughes laughed, a real laugh, delighted and flattered and genuine. “And it would be great for getting Mustang to stop ribbing me about the fact that he outranks me, huh?” He shot a smirk over in the direction of Roy, who stood there with a perfectly innocent expression. “But I haven’t heard any news of anyone retiring; what makes you think they’d open a spot so soon?”
“Well, with the disappearance of General Grand…”
Hughes’s eyes widened in a fashion that reminded Ed very slightly of Roy’s innocent expression. “Seriously? Still no news?”
The other man shook his head gravely. “And if he doesn’t turn up soon, we’ll have room for another general, if the Protectors decide to appoint one.”
All of them shared a laugh, and Ed grimaced. Of course they would choose to appoint one.
“Well, that is the consequence of desertion.” This time, the smooth, pleasant voice belonged to Roy as he stepped forward. “Even if it isn’t actively intended to be, when you leave your station, you certainly can’t expect the military to hold your place for you.”
The first man tilted his head. “You truly think he deserted, Mustang?”
Roy snorted. “I think that we should all definitely consider the possibility. He had been making a fuss about the way things have been run for a while—”
“The way you ran things, if I recall correctly,” the man broke in.
Roy dipped his head in acknowledgement. “And no respect for the chain of command, either. He resented the fact that the Protectors wouldn’t make him my equal. Something of a loose cannon, I’d say, and if the rumors of his desertion turn out to be true, then we would be down a great risk.”
It was now Ed’s turn to paste on an innocent expression as he stepped up, hoping to draw attention away from that topic of conversation. Hughes’s face lit up when he did.
“There you are! I thought you had fallen into the depths of alchemy talk with Gracia. God knows I don’t need to lose another friend to that.” He nudged Roy in the ribs with his elbow. “Roy’s been asking for you.”
From the momentary flicker of alarm across Roy’s face, Ed had a feeling that Maes hadn’t been supposed to say that and either sailed on oblivious to that fact or decided to make Roy’s life more difficult. Ed was increasingly realizing that reading Maes was no simple task; either one remained on the table of possibility.
“I don’t know about asking,” Roy laughed gently, trying to save himself, but Ed would have none of it.
“You that interested in me, Mustang? God, you must’ve missed me.” Ed’s wide grin stretched his face, bared his teeth. “Just can’t stop talkin’ about me to your friends, huh?”
Roy shot a glare towards Hughes, but Hughes paid no attention, turning back to his conversational partners. Ed tilted his head in another direction, raising an eyebrow in offering, and Roy sighed, nodding and heading off with him.
“Pretty fancy get-together,” Ed murmured as they walked along the sides of the room, scanning the crowd. “Kinda surprised that he’d get this kind of award and all, given who he’s pals with.”
Roy snorted. “Are you kidding? There would probably be a riot if they ignored everything he’s done. Crop rates just passed seventy-five percent of what they should be, according to what reports are saying, and that’s up from thirty. Add that to Sheska, the talk that he’s giving civilians jobs instead of just looking out for his own, and he’s a national hero.”
Ed hummed thoughtfully. “Play to the public. I get you. And any whispers of them having it out for you, they can point to him and say not a chance. Despite the fact that you’re not actually benefitting, not really, not even from the publicity.”
“We’ll make a politician out of you yet.”
Roy laughed at the disgusted expression on Ed’s face, and Ed proceeded to make gagging noises. “Nothing short of human transmutation’s gonna manage that, and that’s impossible anyway. So you’re out of luck.”
“Then I’ll have to remain content with the knowledge that I am so much better than you at this.”
“Has anyone ever told you that arrogance isn’t attractive?”
“No, because it simply isn’t true. Look at you, for example.”
“Are you capable of giving a single goddamn compliment that isn’t backhanded?”
“I’m not capable of rising to impossible standards, and given your… well, given you…”
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t.”
A celebration in honor of Colonel Hughes probably shouldn’t have turned into an opportunity to make out with his best friend, but Ed couldn’t complain when the evening inevitably went in that direction. The man could be dragged away from political schmoozing with a good enough ass—at least, that’s what Ed figured, given how Roy’s hand seemed to wander there quite frequently between gasps and soft moans and gentle nips in sensitive spots.
“You know,” Ed mumbled, tilting his head to allow access with his mouth, “I do gotta get home eventually.”
“Mmm. Lies and slander,” Roy mumbled against Ed’s skin, fingers pressing into Ed’s waist as he tugged him closer. “You could stay here. Or go home with me.”
Ed mock-gasped—then gasped for real when Roy’s teeth scraped against his collarbone. “And here I thought you were a gentleman.”
“I’m being gentle now, aren’t I?”
Ed slid his hands up Roy’s back, turning his head inward and pressing his lips against Roy’s temple. “Yeah, well, you’re gonna be here a lot longer than I want to be. I’m starving.”
“You didn’t like Gracia’s food?”
“Are you fucking kidding me? It was amazing. Unfortunately, that means that it’s all gone, asshole. Some of us need to eat.”
With a mournful sigh, Roy pulled back, tilting his head slightly as he watched Ed. “It’s gotten late. You’ll be all right to walk home by yourself?”
Ed drew back as well, snorting with disbelief. “You’ve seen my alchemy and you’re still gonna ask that?”
“Alchemy won’t do you any good if you’re ambushed, your arms pinned, you get hit on the head…”
Ed reached out and planted a hand in the middle of Roy’s chest, then shoved, laughing. “I promise. I can take care of my fuckin’ self.”
Roy caught the wrist, then drew it to his mouth, kissing the knuckles. God, Ed hated that move. As evidenced by his burning cheeks. He debated yanking the hand away, but hey, why cause more trouble than you needed? Might as well let the guy do… whatever.
When Roy finished his assault with his mouth, Ed let his arm fall to his side, playing as cool as he could. “I’ll see you later, asshole.”
“And you, insufferable headache.”
Blowing the kiss as he walked away might have been a bit much, but Ed would blame Roy on bringing out a more childish side to him. God, something about the bastard left him half-wanting to punch that face, half-wanting to kiss it.
Admittedly, the latter tended to be far more satisfying, Ed had learned from extensive personal experience.
Ed meandered through Central, enjoying the evening air, watching the sunset fade to darkness and the lights begin to flicker on. He grabbed a bite to eat, did a few favors and repairs for the odd person, and dodged a celebrity appearance when a couple too many people recognized him. Plenty of alleys in Central were still the same, and as he slunk through one of them, chuckling to himself—
The rapid sound of feet slapping onto the pavement was the only warning he got before something hard and heavy bludgeoned into his ribs.
Ed choked, the wind escaping his lungs in a whoosh of shock, collapsing to his hands and knees. As he wheezed, trying to recapture his breath, a boot connected solidly in the spot where he had just been hit, sending him sprawling.
Another boot connected with the side of his face with an agonizing crack, then another into his stomach, leaving him retching. The sudden onslaught of pain blinded him, a copper tang in his mouth, what little air that managed to enter his chest doing so with a pained, rattling wheeze.
Something swung at Ed again, and this time, he managed to see it coming out of the corner of his eye, lifting his right arm to block it. The noise of wood clanking off metal rang out through the alleyway, and with a practiced maneuver, he twisted his wrist, holding it in place. What he didn’t expect, however, was the jolt of pain where the port met the shoulder, the sickening sensation that something was trying to split open.
Ed managed to grip his flesh hand around the instrument—was that a fucking bat? Fuckers—and wrench it towards him, disarming the attacker, but a fucking sucker punch from behind, right at his kidney, sent him down again, gasping, useless.
He gritted his teeth, closing his eyes—not that it made a difference, with how blind the pain left him. His automail fingers scraped against the pavement with a nasty grating noise, and he heard someone step over to grab the bat they had dropped. Ed needed to do something, and fucking fast—
With a snarl, he lifted the hand slightly, then slapped it down onto the ground.
Red lightning crackled around them, radiating from his metal fingers, and the ground around Ed rolled. He heard several men cry out and fall to the ground, and he continued the transmutation, taking the opportunity on his small patch of undisturbed earth to catch his breath.
After a few moments, he pushed himself up.
“Where’s his circle?” one of the men cried, terror in his voice, and Ed laughed harshly, slowly climbing to his feet with jerky, awkward moments, arms dangling.
“Circle?” Ed laughed harshly, voice a terrifying, screeching croak. “I don’t need no fuckin’ circle!”
He spat on the ground, splatters of dark liquid landing at his feet, then flung his arm out in front of him. The earth writhed, sending bodies flying, cracking against the wall. Ed staggered to the side, placing his hand on the wall in order to steady himself, and caught a flicker of movement, another body lunging towards him—
Two gunshots rang out, rapidly, one after the other, and Ed staggered back at the punch to his chest.
He waited, the few seconds seeming to stretch out into minutes, wondering how he was still standing, looking distantly for the blood, bracing himself for the pain.
But the only movement was his attacker slumping to the ground, howling in agony.
Ed lifted a shaking hand to his chest, searching for the bullet holes, the blood, but found nothing. A little soreness, maybe, but even his clothing seemed to be intact. He took a deep breath, then another, and while his ribs cried out in protest from the earlier assault, he didn’t seem to be gaping air anywhere.
And then he actually looked down at the man who had rushed towards him.
He twitched on the ground, nothing more, and Ed snapped to summon a small flare of alchemy, illuminating the sight for a brief moment. His attacker lay fairly still, a dark wound on his back from which blood bloomed. On his leg, a similar injury streamed, puddling black on the ground in the moonlight.
“What the shit?!”
“Ed! Are you all right?”
Ed’s head snapped up at the Eastern accent, staggering some as his head spun, squinting at the form hurrying towards him, gun in hand, finger hovering next to the trigger as he swept the area.
The man finally lowered his gun, keeping it leveled at the man he had just shot. “Hey, boss. Fuery’s gone to get help so we can detain these guys. C’mere—shit; you’re bleeding!”
“Fine,” Ed gritted out, but he stumbled towards Havoc, rubbing at his temple, trying to settle the ringing. “Fuck. How’d you know I was bein’ jumped?”
Havoc hesitated, but before he could answer, Ed heard a cry from the front of the alley.
Ed scowled, squinting at the form running towards him. When it resolved into shape, his eyes widened.
“Roy? The fuck’re you…?” He glanced from Roy, back to Havoc, and pieces began to click into place. He narrowed his eyes, and as Roy’s hands gently took his shoulders, he squirmed away.
“You had him follow me!”
Both Roy and Havoc froze, Havoc’s expression of guilt telling Ed far more than Roy’s unreadable mask as he obviously calculated frantically how to get out of this with the least amount of culpability.
“I just wanted to make sure that you got home safely,” Roy finally said, reaching out again, but this time more slowly, waiting to see if Ed pulled away. “I know, it was silly, but I worry.”
“I can take on muggers,” Ed muttered, scowling, but he didn’t yank back as Roy’s hand gently cupped his uninjured cheek.
“I see that now,” Roy chuckled softly. “I’m glad you’re safe.”
Ed could feel the anger beginning to drain, even though he still had to roll his eyes at the fucking sappiness. He then, of course, began to wince as the action worsened his headache.
A sigh from beside them, and they both turned to see Havoc, shaking his head and looking solemn.
“These weren’t muggers, chief. They moved like military.” He reached out with a foot to nudge the one he had shot. “They should still be alive, if you wanna ask questions, but I doubt it. Black ops guys don’t talk.”
The dizziness seemed to worsen with the words, and Ed staggered a little, earning a supportive arm around his shoulders from Roy. “The fuck does the military want with me?” he slurred, ignoring the twinges of pain as he leaned into the arm.
Roy lowered his voice. “I think we had better head somewhere safe to discuss this.” He put the tiniest pressure on Ed’s shoulders, leading him away. “My team will get the rest of this taken care of. You, sir, are going to have a doctor look at you immediately.”
“No shots,” Ed grumbled, but the thought of sitting down mollified him enough not to protest as he allowed himself to be led towards the car.
“Let’s get these ribs wrapped up and we should be done,” the doctor muttered, gesturing for Ed to lift his arms.
Ed grunted at the flare of pain in his automail shoulder as he did so, having to contort slightly to do so as he held the ice pack to his jaw. “You sure this isn’t broken?” he slurred, doing his best to avoid moving any part of his mouth he could.
“Yes, just bruised. You’re lucky you didn’t lose any teeth. These, however, are definitely cracked. You’re going to have to take it easy for the next several weeks.”
“I can take care of it myself, I swear—ow!” he yelped, trying to twist away as the bandages pressed against the sore area. “Seriously!”
“I’ve met your type. Not a chance. I’m treating you properly and that’s final.”
At the cough that sounded suspiciously like a laugh, Ed tilted his head slightly to glare at Roy. “Asshole. Are you sure he’s a real doctor?”
Roy huffed. “He’s the only doctor I trust. Though, he has gravitated towards cadavers in recent years,” he added with a touch of wryness.
Doctor Knox just grunted, continuing to wrap. “Better than real people.”
“Yeah, well, when Roy’s your example of real people, I don’t blame you.”
“I can’t tell if you’re calling me unreal or terrible.”
“Well, I just called you an example of real…”
Roy sighed, sounding like the melodramatic diva he was. “So you accuse him of simply not liking me!”
“He’s not wrong!” Knox called out, and Ed smirked.
“I think the both of you simply have awful taste. I’m supremely likable.”
“Hey, majority wins.” Ed’s smirk turned into an unrepentant grin over in Roy’s direction. “Democratic. Isn’t that how you like it?”
Roy drew himself, mock-indignant. “I should at least get a chance to state my case!”
Knox snorted, not even turning to look at Roy. “You’ve made all the case we need just by existing.”
Roy rolled his eyes heavenward in either a plea to some deity or other or in exasperation. Probably both. “God, now there are two of them.”
“Hey, you wanted me to meet your doctor friend.” Ed hopped to his feet as Knox drew back, wincing, and looked around for his shirt.
“You know damn well—hey, you need to stay down!”
Ed glared at Roy with more irritation than actual anger. “I’m not going anywhere, fuck! Just putting my damn clothes back on!”
Roy blinked in surprise, drawing back, then did indeed take stock of the expanse of Ed’s golden skin, tight with muscle.
“Do you have to?” he murmured, going straight for sultry.
Luckily, Ed was saved from trying to choke out a response by Doctor Knox groaning. “I’m going to go get a damn drink.” As he left the room, he called, “No stressful activity for six weeks!”
Roy continued to ogle blatantly. “I can go easy on you,” he murmured.
Ed scowled and tried to keep his tone dry. “Taking advantage of me in my weakened state?”
“I would never do such a thing.” The smirk on Roy’s face said otherwise, and Ed finally tugged his shirt on.
“Well, I know that you have an ulterior motive for everything. I’ll figure you out, Mustang.” Despite his attempt at a joke, his voice came out sounding mostly… tired.
“You’ll have to be closer to me to figure me out.”
“I’m still not sleeping with you.”
Roy watched Ed for a moment, the fond expression on his face leaving Ed’s heart skipping a beat or two, and then he reached out, taking Ed’s arm gently and pulling him in, drawing him close. “We’ll talk about it later, then.”
“I’m injured, you bastard,” Ed muttered, but the security of the arms around him had his shoulders beginning to relax as he leaned into the embrace. To make up for his words, he tilted his head upwards, and Roy leaned in to kiss him obligingly.
They found themselves on Knox’s couch, continuing to kiss and nuzzle and curl up against each other. When Ed began to tire, he simply rested his head on Roy’s shoulder as Roy ran fingers through his hair.
“I still can’t believe you sent your minions to follow me,” Ed muttered, pretending to pout.
Roy chuckled softly at the terminology, still running his fingers through his hair. “They were supposed to keep you safe,” he soothed.
“Yeah, yeah. I know.” Ed sighed, wondering if it was time to regret coming to Amestris yet. “Why the fuck would the military jump me?” No one knew about the incident with Grand, he was sure of that, and he hadn’t done anything especially seditious lately…
“It was a message to me, not about you,” Roy murmured. “You’ve been seen with me. We’re close. You’re not part of my team, technically, so you don’t have protection. It’s the same reason that we keep a watch on Gracia and Elicia and my mother.”
Ed snorted. “I can protect my goddamn self.”
Ed turned to squint at Roy’s dry tone. “Hey, I had that last guy before Havoc stepped in. I have protection!”
“But they don’t know that.”
“Now they do!”
Roy sighed, reaching out to trace a finger down Ed’s cheek, tucking a lock of hair behind his ear. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I just worry about you, like I said. It isn’t rational, but I do.”
Ed huffed, trying not to smirk slightly, and flopped back into Roy. “You got way more important things to worry about.” But Roy didn’t stop with the hand on the face, which was nice.
“I know I do. It’s a shame you’re not in the thick of it. You might as well be able to make some changes while you’re a target, and, well, you always seem to have suggestions that are, at the very least, entertaining.”
Ed scoffed. “Send ‘em all off to Briggs.”
“Not that you’ll listen.”
Ed could feel the deep vibration of Roy’s chuckle coursing through him. “Politics are complicated, unfortunately. That’s part of what makes you so refreshing. I admire your straightforwardness.” Roy paused, then continued, a wry tone tingeing his voice. “Even when you’re keeping secrets.”
Ed rolled his eyes, trying not to look too amused at the old argument. “Me? Secrets? The hell would give you that idea.”
The dryness in Roy’s tone deepened. “Well, quite aside from you still refusing to tell me about your past or studies—”
“Keeps me mysterious and you interested.”
“—right now I’m more interested in how you managed to fight off several military trained men without pausing or flinching.”
“Have you seen the bruise on my face?”
“Yes; you’re beautiful regardless. You know what I mean.”
“Well, fine. You seen my alchemy, then? You can’t be that surprised.”
“Yes, I have,” Roy said patiently. “Alchemy and combat, however, are different disciplines. A good alchemist doesn’t necessarily have the skills to respond quickly and decisively when attacked, not in a combative fashion. It’s a matter of the psychology that skills instill in you, not just the skills themselves. But according to you, you were able to respond to an ambush near instantly.”
“Yeah, so?” Ed shrugged. “Gotta defend yourself on the road.”
Roy hummed in that way that let Ed know something smug and insufferable was coming. “So you get into a lot of trouble, then?”
Ed just elbowed him. “Fuck, you’re a nosey bastard.”
Roy groaned in pain—melodramatic diva—and readjusted his hold around Ed. Ed settled into it further, radiating smugness. “Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised. You do seem like the kind of person who consistently gets into fights.” At Ed’s huff, Roy let out a little laugh. “You really have no formal training, then? Just what you learned on the road?”
“Well, I trained before I started traveling so I’d know what to do if I was attacked.”
“But with no one in particular?”
Somehow Ed didn’t think “The King of Xerxes’s master-of-arms” would go over too well. “Not really.”
“You know, if you’re interested in bridging any gaps, the military has several combat programs and masters. I would be honored to introduce you.”
The thought that Roy would allow Ed, as a civilian, access to military resources left a small, fuzzy feeling in his stomach, but…
“I don’t really think I need the help, honestly.”
“Really. Well, in that case, have you considered helping others instead?”
Ed laughed; why did people always seem to latch onto him for learning things? “I’d be a shit teacher.”
“How do you know? You can’t have done much teaching, not at your age.”
Ed drew back, indignant, “Excuse me! I was teaching alchemy classes at fifteen!” To nobility, too; despite it being unheard of, the son of a former slave doing such, he had been the first.
Roy tilted his head, humming interestedly. “Oh? Then you can’t be that bad of a teacher, correct? Weren’t your students successful?”
Successful. Ed remembered the younger ones, the ones his age, maybe a little younger, inspired by his success as a prodigy alchemist. While plenty had distanced themselves, assuming that he wanted little or no social interaction with them, others, particularly those in the poorer parts of the cities, where no such access to that education existed, had jumped at the chance. He had taught them, all right, seen their eyes light up when they turned grass into bread, able to take home to their families their first full meal all week.
And they had been dead two years later.
“I don’t want to talk about them,” Ed finally said, quiet and firm.
Roy turned, and Ed with him, and he had to glance away at that searching look that seemed to dig into him, deeper than he would have expected.
“So you’re no longer inclined to teach anyone else then?” Roy replied, just as quiet, gentle and respectful.
Ed flinched back slightly. “That’s not—it’s different, okay? I’m just not a patient teacher,” he snapped. “And besides, you said you have plenty of masters of combat there anyway. You don’t need me.”
Roy watched Ed for a few moments, then took a deep breath.
“No, I don’t need you, but I do want you by my side. You could help us so much, Ed.” He reached out to take Ed’s left hand, squeezing it gently, reaching out to cradle the back of his neck, as if to tug him closer. “And even beyond that, having you by my side would make me feel so much better, both from knowing I have your support and knowing you’d have help yourself.”
Ed listened motionlessly to the serious, intense words, barely noticing the touch on his fingers, but finally drew back slightly, watching Roy, trying to comprehend what had just happened. When had they gone from… from that to whatever this was? “What?” he managed to get out intelligently. “What are you talking about?”
“Edward Elric, won’t you join me? Won’t you help me do what needs to be done? Won’t you be a part of the changes that need to happen so Amestris can once more be a—not just a great country, but a good country—so her people can once more trust that there will be peace, and believe in the wisdom of her government?”
The intensity swept over Ed, leaving him almost… heady, heady with inspiration, and for just a moment, he felt himself drawn to the words, yearning…
And then he yanked back, face twisting in disbelief, then anger, as betrayal ripped through him.
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” he snarled.
Roy straightened, eyes flashing. “Why would I be joking?” he demanded. “Why would you refuse?”
“Because I fucking told you,” Ed spat. “I don’t wanna join the military. I don’t get involved, not like this.”
Every muscle in Roy’s body looked ready for movement, tense, like he might spring apart at the slightest provocation. “Why not? You’ve seen that we need to get involved, that this country needs intervention! How can you remain indifferent in the face of what’s happening?”
Rage swept over Ed, burning away all that was left of the betrayal and disbelief. “You think I’m remaining indifferent?” Ed hissed. “You think I’m fucking—I traveled hundreds of miles to be here! To help! And I have been helping! But ex fucking scuse me if it doesn’t want to be with the military! I’ve seen what damage the government can do with power like mine—you should at least have had a taste of that in Ishval! And you still want me to throw that to their use?”
Roy made a frustrated noise. “Not their use, Edward, mine! Can’t you trust me not to abuse you?” he asked fiercely, desperation flitting across his face. “Haven’t I shown I want the best for the people?”
“You…” Ed laughed a little, but it sounded more like glass shattering. “Is that what you’re fucking trying to turn this into? How you want to be my exception? The… the fuck gives you that right?” he gasped out, clenching his fists. “I told you, straight up, multiple fucking times, and you just… you think you’re so much better than everyone else I’ve turned down in the past?” he snarled. “You think you’re so much more worthy?”
Roy stared at Ed, unwavering. “I think you were used badly only once. How many good people have you refused to help because of one single mistake?” The words dripped from his mouth like ice.
Ed surged to his feet, fists still clenched as he seethed with fury. “I can’t fucking believe this. Once? Once? Do you know how many people—I found my students’ bodies, you fucking pig! All of them, huddled together. My mother’s, collapsed at our kitchen table. You think that’s just being ‘used badly’? One single mistake? I have been helping people. Just not your way!”
Roy stood as well, and Ed hated how he had to tilt his head back at the collected, deliberate movements. “If It wasn’t one mistake, what others were there, then?” he asked, voice preternaturally calm, not as cold as moments before, but even more intense.
Ed inhaled sharply, head spinning. “That’s not—I don’t have to answer to you!”
“You don’t.” The voice grew colder. “But you just told me your mistakes ended in deaths. If you’re trying to make up for them, why won’t you tell me what happened? Why won’t you help me fix what mistakes I can?”
In some corner of his mind, Ed could hear the sense that Roy was speaking, could hear the plea and the care behind it, the desperation and the conviction that he was doing the right thing. But with as many burns as Ed had, he couldn’t really put his heart into believing it.
“Because it’s not your fucking place to decide how I atone for what I did,” Ed spat.
“That’s not what I’m asking of you. All I want to know is, how am I to trust you if you won’t trust me in return?”
“Then don’t trust me!”
The words smoldered between the two of them, a challenge thrown down, a wall broken, a bridge burned. In direct contrast to the heat in their words, Roy’s eyes went cold.
“As you wish, then.”
He turned as if to go, but Ed shoved past him. “Don’t bother.” Once at the door, he paused, then turned.
“Don’t contact me.”
With those final words, he turned back and stormed out.
Fuck trying to change things from the inside.
Ed wiped away the dust of the transmutation, taking in the jacket. The latest in hundreds, though with any luck, every single one would be superfluous and unneeded. Really, the invention of the fabric structure had been a point of pride for him, but better not to have to use it at all.
A knock on the doorframe, and he looked up, watching as Jacob stepped through, using a rag to wipe grease off of his hands. “You done?”
“Yeah.” Ed tossed him a jacket, and Jacob caught it with his clean hand. “Just in time, too.”
Jacob tossed the rag away and lifted the jacket, inspecting it carefully. “So you say these things will stop bullets?”
“Positive. You can test it on me if you want.” Ed glanced towards the rest. “I should’ve gotten enough different sizes for everyone who’ll be near the front.”
“I’ll see to it that they’ll get passed around. It’s a miracle you decided to help us out, really. And you thought you were a popular figure before.”
Ed snorted softly. “Like I’m gonna let this shit fly. The military needs to know they have no right to just… treat us like this. This country was created for the people, and they damn well need to remember that.” His own words drew him back to the memory, months before, and the fierce, passionate look of a general… but he shoved those thoughts away.
“Well, yeah, you’re preaching to the choir. I just mean, well, you’re practically a local legend now, aren’t you?”
When Ed stared at him, trying to parse his words, Jacob sighed. “You already look enough like our most famous hero, and that is not a common thing. Amestris does blond, but we don’t do golden. Not like you. The way you’ve been helping people over these past few months made you popular enough, but now that you’ve become a face of the people’s protests? You could probably get yourself installed as Head Protector if you tried hard enough.”
Ed appreciated the joking tone; he wanted that less than anything else in the world, probably, and Jacob knew it. Though he had heard a couple of whispers to that effect when he began to take on a more prominent role in the group’s work, he had shut it down immediately with the reasoning that demagoguery was not a valid reason to put someone in power and that simple popularity rather than examining the rational policies of different leaders would put them in even a deeper mess than when they had started.
He privately had a few choice opinions on a good candidate, despite his and Ed’s differences, if they did end up rocking the status quo, but no need to bring that up now.
“God,” Ed muttered, glancing up and down the rows of bulletproof jackets. “I can’t believe that we actually need them. Might need them. Whatever.”
Jacob nodded. “Hey, it’s just a precaution. Protests are a right in this country. We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“They’ll call us a riot,” Ed replied quietly. “If they want to get rid of us. With tension at a high like this, it’s an easy excuse.”
The bearded face hardened. “Then good thing we got those jackets, then.”
Ed sighed and flopped back in his chair, taking in his handiwork, wincing when his back connected with the wood.
“How’s your shoulder?”
Ed glanced over at Jacob, shooting him a mildly irritated glare. Jacob had done well in maintaining what he could of Ed’s ports over the past few months since Ed had increased his political involvement, but he never passed on the chance to tell him that Ed needed to have his original mechanic take a look at it.
“Fine,” he gritted out. And it really wasn’t that much worse; yes, the injury when he had been jumped in the alley had fucked it up but good, but he had been careful, and three months of coping had to mean that it was good enough.
Jacob watched him for several moments, frowning slightly, and for a moment, Ed thought he wasn’t going to let it fly. But then he sighed and nodded, hoisting the jacket. “I’ll go tell everyone these are ready.”
Izumi Curtis, the hard, no-nonsense woman who had become something of the de-facto leader for the voices of so many citizens in Central, accepted the offering of the bulletproof jackets with a grateful nod. She was an impressively tall woman, skin darker than even Ed's, long dreadlocks tied up at the back of her head, falling elegantly down past her shoulders. “I’ll feel a hell of a lot better with our people wearing these out there.”
As their eyes met, a flicker of understanding passed between them. As one of the few private citizens of Amestris who still practiced alchemy, she had borne the brunt of many attempts by the military to curtail her knowledge. Ed had fostered it instead, filled gaps that she grasped instantly, and shared a silent solidarity with her from the moment he had discovered that she, like him, didn’t need to draw an array to transmute.
He hadn’t asked her why, who it had been, but the damage he had repaired, the tearing of her insides that would have left her dead over the course of several more years, told enough of a story on its own. He couldn’t heal her fully, not the consequences of what she’d done. He couldn’t do it for himself, either.
“Get ‘em suited up, then. We’re starting soon.”
Ed eschewed one himself: though he would have a lot of questions to answer if he were struck by a bullet and miraculously healed from it, an uncomfortable inquiry would be worth the knowledge that he hadn’t taken potentially lifesaving armor from someone who needed it. As Izumi led them onto the streets, however, as their numbers steadily grew, some from pre-planning, some drawn in from their presence and signs and joining in on an impulse, they wouldn’t nearly be enough.
Amestris against war!
Peace with Creta!
FOR THE PEOPLE
Ed held the last sign up high, chin lifted, marching proudly through the streets of Amestris. He had taken a position among the front of the protest, knowing that his presence would draw even more people to them, would add a sense of legitimacy for their grievances (and fuck anyone who said that Ed squandered his reputation; just because he didn’t want to be a fucking lapdog for the military didn’t mean that he couldn’t do things himself). He watched as they took their path, watched his compatriots take heart in the numbers that joined them and the vocal support that didn’t. While a few shot them looks of disgust, annoyance, or anxiety, Ed found them easy enough to ignore, and with Izumi standing at the front of their march, crying “FOR THE PEOPLE!” at the top of her voice, the rest undoubtedly did also.
The bodies pressed in on him, and despite the discomfort of the heat and the stickiness of the contact, even in the cooling autumn, Ed soldiered on. Within that discomfort lay something far stronger: a connection, bonds of emotion and idealism that bound them all, a molten wire of righteousness that ran through them all, setting them afire.
They had chosen their route well: by the time they reached the gates of the Military compound, they had garnered enough attention that what seemed like half the city, the half that wasn’t protesting, had come out to watch, and most of the military besides. Intellectually, Ed knew that there had to be far more people in Central then had turned out for this, but emotionally, and he could feel that emotion running through the rest of them, all eyes of the world focused on them.
“Food not blood!” the chant began, the voices rising in unison, and Ed joined his own to the cry.
He could feel the raw edge of betrayal in his shouts echoed in the noises around him. Amestris should not be this, having to gather and yell and be angry in order to get the voices of the citizens heard. Amestris should be something worth defending, not something worth so little that its government felt the need to manufacture a war to add to its land. Amestris’s focus should never be power, glory, or gain.
Amestris should be for the people.
Food not blood!
The news of the conflict with Creta had leaked, quickly and predictably. But in a twist that many (but not all; Ed knew damn well not all) hadn’t foreseen, the population had not been prepared to swallow the lie. Had not been prepared to send its children and parents and siblings off to war. Had not been willing to cut its already meager supplies to feed battles in a land that they would never see. The government had attempted to paint these dissenters as a small, noisy handful, but they were here today to show that this could not be farther than the truth.
Food not blood!
Ed’s voice cracked as he shouted, the fury, the frustration, running through him. He could have taken this country apart, piece by piece, and put what he wanted in place—but would that make him any better than a tyrant? Shown that he was willing to ignore the rules as long as they were for his benefit? After all, why then should anyone else follow them? He had always rankled under authority, yes, but rules were there for a reason, and bad rules could be nearly as bad as none: they encouraged shirking, disobedience, and made people do stupid things.
Like trying to bring back their dead mother.
Food not blood!
In the back of his mind, Ed noticed that their crowd grew larger, that those on the outskirts, clad in Ed’s jackets, ushered the newcomers inward, keeping up their protective wall. He wished he could have provided them more protection, especially in the head area, as the presence on the military’s side of the gate grew as well. Ed spotted the flashing of the sun off rifles, pistols, buttons, and he hoped that many of those inside realized that these were their parents protesting. Their siblings. Their children. And that it was for them, too.
Food not blood!
The gates began to open.
A line of soldiers marched out, all armed, faces set. The muzzles of the guns left the front lines of the protesting surge back, some people twisting to try to get out of the way. The soldiers continued to pour out, leaving even Ed wondering how many people that place could hold. No way they could leave the compound unguarded, either, especially these days, so how many people had to be left?
The presence of soldiers seemed to shake the resolve of their gathering, and murmurs rippled through the mass of humanity, fear within their currents.
One soldier stepped forward, an older, pale fellow with a square jaw; cold, narrow eyes, prominent brow, and slicked back dark hair. Ed caught sight of the insignia on his shoulders identifying him as a Colonel as the man lifted a radio receiver to his lips.
A cold voice boomed out over them all, amplified by a loudspeaker latched to the base’s fence. “By order of the military, you are all to disband and return to your homes immediately—”
“We don’t recognize your authority!” Izumi cried out, her unaltered voice nearly as loud as the Colonel’s. “We stand together against your abuse, and hold you accountable for your lies! The people are not meant to be your slaves; you are meant to serve for the people!”
Izumi’s words ignited the hesitating crowd, sending them surging forward again, cheering and chanting and roaring.
“For the people! For the people! For the people!”
The colonel drew back, face twisting in disgust and surprise at the unexpected resistance. He lifted the receiver to his mouth again, and Ed had to wonder what the citizen’s radio stations were saying about this little event.
“If you do not disperse this riot immediately, we will do it with force!”
“This isn’t a riot!” Izumi bellowed, again making herself heard above the crowd. “This is a protest! Of the unethical abuses of power that make you think you can stop us!”The Colonel hesitated, stepping back, and Ed could see mirrored hesitation on the faces of his soldiers. He narrowed his eyes, glancing at the mass of righteously angry humanity.
He lifted his arm, and though Ed couldn’t hear him over the din of the crowd, he read his lips with no trouble: guns!
Ed inhaled sharply, eyes widening, and he tried to shove himself to the front, put himself between harm and anyone who might get hurt, but the protest had taken on a life of its own, and neither Ed nor Izumi could control it. They pressed forward, screaming their defiance, and the Colonel pointed at them. Many of the soldiers mirrored the crowd’s earlier hesitation, but they hoisted the guns, taking aim.
A loud creak rent through the air as the gates swung open again, even more forms of blue marching through the gates. The Colonel turned, a startled expression flickering across his face, and Ed caught sight of more flashes of light, more reflections of the sun. But this time, the soldiers marched unarmed. This time, the sun gleamed off of watches.
And at the front…
A white-gloved hand lifted, and every eye in Central seemed to be fixed upon it as its fingers snapped.
Fire roared through the air with a ferocity matching that of the gathering, heat crackling and forcing the protesters back with cries of alarm and panic. Ed hissed at the excessive warmth, taking steps back himself, and even Izumi pulled back, widening the gap between them and the soldiers.
When the flames finally cleared, the smoke dissipating, Ed’s eyes locked onto a form he knew all too well.
Brigadier General Mustang, head of the military’s State Alchemist program, stepped forward. Ed could hear the ripples of alarm renewing in the crowd, laced with an edge of fear that stung. Guns, though dangerous, were an enemy they knew. Alchemy was not.
Roy didn’t say a word as he and his alchemists gathered, many of them still leaving the base.
“Colonel Archer.” Roy’s voice rang over the now-silent crowd. “Draw back.”
“Excuse me?” the man snapped, and only by the virtue of his close position could Ed hear the words and the disbelief in them. “We are here to stop this, by order of—”
He broke off as Roy strode forward, his alchemists following seamlessly behind, no hesitation in their expressions. They marched in two lines between Archer’s troops and the protestors, stretching to the very ends of both groups. Ed’s eyes widened at the number of alchemists; he hadn’t seen this many in one place in a very, very long time. How had Roy mobilized them all so quickly, especially when plenty had undoubtedly been in other parts of the country?
Once they had settled themselves firmly between the protest and a flabbergasted Archer, a wall of seasoned warriors, Roy returned to his spot in the center, staring Archer down.
“We stand with them.”
A noise of shock rocked through the entire company present, protestor and soldier alike. Ed himself gaped in Roy’s direction. Was this really—could this be happening?
“This—this is treason!” Archer spat, skin going even paler, a feat Ed wouldn’t have suspected to be possible. “To defy the Head Protector—”
“My duties charge me to serve the citizens of Amestris, not the agenda of whoever may be in charge, as have they everyone who has held my office in the history of this country. We stand with the people.”
Silence hung over them all, a common thread of disbelief at the reality of those words.
And then Izumi stepped forward, through the wall of alchemists, who stepped to the side obligingly, and declared, “And we stand with you.”
A roaring cheer went up from behind him, and for a moment, Ed couldn’t breathe. The brilliance of Roy’s plan swept over him: despite Archer’s claim of treason, Roy had just made himself indispensable to the military in one decisive action. As the one person who appeared to care about the well-being of the citizens of Amestris—except for perhaps Maes Hughes—the military could never charge him now, not for this, not without inciting anarchy. And by giving the protest validation as a member of the military, the rest of it could no longer deny it without appearing to be the villains.
Roy had just singlehandedly—well, with the help of his alchemists—brought the military to its knees.
Ed had to admire the guts. With a resigned sigh, he stepped forward, shoving more pointedly than Izumi would have had to. When Roy glanced behind him to see who was stepping forward, his severe mask cracked a little, revealing shock, disbelief, and the slightest bit of hope.
“All of us do,” Ed affirmed, raising his voice.
The cheer grew to deafening behind them, and between the ecstatic screams, a rhythmic chant began to grow. Archer stumbled back, his men fading.
“For the people! For the people! For the people!”
Ed felt his own voice raise, taking on the cry, as well as Roy’s deep one beside him doing the same.
And though he eventually realized that the reason he felt Roy, rather than heard him, was because their hands had found their way and slipped into each other, he didn’t pull away.
“I can’t believe you did that,” Ed laughed breathlessly, arm swinging as they walked along the road, hand still curled in Roy’s. “I can’t believe—fuck, Mustang! You’ve got balls the size of—”
“Please, Edward,” Roy drawled. “Too loud, and others will suspect an inappropriate element to our relationship.”
“Keep that up and I’ll make sure they end up kicked inside your body,” Ed muttered, drawing a laugh from Roy. “I mean it!”
“Of course you do,” Roy sighed happily, lifting his chin and smiling gently as he breathed in the deep air. As he stared up into the sky, the deep reds of the sunset gave him the look of an ethereal being, some legend of old, fierce and determined but taking just a moment for respite before rejoining his battle.
Ed grimaced slightly; as someone who actually sort of kind of fit that description, he probably looked like a kid brother in comparison. Or subordinate, at least. No one would ever mistake them for being related.
Roy turned his eyes back down to Ed, still smiling gently, and Ed’s grimace faded at the expression that came over him, one of sorrow and longing and awe. His heart seemed to stop beating for a few moments, that instant frozen in time.
“I missed this,” Roy murmured, squeezing his hand gently.
And Ed swallowed. The elephant in the room.
He tugged his hand away just as gently, heart trying not to break at the way Roy’s eyes quickly masked the hurt at the motion. “Yeah. So did I. But we can’t just… we need t’talk before we just start… jumping back into old habits.”
Roy nodded, turning to look ahead once again. “This is fair. Can I tempt you with dinner?”
“You know me too well,” Ed muttered, but dinner did sound amazing. One day he’d make Roy take him to do something else, but… free food.
They found their way to a Xingese restaurant neither of them had ever tried before, and though the menu had the odd Amestrian tendency to serve a bastardization of the food that any Xingese person would have considered strange, he had to admit that it was tasty regardless. He ordered a type of beef called “Kung Pao,” and Roy chose the sweet and sour pork.
Instead of eating at the restaurant, they had it boxed up in heavy cardboard, an invention that Ed respected the Xingese immigrants to an absurd degree for inventing, and headed to a small park near the Gilded Hotel.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the crisp evening autumn air, their chopsticks expertly snapping up rice and other food. Despite the lingering tension, the uncertainty, Ed couldn’t bring himself to be anything less than relaxed.
“I’m sorry,” Roy finally murmured, and Ed glanced over at him, wondering how this was going to play out.
“I shouldn’t have pushed you the way I did. It’s been months, and every single day I regret it, regret what I said to you.” His eyes met Ed’s and held them, burning with intensity. “You were right. I know nothing about what you’ve been through, and I, of all people, should have known that some traumas leave scars so deep that the wrong action can pull them open afresh. I got too caught up in what I wanted, what I thought was best, that I didn’t bother looking at what might be best for someone else.” Roy reached out to run his fingers down Ed’s shoulder gently. “Someone else who I care about quite a lot.”
Ed lifted his right hand—the one without the chopsticks—and placed it over Roy’s. To his credit, he didn’t flinch from the automail, simply smiled over at him and turned his hand so their fingers curled together, flesh warming metal.
“And… I’m sorry I blew up at you like that. I should’ve taken a few steps back and maybe told you to fuck off, yeah, but not forever. Not how I did.”
Roy simply snorted. “Such a way with words as always, Edward.”
“Shut up; we can’t all be born politicians like you. And I don’t use that word as a compliment.”
“I don’t believe you’ve ever used any word as a compliment.”
Ed threw one of his chopsticks in Roy’s direction, and Roy dodged easily. With a morose sigh, Ed glanced into the empty carton, then stood.
“I’m headed in. Comin’ with?”
Roy’s eyebrows shot up for a moment, but then he stood, the hint of a smirk on his face. “I would be honored to accompany you.”
Chucking the empty container into the lobby’s garbage can, Ed headed up to his room, yet again with Roy on his tail. This time, however, when he opened the door, he held it for Roy instead of leaving him on the other side.
“I’ve never stayed here. It’s quite impressive,” Roy murmured, glancing around appreciatively.
“Yeah, well, it’s back to its former glory with the trick of some alchemy.”
A sly glance in Ed’s direction. “So this is how you’ve been paying your fees during your long visits?”
Ed shrugged innocently. “For my meals, too. They make it for free, for me. I think they came out on top; I saved them hundreds of thousands of cenz of repair work.”
“Right, but I’m sure your eating will put them right back in the red again before long.”
Ed rolled his eyes, but Roy managed to save himself from a retort by means of distraction: he spotted Ed’s piles of notes and got him started on them. As Ed had found himself rather occupied since coming to Amestris, he had found himself unable to do the studying and collecting that he would have liked, so many of them remained in unsorted piles. They both eventually found themselves flipping through them, calling out interesting bits and seeing where pieces intersected.
As far as dates went, discussion of Aerugonian alchemy was so far beyond typical, but Ed found it immensely enjoyable. They eventually spread out on the huge bed, laughing and jibing at each other more than doing any actual learning.
“See, one of the things I really fuckin’ love, that I can’t believe hasn’t picked up here more, is that they build transmutation circles into jewelry. It seems to be a newer thing, since until now, it’s been hard to get perfect arrays into things that’re so small, but technology is amazing, y’know? Hell, some of the jewelry is actually shaped like arrays. I’m real fond of those.”
“That sounds fascinating. I’d love to look at one someday.”
Ed rolled to his side, pointing in the direction of the dresser behind him. “Got a couple in there. Necklaces, mostly, and I think a ring. See, I’ve been thinking about adding one to a pocketwatch, or at least giving State Alchemists the option…”
“I like that idea quite a lot, actually.” The sincerity of Roy’s voice left Ed’s mouth curving up in a smile. “It already amplifies alchemical transmutations, but having an array inlaid professionally, if the alchemist wanted, could prove to be a very handy emergency measure.”
“See? I always have the best ideas.”
Since Ed couldn’t see Roy from his position on his stomach as he sifted through his notes and he knew Roy couldn’t see him, he smiled at the delighted chuckle from behind him. “How I ever survived without you, I’ll never know. God knows that the last three months have been some of the most dismal of my life.”
Once again, Ed thanked anyone listening that Roy couldn’t see his face, or the flush growing on it. “And don’t you forget it.”
“I never will.” The bed dipped as he settled back onto it, wrapping an arm around Ed’s waist and tugging him in. “So,” he murmured, pressing a lingering kiss to Ed’s temple. “Tell me about these necklaces.”
“Well,” Ed rasped, mind certainly no longer focused on jewelry, not with the way that Roy kissed gently down his jaw. “You’ll notice this one is made of gold, of course, and the bracelet’s the same combination of metals as the pocketwatch, or similar, at least…”
Ed continued to babble about materials and arrays, retaining a level of coherency that should be considered impressive, with how Roy’s bastard mouth pressed up against sensitive areas, how his fingers caressed lightly over his waist.
The worst part of it was, he listened attentively the entire time, apparently oblivious to the effect he had on Ed, intentions simply to enjoy the physical contact after so long apart.
And Ed could only take so much.
“The… most of these rings are made by… fucking hell, Roy!” Ed finally yelped.
Roy pulled back at the cry, blinking slowly. Though uncommon, confusion was a good look for him, softening his face to the levels of near-adorableness. “I’m sorry?”
“You’re a right bastard,” Ed snapped, face flushing again, no heat in his words, and Roy just laughed.
“I’m sorry. How can I remedy the situation?”
“You can shut the fuck up and kiss me properly.”
A startled expression flitted across Roy’s face, but it was immediately replaced by that trademark smirk. He leaned in, tilting his head slightly, and pressed his mouth against Ed’s.
Ed kissed back immediately, reaching up to take Roy’s face, pressing up against him with a small moan. He could feel Roy’s breath catch in surprise at the forwardness, the way that Ed hooked an ankle around Roy’s calf, but he didn’t protest, just tugged him closer.
They settled onto their sides on the bed, kissing thoroughly, feet dangling over the edge, Roy’s hand running up Ed’s back. Ed returned the favor, tracing his fingers up Roy’s side, marveling at the warmth underneath them as Roy’s tongue slid into his mouth.
Roy’s hand continued to run up and down Ed’s back as Ed returned the gesture with his tongue, teasing playfully, letting Roy take the lead for a few moments before pulling back, then darting forward again to latch his mouth on Roy’s jaw.
Ed could feel the vibrations running through him as Roy groaned, and he laughed in response, kissing slowly, tracing his own tongue along those lines, the heady scent of Roy leaving him dizzy. His leg slid further up Roy’s, arm sliding around to hook behind his back…
And Roy’s hand slid down to get a firm grip of Ed’s ass.
Ed gasped and jumped forward, startled, and was stopped by Roy’s solid form. Instead of pulling back, however, he took the opportunity to shift his second leg, trying to wedge it under Roy’s so he could properly wrap his legs around—
A crinkle of paper, and Ed froze.
Roy didn’t seem to notice, not until he hooked his fingers in Ed’s waistband and got no result. With a sigh, he leaned back slightly, eyebrow raised.
“We gotta clean up.”
“Excuse me?” Roy laughed, gentle and chiding, but Ed wriggled away and sat bolt upright, headiness clearing for a moment as he gathered his precious notes.
“We’ll kick this shit all over the floor! D’you know how long it took me to get these organized? Or worse, we’ll rip them! Or get them dirty! I’m not gonna roll around on top of my notes!”
Roy sighed longsufferingly, but seemed to understand that nothing else would be happening until Ed’s stringent standards of cleanliness were met. He gathered the notes, ordering them as they had been, as Ed did the same. Every sheet had to be collected and set back in its place before Ed even considered looking back at Roy.
When he did, however, he returned the smirk with one of his own.
“Shall we?” Roy murmured, only bothering to drawl a little. As a reward, Ed stepped forward, grabbed his jacket, and yanked him down onto the bed with him. None of this perpendicular to the correct direction nonsense; Ed’s head hit the pillows as they landed, Roy on top.
“Hell yeah,” Ed murmured, pulling Roy in for another kiss.
Even the slight breath of distance between “unexpected kissing” and “intentional kissing” made a difference; instead of feeling as if the world spun around them, out of Ed’s control as god knew what happened, it now seemed to close in on them until they were the only two people left, warmth in their breath and want in their touch. Ed arched as Roy ran his hand down Ed’s back again, grabbing his ass, and Ed hooked both heels around the backs of his thighs, pulling back to take in the sight.
Goddamn, Roy Mustang kissed silly was even more attractive than Roy Mustang who controlled the world. Ed could spot the faint hints of pink in his lips, the swelling, and the way his hair seemed to have gotten messier but no less impeccably so. His mouth hung half-open as he breathed heavily, watching Ed right back, eyes wide and dark and hungry.
They both groaned as they surged forward again, kissing fiercely, Ed’s mind made up. He pawed at Roy’s jacket, licking into his mouth before tugging back, forehead pressing against Roy’s, and whispering, “These fuckin’ things are just getting in the way. Time to get rid of them.”
Seeing Roy’s eyes widen in shock had to be one of the wonders of the world.
Still, he wasted no time obliging: he shed his jacket with an ease that left Ed envious, and the cape and pants went next. Ed decided to help with the undershirt, but then had to pause in his attempts while Roy returned the favor, stripping off the waistcoat and breeches, peeling off the shirt with a victorious, anticipatory gleam in his eye that left Ed shivering.
Both of them waited for the span of about a breath, or maybe a heartbeat—Ed would argue that he had held out longer, since Roy’s shirt had come off first. But when they moved forward, arms reaching out to run up chests, over shoulders, around necks, they pressed close, as if trying to memorize each spot with their fingertips as they alternated between frantic kisses and indulgent raking of the eyes over whatever expanse of flesh they could see at the moment. Roy’s fingers found their way down Ed’s chest, tracing at the ring going through a nipple before tugging at it gently, leaving him with a delightful little twinge of pain that had Ed gasping.
“You didn’t have these on last time,” Roy murmured, and Ed was reminded of the way he had ogled Ed when Ed had been poor and injured and defenseless.
“I don’t always wear ‘em,” Ed panted, arching into the touch as Roy continued to play with his nipples. “Glad I did today, though.” They had been high fashion back in Xerxes; that Roy approved of them now, hundreds of years later, only confirmed Ed’s suspicions of good taste.
“So am I,” Roy murmured, then lowered his head to lick slowly at the jewelry.
Ed felt his mind shatter a little at that, a ruination that he wholeheartedly embraced this evening as Roy continued to take him apart, piece by piece. He returned the favor, when he could, nails digging into sensitive hipbones, teeth leaving marks of possession in necks. Roy’s fingers finally found their way inside him, leaving him arching and gasping and yelping—fuck it had been too long—and more besides, the two of them kissing deeply as they joined together, currents of desperation driving both of them into yearning intimacy.
Their passion drove them to overwhelming pleasure, the culmination of months of smoldering anticipation, and as Ed lost himself in Roy, in long kisses and low groans, in high-pitched pants and deep, all-encompassing fullness, as he wrapped around him and pulled him close and Roy moved inside him, he couldn’t help the most desperate thought of all as their eyes fixed on each other.
I would give eternity for this.
“I can’t say I’ve ever been with a lover who hasn’t complimented me.”
Ed nestled his chin on Roy’s shoulder, practically purring, too inordinately pleased to keep the fond tone out of his voice. “It’ll be good for you. Consider it an exercise in humility.”
“You are many things, Edward, but good for me is not one of them.”
Ed leaned in to kiss at his jaw. “Most good things aren’t. Like cake.”
“Are you capable of doing anything but thinking about food?”
“Did any part of the way I sucked your dick even remotely imply incapability?”
“Well, it involved ingesting, so of course you would be an expert.”
“Oh, so you’re calling it an expert job, then.” Ed scooted forward into him, satisfaction rolling off in waves. “Tell me more.”
At Roy’s pleased sigh, Ed began to suspect that he had walked into a trap. When Roy began to speak, Ed knew that he had.
“Did you, know, Edward, that when you're losing yourself in pleasure you make the loveliest sounds? I wish I could bottle them up somehow to drink in when the day is ending and I'm exhausted and I think I can no longer go on, because if I can make you sound like that, then I can do anything.”
Ed reached out to smack at him, but Roy only caught the wrist, squeezing his hand gently.
“Your expressions are equally wonderful, only I’d never think of keeping them anywhere but in my own mind, lest someone else see them and decide a work of art such as you ought to be kept in a museum—and you are, Edward, such a work of art, the way you move, the way you shine, it’s like you were chiseled of gold and then had life breathed into you. Every scar on your skin only adds to the perfection that is your loving, breathing body.”
Ed cast around for a savior, and his eyes landed on the bedside table, where the Aerugonian jewelry from earlier lay in a tangled mess. He stretched over to swipe it, then practically threw them at Roy. “Learn how to put shit away, asshole.”
Roy simply sighed, lifting them up to examine them morosely in the afternoon light before Ed turned away, staring determinedly in the opposite direction.
“And you, of course, outshine these anyway. I would put you in jewels, truly, but they would never compare; you would only diminish their cost and their beauty by virtue of your presence alone.”
Ed found himself focusing on hiding his embarrassment so thoroughly that he didn’t notice the silence, nor the length of it. In fact, he didn’t notice much else at all until a quiet voice tinged with surprise said, “Ed?”
He turned, brow furrowing at the concern, and froze.
Roy had apparently opened a different lid than the one in which he had found the jewelry. Roy held something up between two fingers, and Ed’s eyes zeroed in on it: a solid gold band the size of Ed’s ring finger.
Ed nearly tripped over himself scrambling out of the bed, silently willing Roy not to look at the inside engraving. But Roy didn’t seem to be inspecting it, just staring at it, perplexed and surprised and a little hurt.
Ed held out his right hand, and Roy dropped the ring into his palm, gold clinking on automail, metal to metal.
“Is that yours, or your mother’s, or…?”
“It’s mine,” Ed choked out, fist closing around it, eyes meeting Roy’s.
“So you were…”
“Married, yeah.” Ed hunched his shoulders defensively, watching Roy warily. The silence lingered on.
“I hope I’m not intruding on a relationship, then,” Roy finally said, choosing his words carefully, tone hesitant.
Ed pressed his lips together.
A beat, and Ed’s thumb snuck forward, its tip sliding through the center of the ring. Had his left hand been holding it, it could have more delicately sensed the engraving of “Edward Elric – Russell Tringham” instead of simply scraping over it.
Ed just nodded jerkily, reaching over and dropping it back into the box. “It’s not a problem. It happened a while ago.”
“You must have been young,” Roy murmured. Ed grimaced, then shrugged.
“Yeah. Which is why I don’t bring it up, because then people get weird about it.” He watched Roy carefully, sending him a warning not to do just that.
Though dating someone as perceptive as Roy could be a massive headache at times, other times it carried with it definite perks. He simply nodded, reaching out to slide an arm around Ed’s shoulder, tugging him in before sliding back into the bed, wrapping his arms around him.
Ed pillowed his face into Roy’s chest, closing his eyes, inhaling the smell. “Sleep? Before we go again. I could use a nap.”
“Sleep is fine.” Roy leaned down to kiss Ed’s hair. “In fact, I couldn’t dream of anything I’d want more.”
They woke up after noon, a pair of lazy individuals who might have passed for adults had they had any inclination to behave more responsibly. But responsibility was for suckers who didn’t have the option to get laid laying right in front of them, and it was only after a round or two of very robust sex (and the growling of Ed’s stomach) that they decided to begin digging for their clothes.
Ed stretched, enjoying the way that Roy’s eyes lingered on the dark strip of skin between his shirt and pants. “So, I get free breakfast. You wanna go get some food?”
“Always about the food with you, isn’t it,” Roy murmured, but Ed simply grinned at the smile on his face.
They meandered down the stairs together, shoulders bumping occasionally, playful smiles on their faces as they finally stumbled through the door to the lobby. Ed turned, looking for one of the staff…
“Hey, there he is!”
Ed winced, then sighed. Fuck, between the two of them, their celebrity status had to be notorious. The two of them together? He had a feeling he should prepare himself to get swarmed... and to potentially answer several awkward questions about the nature of their relationship.
But the four men who strode over to them did not look like fans. They certainly didn’t look like civilians: heads turned and whispers abounded at the sight of the royal blue uniform, guests huddling closer together and watching out of the corners of their eyes.
“Roy Mustang,” the leader said, lifting his chin, eyes flashing.
Roy, of course, did the same. “That is General Roy Mustang to you, Colonel.”
“Not anymore.” He briskly held out a sheet of paper, which Roy snatched from his hands, reading frantically.
“The Head Protector…” He lifted his eyes, glancing between them all, bewildered. “He can’t do this. He has no right to do this without cause—”
“We do have a cause, Mustang.” The remaining soldiers surrounded them, dividing Ed from Roy, Ed only not putting up a fight because of Roy’s warning glare. “Your rank has been stripped, pending an investigation and trial. We will be holding you until your court-martial. In the meantime, you are under arrest.”
Ed nearly jumped the guys as they wrenched Roy’s arms behind his back and began to shackle his wrists, but Roy shook his head firmly. “On what charges? I was in my rights to join a protest—”
“Protest?” The lead soldier’s eyebrows shot up. “That has nothing to do with this.”
“I’ll bet,” Roy spat, voice bitter. “Then tell me, with what does it have to do?”
The soldier stared Roy down, eyes hard and unforgiving.
“You are under arrest for last night’s murder of Colonel Maes Hughes.”
Ed paced the length of his room and back, running his fingers through his increasingly messy hair.
He had performed the action so many times that his scalp was beginning to feel rubbed raw, but he had to admit that it was an improvement from chewing on his knuckles. At least this way he wouldn’t lose his teeth to his automail.
He still couldn’t believe he was fucking here, fucking stuck in his room, being useless instead of busting Roy’s ass out of custody. He couldn’t believe that Roy had managed to talk him down, not after the soldier’s haughty attitude.
Ed had recovered from the news before Roy—though still deeply affected, living as long as he did meant that he had lost enough people that he could bury his reaction when needed. Roy, reeling, only stared at the leader, bewildered, lost, and devastated.
“Not possible,” Ed had snapped, drawing himself up to his full height, eyes blazing. “He was with me last night. He has an alibi.”
The soldier’s lip curled in disgust as he stared down his nose at Ed, grimacing. “From someone complicit in this plot? We all saw you on the front lines, supporting this traitor. No court will believe you.”
“Front—!” Ed ignored the dropping feeling in the pit of his stomach at the thought that his participation might have put Roy in a precarious position. “It was a fucking protest!”
“It was a distraction!” one of the other soldiers snapped, yanking a still-stunned Roy forward, but the leader slashed his hand through his hair, cutting him off.
“Mustang will stand trial for his crimes. You’re lucky they haven’t ordered your arrest, either.” His eyes narrowed, shooting Ed the nastiest look he had seen in some time. “Yet.”
And then Ed had stepped forward, ready to fight, to bust Roy out and charge out of the hotel with him in tow, but two sharp words had stopped him cold.
Ed had turned to stare in disbelief at Roy, who had straightened, grief raw across his face, but clearly trying to draw himself in, compose himself. “I’ll be all right. This is a mistake. They can’t convict me without evidence. Your testimony will be enough at my trial, if you don’t cause trouble before then. Stay out of this.”
Even with the news of his best friend’s murder, Roy managed to not only keep his calm, but return some to Ed. Though he hated it, Ed had stepped back, clenching his fists and watching them lead Roy away.
It hadn’t been lost on him, the shocked stares from the onlookers, the way that Roy’s arresters had announced his name to the world. Nor had the whispers that started the moment they left the building.
So now he was here, stuck, not wanting to suffer the judgmental stares of the fuckers who apparently thought Roy had killed someone, killed his best friend, when all he had ever wanted had been the betterment of the lives of Amestrians.
He had to trust Roy. He could do that. While Ed knew the law of Amestris very well—he had helped create it, after all—the thought of the current military allowing Roy a fair trial left Ed laughing cynically. He tried to repeat what Roy had told him, that they couldn’t move against him so overtly, so illegally, not without destroying their credibility and making Roy a martyr, he had learned to trust his gut in situations like this. Even if he had wanted to, he couldn’t have shoved away his conviction that if he simply sat around, things were going to go very, very wrong.
Though he had initially only intended for his walk to be just that, a breather as he pulled back from the stress of everything life threw at him, his feet apparently had a mind of their own as they led him through now-familiar streets, eventually coming to a stop in front of Jacob’s automail shop.
Though he didn’t expect to see Izumi as the door swung open, somehow, her presence didn’t surprise him in the slightest.
"You're here!" Jacob gasped, hurrying from the back room into the entryway. "Are you all right? We were worried, but we hadn't heard anything about you being arrested..."
"You, worried about me?" Ed drawled, trying to take up the normally bantering tone into which the two of them had usually fallen so easily. But Jacob would have none of it, face still solemn, and Ed sighed. "So you already heard? How?"
Jacob gestured towards the back, and Ed followed him and Izumi, where the radio prattled on, oblivious of the loss and regaining of its audience.
"...Brigadier General Mustang has always been a man on the side of the people, and his actions yesterday proved that. They expect us to believe that he did this? From all accounts, they were best friends. Rumors of even more. There's literally no reason—"
"You don't think it's a bit suspect, though, that he always seems to be on the right side of things? No one is that altruistic. It's a game. It's a face to him, to put on, to get our support. Yeah, he's going against the military, but it's because he's realized that we're the people with the power to put him where he wants to be, especially if he convinces us that he's on our side. He has his end goals and to think otherwise is a mistake and embarrassingly naïve. If Colonel Hughes stood in the way of something, posed an immediate threat to those goals? You can bet your ass he'd torch him."
A scoff from the other person on the radio. "Sounds like someone's been drinking plenty of what the military's been putting out. What little of it they manage, anyway."
"Plenty more since Colonel Hughes took charge! He made them look good; your claims of conspiracy—"
"Holy fuck," Ed whispered hoarsely, horror settling down on his shoulders like a heavy shroud. "Everyone... everyone's gotta know by now. They leaked it, or...?"
"Well, half the city saw him being arrested," Izumi drawled, the scowl on her face one that impressed even Ed. "And even more overheard what it was for. If you call that a leak, I guess, but I'd say it would have to be more subtle to count as one."
"But they... they have no evidence!" Ed protested, glancing between the two of them. "He was with me all night! I don't even fucking know what happened!"
Jacob choked back a startled noise, and Izumi raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him. "Well, then you should have a chance to explain that at the trial. You're well-liked enough, and trustworthy. Mostly. An alibi will get him out of this."
"If he gets a trial," Izumi muttered, and Ed tensed.
"Please." Jacob shook his head. "The Colonel's death was a tragedy, yeah, but hardly high treason."
"Wait—hold the fuck up. What're you talking about?" Ed glanced between the two. "High treason?"
"After Ishval," Izumi said steadily, still looking deadly serious, "after soldiers turned against their own government, they abolished the requirement for a lengthy trial of those in clear violation of the treason acts of Amestris. They instead convene a special military tribunal, supposedly to ensure that no traitor is able to escape on a technicality, which did, according to them, happen to a few. Of course, this means that they would control every aspect. The tribunal wouldn't be required to hear your testimony, and I highly doubt that the story of a lover would make much of a difference to them, anyway. You could easily be lying. I'm sure you're not, but think of how they would spin it, Ed."
Ed shook his head, a lump forming in the back of his throat. "Okay, hold the fuck up. Ishval? What d'you mean... I heard about how things broke out, but..."
"There isn't much talk about the details of that," Izumi murmured, turning away and looking distantly out the window, scowling, her dreadlocks falling forward into her dark face. "But as far as I understand—again, things are hazy, but enough gets out—the attack on the army were rogue soldiers who wanted to start a war between Ishval and Amestris, weakening the military and turning them into war criminals. It worked, starting the war at least. But by pinning the responsibility on a couple of rogue fucks, the higher-ups managed to avoid culpability for the attack. Not like we can do anything about it."
Ed ran his hands down his face, closing his eyes. He could feel a twinge of hurt that Roy hadn't told him the whole story, but of course he wouldn't have wanted to. Wouldn't have wanted to look like a dupe. And it certainly wasn't a detail that withholding made him look better.
"Fuck. But... but Roy isn't a traitor. Even if he did kill Hughes—and he didn't!—they'd still have to have a trial. It's illegal not to." Even as the words left his mouth, he knew how stupid he sounded, and he winced. Of course the government cared about what was legal. Hah. The only reason it followed the rules most of the time was to keep up its image and prevent a coup. "And, well, everyone would know if they didn't."
"Ordering your own soldiers to attack your main force, blaming them for going rogue, and then having them executed for it is pretty illegal too," Izumi murmured. "Just something to think about."
Ed exhaled, sinking into a chair. "We've gotta do something."
Jacob let out a hopeless bark of laughter. "Like what? Storm the castle? They've got way more weapons than us, and military training. They'd slaughter us. We don't even know where he's being held. Besides, breaking him out would just make him look bad."
"Love how that's what you automatically jump to, Jacob," Ed murmured, a crooked smile on his face. "You lawbreaker, you."
"Hey, I'm trying to predict what you would be thinking, not what I think is the best option."
"Or maybe I've just rubbed off on you. Admit it."
"Stop flirting, you two," Izumi snapped, scowl deepening. "We have more important things to worry about!"
"Didn't you hear?" Jacob sighed. "He's taken now. And you just know he's going to recruit us to go rescue his boyfriend."
Ed shook his head, sighing. "No, no. I wouldn't put you guys in danger like that. What about... another protest? Just to ensure that he gets a fair trial. It's a totally reasonable thing to ask, and imagine how awful they'd look for denying it, when it's clear we're not demanding that they let him free. Just give him the rights he deserves, as a citizen of Amestris."
Izumi tilted her head. "That could work. We could get him a lawyer, keep the eyes on them that it stays legitimate. I'm sure they're trying to get this over and buried as soon as possible, so we'll need to act quickly. It isn't a perfect solution, but it will at least drag this out much longer than they would have wanted. They're expecting us to stay reeling for a few days, I'm sure. We'll throw an upset into this and buy ourselves some time to come up with something better."
Ed could feel his shoulders start to unknit with relief, and Jacob nodded. "I'll get the word out tonight. First thing tomorrow work for you guys? I know that everyone's got to be as worried about this as you are. They'd jump at the chance to do something."
Ed nodded. "Thank you. God, I just wish I could've done something to stop it, but he told me not to."
"He was right," Izumi murmured, and when they both glanced over at her, she grinned viciously, something that sent shivers down Ed's back. "Always work within the system when you can, boys. That way, you can make it work for you."
In all his years, Ed was pretty sure he had never met anyone as terrifying as her.
Ed could only listen for so long. When they brought Gracia onto the radio, voice still raw with grief but pleading for Roy, Ed felt the knife twist in his gut.
“I… I know that my husband has… did so much for this country, and that the citizens want justice,” she managed, voice cracking as she sniffed. “But please. Roy was my husband’s best friend. He would never do this. He was so righteous and good-hearted…”
Ed shoved himself to his feet and made a beeline for another room. Anything. Just not here.
Jacob followed, wiping what seemed to be eternally persisting streaks of grease off his fingers with a rag.
“I’m sorry. I know it’s gotta be rough for you. It’s not just the General, either, is it? You knew the Colonel, too.”
Ed leaned back on one of the tables, gripping the edges with his hands. “He was such a good guy,” Ed murmured, still trying to shove away the sickening sensation that had come with the news of his death. It still hadn’t sunk in yet, and Ed had resolved not to let it, not until he got this shit sorted out with Roy. He couldn’t afford a breakdown now. “Adorable daughter. Amazing wife. I can’t even fuckin’ imagine…” He shook his head. “Roy’s got to be destroyed. They were close.”
Jacob nodded, taking the hint and navigating away from the conversation about Hughes. “So you sorted things out with Gen—with Roy? You mentioned a while ago that…”
Ed sighed. “Yeah. More or less. We had a fight, but it was really us both being stubborn assholes who clashed and didn’t want to give in. We’re sorting it out. We’re pretty good, actually.”
“All in one day?” Jacob asked, voice a bit wry. “Remind me to ask you next time I need relationship counseling.”
Ed shot him a glare, then looked away, scowling. His mind flitted through several things to say, but all sounded far too defensive for his tastes. Yes, he had wanted things to work out again with Roy, but he had already forgiven him, long before they had met again, right? So to learn that Roy had done the same, it had been the prudent thing to skip the slow, hesitant buildup that would have taken them ages to get around—and probably left Roy without an alibi. They were both smart adults. They didn’t need stupid shit like time to get in their way.
“We have an understanding.”
Jacob chuckled at that. “Okay.”
“God, you’re so fucking obnoxious—“
The door slammed open, sending them both jumping, and Ed whipped his head to the side to see Izumi standing in the doorway, panting.
“Ed, come here. You’re going to want to hear this.”
Ed shoved himself to his feet and followed without a second thought, making his way back into the workshop where the radio continued to chatter.
“…just received word of the fate of Roy Mustang, and will be cutting to a live broadcast from the Head Protector General.”
“Greeting, citizens of Amestris. I address you today with a heavy heart, as I’m sure you have all heard that one of our greatest heroes, Maes Hughes, was assassinated last night. While his loss will be felt for years to come, we have at least apprehended the culprit responsible: the former Brigadier General Roy Mustang.
“His status as the man responsible shocked us as much as it must you, as we recognize that he too was a hero of Amestris, but it is with a heavy heart that we must reveal that he is nothing like the man he seemed to be.
“Work collected by none other than Colonel Hughes himself has revealed the man known as Roy Mustang to be a Cretan mole, working within the depths of our government for years in order to facilitate the sabotage of our prosperity. He fostered a friendship with the Colonel to gain access to his work, using a variety of unscrupulous methods to attain promotion and gain access to confidential information. Colonel Hughes’s success at rejuvenating our food supply proved to be a thorn in the side of Creta, as starving us out was an important goal, but the final straw was when Colonel Hughes discovered the true identity of his friend. He attempted to notify us as soon as possible, but not before he got a message to his superiors with the information that will save our country.
“Colonel Hughes was a great man, and his memorial service will be held in three days. Before that, we will punish the traitor who took him from us. Roy Mustang is in our custody, and will be executed tomorrow morning. We must now warn all of our citizens to prepare for war with Creta; once they learn of the execution of such a valuable spy, they will undoubtedly…”
Ed tuned the rest out; he knew what they were going to say anyway and he didn’t want to hear it. Roy had been so sure that they would play by the rules; twist them, yes, but never break them.
Well, they had shattered the rules, torn up the pages of the book and tossed them into the gutter. A jarring shift of the playing field that left Ed’s head spinning.
“So,” Izumi murmured, turning down the radio. “What are you going to do?”
Ed’s head jerked up, mind already spinning plans and strategies, but… he couldn’t put more people in danger. And plausible deniability would be crucial after this point. “What happened to working within the system?” he tried to joke, but his voice only came out hollow.
Izumi’s eyes gleamed yet again, and her grin once again left Ed with the anxious feeling that he was about to become dinner.
“You didn’t listen to me, boy. I said work within the system when you can. This? It’s no longer an option.” She flung her arm out. “Now? Fuck the system.”
Her eyes took on a predatory flash, and at the tiny, cold smirk on her face, Ed thought that he very much preferred the terrifying grin.
Ed had sworn that his sneaking-into-military bases days were over (for the next decade, at least). So it was a testament to how much he liked Roy that he found himself circling the walls that surrounded Central's yet again, the moon a quarter in the sky, providing him just enough light by which to make out the most basic of shapes.
He had no doubt that security would be far tighter than his first night in: not only were they still on alert from his illegal entry all those months ago, but they were executing a traitor tomorrow. Going in and attempting an escape when they were expecting just that wouldn't be easy, but Ed liked to think that he had enough tricks up his sleeve that they certainly wouldn't be expecting.
Instead of going through the wall this time—too much risk of the light being seen, and he had no idea how much they had increased their patrols—he clapped his hands together, then placed them on the ground several feet away from the outside of the wall. Boom, flash, instant tunnel.
He continued his work as he traversed below the ground, transmuting the earth in front of him to fill back up behind him. He really had no idea where he was going to come up, but he'd have to gamble on that.
After making his way through a long enough distance the he figured he was past the initial patrols, he began to transmute his way upwards. Upon reaching the crust, he slowly scratched it away, cautiously poking his head out, glancing around cautiously—
—right into the boot of a soldier, apparently.
The soldier dropped immediately, grabbing Ed's braid. Ed snarled, trying to twist away, but it fucking hurt
"Come out of there immediately!"
"I'm trying!" Ed snapped, trying to twist free of the dirt, get his arms in a position where he could clap them together. He really didn't want to waste energy in transmuting without a circle, not with this, but he would if he had to.
The soldier released the grip on his hair, and Ed made a pleased noise. "Goddam, looks like some people in this place have manners after all." He continued to squirm, squeezing his eyes shut to avoid getting more dirt into them. In fact, the soldier actually helped him, providing a steady grip on his shoulders to lift him out, then setting him down after Ed managed to finally break free!
"Y'know, I gotta say thanks for that," Ed said amiably, brushing dirt from his hair as he stood, "but you realize now I gotta kick your ass, right?"
"God, I hope not," drawled a familiar voice, thick with an Eastern Amestrian accent, very different than the person who had demanded he come out of the ground. "Or I'll have to tell the chief how ungrateful his brat of a boyfriend is."
Ed gasped, jerking his head up, eyes wide—and meeting the impossibly blue, even in the dim light, ones of Jean Havoc.
"What are you doing here?" Ed hissed, glancing around frantically and spotting more forms behind him, clad in the same black and balaclavas. The pair of brown eyes had to be Riza Hawkeye, the short one Kain Fuery...
"And why the fuck do you have Hayate with you?" he muttered, glancing down at the animal, who trotted over to the unconscious soldier, undoubtedly the one who had yelled at Ed earlier, and sniffed.
"Rescuing Mustang, of course," Riza snapped, her voice confirming Ed's suspicions. "And Hayate is helping."
"Yeah, Falman found us some great info on how to do it, and Breda's the man for distraction, so the three of us are gonna—"
Ed shook his head furiously. "Are you fucking kidding me? You'll be branded traitors!"
Fuery straightened determinedly. "We're not going to let him die! He might never forgive us, but we'd never forgive ourselves if we let it happen!"
Ed glanced between the three of them, matching stubborn expressions in their eyes, the only things visible, and sighed.
"Okay, okay. I get it. But look, none of you know the sort of alchemy I do, right?"
"Yeah," Jean muttered, a scowl forming on the visible part of his brow. "So? I did black ops for years. I know this shit."
"And I believe you," Ed replied, just as earnest, but also pleading. "I do, I swear. But think about it. If he gets out, he's going to need people here still working for him. He has goals, and he'll need allies inside the system as well as outside. I can get him out just as easily as you guys can, but he won't be losing anything when I do. If you give me the information and go make sure you have alibis for the breakout, you'll be doing a hell of a lot more for him than if you had broken him out yourself."
The three of them hesitated, and Ed saw it none more than in Hawkeye's eyes. That, in itself, didn't surprise him; she had a good head for practicality, and how to best fit it with loyalty. Ed had the feeling that Havoc might very well jump off a bridge if he knew it would save Roy. An admirable trait in itself, but not especially useful in this particular situation.
"I swear," he murmured, earnest and intent, as he met her eyes. "I will do this. He will be safe, and you won't have to give up his dream."
A sigh, and Hawkeye turned to watch the other two, their gazes steadily on her, even Havoc's, although Ed knew that as officer-in-charge, his decisions did not have to align with hers when it came to matters of the team.
"He's being held in a separate facility than the usual prisons. That building over there." She pointed. "We don't know in which room, but he'll be on the top floor. We don't have a lot of information about the insides, but trust that they will have made it as difficult as they can to mount an escape attempt.”
Ed couldn’t resist a smirk at that. “I have a feeling that they haven’t planned for me.”
Riza sighed again, expression a mixture of indulgent and resigned. “You understand that if you blow our best chance of rescue, you’ll have us to answer to.”
The stern glare leveled at him left him shivering. “I got it. Shit, you don’t gotta be so scary.”
“Yes. I do.” With a wry crinkling of her eyes, she turned, gesturing at the assembled company. “Let’s go. We need to sort out Breda’s alibi as well.”
They didn’t even hesitate to follow as she turned, walking quickly in the opposite direction of Roy’s prison.
Ed watched them vanish before he turned back to the task at hand.
A circular inspection of the building revealed bars on windows: an inconvenience for others, perhaps, but to Ed, it simply meant a virtually open door less likely to be guarded.
Ed picked the corner with the worst lighting and quickly sent the circle of ground beneath his feet shooting upwards, forming a pillar of earth. He touched the nearby set of bars, bending them outward, then tumbled inside, crossing his fingers that no one would be the wiser.
The shocked face of a soldier reminded him that he still didn’t even have enough luck for it to run out. A quick tap to the jaw, however, served in place of luck, as did transmuted ropes and a gag. No need to kill some basic soldier, and after Ed and Roy were long gone, his comrades would find and free him. Probably.
He crept through the hallway, and it appeared that his luck finally took a positive direction: the patrols he encountered only came in numbers of one or two. There were plenty, for sure, but Ed could take down small groups with no problem. It appeared that they had wanted to spread the guard as wide as possible. Inconvenient for literally anyone else sneaking in. Absolutely optimal conditions for Ed.
On the less pleasant side, every single fucking cell Ed came upon was empty. The thought that they had emptied the entire goddamn place for Roy didn’t surprise him, but he resolved not to tell once he broke the bastard out. He wouldn’t need the ego trip. But Ed kept moving forward, determined to win this now.
He made it through roughly fifteen guards with no trouble, so of course he was due some. An uneven step in the stone floor—probably set intentionally, to trap idiots like himself—caught his left foot. Even hundreds of years of automail couldn’t give him the balance of natural footing. He tripped, stumbled, and fell flat on his face.
He bit back a yelp, but his metal limbs clanked loudly against the stone as he attempted to scramble back up.
Before he could even consider finding a place to hide, however, two soldiers rounded the corner and stared straight at him.
One of them, a man, stood and gaped in shock, but the other drew her gun, pointing it at Ed, dark eyes hard. Ed lifted his hands and froze.
The shot never came, and though Ed kept himself tense in the event that she tried to blow his brains out, he risked a closer look.
Though her gun didn’t waver, he caught a look in her eyes: hesitation. She watched him warily, steadily, but he could see none of the malice or disdain he had found in so many other soldiers. He took a deep breath, feeling the silence stretch on, then decided to take a risk.
“You know this is bullshit,” Ed murmured, eyes fixed on her, willing her to understand, to sympathize. “You know it as much as I do. Did you join for this?”
This time, her gun did waver, and she swallowed. The man’s eyes flicked over to her, uncertain, not moving either.
Before any of them could act, a crash sounded from far off.
The woman’s mouth parted slightly, and Ed couldn’t help but be struck by how lovely she was, even in this sort of moment. He had no doubt that she had struggled against being treated remarkably for that all of her career, but if he was going to be shot by anyone, it might as well be someone whose eyes had such a gorgeous shape.
“Lieutenant,” she finally said, straightening and lowering her gun. “We should attend to that disturbance. We wouldn’t want anyone breaking in to free the prisoner.”
“But—” the man sputtered, glancing between her and Ed.
“Now, Lieutenant Brosh.” She turned to her side, eyes darting back towards Ed, then down one of the corridors. “Don’t cause any trouble while we’re gone, Mustang.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Lieutenant Colonel Ross,” drawled a familiar voice, tiredness cracking through it.
At that, Ed could spot the side of her mouth quirk up slightly, the mole on her cheek twitching, and she turned and hurried down in the direction of the loud noises.
Ed immediately bolted in the indicated direction. Yeah, this could be a trap, but the voice proved that he was too close to worry about that right now. His hand fisted around the doorknob of the cell’s door, and a crackle of red light forced it into smithereens.
It also lit up Roy’s exhausted face, lifting in shock at the sight, between his spread arms, stretched out and chained to opposite walls.
“Well,” he croaked, recovering from his surprise at a fucking unfair speed, “I had hoped our first encounter with chains would be with you restrained instead.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “Never mind. I think I’m gonna leave you here.”
“Ed!” Roy exclaimed, sounding more pathetic than any human had a right to. “You wouldn’t.”
“I might,” Ed grumbled, but he headed over to one of the chains from which Roy dangled, severing it from the wall. Roy groaned and rolled his shoulder, and Ed took care of the second.
“To what do I owe the honor?” Roy smirked over at him, but the façade kept up not well at all.
“To your fucking impending execution tomorrow,” Ed snapped, his anger masking his fear, his anxiety. “Or hadn’t you heard?”
Roy’s tiredly smug face fell, and from what Ed could tell in the low light, what little color remained drained from it. “No,” he said quietly, fear clear on his face. “I hadn’t.”
“Well, good thing you’ve got a really nice dick.” Ed grabbed his wrist, dragging him towards the exit. “Would be a shame to lose it, and once you stuck it in me, I knew that I had to save it.”
Roy tried to force out a laugh, but Ed could tell that neither of them found the joke terribly funny, not with the knowledge of how close Roy had come to death. Still was.
“I suppose I shouldn’t ask how you got in,” Roy murmured as he hobbled after Ed, still rolling his shoulders and wincing.
“How the fuck d’you think,” Ed snapped, slipping carefully through the corridors, retracing his path, stepping over groaning and glaring soldiers, tied up and helpless.
“I can see now.” Roy glanced down at them, stepping carefully over them instead of on them, despite the disgusted looks in his direction. Ed did plenty of stepping on them for him once he saw that, though, so he supposed it made up for that. He returned his focus to getting them out of here instead of keeping one eye on Roy. Roy could take care of himself. “I have to admit, I’m quite surprised at your stealth abilities. I would have expected you to burn this place down and step through the flames in a blaze of glory.”
“Considered it, but this place is stone,” Ed retorted.
“Since when has that ever stopped—”
An alarmed choking noise from behind him sent Ed whirling again, eyes wide. What the fuck had Roy gotten up to now? It couldn’t be that big of…
A flash of silver gleamed, a curved blade flashing as it pressed up against Roy’s neck.
“I’ll admit, I expected an escape attempt, but from his team, not his lover,” hissed a cold voice as Roy lifted his arms slowly.
Ed glowered over at the man, face only partially in the shadows. The sneering face drew him back to the protest, to Roy ordering this Colonel Archer fuckhead to draw back. “What, because you know he’s fucking innocent? I was with him last night, and you guys were going to execute him without a trial!”
Archer scoffed. “Please. This man? He may not have killed Colonel Hughes, but he’s far from innocent. He’s murdered others.” Archer wrenched Roy slightly, drawing a line of blood on his neck. “He killed a rival for his position, Brigadier General Basque Grand. Simply made him disappear. If you turn around and leave now, I’ll forget that we ever saw you and you can leave this traitor to his fate.”
“I had nothing to do with Grand’s disappearance!” Roy snapped, trying to twist to face Archer and wincing when the knife made it far too painful to do so. “This is—that’s ridiculous. He was never a contender for my position. His temperament made sure of that; he was a terrible leader. Ow!” Roy gritted his teeth as the knife pressed harder. “I have no idea where he is. I thought that he deserted.”
Archer scoffed, and Ed straightened, doing his best to ignore the dizziness, the desire to throw up gathering like a hard knot in the pit of his stomach. “So you had Colonel Hughes killed to frame Roy for a crime that you have no evidence that he committed?” he snarled, balled fists shaking as he slowly reached towards the wall with one hand.
“Please. Hughes was probably part of it,” Archer scoffed, and when Roy tried to protest, he dug the knife further in. “You’re something of a trusting idiot, aren’t you? You have no idea what this bastard had in store for you.”
Ed froze. Not just at the words, but at the sudden stricken expression on Roy’s face.
“The fuck are you talking about?” he asked, voice hoarse, eyes wide.
“You haven’t heard?” Archer taunted. “He’s spent the last two months going through the procedure to have Grand’s spot filled without the need for the State Alchemist’s exam. With you. The paperwork is all already set up. He killed Grand, then when you came along, he decided to rope you into his State Alchemist program, making sure to keep it open and seducing you so you’d think he cared about you. So he could trick you into joining. He’s done it before.”
“That’s a lie—!”
Archer’s knife cut off Roy’s protest with a strangled cry of pain. “Don’t be an idiot, kid. When you get older, you’ll understand that guys like this want only three things: money, sex, and power. You’re just a convenient way for him to get all three.”
The words rang in Ed’s ears. Not the jab at his age, because Ed was smarter than that—or should have been. But going through the steps to have the State Alchemist position filled? Roy hadn’t protested against that, only that he had seduced soldiers into the military… and Ed knew exactly who Roy wanted in that spot.
More than that, the stricken expression, pleading for Ed’s forgiveness, on Roy’s face told him all that he needed to know.
“You did what?” he asked, voice barely a whisper, cracking with betrayal as he watched Roy with wide eyes. “Did you even… did you ever care at all?”
“Ed, no, please! I swear, that isn’t… it isn’t what it looks like.” Roy licked his lips, looking as if Ed had just disavowed him. Ed definitely knew that he looked like he was about to.
Ed steadied himself against the wall, fingers curling into the brick as he tried to keep himself from collapsing, and looked straight at Archer. “You say that if I leave, it’ll be like none of this ever happened?”
Archer’s triumphant grin lit the dim hallway, and Roy sagged in despair, looking as if he had just lost everything—and in a way, he had. “That’s right. Just turn around and go.” He scowled, glaring down at Roy, shifting to get an arm around his waist. “Stop moping, you pathetic dog.”
The instant the knife shifted away from Roy’s skin, red lightning crackled through the corridor, a wall of stone jutting between Archer and Roy, forcing them apart. Roy staggered forward, gasping, holding a hand to his bleeding neck, and Archer shrieked in anger as an alcove formed around him, then sealed off and withdrew, dragging him back with it. The stone kept him in place, only his head visible as he snarled at Ed and struggled.
“You’re the one who pulled the trigger, aren’t you?” Ed asked softly, stepping forward, eyes glinting with a terrifying red. “You’re the one who killed Colonel Hughes.” The resentful glare from Archer told him enough. “He has a fucking daughter!” Ed snarled, automail fist swinging forward and crashing into Archer’s jaw, bones cracking beneath his knuckles.
Archer coughed, then spat out two bloody teeth onto the ground. “Who fucking cares? The two of them planned the murder of a Brigadier General—”
“No,” Ed cut him off, voice a hiss as he stepped closer. “They had nothing to do with it. And do you know how I know?”
Archer didn’t respond at that, eyes widening as the awful truth began settle into place.
“Because this is how he died.”
At Ed’s cold words, Archer’s expression shifted to one of terror as the meaning clicked into place. He took a deep breath, about to scream, or swear, or something, but a flick of the fingers from Ed sent the last bit of stone slamming shut over Archer’s head.
Ed panted in silence for a few moments. Aside from the small trickle of blood oozing out through the cracks, to all appearances, it now looked like a perfectly normal wall again.
He turned back to Roy, who watched him with an expression of mingled horror and satisfaction.
“We should go,” Ed murmured, brushing past him as he finally hoisted himself through the window.
The two of them stayed silent as they traversed through the dark city streets, both of them in as inconspicuous clothing as Ed could transmute. He could vaguely feel the anger emanating from Roy, the frustration at everything that lay between them, smoldering and unspoken, but his own eclipsed it. He could vaguely taste a coppery tang on his tongue and wondered if he had gotten injured during the escape and not realized it, or he was simply that… furious.
Roy said nothing about the new route, even as Ed took them a completely different direction from the hotel. Ed had moved out that afternoon, while preparing for the break-in, and Jacob’s place was closer to the military’s base anyway. It all worked out.
When they knocked on the door, Jacob’s face appeared in the crack, frowning slightly before it relaxed. “You made it out alive. I guess you might have some self-preservation instincts in there after all.”
Ed huffed and pushed past him. At the sight of his guest, however, Jacob froze.
“I take it back. And it looks like you want to get me killed, too,” he hissed, scowl back and deeper than ever. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, bringing him here?”
Before Ed could justify his actions, Roy’s smooth voice cut in. “I apologize; I was under the impression that Edward had informed his host of my potential presence. But it does appear that he has a tendency to withhold vital bits of information, I have discovered, so I find myself not terribly surprised.”
Ed whirled, glowering at Roy, who stared at him icily, then continued. “I have nowhere else to turn. I have been recently informed that I am to be executed tomorrow if I am apprehended, and I would never dream of putting you in more danger than I can help. If you would be so generous as to allow me just a few moments to clean up…” Roy gestured at his neck, gunked up with dried blood. “I will be gone, with no trace that I was ever here.”
Jacob sighed through his mustache in that reluctant way that Ed had come to learn meant he was about to give in. “No, no. I should’ve seen it coming. Ed’s already got all of his other shit here. What’s one more piece of baggage.” Ignoring Ed’s roll of his eyes, he gestured them into the back. “Since you’re not a military man anymore, I guess I can show you this.”
Jacob removed the cover of the light switch, tugging down a small lever that hid behind it. Gears ground, and four planks lifted off the ground, exposing a hole underneath leading down into the floor.
“This isn’t ominous at all,” Roy murmured, voice dry as the desert of Xerxes.
“Just get down there,” Ed snapped, glancing back over his shoulder towards Jacob. “We’re leaving town, I swear, but we need to rest up first.”
“I get it.” Jacob waved his hand towards them. “And sort out your shit while you’re down there, yeah? You’re going to freeze to death with how chilly it is.”
Ed simply stormed down the steps, determinedly ignoring him until the trap door shut behind them.
“There are a few candles down here,” Ed sighed. “If you wanna light them. It’d be less likely to be spotted than the electric lights.”
“I can’t without my gloves,” Roy murmured, so Ed sighed, stepping forward, hands outstretched. “They’re made of an incendiary fabric.”
“Causes sparks, huh?” Ed murmured, hand finally finding the string that lit the basement, but he didn’t tug it, instead thinking back to the circles on Roy’s gloves, going back through his research into what the symbols meant. He thought about the lightbulb above him, a brilliant invention, the filament kept safe from oxygen in a vacuum, the inert gases preventing the heat and light from spreading through the air…
He tugged, switching the light on, illuminating the two of them. Despite everything, satisfaction bloomed in his chest the same way the light did the room.
“You manipulate the oxygen. You don’t actually create the fire with alchemy. You just control it with the transmutations. Lead it around by creating paths of flammable oxygen.”
Roy stared at him for a moment, completely uncomprehending, before straightening, a scowl stretching across his face. “You’re still stuck on that? After all of this?” He turned away in disgust.
Ed matched the scowl with one of his own, much more ferocious, and shoved his hand into his pocket, gripping his focus tightly. “Hey, it just came to me. I’m not fucking stuck on it. And you’re going to snap at me after I saved your fucking life?”
Roy whirled back around, eyes flashing. “After destroying it! You’re the one who killed Basque Grand, aren’t you? I know you were on the military base that night. Jean recognized you, after you punched him in the nose.” Ed flashed back to the moment of surprise on Havoc’s face when they had met; not so lucky after all. Roy’s lip curled in disgust. “I suppose I should be grateful that you didn’t kill him as well.”
Ed’s jaw dropped, white fury coursing through him. “What the fuck? I’m not a murderer, Roy!”
“Then why did you kill Grand?” Roy snapped. “He was defending the base. It wasn’t like Archer, Ed; he hadn’t murdered anyone. It was because he saw your face. You were protecting your identity.”
Ed recoiled, teeth bared. “You really think so fucking little of me? You don’t know the half of it, Roy. Within two seconds of running into him I had dozens of bullets buried in me. He shot on fucking sight. And you know what he was protecting? A lab of fucking chimeras.”
Roy, who had started towards Ed, possibly to continue the argument face to face, froze, the anger melting off his face into frozen disbelief. “What?”
Ed scoffed. “What, somethin’ in your alchemy program you didn’t know about? Shocker. Maybe you should check out lab five, then. Though who knows what it is now. They got out that night; yeah, I killed Grand, but they were chewin’ on him first.”
Roy straightened, his expression hardening. “You swear you saw them? I’m not disbelieving you—but you’re sure that’s what you saw.”
Ed scoffed, rolling his eyes. “I know what a fucking chimera looks like, Roy. They were in cages, fucking tons of them, and yeah, I let ‘em out.” Flashing back to the night, knowing what he did now, even more pieces of the greater puzzle began to fit together. “One of them talked, Roy.”
All of the color drained from Roy’s face, leaving it an ashen gray, even in the yellow light. “What?” he asked hoarsely. “I… no. That… they… We destroyed Tucker’s research. That chimera he created, out of his wife, it died. She died.”
“Yeah, I’m sure they destroyed it, the same way they destroyed the information on the Stone,” Ed snapped. “Who’s to say they didn’t make another, then? Or who’s to say that she did die? I would have thought that of anyone, you would know best how much you can’t trust them.”
Roy didn’t respond to that, only sat down on one of the barrels, gripping the sides and staring at the floor. Ed almost felt bad for him, at the defeated his expression on his face.
“And I guess I should have fucking known too, shouldn’t I have?” Ed hissed, anger surging afresh in his chest. “Leaving the State Alchemist’s spot open? That was for me. Don’t deny it. After I fucking told you—after we—did you even come back for me?” His hiss raised to a snarl. “Was this even about the protest? Was this about the people? Or did you just fuck me to get me in bed with the military? You’ve gotta have known that shit wouldn’t work.”
Roy’s head jerked up, inhaling sharply, the fury returning to his eyes. “And you think me capable of that? I apologized, Edward! I was angry, yes, and had plans to see if I could recruit you, but you made that abundantly clear that you didn’t want to. Whatever plans I toyed with, even after our fight, I discarded long before I came to you. Before I made love to you.”
Ed gripped his fist tighter in his pocket, torn between anger and desperation to believe. “And how the fuck am I supposed to believe you? You haven’t dropped my alchemy since you met me, and not in the same way I did. You’re fucking—you want to use it!”
Roy made a frustrated noise. “I want to understand it, Edward! I had to make sure you weren’t dangerous!”
Ed gaped at that, wanting to be angry, but too bewildered, trying to process how the fuck Roy had come to that conclusion. “Dangerous? How the hell would I be dangerous?”
Roy took a breath, eyes turning to ice, and he stared at Ed, unforgiving and cold.
“Because I know you have a Philosopher’s Stone.”
The words ripped through him like Grand’s bullets, wounding and tearing and leaving Ed breathless, wondering if he would be dead if he weren’t like… this.
“Excuse me?” Ed managed to choke out, voice barely more than a whisper.
Roy watched him back warily. That, oddly enough, hurt more than the words themselves. “I’m not stupid, Edward. I’ve seen what you do. It took me maybe a few days after meeting you to realize. You perform alchemy without a circle. Without equivalent exchange. The first, I’ve heard of, perhaps, with enough knowledge of alchemy. But the second? You have one. And I wonder if you’re dangerous because I don’t know what you did to get it.”
Ed gaped, trying to breathe, the accusation even more bullets, this time into his gut. He gripped his left hand even tighter, trying to form… words. Something. Anything.
“You’re wrong,” Ed managed to choke out. “You don’t understand.”
“Don’t I?” Roy surged forward, grabbing Ed’s left wrist and wrenching it out of the pocket. Ed tried to twist away, but the movement caught him by surprise, and Roy’s grip was too firm. “Then what do you call—”
Roy’s advantage of surprise enabled him to catch Ed in the moment his fingers had loosened, and he wrenched Ed’s focus out from between them before releasing his arm.
“Give it back—!”
But Roy yanked backward as Ed lunged forward, leaving them apart yet again as Roy stared at the object in his hand.
The silver of a State Alchemist’s pocketwatch gleamed in the low light.
“This…” Roy finally managed, clearly bewildered. “I thought…”
“I fucking know what you thought,” Ed gritted out, clenching his fists, glaring at Roy. “And you’re wrong. Give me my goddamn watch back.”
“This isn’t yours,” Roy retorted, voice taking on a sharp edge again. His thumb pressed at the catch, and Ed barely made a halfhearted effort to grab it again as it flipped open… and Roy’s eyebrows shot up.
“Evergreen,” he choked, glancing between the watch and Ed, completely confused now. “The Evergreen Alchemist. Edward, this watch is a lost historical artifact. What the hell are you doing with Russell Tringham’s watch?”
Ed tried to summon the will to be angry at the demand, but instead, he found himself just… tired.
“Ed?” Some of Roy’s anger seemed to have faded, shifting into confusion and even concern. Ed turned away to stare into a corner, wishing his mind could work at its usual speed instead of coughing and sputtering like a worn out train.
Instead of answering, he stepped forward, into the corner, and tugged the sheet away. His luggage lay there, hastily packed with the help of alchemy, its contents stuffed haphazardly in for the most part.
“What are you doing?”
Not this, though. Ed knew exactly where it was. Cracking open the latch of a suitcase, he slid his hand inside the top compartment, pulling out a box. The same box of jewelry from which Roy had pulled the Aerugonian pieces. But instead, he pulled out the ring Roy had found, then turned and held it out.
Roy reached to take it, and Ed could see the disbelief flickering across his face. He continued to hold it out regardless, and as Roy’s fingers delicately picked up the golden band, Ed steeled himself.
Ed watched his face as he read the engraving. “Edward Elric – Russell Tringham”
It didn’t seem to sink in at first, not really, but Roy always had been fairly good at keeping his expression neutral. Ed kept his eyes on Roy’s face, holding his breath.
“You’re not descended from Edris Hohenheim,” Roy finally breathed, eyes still locked on the ring.
“No,” Ed whispered, heart in his throat, and Roy looked up slowly.
“It’s you. You’re the one who… the Golden Warrior. Scholar.” Roy laughed a little, helplessness bleeding through. “Or either, as you so decisively put it.” He looked back up, fingers turning the ring around and around. “But you don’t have a stone?”
The hope in Roy’s voice, the pleading that Ed would never create something so heinous, never use something so awful, broke something inside Ed that he had sworn no one would ever touch again. He closed his eyes briefly.
“Not… in so many words.” He tapped his foot to the ground, and a thin sliver of red lightning darted out, slamming the suitcase shut. “When the ritual is performed—and I swear, we didn’t know it when we did—it kills everyone within the radius of the transmutation circle. For best results, you’d use an entire country. The souls of everyone are ripped from their bodies, crystallized, and transmuted into a philosopher’s stone, which embeds in and becomes the body of anyone in the very center of the circle.”
Roy recoiled, looking as if Ed had just punched him in the stomach. “You didn’t—!”
Ed cringed at the implicit rejection, old guilt cracking open like an unhealed wound and spilling over him yet again, the stench of hundreds of years of festering. “No! I mean, not…” Ed closed his eyes again, not able to look at Roy’s face. “The Homunculus my father’s master created accidentally, it brought with it loads of alchemical knowledge, this nationwide transmutation circle some of it. Our king heard the words ‘eternal life’ and never thought twice. But the homunculus tricked him—told him that the center of the circle was somewhere else. He and his ministers died, choking, while me, my brother, my father, and the homunculus stood to the side, in the true center.”
Ed could hear a tiny, terrified strangled noise. “Master… king… you… oh, god above,” Roy breathed, and Ed opened his eyes. “You’re Xerxesian.”
“Yes,” Ed said quietly, the word ringing out between them, bringing with it yearning memories of who Ed—Edris—used to be, his desert country, glorious and bustling and golden. He hadn’t heard the word spoken out loud by anyone other than himself in what had to be a hundred years.
Ed knew the expression on Roy’s face too well: confusion. Disbelief. Terror. Disgust. He stepped forward, and Ed flinched backwards instinctively.
Roy froze, then held his hand out slowly, palm up to show that he meant no harm as he continued forward. Another few steps and he reached Ed, but instead of striking him the way Ed deserved, he slid an arm around his shoulder, then tugged him in, arms wrapping tightly around him.
“And you had no idea,” Roy breathed, and the shock and horror in his voice mirrored that which Ed had felt when he had watched the people around him collapse, staggered to the window and seen the thousands dead, thousands that were now screaming for vengeance inside of him. “If it hadn’t tricked the king, then you’d be dead, too. My god, Ed. I can’t imagine how awful that must have been.”
“I still can’t imagine it sometimes myself,” Ed murmured, curling his fists into Roy’s shirt, burying his forehead in his chest. “Those are the good days.”
Roy ran a hand gently up and down Ed’s back, making quiet soothing noises. “We can stop talking about it, if you’d like.”
Ed shook his head, though he didn’t pull back, instead pressing his cheek against the warmth of Roy’s chest. “I want to finish. It’s easier to get it out in one go.”
“Then I’ll be here.”
Ed took a deep breath. “We didn’t let the homunculus escape. It took on a body like my father’s, but the array divided up the souls equally between the four of us. It couldn’t withstand the three of us fighting back, and my father gave his life to ensure that it never saw the light of day, either.”
“So you can… die?” Roy asked quietly, hesitant, as if unsure if the question would offend Ed.
“The souls inside me keep me alive,” Ed replied, just as quiet but far more assured. “Keep me young. However, the souls… I don’t perform alchemy without equivalent exchange, Roy. They are the exchange.”
Ed could feel Roy shiver, though he didn’t let go. “God. How do you live with that?”
“I… I’ve made peace with it. So have they. We avenged them, though we could do nothing to stop it, and they understand that we had no part in intentionally ripping their lives from them. It does make me cautious, about large works of alchemy, because I don’t want to waste their souls on something… petty. Smaller things aren’t much of a problem, because of how little energy they use, and obviously some things call for emergency transmutations. I can’t treat it like a rare commodity that can never be used, otherwise I would hesitate when I shouldn’t. But I also won’t waste the souls of the people who died for me to have this power.”
Roy was quiet for a few moments, still rubbing his back. “You said… you said you found your students. And your mother…”
“Two of them are in here,” Ed replied quietly. “In me. We can talk, technically, but it’s been so long and everyone is so tired. I know them all by now, all of the millions, but they can’t retain their humanity, not like this. My brother has another, but the rest were in the homunculus or my father, I guess. So was my mother, since neither of us have ever been able to find her. That’s a bit of a small fortune in itself.” Though it killed him to know that she was dead, had vanished from the planet with her body, crumpled in their kitchen, something about the knowledge that she and his father had died together left him at least slightly comforted.
“And it was your king who orchestrated it all. God, Ed.” Roy’s voice cracked, revealing just a hint of the pain through which Ed had gone through in all of his centuries. “No wonder you don’t want to throw your support to anyone in the fucking government. And here I was, pushing you, thinking it couldn’t be all that bad. I can’t believe you even spoke to me again.”
Ed laughed a little bitterly, burying his face a little deeper in Roy’s chest. “When you’ve lived as long as I have, you learn to forgive.”
“You, forgive?” Roy chuckled. “Now I’ve seen everything.” A moment of hesitation, and Roy shifted, then slowly lowered to the ground, tugging Ed with him. Ed needed no further encouragement: he crawled into Roy’s lap. “So… lived as long as you have?” he asked, and Ed could hear the effort in his voice to sound cordial. He had heard it before, with lovers. With husbands. “How old… are you, anyway? If you’re from Xerxes…”
Ed had heard the note of hopelessness that finished the sentence, too. If you’re from Xerxes, it always came down to, then I will die and you will not. You will continue to live on after watching me grow old and wither and then simply cease to exist, nothing more but a memory of a past part of your life.
“Hundreds of years, Roy,” Ed said quietly, getting the necessary out of the way. “You saw the ring. You’ve probably heard of his husband. That was me.”
“And you simply… you stayed with him until…”
“Until he grew old and died, yes,” Ed finished, voice firm. “It didn’t mean that I loved him any less, or that I forgot about him and moved on. Love isn’t a fixed commodity. I could love before, and I can love after, and have and will. It doesn’t make any one person more or less important than the other. And they are important, the ones that I stay with. They always will be.”
“You’ve been married before him, then?”
“After him, but yes. Their names were Darius and Heinkel. Polygamous marriages weren’t common, but they were legal. The two of them were chimeras, actually, and the victims of some nasty experiments that they needed my help stopping. One thing led to another, and I lived a long and happy life with them, too. And Emperor Ling Yao of Xing and his wife, Lan Fan, but there was no marriage involved. I’ve had other relationships as well, though nothing quite as long-lasting. Again, it doesn’t make what I have with you any less important or any more forgettable.” Ed pulled back, looking up at Roy’s face, taking in the conflicted expression. “And I never will forget you, Roy.”
Roy stayed quiet for several moments, still running his hand up and down Ed’s back. Ed could feel the hesitation in the silence, knew that whatever questions were coming next wouldn’t be pleasant.
“Did you plan on mentioning your immortality?” Roy murmured, voice full of hesitation—and hurt.
Ed buried his face deeper and muttered, “Not for as long as possible.” And this was exactly fucking why.
Roy inhaled sharply. “I see.” And then Ed was falling into empty space, the arms gone from around his back, the chest gone from underneath his face, and he staggered. “So you never intended for this to be serious.”
Ed jerked back, eyes wide, staring up at Roy. “When the fuck did I say that?!” No, no, that isn’t—that wasn’t—
“When you decided not to tell me that you were going to outlive me by a number of years.” That damned mask had slipped into place over Roy’s face again, neutral and unreadable. Still, Ed could see how Roy wasn’t intending to hurt Ed, was simply trying to protect himself from becoming too involved and return this to some semblance of professionalism now that the truth had come out.
“I would have told you eventually!” Ed gasped, desperate, scrambling back to his feet. This was the last thing he wanted. “It’s just kinda hard to bring up in casual conversation, and I didn’t even fucking know if you’d care!” Ed swallowed, watching Roy, expression pleading. “It could have been some fling, for all I knew. Fun, yeah, but when you were done, you were done.” Ed pressed his lips together. “I’m not deaf, Roy. I heard the rumors, before and after.” Ed caught himself before he said, Even Hughes, but Roy didn’t seem to catch his hesitation.
Roy simply looked at him, unnaturally calm. “I don’t have that many flings. The women I see are part of my intelligence network.”
Ed wilted at that. “I… oh.”
Roy laughed helplessly, running his fingers through his hair and turning away. “And to think, I was the one worried about a power imbalance.”
“That’s…” Ed hadn’t even realized. Hadn’t even thought about how it would feel to Roy, dating someone apparently so young, with so little political power, as a General. “You’re mad at me,” he said, resigned.
“Shocked, more like.”
Ed glanced up, hopeful despite himself. “But not mad?”
Roy looked down, then away. “Mostly afraid you’ll forget about me.”
“No!” Ed shook his head, desperate. “Fuck that! I told you, it’s not like that!”
Roy glanced back, face and voice wry. “You’ve never forgotten anyone? Not in your hundreds of years of living?”
Ed scowled at that, but then took a deep breath. “Not someone important,” he said quietly.
The smirk that flickered across Roy’s face left Ed with a profound sense of relief; some normalcy had finally returned to the situation. But it faded quickly, his expression turning serious. “You said that with Russell Tringham you stayed, but the others… Do you leave someone, once they’ve gotten older?”
The two of them stayed quiet for a moment, the meaning of the word sinking in.
“You stay, until they’re gone?”
“That sounds horribly depressing.” The wryness had returned, but so unconvincing that neither of them took it to heart.
“As depressing as being alone forever sounds?”
“I suppose when you put it that way.” Roy shifted his weight, still watching Roy, and Ed had to resist curling back into him. “How do you decide who to stay with?”
Ed glanced away, a flush rising to his cheeks. “Same way anyone else does, I guess.”
“I assume it would require more effort on your part, knowing you’ll see them die if it works out.”
“But it’s always worth it,” Ed said quietly, looking back at Roy, blush be damned.
“Yeah.” Ed hesitated, then continued. “Wouldn’t you, for someone you love?”
Roy stepped forward, closing the gap between them. Ed tilted his head back to keep his eyes on Roy’s face.
“Are you saying what I think you are?” Roy asked, voice soft.
When Ed reached out to take Roy’s hand, Roy didn’t pull away. At the encouragement, Ed continued. “Yes. I want to stay with you, Roy. If we make it out of this, I fucking plan on it.” He hesitated. “If you’ll have me.”
Roy watched Ed carefully, as if considering, and then his fingers squeezed around Ed’s.
A tug on Ed’s arm, and he wrapped himself around Roy again, their lips meeting, bodies pressed close.
“I would like nothing better, Edris,” Roy whispered in his ear before they drew together for another kiss.
“Here are your tickets,” Izumi murmured, pressing them into Ed’s hand. “The trains are scheduled for odd hours, so you’ll be less likely to be spotted. Even if you do, your disguises should hold up.”
She glanced Ed over, who had worked coal dust into his hair and tied it in a bun underneath a hat, hiding both the color and the length. Tinted glasses helped to hide the color of his eyes as well, and tan gloves the color of his skin tone could be mistaken as just that, lessening the likelihood that anyone would suspect automail underneath.
“And you, you’ll be all right?” She turned to Roy, frowning slightly.
Roy simply spread his fan and covered the lower half of his face with it, batting his eyelashes. “I used to sneak out all the time like this. I should be fine.”
She sighed, leaning back and taking in the wig, the dress, the narrow waist that Ed hadn’t even realized Roy possessed until he saw it flattered with a skirt cut like that. “I find myself convinced, despite my earlier doubts. Well done.”
“Yeah, just don’t talk,” Ed sighed, adjusting the bag over his shoulder. “If everything goes well, we’ll try to be back in three weeks. Hold down the fort here, and don’t forget to deliver Roy’s instructions.”
“I know how to follow directions, Edward.” Izumi stared at him fiercely, and Ed coughed delicately.
“Yeah, well, just makes me feel better to mention it.”
“We’ll keep an eye on Gracia Hughes as well. They’ve tried painting her as a traumatized widow, unable to accept the betrayal of someone she thought to be a friend on the heels of such a tragic loss, but who knows how long they’ll see that as convenient. We’ll also do our best to mitigate the reports of what you were up to in Ishval as well,” she finished, eyes locked on Roy. “Everything you gave us should help immensely with that.”
“And we’ll try not to die,” Roy replied, jarringly cheerful. “Send us word if the search doesn’t settle down here after a few weeks.”
The two of them shook hands, and Ed turned, making his way to the train station as Roy followed.
After the series of events over the past two days, watching the idyllic scenery of Amestris fly by uneventfully out the train window carried with it both an anticlimactic sensation as well as one of relief. Ed seized onto the latter.
Roy’s disguise had gotten them through the mass of soldiers at the train station without a second glance, and now that they were hours away, he had curled up in the seat next to Ed, head in his lap, wig on the seat across from them, taking what Ed figured was a well-deserved nap. Ed idly ran his fingers through Roy’s hair, chin propped on the palm of his automail hand as he stared out the window.
A groan from below him, and he glanced down at Roy, blinking sleepily up at him.
“We there yet?” he murmured, and the sleepy blinking, the confused expression on Roy’s face left Ed with an overwhelming desire to bend over and kiss him. But he would have crushed Roy’s head in the process and not been able to reach his mouth anyway, so he refrained.
“Still a little longer.” He ran his fingers through Roy’s hair some more, and Roy settled in once again, looking pleased. “You can go back to sleep, if you’d like. You’ve been through a lot. No chance to rest, not leaving as early in the morning as we did.”
Roy sighed, turning his head away, but didn’t close his eyes. “I think I’ve gotten all the sleep I’ll manage today. Too many thoughts racing now.”
Ed’s hand stilled. “Thinking about what happened in Central?”
They had danced around the subject a few times, getting close occasionally but never saying his name.
“Maes is dead,” Roy finally whispered, eyes fixed on some unseeable point ahead of him.
Ed opened his mouth, trying to think of something to say, some way to comfort him. Hughes’s death hadn’t yet sunk in for him, not with how full he had packed his days since finding it out, but the knowledge had begun to dig a pit in his chest, worming its way into somewhere unstoppable. The sound of Gracia on the radio, pleading for understanding on Roy’s behalf, had started it, and seeing Roy now, face drawn, eyes lost, made it even worse.
But nothing came. Ed had lost too many in his life to offer false platitudes: they’re in a better place; it gets better; they wouldn’t want you to be sad like this. Russell had asked him once, after losing two alchemists in a skirmish, ‘does it get easier?’ Ed hadn’t lied to him then, and he wouldn’t lie to Roy now.
“Do you need to talk about it?” he finally murmured, stroking Roy’s hair again. “Or if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.”
Roy took a deep breath. “It doesn’t seem real. Even after spending hours chained in that cursed dungeon, it still doesn’t seem real. Any moment I expect him to come walking down the hallway, or have someone let me know that he’s calling at the switchboard, scolding me for running off like that.” He turned to look up at Ed, who lowered his hand to Roy’s face, and Roy nuzzled into his palm. “They said he was killed in an alley, not far from the hotel. They said he came to confront me about my involvement of the protest, that I was angry he hadn’t supported me.” He laughed bitterly. “They told me it was a lover’s quarrel, that years of anger at being dumped had finally surfaced. That I snapped and burned him alive.” He shook his head. “It galls me, too, to know that they always knew about the fraternization. That they simply didn’t take action then so they could use it against me later. God, I’m an idiot.”
“No, you’re not,” Ed sighed, running a thumb over Roy’s cheek. “Just because you’re honorable, and idealistic, and trusting, that doesn’t make you an idiot. In need of keeping someone around who’s a bit more of a skeptic, maybe, but not an idiot.”
Roy raised an eyebrow up at Ed, trying to crack a smile. “Like you, maybe?”
“Maybe.” Ed chuckled softly and leaned back, shifting into a more comfortable position. “Don’t beat yourself up about it. What they did was horrible, but it wasn’t your fault.”
Roy sighed and shifted, but didn’t protest. Instead, finding his forehead bumping against the automail port of Ed’s thigh, he drew back, pressing the back of his head into Ed’s stomach instead. “Since we’re on the topic of full disclosure, how did you get your automail? Couldn’t you just cure yourself? I understand it probably takes a lot of energy to regrow limbs, but it has to be possible, doesn’t it? Did it happen back in Xerxes? Did they have automail?”
Ed sighed. He had to admit that the request was fair. “If I had just had them chopped off, maybe. But it’s more than that. To answer your question, no, Xerxes didn’t have automail. This is a bit more recent.” He lifted his arm, demonstrating. “This is… a mark of arrogance, you might say.” His voice fell, and he looked out into the window again. “I’m a Philosopher’s Stone. I thought I could do anything. I wanted my mother back.”
Roy’s breath caught. “Edris. You didn’t.”
Ed shoved softly at his shoulder. “My name is Edward now. We’ll get weird looks.” But he hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah. I did. I tried to bring her back.”
Roy exhaled sharply, and Ed couldn’t bear to look at his face. “And you’re still here.”
“I’m goddamn lucky I am. My brother found me, and it had taken the arm and the leg. I considered trying to heal it, but… damage from human transmutation, it takes a lot more energy than your typical injury to heal. It’s why I couldn’t cure Izumi, though I stopped the damage from worsening.”
Roy nodded solemnly. Izumi had briefly alluded to her condition during one of last night’s discussions; he seemed to have figured it out.
“It would have taken almost everything I had—and possibly almost everything my brother had, too—to heal them. I can’t… I couldn’t squander the lives inside me, not for my pride, not for my foolishness. So they fitted me with automail, and that’s where we’re going now. To get it fixed.”
Roy shifted again, peering up at Ed. “Fixed? Didn’t Jacob fix it?”
“Well, he fixed the actual arm, but it could use some improvement with the original blueprints. And the port’s busted from when I fought Grand. You don’t ever let anyone but your original mechanic touch your port, not unless you have to.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Roy sighed, still watching Ed. “And you’re sure this place is safe?”
“As safe as it gets.” Ed returned to petting Roy’s hair, watching out the window. “Trust me, no way things in Amestris have changed that much.”
Roy hummed below him, sounding content. After a few moments of silence, he finally asked, “Does it really bother you, when I call you Edris?”
Ed scoffed, definitely not looking down, not at the way his cheeks heated at the word. “It’s not—I mean, it’s just weird, is all. Been a long time since someone called me that.”
“And you dislike it?”
Ed cleared his throat, thinking back to the word as it slipped free of Roy’s mouth, the way his mouth and tongue curled around it. Even after hundreds of years of going by a new name, hearing it sounded like coming home.
“I guess I don’t mind,” Ed finally rasped, still watching the trees fly past. “As long as it’s only you.”
The train finally rolled into Resembool that evening, the orange and pink and purple of the sunset mottling the skies to their backs. Roy’s hand found Ed’s as they stepped off, his wig and dress gone, taking in the sight of the rural town.
“This is… the entire place?” he murmured, a slight bit of alarm in his voice, and Ed had to suppress a snigger at the thought of Roy Mustang, city boy, being confronted with a small country town.
“Yeah, this is it.” Ed cast his eyes over the sparse collection of buildings, smiling softly despite himself. Some things had changed; some hadn’t. Though he had never seen the train station before, he caught sight of familiar houses, one with a red door and bright blue roof that had, against all odds, remained. It had grown bigger since he had been away, though he decided to have a little sympathy for Roy and not tell him such, otherwise he might fall over.
“It’s oddly charming.” Roy continued to take it in, tilting his head. “There are more houses, though, right?”
“Yeah, a few. They’re mostly that way…” Ed pointed. “…but you’ve got farms in every direction. The population ain’t that big at all, not compared to what you’re used to, or even East City.”
“East City barely has any humanity in it at all,” Roy faux grumbled, and Ed just grinned.
“Then you’re in for a real treat, General.” He continued forward, hand still tightly in Roy’s. “They raise sheep ‘round here.”
“’Round, ain’t; goodness, Ed, I think this air is doing something to your head. And tongue.”
Though Ed scoffed, his grin didn’t fade, and a couple people nearby looked up, lifting their hands in a wave.
Roy glanced over. “Someone you know?”
“Nope,” Ed replied cheerfully, but lifted a hand to wave back. At Roy’s confused glance, Ed shrugged. “What? We’re nice to each other out in the boonies. Just because you city slickers are rude…”
“I am not a city slicker,” Roy gritted out. “I’ve been to East City, for heaven’s sake!”
“Yeah, which has ‘city’ in the name.”
“It’s hardly a—”
“It’s definitely a city. Welcome to this thing called a town, Roy. You’ve never been anywhere smaller than East City? Besides where you were stationed, I mean.”
Roy’s sulky silence told him enough, and Ed just smirked to himself.
They continued onward, Ed returning several waves, and Roy eventually huffed. “Why is it they’re waving to you and not me?”
“Probably because you look so unfriendly with that scowl on your face.”
“I’m not scowling!”
Ed turned and stuck his tongue out at a very scowling Roy. “Totally are.”
“You must be in town for the Rockbells!”
Ed turned to grin at a middle-aged woman carrying a basket of produce, beaming at him. He raised an eyebrow. “How’d you guess?”
She gestured at him. “Skin, hair, eyes, no one else has ‘em like that. Figured you’d got to be a relative!”
Ed shrugged with one shoulder. “Somethin’ like that.”
The woman shifted the basket to one hand, pointing. “Just keep walkin’ that way, then take a left when the road gets real rocky. You’ll know the house when you see it, I’m sure!”
Ed chuckled; as if he could ever forget the directions. “Yeah, I bet. Machinery lyin’ around all over the place?”
“You know it!” She waved at them, shooting Roy a puzzled look, but letting it go. “Y’all take care now, you hear?”
“Wouldn’t dream of anything different, ma’am.” With a returned wave, Ed quickened his step in the indicated direction.
“I suppose this place isn’t too bad,” Roy murmured, craning his neck to take in the empty fields and fresh, clean air of the countryside as they continued walking, the sky darkening. “In fact, I quite like it. I’d go mad if I had to stay here forever, but it could be a nice place to escape to.”
“Yeah, it is,” Ed murmured, hand still in Roy’s. Truth be told, he felt a little more favorably towards it than Roy, and something about the green that always seemed to surround them left him wistful, wishing that he could settle down somewhere like this, finally free from all the cares in the world. Impossible, yes, but a nice thought.
The house ahead of them still had its lights on, and true to the woman’s prediction, piles of old machinery littered the lawn, gutted cars spread out across the grass, odd metal objects in certain order that Ed studiously avoided.
“What on earth?” Roy murmured, and Ed just shrugged.
“Gearheads. Learn to live with it.”
Roy hummed thoughtfully to himself as they got closer to the house. Ed caught himself fantasizing, wondering, expecting the door to fly open at any moment and a familiar face to barrel out and greet them, throwing their arms around Ed.
And at that moment, the door flew open and a young man stumbled out, took one look at them, and whirled around.
“MA! WE GOT VISITORS!”
Both Ed and Roy choked, Roy with alarm and Ed with laughter, at the volume of the bellowing coming from a body that couldn’t be more than twelve years old. The child scrambled back inside, slamming the door shut, and several moments later it opened again, a harried-looking middle-aged woman glancing back over her shoulder.
“For heaven’s sakes, William, you don’t have to shut them out—oh.”
When the woman’s eyes met Ed’s, hers widened, and Ed swallowed. They were both the same shade of stunning gold, their hair matching, though hers fell in loose curls where Ed’s had been pulled back in his high ponytail.
“Hey,” he said, feeling supremely awkward as he lifted his arm, waving his hand a little. They finally reached a reasonable distance and stopped, several feet from the entrance of the house, as they all took each other in.
Ed didn’t know the woman, but the similarities stunned him even more up close. Her skin was only the barest shade lighter, and if he hadn’t known better, he’d have sworn he was standing in front of a Xerxesian noblewoman who simply spent most of her time indoors.
She looked him over, slowly, expression masked, eyeing his hair, his clothes, his legs…
And then her face softened. “You must be Edris.”
Roy choked again, and Ed turned to stare between the two of them. “Please tell me I’m not the only one in Amestris who didn’t put it together.”
Ed grinned at him, a little sheepish, then turned to the woman. “I go by Edward, actually; turns less heads.”
“I can imagine it would.” She stepped aside, gesturing into the house. “Please, come in. My name is Felicity. I’d be your great… Oh, I don’t even know at this point. We don’t keep track.” She laughed softly and glanced over at Roy. “And don’t worry. It’s something of a family legend, but we don’t share it much with outsiders. But someone like him, showing up on our doorstep, clearly with an automail arm and leg? It’s him, all right.”
“Nice to meet you, Felicity,” Roy managed, stepping inside gingerly, sticking close to Ed. “I hope we’re not imposing.”
She led them through the familiar hallway, passing through rooms that had been redecorated but not terribly changed, the old stairwell with its mahogany railing. “Oh, not at all! In fact, I expected that you might be coming.”
Ed and Roy glanced at each other; had word in Central traveled so far so quickly? What about news of Roy’s arrest?
“Uh,” Ed finally managed. “How’d you know I needed repairs?”
She paused in front of the entrance to the living room. “Repairs? What are you talking about?”
Ed lifted his right arm. “My port’s busted. I needed to come back to get it fixed. Y’all still do automail, right?”
“Of course.” She frowned. “But I had no idea that you needed repairs. I’d be happy to help, of course. But I just thought you were meeting here.”
Ed and Roy glanced at each other in confusion as Felicity stepped aside, allowing them entrance into the room. So intense was their look, in fact, that Ed didn’t notice the other occupant, not until he spoke up, voice tinged with shock.
“Al?” Ed finally managed to choke out, chest frozen, just before a bolt of gold hurtled towards him, lifting him off the floor in its embrace.
“Brother! You came! I can’t believe you came! What are you doing here?”
Ed squawked until Al put him down, then threw his arms around him, face hurting from the stretch of his grin. “I could ask you the same damn thing! Shit, I thought you were in Xing!”
The beaming face of his brother got even brighter, if that was possible, and he let out a delighted laugh, the familiar sound of which swelled Ed’s heart. “I was! But I came back here a few weeks ago. I’ve been working on new methods of disease control since they seem to be mutating as treatments…”
The two of them swapped updates for a bit, rambling into alchemical technicalities as well as social improvements and the successes and difficulties they had had there. Nothing particularly new, but seeing his brother here, and vibrant as ever, hearing that he had been continuing their good work, left Ed heady with pride.
“It’s a little weird, I think,” Felicity murmured, off to the side, glancing over at Roy. “Knowing that they’re talking about things that happened before we were even born.”
“I’ll say,” Roy managed to choke out. “You’re doing well, I think, handling the fact that this is your great great…”
“I forget how many, but grandfather, yeah.”
Ed let out another peal of laughter, then turned to face Roy and Felicity, smiling a little sheepishly. “Sorry. I know that we can get on sometimes.”
“Just a bit,” Roy said faintly.
“Felicity is descended from my wife, Winry Rockbell, and I. We had four children, and the family business of automail has been passed down, mother to daughter, over the years.” Al beamed over at Felicity. “I swear they get better with each generation.”
Roy laughed at that, a little, but Ed could hear how forced it was and decided to take a little bit of sympathy on him. After all, it was one thing to learn that your boyfriend was immortal. It was another to have evidence of that immortality shoved right into your face in the form of a long family tree.
“We should probably sit down and talk about what’s going on in Central right now,” Ed broke in, voice level. “I’d love to visit, but we don’t have much time. We’re running on a deadline right now and I’m not exaggerating when I say the fate of the country might be at stake.”
The four of them exchanged glances, but Felicity finally nodded, stepping over to the couch to sit down next to Ed. Roy and Al took seats across from them, Al’s face troubled.
“I heard that things were bad here, Brother. I heard about… about Ishval. That’s why I came. To find out what had happened, and to see if there was anything I could do to help.”
Ed exchanged a glance with Roy, who looked nauseous. “I’m not sure right now. But we’d better—fucking ow!”
Three heads whipped towards Felicity, who now held Ed’s detached automail in her hands.
“What? If I let him get started, he’ll never give me enough time to get the work done,” she said easily, inspecting the handiwork. “Might as well do it while we talk.”
Ed scowled not just at the words, but at the confident tone with which she spoke them. How the fuck did she know? She didn’t know him. He glanced back towards Roy and Al, expecting to be supported in his outrage, but they simply nodded and leaned back, as if accepting this injustice.
“She’s right, brother. Stop pouting.”
“I can see how you’re related,” Roy said, smirking a little and glancing between the three. “Good call.”
Ed simply huffed, but pulled off his shirt at Felicity’s insistence, doing his best to ignore both her tinkering with the port as well as Roy’s subtle glances at his torso.
“So,” Al began, expression fading from gentle to serious. “I think it’s probably time we caught up with each other. Who is this?” he asked, nodding at Roy. “Why are you here? And what on earth has gotten into your country?”
Ed and Roy exchanged glances, hesitation mirrored in both of their faces. Roy finally nodded at Ed, who sighed.
“Yeah, okay. Get comfortable, since you can, ‘cause it’s gonna be a long one.”
The humor before quickly faded as Ed gave a thorough recounting of the events from his arrival, up to their arrival in Resembool. Al’s expression became graver than either of the other’s, especially with the mentions of chimeras and Philosopher’s Stones. Even his attempt at joking about Ed’s ‘latest conquest’ and how he left that out of the story, elbowing Roy gently, fell flat in lightening the mood.
“So,” Al finally sighed, when Ed finished. “What are your plans? I’ll help where I can?”
Ed flopped back, earning an irritated noise from Felicity as she tugged him forward again. “Yeah, we’re workin’ on that. We’re gonna recuperate here a bit, give them time to figure out Roy’s gotten out of the city—then come back. He’s got enough people on his side, both in and out of the military. I guess we just hope that he’s enough for people to rally around.”
“That’s a big ‘if,’” Felicity murmured, not looking up. “You’re going to be asking people to give a lot. They could get killed, be imprisoned, all for your coup. They have families, businesses, homes, all of that, that they need to worry about. You two will live forever, and you,” she finished, looking over at Roy, “have put your whole life into this. They haven’t.”
Ed shifted at that, a little uncomfortable. “Well, it’s not just about him. Or us. Izumi’s the one leading things, not him, at least when it comes to civilians.”
“But you can’t simply expect them to move forward on the word of civilians. They’ll need to move forward knowing that they have support in the military that will prevent any punitive action being taken. And that’s where Roy comes in. Are you going to push for that? Because if so, then yes, it’ll be about him and his political ambitions, too.”
Ed stayed quiet for a few moments, and Roy spoke up. “They’re not just political ambitions. They’re ideals for this country. They’re symbolic of me making an effort to put more effort in their hands instead of having their lives controlled. They’re—”
“Hey, hey, calm down! I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just saying that you should look at it from their point of view. And possibly not be surprised when less people than you expect join in, either due to lack of belief that a coalition of citizens can make any significant change, or their skepticism towards your intentions. I’m not telling you that you can’t do it, or shouldn’t. I’m warning you that it’s coming.”
They all fell silent again, Roy unusually subdued, clearly chewing on the words. Ed watched him, chewing on his own idea as Felicity continued to tug at gears and wires.
“Al,” he finally said, “why don’t you come with us?”
Roy and Al both blinked in Ed’s direction, surprised, and Ed continued.
“What if we protect them? With our alchemy, together we could kick ass and keep them safe from anyone trying to take retribution. And if we do it visibly, then people will see it, and gain confidence, especially if we just work with Izumi, right?”
Al made a small, noncommittal noise and shrugged. “It’s a possibility, I suppose.”
Ed sighed and made a move to flop back, but then glanced over at Felicity and thought better of it. As he did, however, he caught her staring over at Al, exchanging a significant look that had to mean… something.
When neither of them answered, he straightened, tugging away from her. “Hey, look, if there’s somethin’ you’re not telling me, I wanna know.”
“I’m certainly telling you that you need to stay still and shut up if you ever want me to get any of this work done.”
“Yeah, well, you’re obviously deflecting. I’m fucking Roy Mustang, who’s the most professional deflector in all of Amestris—”
“—and if you think I haven’t learned to spot that clumsy-ass shit from a mile away, then you’re dead wrong.”
“I think that you’re overreacting and that you need to let me fix your arm.”
“Yeah, well if you think for a second I’m gonna fall for—”
“I can’t do alchemy anymore, brother.”
The entire room fell silent, and they all turned to watch Al: Ed and Roy with shock, Felicity with resignation.
“The fuck d’you mean, you can’t do alchemy anymore? Of course you can do alchemy. You’re a goddamn Philosopher’s Stone.”
“Not for much longer.” The weight in Al’s voice left Ed speechless for a moment, a rare split second of him actually shutting up, and Al continued.
“I… there was a plague, in Xing. It’s where I’ve been the last twenty years. Doctors searched long and hard for a cure, but they just couldn’t… there was no cure, Ed. It was transmitted by air and wiping out hundreds of people a day. I had to do something.”
“Al,” Ed whispered, voice pleading as dread began to creep over him. He now knew how Al must have felt, minus the bleeding and horrific injuries, when Ed had explained how he had tried to bring their mother back. “Don’t… don’t tell me this.”
“I have to,” Al gritted out, leveling golden eyes at Ed’s. “Because it’s not going to change what happened.”
“What did you do?” Ed gasped, despite being terrified to hear the answer.
“I burned it out,” Al murmured, voice quiet but steady. “I had to, Ed. Thousands and thousands of people were dead, and hundreds of thousands were going to if we didn’t stop the spread.”
“But—but you could have worked with them to find a fucking cure!” Ed sputtered, unable to face the implications of what Al had just said. “You know more about healing—you could’ve—you should—”
“We found the cure,” Al interrupted, voice still level. “Six months later, after slaving half to death. Three quarters of Xing’s population would have been gone by then. I stand by my decision.”
“But at what cost?” Ed shouted, voice cracking. “How much did it cost you?!”
“Enough.” Al lifted his chin, staring Ed down, utterly unrepentant. “What I have left will keep me alive, probably for a long time.”
“Probably? And how long is long?!”
Al hesitated, eyes sliding towards Felicity, and she spoke up. “He might outlive me. There’s a chance. But he won’t be around much longer after, if he does.”
The words struck Ed like a slap to the face.
“You’re fucking with me,” he croaked, voice weak. “This can’t… no. Tell me you didn’t, Almas.”
Al did flinch slightly at the name, but he stood his ground. “I did. I saved lives, Brother. I helped them turn from specters of death into… something else. Something they never could have done if I just kept them for emergencies. They’re grateful. They wanted to. Mom—”
Al broke off, looking suddenly stricken, and Ed surged forward, yanking the port out of Felicity’s hand. “Mom? Mom what?”
Al glanced between Ed, then Roy, then Felicity, looking for help but finding none. His fingers closed into fists, and he lifted his chin again.
“Mom wanted it,” he said quietly, finally meeting Ed’s eyes again. “She told me. She encouraged me.”
A roaring sound seemed to eclipse Ed’s ears at the words; he couldn’t hear anything else, feel anything else, as the truth sank into him. He stared at Al in horror, trying to force his mouth to create words, unable to get anything out for several moments.
“…How?” he finally managed to croak. “How could… you said she wasn’t… she died. With dad. With…”
“No, brother.” Al shook his head, expression haunted. “She’s still here.” He placed a hand over his chest. “She didn’t want you to know. She knew that it would destroy you.”
Ed reeled backwards, gasping, a pressure in his chest tightening like someone had torn it open and squeezed. “You… she’s… how could… Al!”
At that moment, the front door opened, sounding down the hallway and into the living room, followed by a call of, “Felicity! I’m home!”
They all jerked their heads up at the man’s voice, a pleasant baritone with just a hint of world-weary to it. Ed glanced over at Al for a moment, then back towards the entrance of the room.
A darker-skinned man, probably from further east, possibly the Liore area, stepped in, shaking his brown bangs out of his eyes. “So, how’s—oh god, there’s another one.”
Ed straightened, scowling at the implication. “Another one? Ex fucking scuse me, who d’you think—”
“Ed,” Al interrupted, tone warning. “This is Amir Rockbell, Felicity’s husband.”
Ed took a moment to appreciate that Amir had apparently decided to keep Felicity’s name instead of the other way around. Way to keep that Rockbell name alive. Amir, however, simply shook his head.
“Let me guess. You’re another family legend. Or a Tringham?” When Ed shook his head, he sighed. “Family legend it is, then. Wonderful. More complications.”
Ed glared after him as he turned to set the groceries on the table, but Roy spoke up before he could say anything.
“Tringham? You’re not saying…” While Fletcher had been vocal about the rights of the trans community, a member of it himself, he had kept his and Al’s children away from the public, wanting them to grow up away from the baggage that came from being a famous alchemist and public activist, as well as being related to one. Very few people knew about the children he had born; Fletcher had made sure of that. Roy glanced between Ed and Al, then focused on Ed. “Seriously? You married someone whose brother your brother had children with?”
“Oh, can it,” Ed muttered. “People used to marry their cousins in Xerxes.”
Roy drew back. “Seriously?”
“No! Brother, don’t tell him that!”
“But it was funny,” Ed whined. “Did you see his face?”
“All right, enough.” All three of them fell quiet as they glanced over to Felicity. “Ed, you’ll need an operation to fix this port. It will hurt, as you would say, like a motherfucker. Al, you can show Roy around and introduce him to Amir. This will take a while.”
Ed made a small, distressed noise as she led him away, and despite his desperate glance back at Roy, pleading for help, there was no aid to be found.
Ed burrowed demandingly into the arm around him, making dark grumbling noises.
“Are you going to be okay, Edward?”
The amused voice from above didn’t really improve Ed’s outlook on life much. He scoffed.
“Now, now. Don’t scowl. Would hearing ‘Edris’ make it any better?”
Ed took brief respite from his fortress of chest and shoulders to lift his head, glaring. “You can’t even see me scowl!”
“But I can feel it. You use so many muscles when you frown, after all.”
With another disdainful huff, Ed buried his face back into Roy, doing his best not to indicate his facial expression with any movement of his face.
Roy reached up to pet Ed’s hair. He said nothing, instead letting Ed relax into him; Ed could feel the relaxation of Roy’s own muscles as Ed did so.
“I hate everything.”
“I know you do,” Roy murmured, and Ed could hear the smirk in his voice. He pinched him. “Hey! That wasn’t very nice.”
“Neither are you. You match.”
The chest beneath Ed’s face rose and fell as Roy sighed. “I’m glad I wasn’t around for the original surgery, if this is how you’re going to get whenever you come out of it.”
“Hey, you can go to hell.”
“Have you seen me in this place? I already am. It’s more practical to drive to the nearest grocer’s. Drive! Walking takes hours! And not a single bookstore—”
“Oh, shut up.” Despite himself, Ed could feel himself smirking a little, and he hoped that Roy didn’t. “That’s why you get a proper library yourself.”
“Says the man who lives out of suitcases?”
“Hey now.” Ed drew back, belatedly realizing that Roy could certainly see the grin on his face. “I do store some things. What d’you think I came here for? This house is huge. Anything I keep long-term, I keep here.”
Roy immediately brightened at that, and Ed had to suppress the litter flutter in his chest. “Really? So you have a proper library?”
“Well,” Ed hemmed. “Technically it’s Felicity and Amir’s library. You should ask them.”
Roy immediately stood, and for a terrifying moment, Ed thought that he was about to be dumped from the bed onto the floor. But Roy’s arms scooped expertly underneath him, hooking under his knees, pressing up against his back. He drew Ed back to his chest, bridal style.
“Then let’s. I’ll carry you there, majesty, so you don’t have to suffer from your pain any more than you must—”
Ed wriggled free, feet dropping on the floor as he steadied himself. “Rather that than suffer the fuckin’ indignity of being carried around, bastard. My injury’s in my arm.”
“The most recent, anyway. I have my suspicions about your head…”
Ed made to prove him wrong by butting him with the aforementioned appendage. The grunt, he told himself, was due to the effort of the movement instead of the jolt of pain through his shoulder.
“You’re not very frightening with one arm, you know—ow!”
Pride regained with a kick from his automail leg, Ed trotted downstairs. Permission to access the library granted, he trotted to the back of the house, right where he had left his things, all those years ago.
However, a browsing of the collection attracted the children, two girls and a boy, none of them quite teenagers, and Ed figured out how to deal with them while Roy snickered in the background. Fuck, why did kids always attach to him? He had been planning on reading, dammit.
After they had been suitably entertained, Ed finally managed to escape outside, enjoying a fresh breath of afternoon country air, Roy’s fingers curled in the one hand Ed still had remaining on his body.
“I suppose this place does have its advantages,” Roy murmured, tilting his head up and closing his eyes, taking in the warm shine of the sun. “Dull, I’d imagine, after a while, but peaceful.”
Ed snorted. “Yeah, and you don’t feel like suffocating after too long in it. Besides, you really think that any place I stay will ever be dull?”
“You do make a point there,” Roy mused, opening his eyes and turning to smile fondly and a little indulgently down at Ed. “I could see it as a nice place to vacation. Probably not live, but.”
“So close, but you just gotta switch that around. I’m sure Havoc’d be on my side. City’s a nice place to be sometimes, but it’s never got that ‘home’ feel, not really.”
“And yet, so many people disagree with you.” Roy’s gentle smile turned into a smirk, but he tugged Ed in closer, wrapping an arm around his waist.
Ed sighed, but leaned in, enjoying the comfort, enjoying the silence.
But it couldn’t last forever.
“We do gotta go back, though.” His lips twisted at the words, but he knew Roy would agree.
“I know. And I know you have to recuperate, but… what’s the soonest you could leave, do you think?”
“Not sure. I’ll ask Felicity, and then we can probably take a few days off of that, at least, if you’re in a hurry.”
“I’m worried about Gracia.”
Ed stiffened slightly, the dark tone in Roy’s voice not lost on him. “Yeah?”
“Aside from the obvious, that she’s grieving, that she’s undoubtedly distraught, how long will they let her speak on, defending me? I know her, and she knows me as well as the dangers I’ve faced and why this happened—she’ll never believe the charges. She’ll never let her husband’s murder be swept under the rug this way. But I don’t think they’ve realized that. I know Bradley has a rather low opinion of her, if he even knew who she was before this. To him, she’s only a wife, a mother; an alchemist, perhaps, but not one who deals in ‘useful’ things, like combat. But I know better. And when he learns that those things don’t make her a weaker person, that she is so much more besides, I’m afraid of what he’ll do. He might think that she just needs a good shaking-up, or possibly a threat to her daughter’s life. At worst, however, he might decide that she’s ‘part of the Cretan conspiracy.’ And god, I don’t want to think of what would happen then. And then you get into the Cretan issue in general. We need to stop this war before it starts.”
“You make compelling points,” Ed muttered, voice dry. “Trust me, I’m not gonna linger. I’ll be gone as soon as I can. Maybe we can come back after. For a nice vacation.”
“You’re welcome to try dragging me away from my desk before everything is fixed, but I doubt you’ll have much success.”
“I will if I enlist Lieutenant Colonel Hawkeye.”
It was Ed’s turn to smirk, this time, at the alarmed noise that escaped Roy’s mouth.
Felicity had tried to insist on four. Ed had pushed for one vehemently enough that when Roy had finally suggested two, she had conceded, especially when Ed had promised to heal himself more quickly than usual.
So at the end of two weeks, Ed and Roy found themselves back on the train again, back in their disguises. The security returning wasn’t nearly as bad—after all, why would a convicted traitor want to return to an area that was on high alert for him?—so they made it out of the train station and headed towards Jacob’s shop, relaxing as they navigated deeper into Central, the presence of soldiers already less than they had been.
Until they reached the shop.
Ed considered themselves lucky that they had halted the flirting as they got close, otherwise they might very well have missed the plainclothes military men loitering on the street. Roy spotted them first, grabbing Ed’s wrist and clearing his throat. Ed snapped to attention at that, scanning their surroundings, picking up on the figures who, though clad in civilian clothing, stood a little too straight, had too much of a bulge underneath parts of their clothing, paid a little too much attention to the façade of Jacob’s place.
When he saw the cracked door, snapped in half, dangling off one of its hinges, his stomach sank.
Ed managed to shove his immediate panic out of the way, down into the chasm that had formed somewhere inside him, and Roy glanced over at him, then tilted his head ever so slightly towards an alley further off.
Ed nodded just the slightest bit, and they veered off, making their way casually towards it before ducking inside. Once there, Ed made to continue, but Roy paused him, then tugged him close.
Roy’s lips tickled against his ear as he whispered, “One of them is following us. We don’t want them to…”
“Right.” Ed nodded determinedly, then tugged Roy over, pressing him up against the wall, pulling him down, and kissing him.
Even though it was technically a distraction, Ed at least allowed himself to enjoy it. For authenticity. Roy apparently had the same thing in mind, because he tilted his head as Ed licked gently into his mouth and moaned softly. His hands found Ed’s waist before they wrapped around his shoulders, and Ed slid his arms around Roy’s back, tugging him closer—
A startled cough sent both of them jumping backwards, turning to glance in faux-alarm at the entrance to the alley. At seeing one of the undercover soldiers staring at them, just as alarmed as Ed and Roy must look, Roy tucked his face down into his hand, playing the part of the embarrassed maiden even as he concealed his true gender from the man. Ed simply smirked and raised an eyebrow.
Their pursuer cleared his throat, ducking his head embarrassedly, turned, and walked away.
“If I didn’t know better,” Roy murmured, “I’d think that kiss was for real.”
Ed swatted at him gently, but Roy only laughed as they continued further into the alley, taking twists between buildings and making their way in the direction of the automail shop. Though more cautious now that they had already found out the place was under surveillance, when they reached the hidden entrance through which they had left two weeks ago, they saw no one.
Their caution was equally misplaced as they crept inside: the soldiers had obviously not found it, or posted anyone within the building, so they found themselves free to roam around provided they avoided the line of sight that the open front door provided.
What they found did not prove to be promising.
Much of the delicate automail machinery lay smashed on the ground, and the pieces hanging from the ceiling had joined them, leaving them cautiously picking their way through metal that would clank loudly if disturbed.
“This doesn’t look too good.” Ed glanced around the room, then headed to the side, towards the stairs that led to Jacob’s living quarters. He couldn’t imagine that Jacob would leave his place so vulnerable with the door open, so it didn’t surprise him that he found no one upstairs. What he did find, however, did not leave him optimistic.
“Blood,” Ed croaked, staring at the dark stain at the top of the stairs. “A lot of it.”
Roy nodded beside him, frowning. “Ed, it’s not necessarily so much that—”
“I know,” Ed snapped, voice tight. “I know. But you gotta admit, it’s—”
“Don’t, Ed. Don’t go down that path. We’ll need to find some other way. Do you know how to reach Izumi?”
Ed shook his head. “She always reached us.”
“Then we’ll find my team. I’m sure they have news. And if that doesn’t work, we can pick up Gracia. I still have friends here. This isn’t the end of the line.”
Ed took a deep breath, then nodded shakily. “Yeah, no, you’re right. Okay.” He lifted his chin, glancing around and heading back downstairs. An examination of the secret cellar in which Ed and Roy had hidden showed it to be undisturbed, everything he hadn’t been able to take to Risembool still there in neat piles. Unfortunately, still no Jacob.
“So. Your team. Can you get in touch with ‘em?”
“My mother runs an intelligence network from her brothel. We shouldn’t have any problems.”
“That would’ve been handy to have a few weeks ago.” Ed pressed his palms to his eyes, rubbing at them gently, then lowered his arms and headed towards the secret exit again. Roy followed.
“Well, we weren’t exactly on speaking terms then, but if we had been able, I certainly would have offered.”
“Well, you might be able to make good on that promise yet—hey, what the fuck?”
Both Ed and Roy paused, staring down at the small form blocking their path, arms crossed, a deep scowl across her face.
“They didn’t tell me it would be you who was coming.”
Ed’s scowl deepened to match. “Nina Tucker. The fuck d’you want? Here to steal from us? We ain’t got nothing.”
She glared back. “No. I’m supposed to be bringing you somewhere. But Izumi didn’t tell me that I’d have to lead someone who attacked me to her hideout.”
“Attacked?! You damn br—”
Roy reached around, covering Ed’s mouth with his hand. “That’s a relief, Nina. She told you to keep an eye out for someone coming out through the secret entrance, then? We were hoping to find her, if you wouldn’t mind showing us the way.”
Nina yanked back, jaw dropping. “Roy Mustang? What—aren’t you a traitor now?! And why are you wearing a dress?”
“A disguise,” he replied, voice soothing. “Would you please lead us? I would appreciate it.”
Both Ed and Nina muttering darkly, she turned, taking them back through more alleyways, a veritable maze of building walls that became seedier and seedier as they continued. Still, none of them talked, not until Nina reached a manhole, yanking off the cover.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Ed didn’t bother to pitch his voice with anything other than flat disbelief. “Are we going to be wading around in literal shit?”
Nina rolled her eyes. “This one doesn’t go into the sewers. It goes somewhere else.”
Ed glanced over at Roy, trying to curb his disbelief. He had spent years in Central, learning its deepest secrets, and had never heard of anything belowground except for the sewers. But maybe they had built something. He sighed, clapping his hands together and reaching over to touch Roy’s dress, transmuting it into something less cumbersome for climbing.
“Thanks.” Roy smiled over at him, but Ed couldn’t return it, not as he grabbed the handles of the ladder and descended into darkness.
Roy went next, then Nina, sealing the cover behind her. Ed squinted, trying to adjust to the dark, but a shuffling from Roy and a snap later and they had a makeshift torch out of the remainder of his other clothing.
“You’re so melodramatic,” Nina muttered before taking off down the tunnel.
“I consider it useful.” Roy kept his voice pleasant still, not rising to the bait. The tunnel headed only in two directions, and Ed did have to admit that it was dry, even though the stone walls did vanish into ominous darkness. “And we’re less likely to get lost this way.”
“Lucky you. Not that you should blame me if I did. You deserve it.”
“Hey!” Ed clenched his fists, voice sharp. “Roy never did a damn thing to you. He tried to help you—”
“He had my father killed!” She stopped and whirled, glaring. “Executed!”
“Nina,” Roy replied gently. “Your father was executed for doing very bad things. I explained to you, your mother—”
“You’re a liar!” she shouted, balling her fists. “You trapped my father, told him what to do, and when you did, you had him and my mom killed and made up that story so you could hide it!”
Roy pulled back, and Ed glanced over, gathering from the confused expression on his face that Roy hadn’t heard this version of the story before. “Excuse me?”
Nina’s eyes narrowed, arms crossing. “I was there. I remember it. A man, dressed in blue with a watch like yours, came to our house and gave my dad some notes. He said that if my dad would make it, he could get into the State Alchemists, but he also had to do something else besides that. Create a new chimera.” She hunched her shoulders and looked away. “I know chimeras aren’t the best, but you guys told him that what he was doing was okay. You looked at his research and said it would be perfect. That he just needed to show you something from it.”
Ed could feel his stomach beginning to sink, even further than it had when they had found the workshop wrecked. He licked his lips, but before he could speak up, Roy had asked another question.
“What did he look like, Nina?”
She rolled her eyes. “I dunno. Big. Bald. Kind of mean. A whisker mustache, a brown one, like a cat’s whiskers.” She pointed at her lips for emphasis. “But he said he worked for you.”
“Basque,” Roy murmured, eyes wide as he turned and met Ed’s gaze. “He didn’t… I never…”
“What did he ask your dad to make?” Ed asked, voice quiet as well, tearing his eyes from Roy and staring at her intently. “Do you remember?”
She let out an irritated huff. “What, you don’t even remember? I don’t know. Some long word… a falafelers stone or something.”
Roy looked as if she had just punched him in the gut, and Ed reached over to take his shoulder. “Roy? You okay?”
Roy inhaled sharply, turning back to Ed. “They… Basque… he gave Tucker those notes?”
“That’s what I told you!” Nina snapped.
Roy staggered backwards. “Then that means… dear god, the government must have already had the work. What we found in the library, it wasn’t a copy of Tucker’s work. Tucker’s work was a copy of what they already had.” He turned back to face Nina, eyes wide. “And then they looked at his work, told him to go ahead and make himself a human chimera. They set him up for execution.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you!” Nina yelled, beginning to tear up. “But no one would listen! They kept saying that I was just a kid, that I didn’t understand! They trapped him! He couldn’t have done that bad thing…”
Roy took a deep breath, then knelt, watching her with a deathly serious expression.
“Nina, I am so very sorry I didn’t believe you. I think we should talk about this, and you should tell me what you know, if there’s any more, once we get to Izumi. What you’ve just told me proves that there are some very bad men in the government, and they’re the ones that we’re trying to stop. I had no knowledge of that alchemist’s visit to your father.”
She stared at him, stricken, and Ed had to wonder how many adults had snarled at her for saying the same things, telling her to shut up because she was only a child.
“But there is one thing I do need you to understand. I did see what your father created. And it was from combining your mother with an animal. I’m so sorry, Nina, for what they did to you, that no one believed you about the Philosopher’s Stone. But please know that your father did do very bad things.”
Her face crumpled, and a stab of pain buried into Ed’s chest. He could practically see her train of thought: so long she had spent telling herself that her father’s framing proved his complete innocence. Now that Roy had acknowledged it, still refusing to deny her father’s guilt…
Ed knelt as well, reaching his left hand out. “Hey. It’s okay. I know, we love our parents, even when they do terrible things. But we’re gonna try to make things better for you, okay?”
She took a shuddery breath, then stepped forward, throwing herself into Ed’s chest. The choice surprised Ed as well as Roy, judging by Roy’s expression, but Ed wouldn’t refuse it. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her as she sobbed. “Hey, hey. It’s gonna be all right. When we get out of this all, we’ll get to the bottom of it. Find out exactly who did it and make sure they’re punished. I promise, okay?”
She nodded into his shoulder, and Ed continued to rub her back, soothing what he could of her tears.
When she had calmed down enough to continue leading them, Ed and Roy fell into discussion of why Basque had framed Tucker.
“The most immediate outcome of the incident was the crackdown on alchemy books, right?” Ed asked him quietly, trying not to let Nina hear. “D’you think that has something to do with it?”
“I think that has everything to do with it,” Roy replied. “They chose someone they knew was working on an unsavory project, encouraged him, and planted evidence that he was working on a Philosopher’s Stone for me to find when I arrested him. Combined with his work with chimeras, his murder of his wife, I didn’t even think to look twice at why he might have it.” Roy closed his eyes, groaning softly. “God, what a shortsighted idiot.”
“Stop.” Ed shook his head. “Don’t you dare go there. I’ve been there and it’s not a great or even an effective place to be. You know now. And it proves just how deep Basque was in their pockets, to help them enact a plan to suppress alchemical knowledge. To weaken you.”
Roy exhaled, shaking his head and closing his eyes. “Those… those fuckers.”
“They’ve been planning this way longer than you could have expected. Don’t fault yourself, because trust me, they don’t deserve to be let up on. Whenever you blame something you did, you’re letting them off the hook for just a little more, and you don’t want that, do you?”
Roy’s eyes opened, and he glanced over at Ed, a wry smile playing at his mouth. “I’m beginning to see how you’ve survived all these hundreds of years without going mad.”
Ed lifted his chin, eyes gleaming, determination settling in his chest.
“The sooner you learn that spite’ll keep you going when everything else fails, Mustang, the better off you’ll be.”
“There you are! Goddamn, if you had taken any longer, I was going to start worrying.”
Ed’s face split into a relieved smile at Izumi’s stern glare, drilling into them from a side doorway. Her dark skin provided an advantage in the lower light; he hadn’t spotted her until they had grown closer, and she had eschewed her normal white for something darker. “Yeah. We’re back. Can’t wait to start planning.”
“Planning?” Izumi scoffed, gesturing them through a narrower tunnel, then hauling up a tarnished metal gate that looked older than Ed. “Please. We’ve done all the planning we need while you’ve been off sipping margaritas. We’re about ready to act.”
“We?” Roy tilted his head, voice mild and respectful. “Also, where exactly are we?”
“That is a question that’s better shown than answered.”
Another doorway, and the three of them followed, Ed expecting more tunnels and not paying too much attention to his surroundings. That changed the moment he took an idle glance out of the corner of his eye—and then did an utter double take.
“What the hell?” he managed to croak, eyes widening at the sight before him: streets, buildings, roads, all of it stretching out for… for what had to be miles. Not in perfect shape, of course—most of them had crumbled, though not beyond recognition—but plenty of them had been given a more modern rebuilding, and people hurried in and out of them, some of them carrying boxes or weapons or papers.
“That was my reaction, too.” Izumi lifted her chin, glancing out over the underground city proudly. “I don’t think anyone had any idea this place existed. And you have your escort over there to thank for it.”
Both Roy and Ed turned to Nina, mouths gaping, to take in her smug expression, despite the red puffiness of her eyes.
“What? When you live on the street, you gotta have someplace to live. I did some exploring ‘cause I didn’t want creeps to find me, and I found this place. It opens up to all sorts of places.”
“But…” Ed croaked again, turning back to take it all in. “How? Where did it come from?”
“It’s pre-Amestrian, obviously. All I can figure is that there must have been some sort of disaster that sunk it, then buried it. It must have been quite some time before our founding, and whoever rediscovered it and built the tunnels that lead down here must not have felt like sharing the secret.”
“I’ve certainly never seen anything in the military records referencing it.” Roy stepped forward, taking it all in. “And you can bet that if they had known about it, they would have used it. And the fact that Ed, Amestrian history buff that he is, looks even more surprised than I am cements my suspicions that you, Nina Tucker, have made what is arguably the greatest archaeological discovery of our country’s history. Certainly of our time; that much won’t be arguable.”
Nina stared at Roy, a look with which Ed was familiar: trying to ascertain if Roy was trying to make fun of her. Ed watched the process as she realized that he was not, taking in the words he had just said, and then going bright red.
“R-really?” she managed to squeak.
“Of course. But we’d best make sure that you can claim credit for it. It’s time to change the world, Nina. It’s time for you to have a chance to live your life.”
She shuffled back, clearly embarrassed, and Ed almost had to feel sorry for her. But Izumi headed towards a ramp of packed dirt, winding towards the city, and Ed and Roy hurried to follow.
Several familiar faces, ones from the resistance, lifted a hand to wave at Ed, and when they caught sight of his companion, their eyes widened and they turned to whisper furiously at each other.
“Looks like that protest ended your anonymity,” Ed murmured to Roy, trying not to smirk. “Before you know it, you’re gonna be almost as big of a legend as I am.”
“God, I hope not. Your reputation is enough of a pain in the neck already.”
“We have plenty of people waiting on you,” Izumi called back, and Ed could hear the grin in her voice. “And some, I imagine, that you’re waiting on yourself.”
Ed and Roy exchanged a glance, then quickened their step, nearly jogging as they followed Izumi into a nearby building.
They didn’t even have a moment to take in the entire gathering before someone threw themselves forward into Roy, wrapping arms around his neck.
“Oh, thank god… Roy, you’re all right. I was so worried!”
Roy stilled for a moment, surprise on his face, before it softened and he tugged Gracia tighter into him. “So was I. I’m so glad to hear that you’re safe.” They detached, and he looked her up and down. “But why are you here, specifically? How did you get so involved?”
Gracia wiped up to wipe a tear from her cheek, and the sight of her eyes, red from obvious crying, Ed would never forget. “I kept speaking out. I couldn’t let them pin Maes’s death on you, not when I knew you were innocent. But a few nights ago, a group of soldiers, they came and broke down the door. Izumi was there, with some others, and they got me out, but…” Her face crumpled, and a sick feeling grew in the pit of Ed’s stomach.
“Elicia?” he whispered, and Gracia nodded, wiping fresh tears from her eyes. “They have her. Izumi doesn’t think they’ll kill her, not when they can use her as leverage against me. And if they try… Roy, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“We’ll get her back.” Roy reached out to squeeze her arm. “I swear it.”
Gracia calmed somewhat, she allowed Izumi to lead them further in, greeting familiar faces, introducing Roy to those involved. Roy charmed his way through as easily as breathing, winning over many a protester—many a rebel, really, because that’s what they had become, and Ed would stand by it firmly.
When Hawkeye, Havoc, and Falman appeared through the door, the smile on Roy’s face could have lit the entire underground city.
“You! What are you all doing here?” He laughed and stepped forward, embracing Havoc and beaming at the other two. “I told you to hold down the fort!”
“Yeah, well, they wanted us to speak out against you, Chief, and we weren’t gonna have it.”
Roy tried not to looked pleased, failing miserably, but as he cast his eyes around, his smile faded. “Fuery and Breda…?”
“They did,” Hawkeye said quietly, but before Ed could explode with outrage, she held up a hand. “We asked them to. They were the ones most likely to be believed. Breda with his ambition, and Fuery with his family’s name. They made the sacrifice of denouncing you, but they’re working on the inside to gain us more allies. You have more than you’d think.”
“That, I’ll believe. I have Lieutenant Ross to thank in part for my escape.” Roy grinned over at Hawkeye when she straightened, a pleased, almost excited expression on her face, and winked. “Something you’re happy to hear?”
She shot him a glare. “I don’t recall asking you, Sir.” Instead of being respectful, the word embedded itself into Ed’s heart like ice, and given Roy’s shiver, it had done the same to him.
“I just want you to be happy.” He lifted his hands, pleading. “And Izumi found you?”
“We found Izumi, actually.” Hawkeye lifted her hand and nodded over at the leader, and Izumi returned the wave. “Your mother’s intelligence network proved to be invaluable, both to us and to this organization. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that you gallivanted off to enjoy yourself while we did all the work, then returned to take the glory and credit.”
Though Falman looked alarmed at the thought, Ed, Roy, Havoc, and Hawkeye all smirked. “You have me figured out. So what’s the—”
Ignoring the startled looks as he interrupted Roy, Ed darted around the small gathering and towards the door, a disbelieving grin at the familiar bearded face. Roy followed, as did his team.
“Shit! I thought you were dead!”
Jacob scoffed. “Please. It takes more than a smashed up shop to kill me. You should’ve known I got away.”
Ed reached out and shoved at his chest, scoffing right back. “There was blood at the top of your stairs! How the hell was I supposed to think you had gotten away?” He pulled back then, anxiously inspecting him for injuries.
Jacob shrugged. “I work with all sorts of deadly metal. You think I’m gonna let them destroy my livelihood without getting a stab or two in?”
Ed punched his shoulder gently. “You crazy bastard.”
“Said the pot to the kettle.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “Y’know, now I kinda regret hoping you were okay.”
“Edward,” Roy murmured, reaching out to take his wrist and tugging him away before they could get to bickering. “It’s been several hours since we’ve arrived. Didn’t you have something to tell Izumi?”
Ed frowned, thinking. The hell was Roy talking about? She already knew that they were there to help…
Realization jolted through him, and his eyes widened. “Fuck!”
The word rang through the room, turning several heads, Izumi’s included. Ed jerked his head up, watching her.
“Hey, Izumi, I need someone to head to the train station. My brother’s gonna be there soon. He had to take a different one ‘cause we didn’t want to draw attention, but you really can’t miss him. Not with the eyes and hair and stuff.” He gestured to himself. “Only, it’s short, but really, someone’s gotta pick him up and show him the way down here.”
Izumi nodded, glancing around, her eyes settling on Nina—who immediately scowled.
“I have to play errand girl again?”
“And be paid very well for it.” Izumi crossed her arms, raising an eyebrow. “Our deal still stands. You heard Ed’s description, correct?”
Nina sighed, rolling her eyes and heading towards the door. “Yeah. God, you tell someone you want to help take down the government, find them a secret base, and they just have you running around all the fucking time.”
“Hey, watch your language!” Ed snapped, frowning at her. “You’re way too fuckin’ young for that.”
She just stuck her tongue out, whirling, braids slapping against her back as she ran toward the door.
“And don’t steal anything from him!” Ed yelled after her before he turned back to face everyone—who stared at him with eyebrows raised. “What?”
“Nothing at all,” Hawkeye sighed, a smile playing on her lips.
“Right. Whatever.” He’d take it. Ed cracked his neck, tilting his head from side to side. “So. What’s the plan?”
Ed watched Izumi grin slowly, showing a few more teeth than were probably necessary, their brightness gleaming against her dark skin. Roy’s team glanced among themselves, expression not quite as mad, but still eager, the gleam of their anticipation in their eyes rather than their teeth. A small shiver of foreboding ran down Ed’s back.
“You know, I’m so glad you asked.”
“As Lieutenant Colonel Hawkeye mentioned, we have plenty of soldier support within the military. We predict that once they realize what we’re fighting for, a good portion will either desert or join in the fight itself. This anger has been brewing for quite some time, and not just among civilians.”
Ed nodded, listening intently. He had gathered that much. He had a feeling that a lot of the numbers they were hoping for were just that—hope—but ideally, Breda and Fuery’s work would see them with a number of more allies than they had now.
“Our first priority is going to be taking as many generals captive as possible. Once we hit them, you can bet that security will increase enough to make the rest impossible, but we’ve pinpointed seven houses that are vulnerable, all high-ranking and confirmed to be complicit. In addition, we’re nearly certain that one of them is holding Elicia.”
Ed’s eyes narrowed at that, but Roy spoke first. “Nearly certain?”
Izumi exchanged looks with Hawkeye, then turned back to Roy, nodding. “Certain enough to take whatever minimal risk it might be. It’s why we’re acting first; they effectively have a hostage. Take that from them, and we’re free to do what we need to.” She unrolled a map, spreading it across the table, and pressed a pin into the center, embedding it to the table.
“Lieutenant Havoc has supplied us with everything we could need. We’re well-armed, if it comes to that, which it likely will. Once we take the generals, we march on Central Command.”
Ed drew back at that, ears ringing with the words. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Roy had done the same. Yes, they had done quite a bit of talking about overthrowing the government. But even though they had left with the city in unrest, returning to find that a plan to storm the military’s central base had been thrown together in two weeks felt a little… disconcerting.
“Something wrong, boys?”
Ed and Roy turned their heads, exchanging glances.
“It just seems a little…”
“Treasonous,” Ed finished, turning back to look at Izumi. “Not that I think it’s not warranted, but our only hope here is to get public opinion on our side. They literally just smeared Roy’s name across the sky in shit by accusing him of treason.”
“Thank you, Ed,” Roy muttered.
“No problem, gorgeous. Are we really gonna be helping his case by doing exactly what a traitor would?”
Izumi nodded. “I understand where you’re coming from, and I’d normally say yes. But.” She jerked her thumb at Jacob. “He’s not the only one that’s had to deal with soldiers coming in and busting shit up. They’ve been targeting resistance members, but they have terrible aim. You haven’t been here long enough to have to deal with the curfew, or martial law, but things have gone completely to shit since you got out,” she finished, nodding at Roy. “We’ll be a freeing force, out to liberate. And you’ll be the face of the man most unjustly victimized by the system, fighting to regain your honor.”
“You seem fairly confident,” Roy said, voice dry. “And everyone will simply jump to that conclusion?”
“Yes, I’m confident, but they won’t need to.” Izumi continued to stick more pins into the map, each one over a red X. “We’re just about to finish wiring the city.”
At Ed and Roy’s confused silence, she glanced up at the two of them and smirked.
“We’ve set up speakers everywhere these pins are marked. We’ve enlisted Central’s biggest radio station to help us out—Sean and Veronica, you remember them? They’re with us. We’ll barricade their station first thing, and set up defenses around it. It’s about time they get to spout something that isn’t government propaganda.”
“And it’s about time the people get it,” Ed murmured, eyes shining as he took in the map below him, the beauty of the plan unfurling in his mind.
“Exactly. We’ll be setting up more speakers throughout Central Command as we go. We’re hoping it’ll draw some of the soldiers onto our side, the ones who aren’t convinced.”
“Beautiful.” Roy leaned back, sounding pleased. “Finally, we won’t be fighting for the ones pulling the strings.”
“No.” Ed turned, grinning at Roy. “You’ll be fighting for the people.”
Roy’s hand slid over to grip Ed’s tightly, squeezing. They smiled at each other for a few more moments as a couple of people made gagging noises before the door swung open.
“Okay, okay! I’m back!”
Everyone turned to look at the two people who had just stepped through the door. One, Nina, looked rather harried and ready to sit. The other…
“Hello, brother.” Al tried to smile at Ed, but it fell short as Ed looked away.
“Guys, this is my brother, Alphonse.”
“Call me Al.”
“Yeah. He’ll need a rundown of the plan, too. Just let him know where you need him. He can’t do the… the special stuff. Or the clap alchemy.” Ed shared a look with Izumi, who would know what that meant. “But he can work arrays like no one’s business.”
“We can certainly find space for him,” Izumi said, glancing back and forth between the two of them. “Would you like to stay? I understand that you’ve already heard what we’re doing, but since your brother just arrived…”
“I’m good.” Ed stood, shrugging. “I’m gonna go take a breath of fresh air. Roy, you wanna?”
Roy watched Ed carefully, glancing around the room, then shook his head. “I’ll stay here in the event I’m needed. While everyone clearly has things in hand, there’s no harm in having another strategist around.”
“Sure.” Ed pushed his chair in, sidling between people as he headed towards the door. He ignored the people watching as he ducked out of the room, staring straight ahead.
“Brother,” Al murmured softly, as Ed passed him.
But Ed ignored him, pushing past and walking away.
Ed had probably known an anxiety more severe than this over the course of his lifetime, but right now, he came up blank.
His hands shook occasionally, his mouth dry, even as he tried to swallow, wondering if it was worth it to try and use alchemy to get some kind of moisture back in there. A huge hand had clenched around his heart, refusing to budge.
The sky, still dark, didn’t help much with his mood, and he kept his eyes fixed on the eastern horizon. Izumi had told them that they should receive the signal near sunrise, and Ed silently urged the sun along.
She had been one of the stealth groups to take the mansions of the generals, her alchemy an asset where Ed’s lack of stealth abilities was not. Once they had the captives and had secured Elicia, it would be time to move. He glanced down at the radio, waiting…
It crackled to life.
“Bishop three, secured.”
Ed’s eyes lit up at the sound of Havoc’s voice, its Eastern drawl slightly comforting. But Havoc had always been the one destined to succeed…
“Bishop seven, secure!”
Ed let out a breath, allowing himself a small twinge of relief at Al’s voice. If two had gone smoothly, then the rest…
Over the course of fifteen more minutes, small bursts of confirmations radioed in, unknotting tension in Ed’s shoulders each time they came across. But one remained, the very first, and Ed hadn’t heard Izumi’s voice yet.
He exchanged glances with Roy, who reached over to squeeze Ed’s hand. Ed held it tightly, repeating to himself that it was going to be okay, that it had to be okay. He could storm a castle with the best of them, but waiting like this? No more insidious torture could ever possibly be invented.
“Bishop one, secure!” Izumi’s voice rang out in the lightening morning air. “He has the queen! Repeat, the queen is secure! We have her! Go, go, go!”
Ed sprung forward from the shadows, spear in hand, Roy beside him. As the group of resistance fighters swarmed out behind him, the soldiers on the street who were enforcing the curfew gaping in surprise at the sudden mass of humanity before they acted. A head start. Good. Central Command was only blocks away, and they needed all the help they could get.
They managed about a block and a half before the soldiers seemed to recover, giving chase and, after some confused and angry shouting, shooting. The bullets cracked out through the air, sending some staggering and falling to the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, Ed could see them drag themselves back up to their feet and continue running, the jackets having saved their lives, but he could hear too many guns to believe that this had been the case for all of them. He continued onward, knowing that he had already saved the lives he could.
Around that time, the speakers crackled to life around them.
“Good morning, Central! This is Veronica—” “—and I’m Sean—” “—and we’re here today to bring you a very special edition of our show. You’re all welcome to turn on your radios, just in case we get shut off outside, but we’ll continue to do our best to bring you live updates!”
Ed snorted; leave it to them to make a rebellion sound chipper.
“First of all, we want to let you all know to stay safe,” Sean warned. “If you have young children or anyone who would be especially vulnerable, our citizens and soldiers don’t want anyone hurt. But I know it, you know it, we all know it: it’s time to bring down the corruption within our government, and it’s up to everyone who can help to play a part.”
Their first challenge came from a barricade up ahead, a wall of soldiers and guns and wood that came into sight right as Veronica launched into a denunciation of how they had framed Roy for Hughes’s death, how they had tried to use the citizens’ anger to foster a war against Creta.
The resistance fighters ducked behind walls and buildings, some taking aim where they could and shooting. Ed clapped his hands together, jutting blocks of stone up from the ground as impromptu barricades themselves. Roy ducked behind one, snapping his finger, sending a jet of flame out to engulf all of the wood behind which the soldiers were hiding.
Once they cleared out the opposition, they surged forward again, never ending up outside of hearing range of Sean and Veronica’s broadcast. Sean had now launched into a detailed list of the economics and food production versus food distribution over the past five years copied, as he said, directly from the military’s records itself. Ed allowed himself a small smirk at that. Atta girl, Sheska.
Ed ignored the sights of the still bodies lying on the ground, telling himself that—that he was saving lives. That he couldn’t let this continue.
Veronica and Sean played off of each other incredibly, switching between serious and earnest discussion and the occasional play of humor, a touch of humanity, just to remind their audiences that yes, everyone was fighting for them. Izumi had created a list of victories and movement announcements that they could broadcast when they happened, radioed in by members of units as they succeeded, deemed not dangerous enough for the opposition to know about. Occasionally, one of the two would drop a short line, deadly serious, that sent shivers down Ed’s back and left silence in its wake on the streets.
“After all of this,” Veronica said, voice cracking just a little, “we could only come to one conclusion, and have a feeling you might have, too. The higher-ups, they don’t care about us. They take our food, take our children, and manipulate our anger so we’ll be willing to send them off as cannon fodder. This is enough. We will no longer bow to their tyranny! Amestris was created for the people, and the people will take it back!”
Ed continued on, mitigating where he could with alchemy, the gates of Central Command gleaming ahead of them. He set his sights on them, lifting his voice amid the shouts, the shots, the screams.
“Almost there!” he cried, voice ringing. “We’ve almost made it! Take Central Command!”
A final push, bodies panting and sweating around him, alchemical sparks flying from his fingers at every moment, blue and red in equal measures, and they stood before it.
The gates swung open, manned by sterned-face soldiers nodding at the militia, and so they all entered.
Unfortunately, the gate was the only easy thing about their storm on Central Command.
They had expected snipers; what they hadn’t expected were so many. The man beside Ed fell to the ground, a bullet through his head, and the woman next to him soon followed. Ed gritted his teeth and pressed on, taking luck where he could get it.
They had known that this would be hard, especially as the soldiers wouldn’t have been there to hear the beginning of Sean and Veronica’s broadcast. That didn’t stop the resistance from putting up speakers where they could, though, but as they fought on, the optimistic numbers of desertion simply… didn’t come.
True, some of them did. Some pockets of soldiers lifted their hands in surrender and joined the side of the resistance, plenty of those without even fighting. But still more fought on, grim-faced, fury in their eyes sparking whenever they caught sight of Roy.
Ed could see Roy, as he hid, the despair slowly taking over his demeanor. He did his best not to show it, not as he urged the resistance onward each time they defeated a group of enemies, each time they took ground, but Ed couldn’t imagine how it must feel, being unequivocally seen as a traitor, to have your former soldiers out to kill you. They had planned some, for this, by putting Ed and Roy in the same place. Those still with the government would flock to them, drawn by the opportunity to put Roy down, and Ed would protect him. Not that Roy couldn’t protect himself, but it added an extra measure of safety.
They avoided killing where they could: one soldier, shot in the leg, ended up tied on the ground, Ed’s alchemy to thank for that, and he bound her leg quickly with bandages even as she spat at him.
“Why?” he snarled back, his sudden vehemence taking her aback. “Why the fuck d’you keep fighting for them? You know what they did—you heard it over these speakers, we’re tellin’ you the truth, and surely you’ve gotta think that somethin’ is fishy here—”
“Anyone can say anything,” she snapped. “All we know’s that they called him traitor, and now he’s here trying to take over. What else are we supposed to think? And now Gracia Hughes’s went into hiding, now that she won’t lie for you, the military had to protect her—”
Ed made a disgusted noise, turning away and standing, and a hand found its way onto his shoulder.
“It’s all right, Ed,” Roy murmured, squeezing gently. “We were expecting as much. This is the difficult part. We’re still on target. This is as much as we could have done. We have enough people, and enough firepower. There wasn’t any other way.”
“But it won’t—we can’t function this way,” Ed hissed, glaring ahead. “Even if—even when we win, it’ll be at the cost of lives, and plenty’ll think we… fuck.” Ed groaned.
“They were never going to give their duty up so easily, Edward. I may be popular enough, but I’m not so revered that they can’t—”
Ed yanked away, eyes widening, barely catching the shocked (and a little hurt) expression on Roy’s face as he grinned maniacally. Before he could say anything, however, he heard a familiar voice.
“What are you two doing standing around, boys? Get to work!”
Ed whirled, still grinning to face Izumi. “Fuck! Take over for me here, yeah? Keep an eye on Roy. He’s how we’re getting out of this.”
“What in the hell—”
“I’ve got an idea,” he panted, reaching out to grab Roy, yank him in, and kiss him with the ferocity of a dying man.
“I love you,” he whispered into Roy’s ear, then whirled around and bolted back for Central Command’s gates.
As Ed’s shoes slapped on the payment, he took in the streets around him: surprisingly vacant, with only remnants of fighting in a few areas. Bodies, yes, but not too many, less than he had expected though more than he had hoped. Without a weapon, he knew that he looked like a panicked civilian running for cover, and everyone let him alone.
He finally rounded the corner to his destination, however, and knew that he wouldn’t escape their attention for much longer.
The bulk of the soldiers on the streets seemed to be gathered here, trying to force their way through a barricade walling off a huge tower, being fended off by members of the resistance. The military hadn’t made much headway, here—Izumi had made sure of that—but Ed could always help out a little.
He stepped forward, red lightning crackling from his feet and drawing the attention towards him. As they turned, aiming, the ground split open into hundreds of different cracks, each one below the boots of a soldier. It swallowed them all, leaving them screaming—and then snapped shut at their shoulders, burying them, but not so much that they couldn’t dig themselves out. Eventually.
Stepping on a few heads, Ed clapped his hands together, transmuted a hole in the barricade, and darted inside. Skidding to a halt, he turned, waving at an alley. A shadow detached itself, then hurried over, eyes wide as she glanced around at the dozens of trapped soldiers.
“C’mon. Let’s hurry.”
With alarmed shouts, some jumped in the way to block Ed’s ascent up the stairs, but upon seeing his face—and the face of his companion—they gasped, moving aside, fervently wishing them godspeed. As he reached the top, he spotted the door that he needed immediately.
“Hey, wait, you can’t go in there—!”
Flipping the bird to the guard outside, he lunged forward, wrenching it open.
“And yet another example of the military abuse we’ve suffered—what the hell?”
Sean and Veronica, the first a thin bespectacled man, the second a curvier dark-skinned woman, both looked over at Ed, gaping in surprise.
“I’ve got something to say,” Ed panted.
The two of them blinked for a few moments more, before Veronica’s eyes brightened and she reached out to snatch up her microphone.
“It’s Edward Elric! Edward Elric, in the flesh!” She beamed. “I’ve never seen him in person before, but who else—it’s true, what they say! His eyes, his hair, all golden as the sun itself!”
Ed barely managed to keep from interrupting her as he practically tripped over to the desk to sit in the spare seat. “Anyone got a free mic?”
Sean pushed his over to Ed without a second thought. Ed grabbed it, offering them a slight smile before he began.
“First of all, I’m not Edward Elric.”
Sean and Veronica exchanged confused glances before he continued.
“I mean, I am the person you know as Edward Elric. But that’s not my real name. It’s an assumed alias, taken on because it sounds more Amestrian.” He swallowed, steeling himself, and looked straight ahead at his small audience. “My real name is Edris Hohenheim.”
A choke from Sean and Veronica’s side of the room, and they exchanged a shocked glance.
“I know, I know, it sounds fuckin’ crazy.” Ed frowned slightly as Veronica quickly tapped a button on the desk. “But you can look it up. There’s pictures of me everywhere—one in the library, in fact. I had someone call me out on it when I first got here, the similarity’s that great. And I know the legends of eternal life have been going around since I founded this goddamn place.” Veronica tapped the button again. “And yeah, you might not believe me, but this isn’t for you people who are skeptics. This is for you people who… who wanna do what’s right. Who love Amestris the way I do and are tired of seeing it beaten and abused and broken.
“When I was seventeen, I was the son of an adviser of Xerxes’s court. I had to watch, helpless, as the king slaughtered his people for eternal youth, just like the histories say. And I got stuck with it, too, when I stopped the one responsible. Now, I see it happening again in Central. A government, leaders who want war ‘cause of their greed, who lie to us to get it, and who don’t care about killing us to gain power.” Ed took a deep breath. “I came to the land that would one day be called Amestris and founded it, trying to set it up so nothing like that would ever happen again. ‘Course, I didn’t know much about the way to structure a government, so yeah, it kind of went to shit.”
Veronica quickly pressed the button again, and Ed smirked slightly as he realized what it had to be.
“But you know who does know about how to structure a government? Roy motherfucking Mustang.”
He smiled apologetically over at her as she hit the button yet again, and she only rolled her eyes. Sean, for his part, stared in shock, but then again, he wasn’t the one having to sit and censor an immortal being with the mouth of a sailor.
“That’s what I’m here to talk t’you about. Roy Mustang is innocent. He has an alibi for the murder of Maes Hughes—we were drinking and celebrating the entire night of the protest, over our victory! He didn’t leave my damn sight until his arrest! And yet they try to have him executed first thing, brush it all under a carpet? C’mon, I know you military people are listening. You know that there’s not something right here. You’ve known that for a long time. Y’know what I found the other day? I found research for a Philosopher’s Stone buried in the military’s library. And trust me, of all people, I know how awful that shit is. The military leaked it to an alchemist to justify cracking down on all alchemical knowledge. I know you all heard about that when it happened, but now you know that the military had a hand in it. Not the average soldier—I know you guys are as innocent as all of us—but the higher-ups? They’re fucking playing us all against each other! They want us at odds, they want us fighting—want us fighting Creta, just so we won’t look too closely at how they run things. Yeah, well, now we know how they run things, and we say no! I looked at the man who killed Maes Hughes in the eyes. I could see it, that he knew the generals would protect him. That he’d never have to face justice. Yeah, well, that’s what we’re here demanding right now.
“I know it’s gonna be hard for a lot of you to believe it, even knowing what you do of everything I’ve done. But y’know what? I’ll find proof of all of it. I’ll find proof, and I’ll throw it at your feet, and then we can make this country safe for everyone.”
Ed took a deep breath, glancing around at the room. Neither broadcaster had made to interrupt him, only stared at him in shock. Ed figured he might as well get one last bit in. The most important bit.
“In the meantime, I wanna tell you guys one thing. I fully support Roy Mustang, in everything he’s doing for this government, everything he’s doing for this city, for this country. He wants to make it better. He wants to give you all a say. He’s always operated under the principle I consider to be the most important thing for any person to have.” Ed lifted his chin, eyes gleaming. “Everything for the people.”
The radio station’s phone exploded.
Ed had barely finished his speech when it started ringing; he assumed that the listeners had all been too stunned with his words to call in and screech at him while talking, but that didn’t last long. The first call, Sean picked up with a “hello,” but after a moment handed it right off to Ed.
He spent the next twenty minutes or so fielding all sorts of calls—ones accusing him of being a crank, ones gushing about how much of an honor it was to speak with him, and plenty who were skeptical and quizzed him on obscure Amestrian or alchemical trivia om a way to allay their suspicions. He passed all of these with flying colors, of course, and after a bit, he had to hand the phone back to Sean, shaking his head.
Sean replaced it, making a “cut” motion back at the booth outside. The phone stopped ringing.
“Ed, please, or Edward. I’m used to it.”
“What else do you have in store for us?”
Ed turned and gestured at the booth as well, and the door opened again, his companion stepping through, offering a tentative smile to Sean and Veronica.
“Mrs. Hughes!” Sean gasped. “You’re back with us! We were all told that the military had taken you into protective custody—”
“All lies, Sean,” Gracia said softly, voice a little raspy. “They came after me. They kidnapped my daughter, and this resistance has saved her and brought her back. I’m here to tell you about that, as well as every last thing they did to my husband.”
“Well, here you have it, folks,” Sean said urgently into the microphone. “Today is a day we’ll never forget. One of truths. The truth that we deserve.”
Izumi was going to kill him. Despite Gracia’s protests that she should be involved, Izumi had ordered her to stay belowground. Ed… may have played off of some of her frustration to get her up here.
“So, Edward, is there anything else you’d like to tell us before we hand the mic off to Gracia?”
Ed hesitated, then took a deep breath.
“I said I was gonna get you guys some proof, and I still mean that. I hope Central Command is ready for a showdown. I hope the Head Protector is. Because consider this a challenge: I’ll be there for you. I’ll be waiting. If you think I’m just some crazy conspiracy theorist, I’ll be no problem to take down. If I’m not, if I’m what I say I am and what I say about you is true, you’ll be in damn trouble. So I guess whether or not you show says a lot about the truth.”
Sean and Veronica exchanged concerned looks, and Veronica finally spoke up. “Don’t tell us you’re going to throw your life away.”
Ed laughed, a little bitter, a little scoffing, and placed his hand to his chest, gripping it tightly. “Oh, trust me. That won’t be a problem.”
Ed cut a dramatic figure as he strode back towards Central Command, red jacket flapping in the wind, a direct contrast to the deep black of his clothing and the gold of his hair. He knew that he looked the part, of a Xerxesian remnant of the past, an immortal sent from heaven to deliver justice unto Amestris. Really, he usually tried to avoid that role, but sometimes… things couldn’t be helped.
Resistance members gasped and pointed and whispered to themselves as he passed by, an obviously awed expression on their faces. Ed simply nodded to them, cordial steel, as he walked.
No one, not even the military, dared stop him.
He made it through the gates with little trouble, resistance and soldiers alike slowing their fighting to watch… some even choosing to follow him, a momentary truce gained in a shared glance of curiosity.
Ed would have smirked had the situation not been so serious. He took no notice of them as he strode towards the center.
The sounds of gunfire and screams told him that he had gotten close. The once-manicured lawn had been ripped up to form barricades, foxholes, or even splits in the ground. As he drew closer, he could spot a bulk of resistance fighters: Jacob. Hawkeye. Lieutenant Ross. And there, so very close to the action, under cover of an alchemically-created stone wall, were Roy and Izumi.
Of course, they weren’t the only ones. None other than Head Protector Bradley himself, flanked by his top generals, stood before him.
Between them stood rows and rows of soldiers, all with guns pointed straight at him.
“Ed!” Roy hissed, waving frantically. “Over here!”
Ed glanced over towards them, taking Roy’s face in, every line, every curve, the stern beauty that could flip from smug to sincere to tender in the space of a breath. But he tore his eyes away from Roy to meet Izumi’s. She would understand. A nod from her, and he looked away.
“Ed? Ed!” Out of the corner of his eye, Ed could see Roy try to lunge forward, but Izumi grabbed him, jerk him back. Ed ignored them both.
He reached up to yank his jacket off, tossing it to the side, letting it fly from him in the breeze.
“I come to you unarmed,” he called, voice pitched to be heard. The shooting seemed to have lessened, and he could hear people murmuring to the sides. “I come to you to hold you accountable for what you have done. I come to you to remove your corruption from your position, and to heal the country of Amestris.”
“You come to die!” King Bradley roared, eye blazing with fury. “You are a madman who speaks only lies! Back down, now, or be killed!”
Ed stepped forward, stretching his arms wide, a vicious grin spreading across his face.
“C’mon. Take your best shot.”
The entire battlefield had gone dead quiet as Ed and Bradley stared at each other, one incandescent with rage, the other incandescent with glory.
Bradley’s arm pointed to Ed. “Fire!”
A loud, deafening series of cracks, and the bullets ripped into Ed’s flesh.
Shoutout to Fletcherstringham who thought the last chapter was THE last chapter....... <3
Ed screamed, an inhuman shriek that rang out almost louder than the gunshots, and he could imagine the flinching of all who heard it. The bullets ripped through him, some burying there, hitting his lungs, his heart, his head.
Fuck. He hated being shot in the head.
But he hung on, through the agony, feet planted on the ground, refusing to fall back even at the momentum of hundreds of pieces of lead shoving at him. He stood, fists clenched, blood soaking the white of his gloves, and screamed until the shooting stopped.
Silence finally echoed yet again, so quiet that Ed could hear soldiers panting, the Head Protector likely one of them. He could feel the expectation, the eagerness, for him to collapse, to fall, to lie dead.
With a groan, he straightened, teeth bared in an ugly grin of triumph. Bullets clinked to the ground around him, and for a moment, he debated expelling the ones remaining inside him with more than just a nudge, shooting them back with enough force to sting, at least. But at the expressions on those around him as he simply shed the bullets, blood streaming down and pooling onto the ground, he thought better of it. Instead, he glared around with his one remaining eye, the other a bloody, mangled socket.
“That all you got?” Ed gargled, voice raspy and bubbling as he spat out the bullet that had been lodged in his throat, teeth bloody as he grinned again. “C’mon! Try me!”
“Fire!” Bradley ordered, yet again, but Ed could hear the quaver in his voice. So could the soldiers, apparently, because only a few shot again, and though the impact still hurt, he shook it off easily, beginning to knit the flesh back together.
“I don’t believe it.” Sean’s strangled voice crackled to life over the speakers, apparently clued in by one of the resistance’s radio operators. “He’s… he’s still standing. He’s walking forward. The bullet wounds are closing! He’s alive!”
A low roar built around them, soldiers who had been ready to fight now hesitating, some even dropping their weapons and lifting their hands. The resistance allowed them to leave, as had been ordered, in complete peace. Other soldiers lifted their hands, but didn’t drop their weapons, instead walking over to join the group of civilians, faces hard. Ed silently thanked them for it. Not that he had any judgement for those who had been unable to turn their weapons against their own military, but could see how difficult the defection must be for the others, in shaking hands, in set jaws, in lifted chins as they joined the march towards the center of Central Command.
With none of the firing line left, the fighting mostly stopped, the generals broke and ran.
Plenty of the fighters went after them, but Ed stood there for a moment, panting, healing. He had finally repaired the worst of the injuries when—
A solid form barreled into him with arguably more force than the bullets. Ed gasped, twisting his head, and saw a face full of chest as he was unceremoniously forced into it, squishing his already sore nose.
“Ow, ow! Fuck, Roy, that hurts!”
Roy pulled back, eyes wild and frantic, looking Ed over furiously. “Are you mad?! You could have died! You could have…”
Ed just let out a laugh, still with a bitter edge, but freer now. “Me? Die? You fucking saw that. It was the only way to prove myself.” He shook his head, allowing himself to be pulled in for another hug, gentler this time. “And I came out of it all right, didn’t I?”
Roy sighed, resting his chin on top of Ed’s head. “You might be immortal, but I’m not. One of these days you’re going to leave me dead from a heart attack.”
“Not allowed. I’m the old one here, remember?”
Roy just chuckled softly, squeezing Ed one more time before he pulled back. A quick clap of Ed’s hands and the blood vanished from Roy’s clothing.
“I still think you’re crazy,” Roy muttered, shaking his head, but Ed didn’t miss the reluctant smile on his face.
“Am not. We won.” Ed reached out to squeeze Roy’s hand, smiling back for just a moment before his face grew somber. “And now it’s time to go after Bradley. We’ve still got some cleanup to do.”
Roy straightened, a steely look in his eye to match that in Ed’s tone. “You’re right. You have a plan?”
Ed tilted his head, reaching his hand into his pocket to play with Russell’s pocket watch, then turned to smirk at Roy.
“Do you trust me?”
Right around the moment the State Alchemists joined in, Ed could taste victory.
He hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet many of the men working under Roy’s command, but they cut an impressive figure, especially Major Armstrong, knocking assailants through the air with a surprising grace. But Ed could only lend so much attention to the others: while nearly everyone split up, covering as much ground as possible to hunt the escaped generals, Ed and Roy went together.
“You’re sure about this?” Ed hissed to Roy as they backtracked away from the central building. “It’s kind of a long shot.”
“Well, now it’s your turn to trust me.” Roy smirked over at Ed, though sadness lingered in his expression. “Being best friends with the head of intelligence had its perks.”
“And he wouldn’t bring anyone else through this tunnel?”
“Bradley? Doubtful. He’d much rather have his other men sent off as decoys while he escapes to the Head Protector’s mansion. We’re all we need to stop him.”
Ed nodded jerkily, eyes focusing on the door ahead of them, slapping his hands together, and sending it flying open as they reached it.
“Mrs. Bradley and her son are likely upstairs. Get them out. We don’t want a hostage situation.”
Ed nodded, letting Roy go his separate way as he took the stairs two steps at a time.
He flung doors open until he heard a woman scream, then poked his head in, trying his best not to look terrifying. With his arm transmuted into a blade, that proved to be difficult.
“Ma’am? We’re gonna need you to vacate the house,” he said, as politely as possible, as she clutched a crying son to her chest. “Promise, we’re not here to hurt you. In fact, that’s exactly what we wanna avoid.”
She took a deep breath, hesitating, but an explosion from downstairs seemed to make up her mind. She nodded frantically, accepting Ed’s hand, and followed him out.
Angry cries and clashing still sounded from inside the house, and she turned back, eyes wide, but Ed blocked her entrance back in. “Hey, no. Look, what matters right now is your safety.” He pointed. “Go. Through the gates. Get out of Central Command. You’re gonna be okay, all right? Just as soon as you get into the city.
A scream, and Ed whirled. “Fuck!” He allowed himself a glance over his shoulder to ensure that she had obeyed, then darted back inside.
He followed the sound of explosions, the smell of smoke, the vibrations of the tremors rocking through the mansion. He clapped his hands together, readying himself—
And when he skidded towards the corner, an anguished scream left him staggering to a halt.
From his position behind the doorway, Ed could see Roy collapsed against the wall, panting raggedly, hand lifted to staunch a wound on his shoulder. The angle gave him a clear view of Roy’s gloves: both of the backs had been shredded, his knuckles bleeding freely, leaving them useless for transmutations.
“You think you’ve won?” Ed heard Bradley hiss, and caught a sword point leveled at Roy’s throat. “You think this is a victory? Of a minor battle, maybe, but we have battalions of soldiers across the country just waiting to come and sweep you back off the map. I’m their great leader. I made Amestris great. They’ll never turn on me, not without evidence. All you have is hearsay. No proof.”
Roy lifted his chin, and the sword dug slightly into his neck, trickling down to the hollow of his throat. “Proof? The people already know what you’ve done. And we have Frank Archer in custody. He’s already confessed to killing Maes under your orders. For your purposes.”
Bradley scoffed. “Archer? He’s the one who pulled the trigger. He’s the one who proposed that we pin Hughes’ death on you. You think he’d confess?”
“Probably not,” Ed drawled, strolling into the room casually. Bradley jumped back, sword at the ready, but Ed only smirked, microphone held out in front of him. “Seeing as he’s dead and all. But, well, you just did.”
Bradley stared in shock: at the mic, at the wire leading out, then out the window, where plenty of the speakers still sat mounted in the distance. Throughout the entirety of Central Command. Through the entirety of Central. Ed simply grinned.
“Aaaand, that’s a wrap, folks!”
Bradley whirled back towards Roy.
“You!” he roared, lunging forward, swords raised.
With a flash of speed he had been hiding earlier, Roy shoved himself to his feet, held his hand forward, and snapped. The gloves sparked, as they always had, but unlike always, the ring on Roy’s finger crackled orange, transforming the sparks into tongues of flame, then into a wall, roaring back at Bradley as it consumed him.
The roars of both turned into the screams of Bradley, and Ed pulled back. “We’re gonna try to save him, guys, but right now I know we have children listening. In the meantime, I want everyone to think on that, think on what you heard him say, and ask yourself, should he have been running this country?”
With a quick jerk of his automail blade, Ed cut the line, then dropped the microphone. He turned to Roy, nose wrinkling at the smell.
“We should probably put it out, huh,” he muttered.
“Probably.” Roy stared at the ball of flame that was Bradley, a sad, contemplative look on his face. Ed hesitated, debating asking him what the matter was, but then Roy shook himself, standing up straight.
Roy clenched his fist, the ring with his array on it glowing yet again, and the fire flickered, then died out. Bradley lay there, smoldering but, if the rise and fall of his chest was any indication, still alive.
Ed grabbed Roy’s hand, tugging him out of the room, away from the gruesome sight. “C’mon. We’ll get him a medic.”
Roy took one deep, shaky breath, then another, following.
“You all right?”
Roy nodded as they stepped out of the house, turning to look up at the façade, then turning away, pausing to take Ed’s other hand as well.
“I can’t believe it’s over, is all.”
Ed laughed softly. “Over? Roy, please. It isn’t even close to being over. We’ve torn it down, yeah, but it’s time to start building back up.”
A rueful grin flickered across Roy’s face as he met Ed’s eyes. Still, Ed could see the hope there, the hint of long-deserved peace beginning to settle. Good. Roy deserved it.
“Yes. I suppose you’re right.”
Though Roy had seemed convinced that the two of them would be met with vitriol after the battle, everyone remaining hailed them as a hero, and Ed figured those who didn’t had been carted off. After all, no one would stand by Bradley at this point, not unless they had unsavory motivations for doing so, and even then those types who normally would have done so were at least smart enough to be happy that a corrupt fucker had just been taken out of power. The government was looking at a long task of cleanup ahead of them, but Ed had complete faith that Roy would do well.
The remaining forces immediately got to work, collecting bodies and repairing damage, the State Alchemists coming together to assist with the latter. Ed helped where he could, and when he spotted Izumi, trotted over to tell her of the news—if she hadn’t already heard.
He waited for her to finish hugging Gracia fiercely (“Are you stupid? You could have been killed!” “Could have been, yes, but it was my decision to make.” “I swear, you’re going to be the death of me.”) before stepping forward, lifting a hand.
“Well, Elric. Or should I say Hohenheim?”
“Elric.” Ed grimaced. “God, I’m not gonna be able to escape that, am I?”
“Nope. Who would’ve guessed?” She tilted her head. “And here I thought you were just some stupid kid who had tried human transmutation.”
Ed snorted. “Like you’re one to talk.”
Izumi shook her head, but then continued. “That was an impressive stunt you pulled back there. Even I didn’t really believe you until you decided to turn yourself into the military’s magazine and walk out of it with that crazy grin on your face. Speaking of stupid fucks, I feel like I’m going to be lecturing a lot of people on reasonable behavior in the next few days.”
“Well, it worked, didn’t it? And I’m fine?”
She scoffed, then bent down, scooping up Ed’s coat and shoving at him. “You’re a goddamn drama queen.”
“I’ve lived for hundreds of years. This gives me a whole hell of a lot more perspective than you have!”
Izumi just rolled her eyes, but she punched him gently in the shoulder. “Good work. Jacob’s seeing to the medics; we’ll try and save that louse, even if he doesn’t deserve it. It’ll look bad. Also, due process and all that.”
“Yeah, that’s a thing.” Ed sighed, glancing around. “Who’d we lose?”
Izumi listed off a few names Ed knew, smiling faces that he would sorely miss. “And Nina about came close. We found her with a gunshot in one of the labs. She’s probably going to be all right, but she wouldn’t tell us what she had done. Looked damned pleased with herself, though, even through all that blood.”
“Kind of alarming, but I think I’m not gonna question it.”
“Good decisions.” She lifted her head, looking at something over Ed’s shoulder. “And… well, there’s one thing you might want to resolve that hasn’t been yet. Trust me, Ed, it’s not worth it to leave open-ended regrets.”
Ed turned and saw a familiar pair of golden eyes watching him, a pleading expression in their depths.
“Yeah,” Ed murmured, stepping away. “You’re probably right.”
“Hi, brother.” Al’s voice was slightly shaky, with the same shakiness of his smile. Ed offered him a more confident one in return, which clearly eased his concerns. “I’m… I’m glad you’re all right.”
“Hey, you know I’ve gone through worse.” Ed reached out to punch Al’s shoulder gently, echoing Izumi’s gesture from earlier. It seemed to work, as Al grinned slowly. Encouraged, Ed slid an arm around Al’s shoulders.
“We should probably talk about this, huh?” he murmured, leading them away from the battlefield.
Al reached up to take Ed’s wrist, squeezing it before letting it go. “I’d like that, Brother. There’s a lot to say.”
Ed never cared much for sticking around for the aftermath of political revolutions. It always got so… messy.
This time, however, he figured that he had better help out his useless boyfriend with wrapping things up, what with all the scrutiny Roy was about to receive. Ed soon realized that this meant he himself would be under intense scrutiny, being a human Philosopher’s Stone and all that, but once he realized that also meant people wouldn’t be paying quite as close attention to the barbecued former Head Protector in intensive care, he embraced it, doing what he could to keep unpleasant attention off of Roy.
Roy eventually learned to smile again. It took quite some time, and his cracked voice with the words, “I didn’t even get to go to the funeral,” would stay with Ed forever. But Ed did his best to remind him that, despite devastating losses, they had succeeded with his dream.
For his part, Roy spent much of his time sequestered with the remaining generals who hadn’t been arrested, killed in the coup, or chosen an early and comfortable retirement at the totally non-coercive request of the resistance. Having jumped three ranks in the span of so many weeks (as far as “Heyyyyy, sorry for framing you for treason and trying to have you executed without a trial, please don’t set us on fire” gifts went, Ed would have preferred another, but Roy seemed to be pleased), he and a couple of others, part of the old guard before Bradley’s time, did their best to iron out the kinks in Amestris’s new interim government.
It would remain that way for a while, possibly a couple of years, while Amestris readied itself for a democratic government, while candidates campaigned and rallied and made their case for leadership.
“This wasn’t a coup,” Roy told Veronica one evening, on what they told Ed was the most listened-to radio event of the century. “This was a revolution. And it is my honor to support the citizens who fought for it.”
“So you won’t be running, then,” Sean asked, watching Roy intently. “Not even with your reputation, the support of Edris—”
“Ed!” Ed snapped.
“No, I won’t be. Not right now. Right now, this government needs a leader who knows what they’re doing, but isn’t a part of the military. We have to finish demilitarizing the police, for one, and the people need to know what it’s like to have someone else as their leader.”
“So you’re not ruling out running later, once Amestris has gotten back on its feet?”
Roy simply smiled his enigmatic smile. “Honestly, Sean, I have no idea.”
In fact, the elections had been a hot topic amongst their circle, with much speculation over who would run. Some had jokingly suggested Jacob run; many more had less jokingly suggested Izumi do so. Though both of them had vehemently rejected the idea, Ed would never forget the look of horror and disgust on her face when someone had posed the question. His laughter would fuel him through many a cold and lonely night.
Among more private gatherings, Roy had indeed expressed an interest in running… perhaps in five to ten years.
“I really do have ideas for the direction this country should go, but like I said in my interview, Amestris needs to get its feet underneath it without military leadership, first. Right now, I represent an upholding of the status quo, which is the last thing I want. Once they get a taste of something different, the people will be that much more qualified to decide if they want me or not.”
“I think that’s very honorable of you.” Gracia beamed as she set down her strawberry rhubarb pie, producing a devastatingly sharp knife. “But I’ve been thinking, you know. What if I run against you?”
Roy laughed at that, but… he was the only one at the table who did so. His eyes flickered nervously to the knife in Gracia’s hand as she began to cut the pie into slices; with a subtle cough, he lifted his hand to his face, obscuring his expression from Gracia’s view as he looked over pleadingly at Ed, clearly wanting his support, as he mouthed, fffuuuuuccckkkkkkkk.
Ed refused to give it, tilting his head as he considered. Gracia had certainly gained a large amount of experience with the inner workings of the country while Hughes had been running its intelligence as well as when he had been handling the food shortages with her help. Nothing official, no, but she certainly had the public adoration that the job would need…
Glaring over at Ed, Roy straightened, putting on his best charming smirk as Gracia handed out plates of the pie: Izumi, Elicia, Ed with his extra large slice. “You also might consider being my running mate. How does vice president sound?” He raised an eyebrow.
She began to hold the slice out to Roy, but when he reached for it, withdrew. She lifted a finger to her mouth, looking far more innocent than any human being had a right to.
“I will… consider it.”
Roy huffed, snatching his pie from her hands.
“Well, not with those manners I won’t.” She laughed softly.
They all dug in, and honestly, if Gracia could run a country with a quarter of the skill as with she baked a pie, they would all be fine.
“And what about you, Ed?” she asked, voice warm. “I’ve heard you’ve been fending off all sorts now that Roy has you in charge of reestablishing alchemical knowledge throughout the country. How about after that? Are you going to be staying with us for a while?”
Ed glanced out of the corner of his eye at Roy, who was watching him as well, The two of them slid their hands down to their sides, twining their fingers together beneath the table, Roy’s thumb reaching up to rub gently against Ed’s left ring finger. Still empty, yes, but… things could change.
“Yeah,” he managed out, voice a little rough, lips curving up in a grin. “Yeah, I think I will be.”
I want to throw some extra love to Moonbelowsea and Fletcherstringham for their betaing, feedback, and being sounding boards!