For the first time in over fifty years, ambassadors from the northern country of Drachma were welcomed in Central. It was an auspicious occasion and hopes were high that some form of acceptance might be found between the two nations that shared such a bitter history. Every State Alchemist in the country was invited to the welcoming ceremony at Central's military headquarters and later the reception at the Armstrong mansion.
Just like a wedding, Roy thought. A wedding where the bride and groom's families didn't get along, but still tolerated the gathering for the sake of the hopeful couple.
The Armstrongs had gone all out on this one. The mansion was decked out in the colors of Amestris and Drachma from roof to cellar. Every door on the main floor was flung wide open and hundreds of people filled the bright rooms, mingling among refreshment tables in the grand hall and skirting around the dance floor in the ballroom where musicians played a soothing tune on violins and cellos.
Roy found the Drachman ambassadors mingling in the grand hall, shaking hands with all the generals and brigadier generals. Normally a colonel was too low in the ranks to warrant much notice, but apparently his reputation extended far beyond the borders. One of the older Drachmans frowned and made a beeline right for him, his gray hair swishing out behind him in a long ponytail. When he spoke, it was in mangled Amestrian.
"You be Mustang? Flame Alchemist, aye?"
"Yes, I am," Roy said formally and shook his hand. "It's an honor to have you and your fellow diplomats here."
The ambassador grunted. "Say that before you even know my name. You do yer Father proud."
"I…think you mean Fuhrer," Roy faltered. "Sir."
The man waved a hand dismissively. "Right, right. Always get mixed up. And I am Alik Terisov. Yer Fuhrer here? I not see him since ceremony."
"I'm afraid not," Roy told him. "A family matter called him away after the ceremony. His son, I think."
"Ah," Alik noted. "It is good then. Family must always be first, I say."
"Yes," Roy agreed.
"That yer son there?"
Roy followed Alik's gaze to where Ed was leaning against one of the refreshment tables across the room. By some miracle, someone had convinced the kid to exchange his usual red and black for formal military attire. Most likely Al. There was a half-empty platter of food by his hand, probably the only thing in the room that had held his attention for longer than thirty seconds.
"No," Roy replied quickly. "He's my subordinate, the Fullmetal Alchemist."
"Sure? I apologize. I see you rebuke him at ceremony, I make assumption."
"There are times when subordinates need to be rebuked," Roy said distantly. What had Alik seen at the welcoming ceremony that would make him believe that? All the State Alchemists had spent nearly an hour lined up in formation while the Fuhrer and the Drachmans made their speeches. Ed had been fidgeting at his side and Roy had muttered at him to stop being a child and stay quiet. Yet a simple exchange like that had been misconstrued as that of a father and son…
Roy decided he would have to watch himself from now on. This wasn't the first time. Only two months ago he had caught up to Ed in the train station to give him a last minute memo about his mission and some woman had mentioned that Ed's mother must have been beautiful, again assuming Roy to be the boy's father.
It wasn't at all difficult to imagine how Ed would react to innocent comments like that. Roy believed the term was explosively.
"You have family?" Alik inquired.
"No, I don't."
"Too bad. You know the greatest deed a man can do? Pass on who he is to his son."
"That so?" Roy said wryly. "I'm flat out of luck then."
A false laugh floated over to them and one of the brigadier generals split off from the crowd to join them with a champagne glass in hand. Johan Noir, that was his name. The Noirs were a prestigious family, though not as prominent as the Armstrongs, and the status explained why Johan seemed to be looking down his nose at everyone.
"You may be out of luck, but the rest of us dodged a bullet," Johan said loudly. "I don't think the world is ready for two Flame Alchemists. Ambassador, I hope the colonel here isn't monopolizing your time?"
"On contrary," Alik said with a small smile. "This alchemist is most interesting man here. Far better conversation than your generals. All money and rank with them."
Roy held back a smirk with difficulty when Johan cast him a disdainful look. "Well I hate to break up your interesting conversation, but I have some things I'd like to discuss with you, ambassador. Colonel, if you'll excuse us."
Johan practically shoved the champagne into his hands and Roy gave Alik a polite nod before making his retreat with a bitter taste in his mouth. He was only a rank below Johan and the man had still seen fit to brush him off in front of an ambassador. What kind of image did that send the Drachmans about the State Alchemists? It made the title seem hollow when it was anything but.
Deciding some fresh air was in order, Roy made his way through the crowd to the enormous double doors opening onto the terrace. There was no one out there now and Roy leaned against the intricate stone balustrade, looking down on the gardens below. The sky was cloudy and the air chilled by a cold wind. He fingered the champagne glass idly, thinking. He still couldn't figure out the Fuhrer's exact motivation for inviting the Drachmans. Roy had a gut feeling there was something else behind the invitation, even though there was nothing to back that feeling up. It bothered him not to know. Maybe he would find Hughes later on in the evening and they could mull it over.
A gloved hand passed in front of his vision and plucked the glass from his hand. "That cider? Thank God, some idiot drank the last of it inside…"
Roy smirked when Ed downed half the glass in one go and choked. "This isn't freaking cider!"
"Of course not," Roy told him. "I'm not a child, Fullmetal. And you'll want to drink that slowly."
Ed rolled his eyes over the rim of the glass as he gulped down the rest of the champagne. He set the glass on the balustrade and burped, tossing his military jacket next to it. "Who says I can't handle a little alcohol? I'm fifteen, after all. Or are you afraid I'll disturb the Drachmans sensibilities?"
Roy looked back out over the estate. "In Drachma, they let you drink at fourteen. With an experienced adult, that is."
"So I'm in the clear!" Ed exclaimed. Then he hiccupped.
"You won't be clear for much longer after that," Roy informed him.
"Shut up," Ed grumbled. "Shouldn't you be inside chatting up the Drachmans?"
Roy shrugged it off. "I'm only a colonel and that room is flooded with generals. They won't miss me for long."
"If you barely stand out, then why did I have to come?" Ed complained. "I thought I was only a major, right?"
"You're also a State Alchemist. It's expected of you to put in an appearance, but-"
"-but don't stick my neck out," Ed recited in a monotone. "Believe it or not, I actually listen to you sometimes. And I think that one guy you were talking to might miss you. You two geezers really hit it off."
"Hardly," Roy said dryly. "He thought I was your father and thanked me for telling you off during the ceremony."
It was a partial lie, but Roy couldn't deny he was curious how Ed would take the assumption. To his surprise, Ed snorted. "You sound more insulted than I am, Colonel. Does it kill your self-esteem that he thought you were old enough to have a teenager?"
"It's the thought of being your father that disturbs me the most," Roy said lightly. "You cause me enough grief already, I can't imagine…"
He trailed off when he realized Ed had gone very still all of a sudden. The boy rested his arms on the balustrade and set his chin on them, keeping his face turned away from Roy. "Yeah…that seems to be the general consensus."
Oh damn. Ed's father had abandoned him and Al when they were very young. Roy usually prided himself on not crossing the line with any of his subordinates, but now he had pretty much leapt across a chasm.
"Ed, I didn't mean it like that…"
"Yeah, you did," Ed said flatly. "I'm not mad or anything, okay? Just don't lie about it."
"Having that Drachman think we're related only bothered me because it's dangerous," Roy said quietly. "If people go around assuming you to be my blood-relative, it makes you prime hostage material. It's better for both of us to kill those rumors before they start. It has nothing to do with not wanting you for a son. Fullmetal…?"
Ed pressed his forehead to the stone, massaging his head with a pathetic whine. "Ahhh, my head's all fuzzy!"
Roy only just managed to bite back a laugh. "Do me a favor and go sober up. The last thing I need is you passing out in front of the Drachmans. They might declare war on the false belief that all our soldiers will go down with one tiny glass of champagne."
"Who the hell are you calling too small to hold his liquor?" Ed snapped, raising his head. His cheeks had gone bright red and his eyes glassy. Definitely the champagne. Ed straightened up and almost immediately sagged against the balustrade with a hand on his forehead.
"Are you alright?" Roy asked, suddenly concerned. "You're breathing fast."
"I'm fine," Ed rasped. "Just dizzy, that's all. Think I'll go throw up in the bathroom."
Roy gripped his arm to hold him up. "I'll take you there…"
But Ed shoved him off. "I can make it. Just leave me alone, bastard."
Roy seriously doubted he was fine, but Ed wouldn't let him anywhere near him. He slung Ed's forgotten jacket over his arm and took the champagne glass, following Ed just long enough to be sure he was heading in the right direction. Roy examined the empty glass on his way back to the refreshment table, a small smile playing out on his lips. That was some good champagne. Maybe he would get a glass for himself. Of course he would go check on Ed later, but that could wait until the alcohol had dulled the boy's temper somewhat.
At the refreshment table, Roy found Hughes returning his own glass and his friend grinned. "Enjoying the party?"
"Somewhat. But you won't believe what one of the Drachmans said to me…"
He set the glass down, but Hughes grabbed his wrist before he could let it go. Hughes slid the glass out of his grip and ran his thumb along the rim. "Roy, do you see what I see?"
He held out his thumb, which Roy now saw was coated with a white, powdery substance. Roy scraped some of it off and rubbed it between his fingers, testing its fine texture.
"Do you feel alright?" Hughes asked sharply. "Are you dizzy? Nauseous? Feverish?"
"Why would I be any of those things?"
Hughes leaned across the table with an anxious look. "Roy…I think this is poison!"
And suddenly Roy couldn't hear anything else. That one word rang in his ears again and again while his mind went in a dozen directions at once.
Are you alright? You're breathing fast…
I'm fine…just dizzy, that's all…
Roy turned quickly, raking his eyes over the crowd in search of Johan. That bastard that had given him the glass, which then found its way to Ed, who had gone and drunk the whole damn thing-!
"Roy!" Hughes hissed. "There's no telling how fast this will act. You have to get to a doctor!"
"Not me," Roy said in a strained voice. "I'm not the one who drank this."
Think I'll go throw up in the bathroom…
Roy spun around and marched in the direction Ed had gone with Hughes right on his heels. It took all of his willpower not to take off running, but that would make people talk and question and possibly figure out what was happening, which would take the situation out of his hands completely. Besides, Roy thought faintly, there was always a chance Hughes was wrong. It didn't happen often, but it still happened. That could have been ordinary dust in the glass or maybe Ed sneezed into it when he wasn't looking. That dust was something else, anything else…
The chattering voices faded when they entered a corridor branching off the grand hall. Only now did Roy pick up the pace, jogging the last few steps around a corner to the bathroom door.
And the door was locked. Just perfect. Roy pounded on the wood. "Fullmetal, open up!"
"Ed?" Hughes exclaimed. "You let Ed drink that? He's a minor!"
"I think we have bigger things to worry about now!" Roy snapped. He banged on the door again. "Fullmetal!"
Hughes pushed him aside and knelt down, taking a lockpicking tool from his sock. He shrugged at Roy's odd look. "You never know."
It took him nearly a minute to get the door unlocked and Roy hung back, counting out every precious second. The best poisons acted within minutes and led to fatality within an hour. How far along was it now? And why wasn't Ed answering them? Had he passed out? Or was he too weak to cry for help?
The locked finally clicked and Hughes shoved the door open. Like most things in the Armstrong mansion, the bathroom was huge with a bathtub the size of a small swimming pool on the far wall and an immense mirror opposite the toilet. Ed was sprawled out on the marble floor beside the toilet, gasping for air with one hand clutching the fabric of his shirt over his heart. All the blood was gone from his face, leaving his skin a sickly shade of gray.
Ed's jacket slipped from Roy's hands, fluttering to the floor. He seized Ed's shoulders and propped him up against the wall. "Fullmetal! Ed!"
The boy's eyes flicked open. "Th'ell was in tha' drink…?"
He started to slip sideways and Hughes caught him, helping Roy hold him upright. "Ed, listen to me! You have to throw up right now!"
"'Ready did," Ed slurred, waving at the toilet. He stared at his own trembling hand in a kind of dreadful fascination. "Don' think I like alcohol…"
"What do we do?" Roy demanded. "How do we stop this?"
"Water," Hughes said at once. "Get him to drink as much as possible and then get him lying down. Keep track of all his symptoms. We'll need that to figure out what exactly we're dealing with."
"Don't you have any control over your subordinates, Mustang?"
Roy stiffened when he saw Johan watching them from the doorway, looking entirely too pleased with himself. Johan took a small swig from his own champagne glass and snickered. "Just wait'll the Fuhrer hears you let a kid get that wasted at a military function. Not very responsible of you…"
Roy seized Johan by his jacket, shoving him against the mirror so hard that his head cracked the glass. "You son of a bitch, you did this! You brought that champagne over! He's dying because of you!"
Though he half-expected it, the openly affronted look on Johan's face infuriated Roy more than ever. "What are you accusing me of? The kid's just drunk!"
"He's poisoned!" Roy roared. "Did you even consider the number of people you put at risk by putting that glass in my hand?"
Johan looked past him, staring down at Ed numbly. "I…I didn't know…"
For the first time in a long time, Roy's temper got the better of him. His fingers curled into a fist and he punched Johan with all his strength. The brigadier general cracked his head against the side of the tub and tumbled to the floor with a dazed look.
It was the shock of hearing Ed's voice sound so frail and broken that pulled Roy back from his rage. He lifted his gaze from Johan and found himself looking at Ed's reflection in the mirror. He had his head tipped back against the wall and his eyes were bleary and unfocused, but he was clearly struggling to follow the conversation.
"I'm poisoned?" Ed whispered, his voice cracking.
Hughes gripped his shoulder. "Ed…"
Ed ignored him, straining toward Roy. "Colonel, w-what's happening to me? Am I…am I dying? Colonel!"
Hughes pulled Ed close to him, just like Roy had seen him do so many times with Elysia when she was crying. Ed allowed the contact only because he was too weak to push Hughes away. But he wouldn't take his eyes off Roy, ensnaring him with such a distraught look that the colonel was powerless to look away.
"Maes, get Ed to a doctor," Roy said quietly. "I need to figure out how that glass got poisoned…"
"I'll figure it out," Hughes cut in. "You need to look after Ed."
Roy shot him a desperate look as Hughes rose to his feet, lifting Ed's limp body up with him. "But-"
"I think it's better if we don't move him around," Hughes went on. "Take him upstairs and get him settled in one of the guest rooms. Armstrong won't mind. The major can have one of his family's personal doctors here in minutes without attracting attention. Just keep Ed comfortable and keep him talking and remember what I said about keeping track of the symptoms."
Hughes dumped the boy into his arms and Roy nearly buckled under the weight of the automail. "But I don't-"
"There's no time now!" Hughes snapped. "Roy, he needs you!"
Ed's head lolled against Roy's shoulder limply. His skin was clammy and cold and the boy's heart was beating far too fast to be considered healthy. Whatever this poison was, it was taking its toll on him. And since he clearly hadn't been the target, Ed had probably gotten a full adult dose in that little body of his.
Johan groaned, slowly recovering from the punch. He was bleeding heavily from a cut above his forehead. Roy nudged the bathroom door aside with his elbow and backed into the hallway, catching only a glimpse of Hughes approaching Johan with a stony expression.
"I have some questions for you, Brigadier General…"
Roy let the door swing closed. He could count on Hughes to get to the bottom of this. He always did. All he had to worry about was getting Ed seen to by a doctor. Personally, Roy would have preferred to switch places. If it were anyone else in his arms, any of his other subordinates, he would have been moving twice as fast and getting things done. But something about it being Ed just left him drifting in a fog of confusion and fear.
Why was it so damn hard to see him like this?
Out of nowhere, Ed elbowed him hard enough to crack a rib. Roy wheezed and dropped to one knee, losing his grip on Ed. The boy took that opportunity to roll out of his grip and stagger away on shaky legs, leaning heavily against the wall.
"Damn it, Fullmetal!" Roy gasped. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Don' need your help," Ed muttered. "Get help on my…own…"
His eyes rolled up in his head and he fell flat on his face. Roy cursed as he crouched over him, slinging Ed's arm over his shoulders. "How do you plan to do that when you can't even stand up?"
"Crawl," Ed muttered insolently. He hissed when Roy hoisted him up.
"What is it?"
"Heart hurts," Ed gasped. "Won't slow down."
Roy steered him away from the bathroom toward another door that opened onto a back staircase. "Deep breaths, Ed. Try not to exert yourself."
Ed laughed harshly. "N-Not Fullmetal anymore? Just Ed?"
This wasn't working. Ed couldn't even lift his foot to the first step. Roy braced his arm around Ed's back and scooped up his legs in his other arm. Ed made a strangled protest at the treatment, but at least he didn't seem so prone to violence now.
"Is this a joke to you, Ed?" Roy demanded. "Because I think this stopped being funny a long time ago."
"Excuse me for ruining your precious party…"
"I don't give a damn about the party! Someone tried to murder me tonight and they got you instead! It should have been me on the bathroom floor, not you!"
Roy sensed Ed staring at him as he hiked up the narrow staircase past portraits of Armstrong ancestors. There was a strange irony in that, carrying a dying person under the eyes of those who had passed on long ago. It made all of Roy's efforts, all his fears and struggles, seem so pointless.
An automail hand gripped his jacket, digging into the flesh underneath. "Don't get scared. Cause…it makes me scared I won't get through this."
Roy paused at the top of the stairs to catch his breath. "You will. Don't think for a second that you won't."
Ed shook his head feebly. "Don't lie…can f-feel it getting worse…"
Now that the ground was level, Roy could move a little faster. The corridor he was in had huge windows on the east side and a line of identical doors. He kicked one in at random and was rewarded with the sight of a dusty guest room. He didn't bother with turning on any lights, just went straight to the giant bed and laid Ed out on the mattress on his side.
What had Hughes said to do? Give him water? Keep him comfortable? Roy settled for taking off Ed's boots. Ed didn't make any protest at this development, which worried Roy far more than it relieved him. He debated pulling the blankets up, but the kid was still sweating up a storm. His military jacket was still in the bathroom where Roy had dropped it and his shirt was so drenched that he looked nearly transparent in the gloom. Was it safe to leave him alone long enough to get Armstrong?
But as it turned out he didn't have to. Armstrong was coming to him.
"And up here is the Amber Room, a lovely study favored by the tenth and eleventh generations of Armstrongs! My great, great, great grandfather held that color very close to his heart. Tragically, his heart failed while inside that very room and his wife locked it up not long after. What a wonderful, loving woman she was!"
Armstrong sounded like he was coming closer, along with a host of shuffling footsteps. Probably giving some of the Drachmans a tour of the estate. His timing couldn't have been more perfect.
Ed moaned and tossed his head back and forth, his eyes flicking around beneath lowered lids. Roy doubted he was fully aware of his surroundings anymore.
"Stay here," Roy said softly. "I'll be right back."
"You won't," Ed rasped. "You won't come back."
"I will," Roy promised.
He started to move away, but Ed's hand shot out and seized the sleeve of his jacket. "Don't! Don't…don't go, Dad…"
It was one word. And it didn't even apply to him. Roy wasn't a father in any sense of the word, so it should have meant nothing. Maybe it was something in the way Ed said it, that childish plea coming from a mouth that had spouted so many curses at him these past years.
Whatever it was, it hurt. It physically hurt to hear Ed call him his father, even when the kid was drugged to the teeth and clearly hallucinating. How did Hughes do it? He carried the title around like it was light as air, something that brought incredible happiness.
He had never said anything about the soul-wrenching agony that came with thinking his child might die.
Roy pried his sleeve loose from Ed's death grip. "No, Ed. It's Mustang."
"The bastard colonel?"
Ed's brow furrowed slightly as if he was trying to puzzle that out. Eventually he gave up and closed his eyes, letting his head drop back to the pillow. Roy turned his back on him quickly, sucking in a deep breath.
I'm not your father, Roy thought harshly. It's not fair that you can affect me this much…
The colonel stuck his head through the door, scanning up and down the hallway. Toward the end, he could see Armstrong directing some of the Drachmans out of one of the rooms and around the corner to the stairs. Roy waved frantically to get his attention.
"And this concludes the tour!" Armstrong bellowed at once. "The grand hall is down the stairs and on the left, gentlemen. I bid you all good evening!"
Some of the Drachmans started muttering among themselves in their native language, but left without much fuss. Roy stepped out of the room as Armstrong approached, pulling the door almost shut behind him.
"Sir?" Armstrong inquired. "Is something the matter?"
"We have an emergency," Roy murmured, looking up and down the corridor to check for stragglers. "I need you to get one of your family's physicians. Someone that can keep their mouth shut."
"Of course, sir," Armstrong said immediately. "But who is in need of a doctor?"
Roy nudged the door open behind him. Armstrong leaned over to look inside and his eyes went wide.
"He's been poisoned," Roy said quietly. "I don't know how much time he has."
"Shouldn't we inform our superiors?" Armstrong asked quickly. "Could there be other people at risk?"
"Hughes is looking into it now," Roy assured him. "I don't want to start a panic just yet. There's a strong possibility Johan was acting on his own."
Armstrong looked down at him in shock. "Johan? He did this?"
"Can you get one of your family physicians here?" Roy said sharply.
Roy's heart dropped when Armstrong shook his head solemnly. "Our personal physician is on a vacation in the south and her replacement is all the way across Central. He works at the hospital in his spare time. It would take more than an hour to get him here or to take Ed there."
"We don't have that kind of time!" Roy snapped. "Isn't there anyone else? Any other doctors close by?"
"Doctor, you say?"
Armstrong turned, allowing Roy to see the newcomer striding toward them. Alik looked between them and then his eyes settled on the door behind Roy. The Drachman held up Ed's jacket. "I find this in bathroom. Awful small for adult, I think. Your young subordinate is ill, aye?"
"It's nothing like that," Roy said hastily, keeping the door pulled closed so the Drachman couldn't look inside. "Only a minor food allergy."
"Sure?" Alik said in flat disbelief. "And for that he is in dire need of a doctor. Will a Drachman do?"
"You?" Roy faltered. "You're a doctor?"
"He is," Armstrong confirmed. "Trained as a soldier and stationed on the battlefield, but a doctor all the same. Lieutenant Colonel Hughes had a look at all of the diplomats' backgrounds."
Roy weighed the options while his hand hovered over the door handle behind him. "No offense ambassador, but how can I trust you with my subordinate?"
"Yes, yes, our countries at throats all the time," Alik said impatiently. "But doctor is in my blood. An Amestrian boy is just a boy to me."
It was Ed's pained moan from within the room that eventually decided Roy. As much as he hated it, he didn't have any other options. Roy couldn't begin to guess what Alik's intentions were. It was the rare person who would do a deed like this for perfect strangers, let alone their country's enemies.
Then again, Roy thought as he remembered the Rockbells, doctors were a rare breed, weren't they?
Roy nodded at Armstrong. "Help him any way you can. Ambassador, Major Armstrong is a State Alchemist. He can transmute any medicine or equipment you may need."
"And all of our rooms have dumbwaiters connected to the kitchen," Armstrong supplied helpfully. "We can send down for raw materials without having to go downstairs."
"Good enough," Alik said gruffly. "Then let us have a look."
Roy held the door open for them, still wavering on his decision to put Ed's life in the hands of a Drachman. But Armstrong was a smart man and a capable alchemist. Better yet, he had a soft spot for the Elrics. He should see any trouble before it started. Alik crouched beside Ed, checking his pulse. "Symptoms?"
Roy racked his scattered mind. "His breathing and his heartbeat have been very fast for nearly half an hour. He was also very weak. He could barely lift a hand. And just a moment ago, he started hallucinating."
"Did he say anything else? Any place he hurts?"
"He said his heart hurts," Roy replied. "And he was nauseous enough to throw up."
"Good," Alik muttered. "Throw up is good. Eliminates toxin."
"Do you know what that toxin is?" Armstrong said hopefully.
Alik straightened up. "Think I might. Now need those raw materials for…for what you call…for needle in the arm…?"
"An injection?" Armstrong asked. "Or an I.V.?"
"Yes, second one…"
Roy nearly had a heart attack when someone rushed up behind him and halted in the door. Hughes braced his hands on his knees to catch his breath, beckoning him into the corridor. Roy was only too happy to comply. He left the door cracked open and turned to Hughes.
"Johan knows nothing," Hughes said, wrinkling his nose in disgust. "One of the generals saw you getting friendly with the ambassador and gave him the champagne with instructions to get you away from him. Johan had no clue about the poison."
"Are you sure he didn't know?" Roy demanded. "He could be lying to get out of another beating."
"I'm positive," Hughes said at once. "Johan was more freaked out by the idea that he might have been the one to drink it instead."
Roy rubbed his temples, staving off a headache. "Please tell me you know who put him up to this."
"I'm sorry, Roy," Hughes said hopelessly. "Johan's a little buzzed from the amount he's been drinking tonight and his memory is faulty. Tall and light-haired was all I got. And the worst part is that he doesn't remember precisely what this general said to him or who exactly he was instructed to give the champagne to. It's likely the poison was actually meant for Terisov, but there's no way to know for sure."
"What about the other Drachmans?"
"Alive and accounted for."
"I don't get it," Roy ground out. "Did the Fuhrer order this? And why invite the Drachmans only to turn around and poison one of them? I need answers, Maes! What could be gained from assassinating Terisov?"
Hughes cast a pensive look at the door. "Almost nothing. He doesn't stand out among the Drachmans, but he's also healthy enough that his sudden death wouldn't be overlooked as simple aging. There probably would have been just enough of an uproar to send the Drachmans back over the border, but not enough to start a war."
Roy leaned against the wall by the door with his arms crossed. Inside the room, Armstrong and Alik were speaking in low tones and occasionally he could hear the crackle of a transmutation.
"The only other explanation is that the poison really was meant for you," Hughes said softly.
"That makes even less sense!"
"Does it?" Hughes said grimly. "It's inconceivable to the average person that someone in the Amestrian army would poison their own comrade and Johan couldn't act as a reliable witness. That would leave only the Drachmans to blame, even with no evidence of foul play, and give the Fuhrer the perfect excuse to declare war on Drachma. He could even hold the rest of the diplomats here as hostages."
Roy bit back an angry curse and smashed his fist against the wall. "So our Fuhrer is a warmonger hiding behind the peaceful façade of a family man. Thanks, Maes. That really brightens my day."
"It's only a guess!" Hughes retracted. "But I've been thinking it over and this whole situation reeks of an amateur. Johan's ignorance about the poison made it a shaky plan from the beginning. That points to someone acting on their own to take you out of the picture. Rumors are spreading about your ambition, Roy. I've told you it's dangerous to-"
"I knew it was dangerous for me!" Roy shouted. "I even knew my subordinates would be in some degree of danger! And that was okay because they chose it. But this is just...I mean it's Ed! He didn't make any promises to support me! He's never been part of my plans!"
"Children never are," Hughes said wisely. "They just kind of happen, don't they?"
"Not you too!" Roy groaned. "Damn it, where's a chair when I need one…"
Hughes took his arm and Roy allowed himself to be steered to an ornate bench a short distance from the room. He sank onto the wood gratefully as Hughes took a seat beside him.
"What do you mean 'not you too'?" Hughes asked curiously.
Roy leaned forward and buried his face in his hands. "Maes…I feel like absolute crap. Do you know what Ed called me before Armstrong and the ambassador turned up?"
"He started hallucinating," Roy muttered. "When I turned to leave, he asked me not to go. He…he called me Dad."
Hughes' mouth dropped open and a knowingly grin spread across his face. "Ohhh…that's what's got you so messed up? Sheesh Roy, you should be honored!"
"Should I?" Roy asked dully. "Ever since Ed and Al came here, I've done everything in my power to ensure they never saw me as a replacement for their father. It's not up to me to fill that place in their life. If they start thinking of me that way…"
"What's so bad about it?" Hughes asked point blank.
Roy just hung his head, unwilling to answer that. When children looked at their father, they saw someone who was invincible. They didn't understand that this man was just as fragile as they were and even harder to piece back together. Roy couldn't be that man to those boys. Not when Ed could look right through his masks and see the manipulative bastard underneath. Not when Al trusted his own abilities far above Roy's own when it came to protecting his brother.
Oh hell, he hadn't even thought to let Al know what was happening to his brother…
"I can't be their father," Roy said eventually. "A real father would have coddled them after that transmutation and never let them near the military. I led them right into it."
"Because you recognized something special in them," Hughes told him. "Listen, Roy. This was coming whether you wanted it or not. After their father left, Ed and Al only had their mother and their aunt. And Al told me their teacher was female too. Who else did they have to latch onto?"
Roy threw him a sardonic look. "So why wasn't he calling you his father? You're the doting daddy here."
"Ah, but I'm not the one who's responsible for them," Hughes said smartly. "You give their lives structure. You punish them for breaking the rules and you reward them when they do something right. Even Ed's rebellion is normal considering his age and personality."
"Rebellion? He hates me like he hates his own father!"
"Rejection hurts when you're young," Hughes said simply. "It's only natural for him to deal with that by rejecting others in kind, especially older men."
Roy pushed himself off the bench with a frustrated snarl. "And that's another thing! Why do people keep thinking I'm old enough to have children? I'm not that old!"
"I hate to break it to you, but…yeah you are!"
The door opened and Roy spun around, dread curdling in his throat and leaving a rancid taste in his mouth. Armstrong looked out at them and Roy took it as a good sign that the man wasn't sobbing. He was emotional certainly, but no tears yet.
"The ambassador tells me he's done all he can," Armstrong said gently. "Now it's up to Ed to finish the fight. And Colonel…I believe he's asking for you."
A shadow crossed over Roy's heart at the hidden meaning behind his words. Armstrong hung back while he and Hughes entered the room, tiptoeing across the plush carpet. Alik was off to the side straightening up some supplies and he engaged Hughes in quiet conversation, leaving Roy to approach the bed on his own.
Ed still looked awful, but his breathing was much less erratic than before. He had been moved under the covers and his left arm was connected to an I.V. that Armstrong had transmuted. On impulse, Roy reached out to brush some of Ed's damp hair aside. But he stopped himself at the last second, palm hovering over the boy's forehead. What was he doing? Ed would probably throttle him for even thinking he had any right to that kind of intimacy.
Ed's eyes slid open and wandered over Roy's face, still cloudy with confusion. "D-Dad?"
Roy swallowed thickly, suddenly very aware of everyone else's close proximity. And the fact that Hughes was probably mentally photographing this once-in-a-lifetime moment for future reference.
"Yeah," Roy breathed, knowing full-well he was setting himself up for a mean right hook once Ed got his senses back. "Yeah, I'm here. Get some sleep, Ed."
Ed visibly relaxed when Roy cautiously rested his hand on his forehead and shut his eyes. Armstrong's loud sniffle brought him back around to the present and he pulled his hand away reluctantly.
"Thank you, Mr. Terisov," Hughes said sincerely.
Alik grunted self-consciously and passed a sheet of scribbled instructions to Hughes. "You know how to change I.V., aye? Basic training in my country. Give him right dose at right time, he should be fine. May have weak heart for some time, but alive."
"Ambassador," Roy said quietly. "I would appreciate it if you kept this to yourself. At least until we figure out who's responsible for this."
"Sure?" Alik inquired. "Doubt you will. People get poisoned all the time in my country. Hard to find culprit. This why we have taste testers. My regards to yer son when he wakes. Hope he is better."
Roy pulled a face. "You mean subordinate."
Alik just smiled and waved his hand, his eyes twinkling deviously. "Yes, yes. Always get mixed up…"
Alik accepted a hand shake from Hughes and a rigid salute from Armstrong on his way to the door. It was clear that Armstrong wanted nothing more than to give the man a gigantic bear hug, but the major held himself back out of respect. The Drachmans weren't a very touchy-feely people.
"I'm going to give Al a call," Hughes said softly. "He should be here when Ed wakes up. Are you staying here, Roy?"
Roy looked over Ed's peaceful form in thought. He dragged a chair over to the bedside and sank onto it slowly, feeling his heart start to beat again. "Yeah. Just for a little while."
"Brother? Brother, you're snoring."
Cause I'm sleeping, Ed thought groggily. Why did he feel so lousy? His head was pounding and the rest of him was throbbing in unison with the migraine. The party from the night before seemed to be one long blur now. All he remembered was a lot of standing around and a lot of boring people. And Mustang. Ed remembered the conversation on the terrace a little too well. But after that his memory failed him…
Ed closed his mouth, disliking the sticky taste left over from the champagne, and rubbed the crust from his eyes. A thin plastic tube moved with his arm and he stared at the I.V. attached to his elbow dumbly. Unfortunately it was a very familiar sight after the number of times he'd awoken in the hospital after his missions.
"Aw crap," Ed moaned. "How long do I have to keep this in?"
Hughes knelt into his line of vision, looking far too cheerful for his own good. "This is the last dose of antitoxin, so just an hour or two. I take it you're feeling better?"
"Little," Ed mumbled. He pushed himself up with his automail arm, which seemed more reliable at the moment. "But…what…?"
He wasn't in a hospital. In fact, this looked an awful lot like one of the rooms in the Armstrong mansion. Al came up and took a seat at the end of the gigantic bed, causing the springs to creak in protest under the armor's weight.
"Why'm I here?" Ed mumbled, smothering a yawn in his hand.
"Because there wasn't any time to get you to the hospital," Hughes replied seriously. "Things were looking really bad for awhile there."
Ed trailed off when he spotted a third person in the room. Mustang. A snoring Mustang. The colonel was sitting in a chair beside the bed with his upper body sprawled out over the mattress. It was probably the most undignified position Ed had ever seen the man assume and he couldn't decide whether to take a picture or just point and laugh.
"You were poisoned," Al said in a hushed voice. "The colonel and Mr. Hughes both saved you."
That helped put some of the pieces together. Now Ed vaguely remembered collapsing in the bathroom and seeing Mustang punch some guy's lights out. Which would have been awesome to watch if he hadn't been so out of it at the time.
"Think I remember now," Ed said slowly. "What happened to that guy? The one Mustang was yelling at?"
"He went home to sober up," Hughes told him. "Before you ask, he wasn't the one responsible for this. I doubt we'll ever really find out what happened tonight. It's not like there's any real evidence left."
"But why would anyone go after my brother?" Al asked anxiously.
Ed knew the answer to that one and he lowered his head, throwing a surreptitious look in Mustang's direction. "It was in the champagne, wasn't it? It was meant for Mustang…"
All of a sudden, Mustang jerked upright with a loud snort. "Skirts!"
Al and Hughes had the grace to pretend they hadn't heard that, but Ed had no such qualms. He burst out laughing and Mustang blinked at him with a perplexed expression, his mouth still hanging open.
"Got a fetish we don't know about, Mustang?" Ed chuckled.
"Ed?" Mustang said faintly. "You're okay?"
Now that was just weird, hearing Mustang sound so worried about him. A little gratifying, but still weird.
"Course I am!" Ed exclaimed, tossing his head arrogantly. "Takes more than that to bring me down."
Mustang nodded and pushed himself fully upright, running a hand through his messy hair. "Right. Of course. Ow, my back hurts…"
"That's what you get for falling asleep like that," Hughes said knowingly. He hooked his arm under Mustang's elbow and heaved him to his feet, earning a pained groan from the colonel.
Ed grinned, already putting together another geezer comment in his head, but it died on his tongue the moment Mustang stood up. The colonel was standing directly between Ed and the door where early morning sunlight was streaming into the windowless room. The light threw Mustang's silhouette into sharp relief, completely shrouding his face.
There was something about the sight that was…oddly familiar. Something that stirred his memories of last night…
"You'd better get moving if you want to make it in to work on time," Hughes pointed out. "Thank God I've got today off. I get to go home and spend time with my little girl!"
"And we're all happy for you," Mustang grumbled. "Ed, are you sure you're feeling alright? Major Armstrong said you and Al are welcome to stay here until you feel better, but if you feel like you need to go to the hospital..."
"I-I'm fine," Ed stammered. "Just fine."
Mustang nodded once and turned to follow Hughes toward the door. That little motion was all it took to trigger Ed's memory fully and he blanched. "Oh damn it…"
"Brother?" Al asked worriedly. "Are you okay? You're getting really pale!"
"What's wrong?" Mustang demanded from the doorway. He came back toward the bed again. "Ed…"
"I said I'm fine!" Ed snapped heatedly. He rolled away so his back was to Mustang, crossing his arms over his chest as a hot blush slammed into his cheeks.
Don't go, Dad…
No, he had not said that! Not to the colonel! No matter how drunk or drugged he had been, there was no way he could have mistaken Mustang for that bastard!
But the shadow in the doorway…now Ed remembered where he had seen that. That had been his very last glimpse of Hohenheim. Just a silhouette as the man turned around and stepped out the door into the sunlight, leaving his family behind for good. And Mustang had been about to leave when Ed said those words, so maybe it hadn't been much of a leap for his brain to connect the two. Damn, damn, damn why couldn't he have said something else? He hated both Hohenheim and the colonel! He should have been cussing Mustang out, not begging him to stay!
Mustang circled around the bed until he was standing right in front of him. Ed avoided looking at him and flinched in apprehension when the colonel brushed his temple gently.
"I'm not leaving unless I'm sure you'll be okay," Mustang said sternly. "Tell me again. Are you alright? Do you need me to take you to the hospital?"
Ed looked up at him guardedly. Why wasn't Mustang making fun of him? That would have been the appropriate thing to do. This odd sentimentality was freaking him out a little. It made him feel...
...actually, it felt kind of nice. It reminded Ed of another illness a long time ago, long before their father left. He could barely recall the days he spent lying in bed with a high fever, not even allowed to see Al and Winry in case they caught it too. But through the fog of fevered dreams, Ed did remember that Hohenheim had taken the time to sit by his bedside and stroke his sweaty hair.
That had been nice too.
"I'm okay," Ed mumbled, breaking eye contact. "You've done enough for me."
Mustang didn't look convinced, but he didn't argue either. "Armstrong will be up in a few minutes to check on you."
Ed didn't dare to sit back up until Hughes and Mustang were gone. He gave the needle in his arm a dubious look. "Hey, Al. If this is the very last dose…"
"You're not taking that out while I'm here," Al said firmly. "Brother, did the colonel seem different to you?"
"Not really," Ed muttered. "Same bastard he always is."
Yeah, I'm here. Get some sleep, Ed…
"Al, did Mustang say something to me while I was out?"
Al tilted his head and shrugged. "The colonel was already asleep when I got here. Maybe you should ask Mr. Hughes?"
Ed slowly settled back under the covers with his eyes on the empty doorway, watching dust motes dance in the sunlight. "Nah. Probably just imagining it…"