Chapter 1: East of the Sun
They’d been running for a while now.
Well, okay. Maybe running wasn’t the best word to describe it, more like high-speed stumbling. Ed had already fallen twice, his balance skewed by the fact that he was missing an arm. The mud-slicked forest floor wasn’t helping either.
Both times, Mustang had hauled him up with the hand that wasn’t twisted to hell continued on, tripping through a disgustingly beautiful mass of trees and shrubs. It had no right to look this serene when they were so battered and exhausted.
At some point, Mustang had put an arm back around Ed’s middle. Wordlessly, and for that Ed was thankful. He could barely stay upright and his pride was already in shambles. He didn’t need someone insisting he needed help, no matter how true it was.
There were still twinges of severed nerves from his torn-up arm. Each time it happened, his whole body would lock up for a few seconds and he’d wish he was able to grit his teeth but that hurt too. He settled for a hiss and biting his tongue. To make matters worse, his other arm, the one made of flesh and blood, had been busted as well. Breathing was a chore, each intake felt impossible and it was getting harder to press down the coughs that tugged at his lungs.
Ed stole a glance to the older man beside him. Concussed, bruised, and doing a wonderful impression of an animal that’d been shot but refused to go down. He absently wondered if the inevitable hangover had caught up to him yet, or if all the other wounds were drowning it out. Ed’s attention was forcefully yanked back to the present when Mustang staggered.
Ed caught him and immediately decided it hadn’t been worth it because his shoulder might as well have been set on fire. He didn’t drop the man though. Somehow, his grip held.
“I think,” Mustang said between gasps, “We’re far enough.”
Ed scanned the area, struggling to regain control over his breathing.
It was insultingly scenic.
Terricotta-coloured stone layered with greys and pale yellow made up a tall cliff, the colours disappearing under a halo of red leaves that dripped over the ledge. The ground was a patchwork of warm colours and trees, a smattering of leaves clinging to their branches. Frost crept around the edges of the wind, tainting it so that each breeze cut into his skin with a gentle vengeance.
Amongst the rocks, there was a half-hidden crevice big enough for two people.
“C’mon.” He didn’t bother with a gesture. Ed just waited for the tell-tale grunt as Mustang dragged himself along towards their destination. It wasn’t a very big cave, only about five feet in height and six feet across. Good news was that it was carved deep enough into the cliff that they weren’t out in the open. Once he was a good few paces away from the opening, Ed collapsed against the wall.
Mustang sat down hard, ducking his head down into his arms that folded across his knees, panting.
He could hear the attempts at breathing exercises bouncing lightly off the walls. Ed let his head rest against the stone, the tiny grains catching his hair. They scarcely moved for the next five minutes.
Ed let his eyes screw shut, drawing in air that felt too thick, wincing when a cough forced its way out.
It was Mustang who broke the relative silence. “You okay?”
“Fuckin’ peachy.” He opened his eyes to the rapidly dimming space, wishing once again that the Flame Alchemist hasn’t lost his damn gloves.
Mustang’s eyes were locked on him, but he couldn’t really pinpoint what he was staring at so intensely. His mouth was twisted into a hard frown. “You’re hurt,”
Ed glanced at his splintered automail port. “Gee, what gave it away?”
Mustang shook his head and shuffled closer to where Ed sat. “Other arm.”
He looked down at the mottled ring of purple and red that snaked around the base of his shoulder, peaking out from under his collar. Mustang scowled at him. “Why didn’t you say anything?!”
The bite had returned to his voice for a moment, and had it not been directed at Ed, he might’ve been a little relieved. That note of boldness had been missing from his words for a while. If Ed could shrug, he would’ve. “In my defence, I was hoping you’d be too concussed to notice.”
“That’s a terrible defence!” He settled beside to Ed, frown deepening into a jagged line marring his face. Mustang meet his eyes, silently asking for permission to assess the damage, to which Ed stiffened but eventually lowered his head in surrender.
He tried not to wince as it was prodded at or when he could feel the bones in his shoulder grinding against one another.
He heard a string of profanities. “It’s dislocated. I can set it back though.” A few days ago Ed would’ve been shellshocked at the apologetic turn of phrase, now he just huffed and braced himself.
“Knock yourself out.”
One hand gripped his forearm sternly while Mustang’s elbow pressed against his collar. “Three… two…”
The jolt of pain ricocheted up his arm.
His vision swam as a relentless surge of dizziness and nausea crashed over him. He expected to cry out; to suck in a sharp breath and try not the shout; to screw his eyes shut and hiss. He didn’t expect to simply list to one side, a numb feeling creeping over his neck and spreading rapidly to the rest of him.
“Hey!” Ed flinched at the hand that kept him upright, “Don’t pass out.” Mustang said—no, that was an order.
Ed clamped down on the soft part of his cheek and blinked hard, willing the spots that taunted him out of existence. “Wasn’t planning too.”
He watched Mustang sit back with a heavy sigh. “We need to stay awake.”
“If only you didn’t get conked with a shovel.” Ed muttered, prying his eyelids open to watch a bitter chuckle slip from Mustang’s lips.
“If only you weren’t at risk of going into shock.”
The space was washed in blues from the last hints of daylight. At least the moon was bright enough to cut through the dark. He couldn’t see much, but it was better than nothing. Ed tried not to dwell on the panic that still thrummed through his veins. There had been far too many close calls in a very short amount of time, and they weren’t even out of the woods yet.
Literally. They were in the middle of a goddamn forest.
Mentally, he shook his fist at the sky and renounced nature. Physically, he was ready to fall over and sleep for six months.
“Let me see your hand before you screw it up worse.”
Mustang scoffed, “Good to know you think so highly of me.”
A crumpled and shaking set of digits pulled into focus. Ed squinted as he looked them over, selfishly wanting to demand Mustang draw some sort of array that would give them light, maybe even a little heat to stave off the chills already buzzing through his spine. He kept him mouth shut and cataloged the information before him: Right hand, all of them were clean breaks and none were dislocated. No broken skin either. Hooray!
Still probably hurt like hell.
A helpful little voice reminded him of the loud snap that rang out when Mustang’s fingers had been bent out of shape. He calmly shot the little voice in the head.
“We should immobilize them. Hold on a sec,” He held the wall and padded to the mouth of the cave, running his hand over the ground until he found what he was looking for: a long, thin stick. Ed broke it in two, then halved those pieces.
“Pass the pliers.” The metal tool slid over the ground and Ed was suddenly glad the shirt he wore was three sizes too big, because it meant he had plenty of fabric to tear into bandages.
“You know what you’re doing, right?” Mustang ground out, “I kinda need my hand.”
Ed kicked his shin. Not hard enough to bruise, but enough for there to be a rather indigent yelp from the older man. “I get by just fine with one, Colonel.” There was a huff from the older alchemist.
Ed rolled his eyes knowing full well no one could see it, “But yes, I know what I’m doing. It’s not gonna be fun though.”
His point was proven in the following minutes. Mustang spat curses that he’d never heard the man use before. It was actually a bit impressive how many ways he found to tangle and reshape the swears he bit out. He’d have to start up a Mustang-exclusive swear box at some point. Open a new bank account for it, perhaps.
Ed could only barley see his handiwork once it was done, but considering it was dark and he only had one arm, it looked pretty good.
The four fingers that had been mangled were held straight by a makeshift splint and wrapped in the remains of his shirt sleeve. Mustang’s hand had stopped trembling, so he assumed it was working just fine.
The older man seemed to snap into Colonel Mode once his hand was steady.
“Fullmetal.” Ed looked up at the silhouette sitting across from him, “Injuries?”
He paused, running through a mental list of everything that wasn’t his very clearly absent arm. He knew that Mustang was already privy to where he’d been tagged, but he didn’t have the energy to protest.
Which was a damn shame because arguing with Mustang was the best direction he could hope for right now.
“Well, I’m going to have a nice new set of scars on my arm once this is all over. Dunno about the one on my face though, kinda shallow.” He conveniently failed to mention that taking in a deep breath felt like someone kneeing him in the solar plexus, but there’s nothing either of them can do about that right now. The mark at his collar had tired itself of bleeding and was on the mend.
No use in adding those to the list of things to leave on the back burner until it boiled over.
“Can you be serious for once in your life?”
Ah hah! There’s the exasperation. Maybe he did have enough energy for an argument after all.
“Nah, ‘fraid not.” Another sigh and the faint sound of something being ripped.
“Here,” A piece of cloth fluttered down in front of him, “clean up your wrist best you can. Let’s hope your face isn’t too messed up.”
The slice across his cheek barely stung, a trail of blood was lazily leaking from the corner. Where the knife had caught his ear however, was a different story. Mustang was trying to be careful, Ed could tell as much by the way his hand stopped to hover every few seconds, but it didn’t stop the urge to deck the man when he touched the newly missing slice of his skin that ran an inch deep.
“Ow!” Ed leaned away when a fresh stream of blood came from the nick.
“Shit, Fullmetal. You’re gonna look like a stray cat that got into a fight.” He had the nerve to sound amused. Ed should’ve been pissed. He was, actually. But once again his temper was reigned back by the tiny bit of comfort found in the fact that Mustang was still a bastard who wasn’t above bullying him.
“I’m going to beat you to death.”
“With one arm? Sure.”
Ed let his head thump against the wall, “You’re on thin ice.”
Arguing was a good distraction.
Roy was torn between professionalism and pettiness.
Should he hold his head high and accept his painfully dull fate? Probably.
But there was also the option to drag his whole team down to hell with him. They all said they’d follow him to its depths willingly. Really, they dug their own grave.
“You’ll all be coming with me,” He announced to a chorus of groans. It was Ed who seemed not to care, much to his (everyones) surprise.
After one too many sceptical glances the kid snapped, ”What?! It’s not like he—“ Ed jabbed a finger towards Roy. “—hasn’t been complaining about this for, like, a month. You guys had to have seen this coming.”
More sighs and half-hearted excuses to get out of going out to Flamborough, the quiet town north of East City that harboured little love for the military. Some higher-up had decided that the solution to this would be to hold an event there commemorating… something. Roy had only skimmed the paper he’d been given and couldn’t be bothered to remember what bullshit they’d be pretending to celebrate.
This was to get into the good graces of the people who lived there, nothing more.
When force wouldn’t work, they’d apparently thought flattery and spectacle would make for a good substitute.
Whatever. All he had to do was show up.
The guests seemed to be pulled from a hat, though he was relieved to hear that somehow Hughes had found a way to receive an invite. Roy was tempted to bring Al along too, if only to keep Ed from being himself, but Ed had waved him off.
“Even if he wasn’t an empty suit of armour, he’d be miserable. Too many strangers.”
It didn’t sound like a lie, and Ed had no reason to want Al to stay behind, but some warped sense of paranoia nagged him to be sure there wasn’t something more to it. Upon sneaking a call to the younger brother, his suspicions were put to rest. Al politely informed him that he would rather someone steal his helmet than go to a party. It would only be a few days anyways, he could manage just fine.
“For Colonel Mustang.” The young man at his office told him, presenting a letter with the red stamp. Roy knew that seal. And he had a pretty good idea of what the letter was going to say.
“Lieutenant Hawkeye has been requested to aid Major General Ferdinand Čatloš in Central Command.”
Had it not been a crime, he would’ve burned that letter right then and there.
Why Hawkeye was being called to Central, he had no idea. The letter kept itself vague enough for him to suspect it wasn’t urgent, but in all fairness, his predicament wasn’t all that pressing either. Besides all that, Roy knew the Major General. Not well, mind you, but enough to respect him.
The man had been one of the earliest to speak out against the very liberal use of firearms in non-life threatening confrontations, as well as more recently pressing for restorative justice in the east. He was one of the few Roy might call a good person in the patchwork of indecency that made up the military. So he signed away his best player and hoped that she didn’t kill him for it.
It was temporary, the letter made that clear enough. A month at most.
The train ride to Flamborough was only about half a day, so the six of them piled into a car, sans-uniforms, and watched with mild awe as Ed fell asleep before they left the station. It was an uncanny ability that they were all partially aware of—the amount of times they’d found the kid passed out in ridiculous places was proof—but it never stopped being strange.
“How does he do that?” Havoc whispered, “It’s like he can sleep on command.”
Roy shrugged and pulled a deck of cards from his pocket.
Within two hours he was seven hundred cens poorer and regretting to dare play against Falman. At some point he made a pack with Breda and Havoc to take full advantage of the open bar and let god take the wheel from there. It was stupid, but than again, this whole event was stupid. They might as well have a little fun while they were there, right? Fuery would be their designated driver, as was tradition.
Roy had lost a total of twenty-five hundred cens when they reached their stop and his ego was in terrible shape. Wasn’t his luck just stellar today.
The second the train halted, Ed was up and retrieving his bags before any of them had a chance to poke him awake, much to his and Breda’s disappointment.
Havoc once again stared, bug-eyed and oddly impressed. “How?! They didn’t even announce the stop!”
Breda helpfully elbowed the blond in the ribs.
There was an inn not far from the train station, it was the smaller of the two available lodgings in Flamborough and, more importantly, it was away from the noisier parts of town.
A young girl who couldn’t have been more than a few years older than Ed blinked at them as they entered the humble building. She read off the pricing and barley managed to keep her jaw off the floor when Falman started counting out bills.
“That’s… a lot of money.” The poor girl was eyeing them like they were a rare animal she was trying to catch.
Ed grinned at her. “We robbed a bank.”
The party, if you could even call it that, was predictably boring. People stood in huddled crowds, sipping drinks and laughing at jokes that weren’t funny. It took him all of thirty minutes to give up on his responsibilities and make good on his promise to Havoc and Breda.
Roy found them at the side of the room, sitting with Ed, each with a drink in hand. It was still a little odd to see them in civvies—they’d even managed to bully Ed into an oversized dress shirt and slacks—but the goal of this whole thing was to seem like less of a threat and more approachable.
Which seemed counterproductive to Roy but it’ll be someone else’s demotion if this falls through.
He wished he could chastise Havoc and Breda for letting a fourteen year old drink, but they technically had no say in it. Amestris doesn’t have a drinking age. Whatever genius had decided on that had clearly never met a teenager.
He collapsed into a chair next to them, plucked Havoc’s drink right out of his hand and knocked back what was left of it.
“Hey! Get your own damn drink.” Breda snickered until his glass was suddenly missing as well.
He turned to Ed, who scowled back, “Don’t even think about it.”
Roy thought about it.
Then his hand darted forward before the blond could pull away. “Asshole!”
He nearly choked when the liquor hit his tongue. Mostly out of surprise.
Roy expected that he’d gotten something spiked or maybe snagged cider like Breda. Roy sputtered, putting the still half-full glass down. “Was that rum?!”
He looked at the blond alchemist, who wore a rather lost expression that didn’t suit him at all. “Yeah…?”
Roy rounded on the other two men who looked equally confused, “How much has he had?” They shared a look. The same one they shared whenever they’d broken another office chair or lost a bet.
Havoc scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. “I… wasn’t really paying attention.”
Ed was glaring, arms crossed with a mildly insulted frown.
He snatched his drink back from Roy, whose head was spinning at this revelation that his teams youngest member was sipping rum like an old man. “You’re missing two limbs. How are you not at least tipsy right now?”
Ed’s expression went from offended to smug. “Oh you poor, poor fool. Tell me, Colonel, do you know what the favoured drink of Resembool is?”
“Oh god don’t tell me it’s beer.”
“Vodka. Literally just... straight vodka.” All three of them blanched.
“People let kids drink hard liquor?!”
The brat had the audacity to cackle in his face. “You say that like they would’ve been able to stop us.”
Upon closer inspection, the signs were there. His cheeks were tinted pink and he leaning on the table a little heavier than he might’ve otherwise. It was still logic-defying. Every piece of evidence pointed to Edward Elric being a goddamn lightweight!
Barely five feet tall and half metal…
“I need a drink.”
“You just stole two!” Havoc shouted at Roy’s back as he strode towards the bar. This was certainly a twist. He hoped Hughes didn’t stumble into Ed anytime soon, he would either verbally berate him for the rest of the night or never let him live down that Ed might be able to match him blow for blow. He ran a hand through his hair, attempting for a casual air as he approached the bartender. The man nodded to him politely. “Evening, sir.”
Roy smiled and found it wasn’t as forced as he thought it would be. The man had the stature of an ox and could almost be the same height as Major Armstrong, but his eyes were far too soft to make any of that intimidating. The silvery locket resting on his chest only added to the warmth. “What’ll it be?”
“Whiskey on the rocks.” The man glanced at him almost… nervously. Roy was taken aback for a moment but the bartender spoke before he could consider why he would seem uncomfortable.
“You’re from East City, aren’t you?”
That made sense. These people don’t like the military; of course he might be wary. So Roy flashed his classic smile that alway seemed to win people over. “Yeah. I’m guessing you know whose who then?”
A glass filled with amber slid into his palm, the chill of ice seeping through the sides. The smell was strong and familiar, with a note of something bitter that Roy hadn’t expected.
The man shrugged, brushing his curly blond hair away from his face. “A few, here and there. Just what’s in the papers.”
He leaned forward, his voice going quieter. “Colonel Mustang, right?”
He nodded. “Roy is fine. This is an informal function, after all. And you are..?”
The bartender bowed his head for a split second. “Pavlo. Pleasure to meet you.”
His eyes were downcast, tidying up glassware that was already in order, fiddling with a vase of pale purple flowers perched on the corner of the bar. He looked almost apologetic, somehow.
Roy took a long drink and chalked up the strange expression to his own misreadings. Some people just have that sort of demeanour about them, he supposed. Pavlo rested his hands on the bar with a rather serious look.
“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but are you staying at the inn down by the station?”
Roy took another swig. “Why do you ask?”
His bulky frame seemed to curl, like he was trying to appear smaller. He adjusted the flowers again, then wiped his hands on his apron. “It’s just… the road it’s on, Wult street, it’s not all that safe after dark. If that’s where you’re headed after this, I say go in through the back.” Roy frowned. They hadn’t been informed of any actual insurgency in Flamborough, just the distant threat that it could happen in a few years if left to fester.
“What, are there bandits or something?” His other questions died in his throat when Pavlo smiled grimly.
He couldn’t really gauge how serious the man was being, probably due to the alcohol that was filtering into his bloodstream, but Roy chuckled regardless. “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Roy stepped away from the bar and wandered into the jumble of military personnel and civilians. It was strangely peaceful, the gentle buzz of booze draining him of stress and… something else that he couldn’t quite identify, but it certainly was making his limbs feel as pleasantly fuzzy as his head.
He bumped into a middle aged man, who steadied the both of them with indifference.
“Careful there. Almost lost your drink.” Roy muttered an apology as he stepped around another cluster of people. Security was still checking everyone who walked through the doors and Roy couldn’t remember how long he’d simply been weaving between chattering guests to have ended up near the entrance.
“Hey,” Someone tapped his shoulder. He turned to find a pair of golden eyes watching him critically. “Havoc’s been looking for you.”
Roy’s eyebrows pinched together. “Why?”
Ed tilted his head. “Cause you went to get a drink, like, an hour ago.”
Roy looked at the glass in his hand. The ice had melted. Huh. “Guess I did.”
The blond crossed his arms. “Yeah and you’ve been staring at the door for ten minutes.” Roy blinked. That couldn’t be right. He’d only just glanced over…
Ed had that energy about him when he was working or solving some alchemic equation, a hard crease running through his brow and a half-frown pulling at his lips. Suddenly his eye’s went wide and his hands dropped to his sides.
“Oh my god you’re drunk.”
Which was a weird thing to say because Roy honestly didn’t feel drunk. He’d gotten himself hammered enough times (maybe too many times) to recognize the sensation and this… wasn’t it. He hadn’t bothered to think about it before, but this was a lot closer to the viral numbness that came with anaesthetic, or when blood circulation grew lazy and filled his hands with pins. Roy stared down at his subordinate. “I’m not.”
He saw Ed’s signature smirk flashing. “Oh, but yes you are.” His smile grew wider, somehow. “Holy shit. This is amazing.”
Roy’s ears had started to build up a shallow, consistent ringing. It wasn’t loud but it made it very hard to focus on anything. He heard the patter of footsteps and Ed was gone. Where to, he wasn’t sure. Maybe to tell Hughes or Havoc about his sorta-but-not-really-intoxicated-state. Without thinking, he reached out and grasped the wall. He half hoped Ed did bring someone with him because the way the room was tilted didn’t really bring him comfort.
Ed marched up to where he’d left Havoc and Breda. Fuery had joined them, dutifully nursing a glass of water. Ed wore the most shit-eating, triumphant grin anyone could imagine. “Was anyone going to tell me that Mustang’s a lightweight or was I just supposed to find out that glorious fact for myself?”
Breda nearly spat out his cider, “Are you kidding? The Colonel? That man could down a barrel of gin without blinking.” Ed shot him an unimpressed, disbelieving raised eyebrow. He gestured to the entrance where the man still stood.
“He’s had half a cup of whiskey and is standing at a forty-five degree angle.”
“Fuery saw him chug a glass of wine before a meeting once,” Havoc piped up, his head resting lazily in his hands and a lopsided smirk teasing at the corners of his mouth.
Ed looked to the dark haired man for confirmation. His palm hit the table, “You two said you wouldn’t tell anyone!” Fuery yelped.
Well that threw a wrench in his good mood.
The gears in his head started to turn and grind sluggishly, weighed down by a buzz and confusion. They couldn’t be lying, unless somehow they’d coordinated this. Which was ridiculous because if Ed knew anything about Mustang’s team, it was that each and every one of them would jump at the chance to harass their commanding officer. Any and all teasing material was fair game.
“So he’s not..?” Fuery shook his head, shooting a quizzical squint to the young alchemist.
“It takes a lot to knock him down.”
Well that was mildly disappointing. It would’ve given Ed something to hold over the Colonel whenever he insisted on being a jerk. More-so, however, it was concerning.
“You don’t think...”
“What?” Breda was staring at him through hazy eyes, his face flushed and words beginning to blend together.
“Nothing. Uh, Fuery, care to join me for a walk?” Ed noticed how his expression grew hard in a way that didn’t seem right.
Once they were out of earshot, Fuery fixed him with a worried expression. “What’s wrong?”
“Something’s up with the Colonel. He’s pretty out of it, but if it’s not the alcohol, than what?”
Fuery brought a hand to his chin thoughtfully. “What’d you think are the chances that someone spiked his drink?” Ed refrained from slapping his forehead.
Of course. Of course. They were at a social event and somehow Mustang managed to have an enemy here. “We should probably get him out of here.” He cradled the bridge of his nose between his fingers, willing the warmth of rum to dissipate so he could focus.
Without preamble, the two strode over to where Mustang was and each grabbed an arm. When he didn’t protest, any semblance of amusement fully vanished from Ed’s mind as he scanned the older man. He looked just about ready to pass out and, if it had been from drinking, Ed would’ve been trying not to bust a rib laughing. They managed to lead him out and into the backseat of a car before he actually did fall unconscious on the ride to their inn.
“Shit.” Fuery spared him a quick glance as he drove, headlights cutting through the darkness.
“Whatever was in that drink must’ve had a delayed effect cause that was one hell of a decline.”
Feury hummed in agreement, “He was upright and still somewhat coherent before. He knew who we were and now...”
“Now he’s out like a light.” Ed finished with a sigh, combing a hand through his hair. He watched the road whizzing by out the window, the shops and homes that lined the street suddenly looking much more gothic and unwelcoming. Picket fences became more like dark bars, windows throwing distorted reflections back at him.
“Did you see him with anyone?” Asked Fuery.
Ed held back a scoff. “That antisocial idiot? Take a wild guess.”
The dark haired man deflated by a millimetre. Ed scrubbed his metal hand over his face, hoping the cold would shock some sense back into him.
“What I don’t get is how.” Ed said, “They were searching every person who attended, even went through their damn purses! How could they have missed this?”
Fuery’s face was pinched in concentration, his grip on the wheel tightened exponentially, tearing around the corner onto Wult street before suddenly slamming on the breaks without any of his usual grace. The phantom impact nearly had Ed bashing his nose against the dash. “What the hell, Fuery?” The man pointed to something outside. Ed stared ahead blankly.
“You gotta be kidding me.”
They were still a couple hundred yards away from the inn, but lingering outside were three shadowy figures, just barely visible thanks to the lamps settled around the inn. They were dressed in black, each with a hood dropping low over their eyes and bandanas covering half their features. He could see at least two weapons, both held loosely in the hands of the figures without a care in the world. He felt a pang of anger deep in his gut because seriously?!
Half an hour ago he’d been joking with Breda and stealing Havoc’s food and now, what? They’re being stalked?
Was this a goddamn assassination attempt?
Had Mustang pissed off someone again and they were taking payback to an extreme?
This was all playing out a little too neatly and it left a sour taste in his mouth, like it had been planned. The escalation was almost comical. Except it wasn’t and there were a bunch of guys dipping in and out of sight, probably waiting for them to stroll up to the inn and beat the hell out of them.
“We can’t risk going in.” Fuery’s voice took on an air of confidence that was rarely heard, “I think we should wait. Give it twenty minutes and if they don’t leave, we slip away and call local authorities. We can’t start a fight.”
A sober Edward would’ve protested that he could always start a fight. It was a matter of persistence, really, but tipsy Ed and sober Ed are two different people and, thank’s to an adrenaline rush, he was caught right in the middle of the two. His mind ran a mile a minute, skimming through all the clues and facts that he’d picked up and tucked away but still feeling the tingle of warmth messing with his coordination. So he just nodded and sat back, periodically checking in on Mustang who seemed alright.
Aside from the whole probably getting drugged thing, that is. Relatively alright, he amended internally.
Time was certainly passing, but he could hardly tell how fast or slow because everything in the vehicle seemed to be sluggish and warm. Like, really warm. In a way that made him want to take a nap or at the very least close his eyes for a while, but he managed to snap them open every time they dropped. He was reasonably sure he wasn’t supposed to be able to hear his heartbeat. Ed scrubbed at his eyes.
Wait, had there been three guys or four? He blinked and their numbers changed again. Ed wished his head would kindly stop spinning in circles; it was very distracting and—
He jumped when a hand grabbed him by the forearm and pulled him towards the door. “Get out!” A voice shouted. Mustang.
Another item to go on his list of things that weren’t adding up because last time he checked, the Colonel was snoozing in the backseat. But still, he was yanked out of the car by the older alchemist and dropped unceremoniously onto the asphalt.
As soon as the outside air reached his lungs, he coughed and gasped. The fog that had been waltzing through his head began to clear away as he felt a faint trail of heat rising from the inside of the car. He mutely noted footsteps stumbling to the other side of the car and the sounds of what he assumed was Mustang dragging Fuery out as well. The glow of streetlights turned harsh on his vision as he pushed himself up, a dull pulse sending dizziness through him. He saw a very drowsy looking Mustang, using the vehicle to keep his balance, kneel behind the car.
Ed trailed after him. “What’s going on?”
He watched Mustang tear a wad of dirty fabric from the exhaust pipe with a growl, “Someone tried to give us all carbon monoxide poisoning.”
Ed frowned, “Hold on, carbon monoxide is invisible and odourless. How’d you—”
“I’ve spent enough time with flammable crap to know.”
Fuery padded over, a hand pressed to his temple. “How do you feel, sir?”
“Like someone dumped narcotics into my glass.” Mustang was still kneeling, drawing in measured breaths, trying not to sway and failing spectacularly.
“Looks like it hasn’t worn off Colonel. Give it a minute.” Mustang, the stubborn bastard, ignored Ed and rose to his feet, turning pointedly to Fuery.
“No one else came with you?” He asked, to which Fuery nodded.
It really did look like a strong wind would send him sprawling, but maybe now wasn’t the time to antagonize. “Go back. Get everybody out.”
The shady group was still slinking around near the inn, inching closer to where the three stood. Fuery’s eyes went wide, and he jerked his head towards the masked people, “But sir, there’s—“
“Only three of them,” Mustang cut off the younger man, “You’re unarmed, Fuery. We should be able to take care of a couple of amateurs.”
Fuery glared up at the Colonel, “With all due respect, sir, you were drugged. I don’t think you’re in the best shape for a fight.”
Ed clapped him lightly on the shoulder, “Don’t count his stubborn ass out just yet. Adrenaline can overpower almost every mind-altering substance. ‘Sides, if this goes south there needs to be someone—“
He stopped mid-sentence to tackle Fuery to the ground. There weren’t three anymore. Four more had appeared out the mouths of gapping alleyways and had been creeping up on them. The first three were a distraction.
Okay, so they weren’t amateurs. He rolled to his feet and whipped a metal foot to their attacker’s ankle, sending them to the ground with a cry. Heat brushed over the back of his neck when a familiar snap rang out. Ed hauled Fuery up, ducking around what appeared to be a metal pipe that swung towards his head. “Go!”
He hesitated for a split second, his face twisted up in a panic before scrambling between two of the masked people. One spun around and stalked after the man. Ed could only hope he didn’t know how to use the quarterstaff strapped across his back. A fist flew towards his face.
He jumped away, standing back to back with Mustang, taking in their fun little predicament with a critical glare. “Ideas?”
Ed huffed and readied himself for an endurance match. “Very helpful.”
They split and dove into the small crowd of dark clothes and haphazardly put together weapons. The occasional snap rammed through the air, followed by controlled bursts of fire. Three charged at Ed. He skipped back, using the car like a springboard to land behind them. Before anyone could turn, he swept their legs out from under them.
A baton came dangerously close to his arm and Ed noted how they all were carrying blunt weapons. Not a sharp edge in sight.
The same baton was jammed into his shoulder-blade when his swing grew sloppy and oh joy, the thing was electric.
The shock didn’t last long, only enough to daze him and allow the assailant to get a solid hit on his jaw, but it still sent him reeling.
Before he could sock the guy in the nose, Ed was violently ripped from his concentration when a hard clang spread over the street like a shockwave.
For just a moment, it was quiet save for the metallic ring. He turned and watched Mustang fall, a man standing over him holding a fucking shovel. It was dim enough that Ed couldn’t tell if the dark spot beneath Mustang’s head was a hazy shadow or blood.
He growled and pitched forward, ready to turn the road into a sinkhole, but was knocked aside by a hulking frame before he could even bring his palms together. A hand fisted into his hair and the ground rushed forward.
Something warm trickled through his hairline.
The weight pressing over him vanished. For a moment, he could see shoes moving towards him, voices speaking in flittering whispers. Instinct was begging him to move. Ed watched as Mustang was manhandled into the back of a licence-less truck, panic retreating to make way for numbness. He struggled to suck in air until a pair of hands were carelessly dragging him forward.
Had Fuery made it out? He hoped so. Otherwise they were screwed.
Chapter 2: It's fall and all the ghouls are still asleep
Roy ended up drawing a transmutation circle on the stone, despite how gruelling it was. Using his non-dominate hand made the process slow. Mind numbingly slow.
The array was crude and shaky in the end, but the line-work held enough to provide them with a soft light. It wasn’t fire, as neither Ed nor Roy would be able to make a spark unless a lighter dropped from the sky. Instead, he’d oxidized luminol.
It did nothing to ward off the shivers he could see Ed suppressing but at least they could see. Once the eerie blue glow flooded over the cave, they spent a while simply scrubbing off blood and grime, though it was a bit of a lost cause. Everything had been poisoned with it; there was hardly a clean scrap of fabric to use. Regardless, it gave the two something to do. A task to help them stay awake.
Roy caught sight of newly appearing bruises circling Ed’s throat and he felt sick.
If he had anything in his stomach to throw up, he’s sure he would’ve.
“Great.” Ed hissed, “Fan-fucking-tastic.”
Roy looked up, half expecting another injury to materialize on on the blond. “What?”
Ed tugged at his hair, his braid mussed and half-untied. There was smatterings of blood tangled throughout, some of it dried and some fresh. Roy raised an eyebrow. “It’ll wash out.”
The younger glared down at the golden knot, his expression twitching with a note of impulsiveness that usually led to something getting broken.
“You know, I like my hair like my coffee.”
He blinked, “How’s that?”
Ed slumped against the jagged walls, looking defeated.
“Without blood in it.”
Roy laughed. It wasn’t really appropriate for the situation, and he could feel the stare Ed gave him that was equal parts concern and judgment. But this was all so ridiculous and they were possibly being hunted, every sensible bone in his body was pleading him to shut up and take stock of everything, to plan a way to get out and not die such a meaningless, mundane death in the middle of a forest.
They could be killed, but here was Ed, cracking jokes.
So he laughed.
“Uh, Mustang? Did you finally snap or something?” Roy tossed the rag he’d been using aside and let his chuckling die down to a bemused smile. Ed watched him suspiciously, probably wondering if a knock to the head could cause fits.
Ed relaxed by an inch, then discarded his own slice of cloth. Roy did his damnedest to overlook the muffled splat it made when it hit the ground and the wince it drew out of Ed.
“So, what now?”
Good question. They couldn’t very well leave. There was upwards of ten people who could be combing the area, ready to drag them back to that dilapidated building and beat information out of them, not to mention they were both looking pretty banged up.
Two days without food and water weren’t doing their wounds any favours and Roy knew that Ed was worse off than he was letting on. The way his hand would grasp uselessly against the stone floor every so often was a dead giveaway that something was hurting.
They were both beyond exhausted, but sleep was a distant wish that he refused to succumb to. If they rested, he didn’t know if either of them would wake up.
A small avalanche of pebbles sliding to the ground caught his attention. Golden eyes were slipping shut and Ed’s posture was rapidly lending itself to unconsciousness.
“Fullmetal!” He snapped, a little louder than necessary. He managed to keep any of the hysteria that’d been infecting his person from tinging his words. Ed jerked upright with a grimace, blinking hard. The older alchemist pinched his own arm for a long moment, just in case, before fixing the blond with a firm gaze. “None of that.”
Ed sunk down once again, arms cross but his eyes wide open “Kinda hard when there’s nothing to do.”
Unfortunately, he was right. Boredom was one hell of a motivator for sleep. Roy called back to all the times that he’d passed out even when there was something to do. Ed being rather hyperactive was another issue.
He could vaguely remembered Falman rattling off some reports about how the human body would shut itself off if a person stayed still for longer then thirty or so minutes, which wasn’t a very big timeframe. He wanted to bang his head on something, hoping it would kick it into gear and get together some kind of plan.
One thankfully sprang to the forefront before he gave himself a migraine.
“Your teacher.” He said, feeling a burst of triumph burn in his chest.
Ed tilted his head, “What?”
“You said your teacher was crazy. Why?”
Ed, though he might not have even noticed he did it, brought up his hand to hover over the remains of his automail, hugging himself and looking at the luminol strewn between them. “Since when do you give a shit about that?”
“Since falling asleep could kill us. Keep each other talking as long as possible or this’ll be our tomb.”
“Good point.” Ed almost shrugged but aborted the motion at the last second. His left shoulder was probably still wound up tightly and aching. A tiny, fond smile floated onto his face. “She’s the worst. Dropped me and Al off on a deserted Island for a month to prove a point and would tie our hands to practice escaping.”
“Dislocating your thumbs?” Roy questioned.
“A last resort. I think she was a bit paranoid that’d something would happen. Can’t really blame her though. I mean, she was right.” Wind whistled by the little hole in the wall like the yowling of coyotes.
Roy cocked his head at Ed. “Paranoid? Sounds like someone I know.”
“I will punch you.” He sneered, holding up a rather pathetic fist for emphasis that mostly fell flat. His heart wasn’t really in it. How could it be? This was all insane.
They lapsed into silence while Roy mentally dug for something to say, anything to keep the words coming. Besides the looming threat of becoming comatose, Roy, as much as he loathed to admit it, he really didn’t want to be alone. If that meant smalltalk with the Fullmetal Alchemist, than so be it. He mind was taunting him, holding the ability to make conversation that he was normally so good at just out of reach.
“Ever play twenty-one questions?” Ed asked.
Man, the kid really couldn’t stop throwing him off. It was a bit frustrating how the moment Roy thought he could read Ed, he would tap dance his way across a minefield and blow apart every pre-existing notion there was.
He sent a questioning look to the younger alchemist. “The parlour game?”
“Yeah, a few times.” He could tell where this was heading but it was so bizarre that he pinched his arm again to be sure he wasn’t in a nonsensical dreamland.
If a question mark could make a sound, Roy imagined that’s what would be splitting through the air right now.
Ed glowered at him, “It’s dumb, I know, but it’ll keep us up, right? Unless you have something else up you sleeve.”
They’d far exceed twenty-one and the night seemed to stretch on forever. The questions had grown increasingly mundane and even fantastical on occasion. It had come as a shock to Roy that he really didn’t know much about his subordinate. They’d still had to shake one another awake a number of times and the wind didn't stopped bouncing around the forest like gunfire, the noise never ceasing to sound like the cries of something far more sentient than weather.
“Uhh what’s your favourite animal?”
Roy snorted. “Seriously?” They must be running pretty low on ideas.
“Yes seriously! You’re the one who said to keep each other talking.” Ed shot back leaning forward to glare up at him.
He relented with a shrug. “Dogs I guess. Yours?”
“Shut up, they’re smart.” The blond pulled his hand through his hair while Roy waited for an elaboration. It took a moment, but he caved.
“They’ll return lost shit to people. Crows can recognize faces. They hold funerals for their dead and visit their family. Most animals don’t.”
“How do you know that?”
“Not a lot of kids in Resembool. Lot’s of crows though.” He supposed that made sense; what would a kid do all day without other kids? Alchemy and birdwatching, apparently.
“What something you’ve never told anyone before.”
Ed wrinkled his nose, looking more than a little suspicious. “Right, cause I’m gonna share personal shit like that.”
“Never said it had to be anything important.” Roy responded with a shrug. In all honestly he was just scraping for anything to talk about and maybe a little bit of blackmail material for later. Ed was still eyeing him dubiously and Roy decided that the piercing golden glare was one he didn’t like being directed at him.
He’d been on the receiving end before, sure, but it always felt a bit more good-natured. Ed relaxed a little though, his gaze dropping. “Fine. When I was a kid I accidentally created an urban legend.”
He raised a delicate eyebrow. “Care to explain?”
“I buried a bunch of old clothes my mom was going to throw away by the river. Someone found it and now everyone thinks theres a witch.”
“You’re a menace to society.” Roy said. He flexed his hand carefully when it started to fall numb again. The chill was really starting to take root in his extremities and it was beyond irritating.
Ed just smirked back at him, his head tilting to the side. “Thanks. I try.”
A loud gale of wind cut the air briefly.
He didn’t really feel it though. Somehow.
Roy combed through his all too long list of tales he hoped would never see the light of day and choose the tamest among them in order to spare his pride from being scarified on a pyre here and now.
“I’ve set the same rug on fire at least four times.”
“You’re a menace to yourself.”
A tremor tore through Ed again, his arm curling around his knees in a way that made him impossibly small.
There wasn’t a thing Roy could do. He didn’t have metal biting into his skin, freezing up twice as fast, and there was no way the kid would accept help unless it became life threatening. So Roy clasped his hands together and ducked his head down, pretending not to notice.
Minutes passed and he didn’t know if he should look back up or wait for Ed to say something.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” Roy silently released a breath and glanced up.
“Five years?” He considered it for a moment, “Central. Maybe I’ll have moved up a rank or two. What about you?
“Dead, probably.” Ed leaned back casually like the words weren’t a punch to the throat.
Roy had practiced keeping calm and smoothing the lines of worry, fear, anger, emotion from his face. He dutifully stayed neutral and forced a smirk. “Wow. Awfully morbid of you, kid.”
“You wanted to know.” Again, he seemed to not get that he’d just dropped a bomb on the older alchemist. He should change the subject, right? He doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal so Roy shouldn’t either. Logic and curiosity (concern?) brawled in the back of his head, throwing verbal rocks at one another until curiosity got a lucky hit.
“Why what?” Ed arched an eyebrow.
Roy gestured, silently demanding that the tension trying to hold him stay the hell away as he tried to play it off as just another question. “Why do you think you’ll be dead?”
“I’m already living on borrowed time and things are only ever going to get worse. Something’ll kill me sooner or later.”
Roy had heard people talking about getting the wind knocked out of them without a physical blow. He knew what the real thing felt like and had assumed all those times people were being hyperbolic; drawing more emphasis to something for theatrics, tricking people into thinking they were well spoken through embellishments.
Apparently, it wasn’t metaphorical because his lungs stuck to his ribs and told him to kindly make do without oxygen.
He scowled at Ed, his voice rising in intervals of what’s the matter with you and please be joking. “You know, you could try having a little faith in me? It’s honestly insulting at this point.”
Ed frowned at him all innocent and Roy was considering throwing a rock to knock the look off his face. “What does having faith in you have to do with me kicking the bucket?”
Roy crossed his arms, eyes dropping to the ground with an unflattering glower reflecting in the soft blue light, “You won’t be dead in five years. Not if I—if anyone on my team, has anything to say about it.”
Damn, was forcing yourself to relax always this hard or was the pounding behind forehead making this particularly challenging? His eyes continued to burn holes in the ground.
“You won’t die. So answer the damn question.”
The wind howled again and Roy almost didn’t catch the way it echoed.
It wasn’t an echo.
The realization that it—the wind—had steadily been getting louder slammed into Roy like a bullet to the chest; he hadn’t even felt a hint of a breeze all night.
His eyes went wide and he sat up straighter, straining to hear something, anything other than his heart struggling to beat its way out through his throat. Ed tensed, “What’s wron—“
Roy surged forward and clamped a hand over the kids mouth, wincing as his words lingered in the open air. Ed stilled entirely while the older alchemist stared towards the entrance of the cave. A howl cleaved the air.
From beyond the stone came the snap of twigs and mindful pattering of feet—paws—over dead leaves. It was deafening. A shadow flickered past the entrance. Then another.
Roy pressed himself and Ed against the wall, hoping that the stone wasn’t too sharp behind him otherwise it’d be another injury for their already too-long list.
He breathed slowly, sincerely wishing he’d thought to cover the luminol. The light it threw outwards suddenly felt blinding. Dark eyes were locked on the outlines fading in and out of view, waiting for any noise to indicate how close the things are. Roy’s jaw was locked shut, the remains of his dark jacket hardly obscuring the shock of gold that made Ed far too easy to spot.
Everything was too loud, every breath was like a landmine.
He didn’t know how long they sat there for, but when the howls and crunching of dried shrubs retreated, he slowly let the younger alchemist go.
To his bewilderment, Ed darted away faster than he should’ve been able to, coiled like he was ready for an attack, tucking himself against the wall as far away from Roy as he could get without disappearing into the folds of stone. He was at a loss. Roy wasn’t really sure how to reassure the kid but—
Another belated realization clocked him in the face when he remembered the absence of air against his palm. He blanched, a set of curses ready to fall from his mouth.
He’d been holding his fucking breath.
Roy glanced towards Ed, but he wasn’t looking towards where the silhouettes had skirted across the entrance like he’d expected. He was looking at Roy.
Fear was carved into his face, etched into the way his jaw was wound shut despite that fact that it was most definitely painful to do so.
Lungs full of water.
A transmutation circle tattooed onto a palm.
Golden eyes drowning in panic
“Fullmetal, I didn’t—“ He moved closer and felt a stab of guilt run him through like a javelin when Ed leaned away. The blond pulled in a steadying breath and forced himself to relax. “It’s fine. I’m.. fine.”
It was a bad lie, but he didn’t press. His back touched the wall and he slid down with a thump. “Was that what I think it was?” Ed asked.
Roy missed his gloves more than he knew he could. “Wolves.”
Ed hung his head. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”
Central was being badgered by a downpour when Riza’s train arrived. She’d caught wind of a storm on her way in, hearing the tumbling of thunder roll just beyond her until it was sudden overhead. Writhing, cottony skies and flickering lights spread against the city like a dark blanket.
Not that it really mattered. Time would march onwards regardless of where Mother Nature decided to dump her frustrations and Riza had somewhere to be. The clouds above were drifting to the north-east and she wondered if the Colonel would get caught up in the storm.
Would serve him right to feel useless for a while after loaning her out.
She was able to hail a cab and was standing on the concrete steps leading to the green and grey mass that made up Central Command as the sun sank below the horizon. A pair of soldiers—both privates—greeted her at the doors with a sharp salute.
“At ease.” They stared at her, bright eyed and eager, “Could you point me in the direction of Major General Čatloš’ office?”
“Left wing of the building, down at the very end of the hall. Room seventy-six.” She nodded and headed into the maze of corridors.
Central Command had always been a place she disliked on some level, primarily because everything looked the same; hardly a single whiff, word or hint to differentiate one room from the next. It was very uniform.
Of course it was. This was a military base, after all. It wasn’t as though she could claim thing to be different back in East City.
But their hallways had little notes of a past and the rooms felt lived in, not quite as cold and decrepit. A dent in a wall or a chip on a desk was all it took to feel less like a dollhouse.
Riza still found herself standing in front of the door, both the number the private had given her and the man’s name stamped onto a plaque. She knocked once and waited. An unexpectedly loud commotion came from inside where she presumed the Major General’s direct subordinates had been working. The door flew open to reveal a rather flustered looking man with the stripes of a captain decorating his shoulders.
She nearly backed away from the man, but she held her ground. “Sir!” Her heels clicked in time with the salut.
“Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, here as per the request of Major General Čatloš.”
The man blinked at her, his frazzled demeanour melting away into one much more akin to disappointment. “Request?”
“Sir,” She produced the signed form that the Colonel had given to her and carefully beat back a small push of bitterness at her predicament. He looked at the document blankly.
“When’d you receive this?”
“Last week. Is something the matter?”
He stepped aside and led Riza into the room. Like she’d suspected, there was a scattered collection of officers throughout the room, each sinking back into their seat upon seeing her. She paused, eyes narrowing for a split second.
“Were you expecting someone else?” She questioned, accepting the chair the Captain offered her. It was more comfortable than she expected. A glance around the room told her a spell of disorder had descended on the office and she felt a tug of sympathy. It smelled like slightly over-boiled coffee and ink, the whole room made up of browns and whites like most others in the left wing. A heavy sigh pulled her attention back to the man in front of her.
The Captain rubbed at his eyes, his feet tapping insistently on the wooden floor. “The Major General hasn’t been here in a few days and we’ve only been able to contact him through the phone.”
That was... odd.
As far as Riza knew he was a diligent commanding officer and took his work seriously. Why would he have stopped coming in? Especially after having called her all the way from East City?
“He’s ordered us not to check in, so we’ve all been stuck here waiting on him.” The Captain glared down at his desk, the others in the room were trying very hard to seem like they weren’t hanging on every word of their exchange.
“I didn’t hear about him having requesting anyone. Was there any indication as to why?”
She shook her head, “Hardly. I’d assumed it was for security purposes.” Riza paused, considering her hand before she overplayed it. “Pardon me,” She started, “but could you tell me where I might be able to find Major General Čatloš? Hypothetically, of course.”
A glint touched the man’s eyes and instantly she knew they’d get along had there been more time. The rest of the office leaned forward, doing a terrible job of feigning ignorance. He was very close to smiling.
“I suppose I could. We are unable to go see him directly, but if someone were to show up to fulfill a request...”
“Then neither you nor I would be breaking orders.”
It was quite a bright grin for someone who was so downtrodden just minutes earlier. “And if his office door happened to be open, well, whose to say someone wouldn’t stumble inside?”
Riza kept both hands folded in front of her, upholding an appearance of professionalism that the Captain may or may not be able to see through. “It’s very probable. An easy mistake, really.”
Probably the former, as he gave her a sly look before nodding towards a door in the back of the room.
“Lieutenant, you’re a godsend.”
“Just doing my job, sir.”
She slipped inside the private room.
The office was mostly tidy, save for a few rouge papers and a small stack of journals climbing towards the ceiling on one end of the desk. Riza scanned the shelves of books and, as expected, found many of them to be essays and anthologies, all of them about laws and ethics.
Her hands busied themselves with pulling open the drawers of his desk and looking over the contents. Everything was in order, set into its place carefully. A small box whittled from pale wood sat on the edge of the desk, and Riza couldn’t help but notice that one of the two clasps holding it closed was left undone. She felt around the edge of the box for failsafes before flipping the single clip and peering inside.
Inside sat a black stub of wax and the stubborn wick of a candle refusing to burn out. In the centre of the box there was… nothing. Suspicion had begun to prickle in the back of her mind because there was clearly supposed to be something right there in the middle.
It would’ve been the one pressed into the envelop that lay in her pocket, but there was another error. The wax stub, the one that would be melted and stamped with a metal crest, was black. The one she’d received was red.
She exited the room quietly while the Captain passed her a slip of paper with an address scrawled onto it. “Thank you for your time, Captain.”
“Of course.” He smiled sheepishly, “Lieutenant, I’d appreciate if you gave us a ring later on with a… report.” The rest of the office was staring at her, not even trying to mask their disinterest in the piles of paper that swam around them.
She softened. They were worried.
“Consider it done, sir.”
She sincerely hoped that the Major General knew he was lucky to have loyal subordinates, ones that seemed to care no less. It was sweet, in a lopsided sort of way.
Riza trekked through the downpour, ducking from canopy to overhang until she was able to wave down another cab and skid through the streets to her destination, which turned out to be a pretty modest looking townhouse settled beside a row of locally-run shops. She thanked her driver (and tipped him, of course) then ascended the stone steps as rainwater stained it darker. She knocked twice and waited.
She knocked again. “Major General Čatloš? It’s Lieutenant Hawkeye.” Her hand hovered over the wood of the door for a prolonged moment, but she pulled back. Her fist closed around the doorknob and, to her astonishment and dismay, it creaked open.
“Sir?” Riza called, stepping mindfully into the foyer. It was silent. Even the grandfather clock sitting in the far corner of the hall had respectfully halted its ticking. It was broken, based on the sliver running across its glass face, but it certainly didn’t ease the growing anxiety that had decided to dig itself a home in Riza’s stomach.
“Čatloš!” She called again, the word bouncing through the house as though there were mirrors set up to reflect her voice into every room. Riza steeled herself and pressed on, hoping that if he was home, he would understand the intrusion. She had a probable cause to have come inside, so there wasn’t much he could get her in trouble for aside from perhaps being a bit rude.
She could live with that though.
All the doors were open, some flung wide and inviting, others only by a crack big enough to slip a finger through. All but one.
Dread had joined the nervousness in her gut, spinning in circles while she forced one foot in front of the other to the shut door.
She steeled herself and turned the knob.
It was the smell that hit her before anything else. Like a cannonball hitting her square in the stomach. She stumbled back, holding a hand to her mouth. It was a scent she was all too familiar with. Riza let the door swing open and felt her legs shake.
The Major General—Ferdinand was sitting in a plush chair, his hands limp, one resting in his lap and one draped over a telephone sitting on a small table beside him. His head was tilted back, eyes slitted and his chest completely still. His mouth hung open.
Riza knew it was pointless, but she searched for a pulse anyways. He’d been dead for at least two days, the bruising that dotted his skin and absence of pupils told her that much. She left the room and coughed into a sink for a solid five minutes before reaching for the phone she’d seen in his kitchen.
The call to the military police was curt and sharp. She hung up the phone and swallowed back bile; no matter how many times she smelled death, it always made her stomach churn and knot itself into ropes. This time was worse, somehow. Because along with the rot, there was something that reeked of being clean.
Something in that room was coated in lemon polish and vinegar and she needed to find what it was before she was pulled from the scene for investigations to comb over.
It only took her about a minute to locate her target once she’d wrestled herself back into the room—his study, she noted—and started her search. It was strewn inconspicuously among writing utensils and notes, but she knew it was out of place.
A silver seal, bound to a three inch wooden stick that was melded with copper and engravings. Riza pulled the letter from his pocket, precariously placing the broken wax side by side so it almost looked whole and hovering the stamp over the letter until she was sure it was correctly positioned.
It fit perfectly.
She went to the sink again and tried to drown the evidence, but the water refused to run.
Ten minutes later the military police had arrived and Riza had quieted the trembling of her hands. She stepped back, an umbrella hanging over her head curtesy of a kind neighbour, while she waited on the steps for someone from investigations or forensics to bring her an update. Until then, she counted the water droplets that managed to bypass her umbrella. She’d reached twenty when a voice sounded behind her.
She turned to find a young officer fidgeting with his sleeves. She offered a reassuring nod. “Go ahead.”
He stiffened. “We found evidence of a break-in on the second floor and a foreign set of prints on the telephone.”
“Cause of death?”
“Well,” He scratched the back of his neck, shifting his weight from foot to foot, “We’ve found… something. But it hardly makes sense. It appears as though the man had been drowned. There’s water in his lungs, it came spilling out when we tried to move him. But he—everything in the room—was bone dry. Not even a hint of water damage to the chair or carpet.”
Her brow creased, a hand wandering up to hold her chin. “Faucets?”
He shook his head, “Dead end. Apparently the victim—sorry, the Major General, hadn’t paid his bills on time. Hydro was off and the body is a week old.”
Riza grimaced. She was only supposed to be in Central for a few weeks and of course she had to get caught up in a case on the first day. Worse yet, this event had taken the life of a good man. Why steal him away when there were dozens of people who the world would be better off without, particularly within the military? If whoever sorted these matters needed suggestions, Riza would gladly volunteer some ideas.
She stifled a sigh. “Anything else?”
He pulled at his cuffs, throwing a glance at the doorway before looking back to Riza. “Nothing really important. Just a stub of red wax below his chair.”
Her gaze snapped up. “A red… Show me the the break-in!” Riza all but shouted at the poor man.
He jumped, “Right!”
They pushed through the officers lingering in the hall and bounded up the steps. She was led to a large window that had been splintered and left open just an inch. Her gaze flitted over the scene with analytical shine, taking in every scratch and brush of dust.
Riza held her sleeve over her hand and pushed open the fractured window, leaning out the side and peering down. “What’re you doing?”
Her mind was racing.
“Look.” She pointed to the side of the house where the bricks looked wrong. Blemishes trailed up from the ground the the window, a faint, almost invisible trace of chalk sat on the windowsill, suddenly very noticeable now that she was looking for the right thing.
“Alchemy.” She confirmed.
The pieces all fell into place in a single moment. A terrible moment, she might add. One that she hoped to forget in time. Her eyes locked on the young investigator’s. “How much water is in the human body?”
Plate-sized eyes stared at her. “Holy shit.”
Her hands had started to shake again. Damnit.
Suddenly it all made too much sense and Riza wished to be able to lose her composure. To take a moment to simply scream at the ceiling and then get to work because it had become clear as day. The reason her letter had been so vague and the oh so convenient timing of its arrival.
Major General Ferdinand Čatloš didn’t ask her to come here. He was already dead. She’d been set up.
Riza raced back down the stairs where gloved hands were still feathering over every object in the study. Her eyes landed on a lone communications officer, standing just inside the door.
“Get me a line to Flamborough!”
So I think I'm going to post on Tuesdays and Fridays... Yeah that sounds right.
Drop a comment or kudos, if you please!
Just one tidbit for y'all this time:
The room number of General Čatloš’ office is the age the actual person was when he passed away, 76.
Chapter 3: Penny for your thoughts
CW: non-graphic torture
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Awareness rushed into Roy all at once. There was a sharp throbbing behind his eyes and the bright light spilling from the roof wasn’t any help.
His hands were aching almost as much as his head.
He blinked at the ceiling and decided that this wasn’t his inn room. What kind of inn has concrete ceilings?
Waking up to an unfamiliar place meant one of three things: He’d been drinking too much, he’d been kidnapped, or he’d been drinking and then got kidnapped.
Roy was confident he would be able to guess which option had befallen him.
Stellar luck strikes again.
His hands were bound behind him with rope that seemed to burn whenever he twitched. Had this been soaked in kerosene?!
The stench of oil confirmed his suspicions.
Roy flexed his hands and was hit by another detail. His thumbs were immobile, wrapped in what felt like cloth and pressed tightly against his palm so he wouldn’t be able to pop them out of place and slip from the ropes.
So these people weren’t idiots.
He scowled at the ground.
Roy managed to push himself upright and slump against a stone wall, taking in his new accommodations bitterly.
It was a small room, maybe ten feet wide and equal in length. A high ceiling that kept the lights burning his retinas far out of reach, along with a vent pumping in cold air, and no door.
Not even a crease or outline along the stone. It took a while, longer than he would’ve liked, but Roy got to his feet and started inspecting the room as memories began to trickle back into his mind.
He’d been drugged. Fuery and Ed were taking him back to their inn and there was a fight. Fuery left to get backup. Something hard bashed into his skull and Ed…
Roy went ridged.
What happened to Ed?
He wasn’t here, so he’d escaped, right? Unless they were holding him somewhere else.
Or they’d killed him right there in the streets.
Roy mentally slapped himself. Nope. None of that. Absolutely not.
He shook himself back to the present and threw his thoughts into the task before him: Find the damn door.
He scanned every wall, scrapping and pulling blindly at any hitch or crevice he could find in the impossibly smooth concrete. The only thing he managed to notice was that one of the walls had a far fresher coat of dark paint slathered over it while the other three looked rather worn down. It was a useless thing to pick up on.
He guessed he’d been awake for around thirty minutes when his attention turned to the floor. A trap door was plausible, right?
Dizziness was pleading with to to sit down, but he was nothing if not stubborn.
And also lacking a sense of self persecution, but that was more of a Hawkeye issue.
Roy combed over the ground and he actually found something, but it wasn’t what he hoped for.
His hands had been skimming the space where the wall and floor met when a small, cold, hard thing touched him and it moved.
It tumbled just a little before Roy snatched up, holding it between his fingers. It was metal, one end sharp and one blunt. Barely the size of a fingernail. He rolled it between two digits, face pinched.
He set it down, turning to actually see the thing and yep, it was a screw.
His brilliant, stupid brain’s first response was to wonder if it’d been lost. As if there was anyone around to loose it.
Roy tucked it into his back pocket and mulled over the logistics of using its considerably dulled edge to saw his way out of his bindings.
That is to say, he was grasping at straws because it would probably take ages, but he needed to find a door before he rendered his hands unless in trying.
Nausea succeeded where lightheadedness had failed, forcing him down.
Once again, he sat propped up against a stone wall as the floor decided it was a perfect time to try cartwheels while he was trying to ward off a headache with nothing but a letter to the brain’s manager’s office about poor maintenance.
He was concussed, that was certain.
Wrists were raw but not bleeding and his stomach suggested throwing up roughly twice a minute. He was tempted to go through with it if that meant the numb feeling in his limbs would lessen, but it would run the risk of making everything ten times worse, not to mention he’d be running on empty for however long he was stuck here.
He wished he has the flexibility to prod for a split on his scalp. He couldn’t feel anything to imply the skin had been broken, but that could just mean any blood had dried.
Without warning, there was a crackle. It was barley audible, but it surged through every surface and his hair stood on end. The wall, opposite to the newly painted one, rippled and peeled open.
In stepped a woman. She looked unassuming, short brown hair swept back, leather gloves and simple clothes. She was even smiling as she stepped into the room, but the almost pleasant appearance was ruined when Roy noticed what had occupied her hands.
It was Ed.
Half conscious and being dragged in by the collar, but it was him.
The sight was such a shock to the system that Roy simply couldn’t move, his eyes just widened and he took in the suddenly terrifying scene.
The woman dropped him on the other side if the room.
She was beyond careless, tossing Ed to the ground like he weighed nothing the second she was within a foot of the closed, non-split-open wall.
Ed gasped when he hit the floor, glaring weakly up at the woman, but he didn’t move. She turned to leave but frozen upon seeing Roy staring at her.
“Oh! Good to see you’re finally up!”
He couldn’t move. Every muscle, vein and artery was utterly still.
She knelt in from on him, still smiling like it was the most normal thing in the world to beam at a prisoner. There was blood on her shirt and Roy could see she was muscular in a way that didn’t seem right or even natural.
“I’m sure you have questions but I need to get a medic before he—“ She waved a hand at Ed, who hadn’t so much as twitched since falling to the ground. “—dies of whatever. Bye!”
The wall knit itself back together the moment she disappeared from his view and his body unlocked.
Die? Did she just say he was going to—
Roy staggered to his feet and was beside Ed in an instant. “Hey,” He hovered, subconsciously straining against the ropes, “Fullmetal?”
Ed groaned and curled in on himself a little. “Still alive, Colonel.”
His voice sounded like a violin string about to snap.
Roy sat back on his heels and watched Ed haul himself into a sitting position. His hands had been lashed together as well with… something that certainly wasn’t rope, but Roy didn’t get a good enough look to know what.
He inched back, looking over the blond critically
There was a bruise blooming over the left side of his forehead just a little bit of blood running from his nose. Roy blinked.
“You’re... you’re soaking wet.” He said blankly.
Ed‘s back rested against the stone, a slight shiver running through his shoulders. “Yep.”
“Ever heard of waterboarding?”
Any measure of relief that came with knowing his youngest subordinate was alive quickly vanished.
“Shit.” He breathed.
“Eloquently put.” Ed agreed, nudging his hair out of face with his shoulder. His gaze left Roy to roam around the space they’d been left with. Scanning the ground, searching for something.
“I already looked. There’s nothing here.” Roy said slowly.
Ed’s eyes squeezed shut for a second, sucking in a harsh breath through his teeth. He leaned around Roy’s frame seeming more annoyed than hurt, “Shut up. I’m trying to find something.”
Roy supposed if he had the wherewithal to crack sarcasm into a pan and scramble wit like he was making omelettes with ease, maybe it wasn’t as bad as he thought.
Ed shuffled, nearly loosing his balance trying to see around the older alchemist. Roy dug a hand into his pocket, his fingers closing around the screw, drawing it out and turning so the younger alchemist would be able to see. “This?”
Ed sighed, a relieved look passing over his normally sharp features. “Yeah. Keep it.”
It fell back into Roy’s pocket, a quizzical glance finding Ed. “Is it yours?”
“No, I’m holding it for a friend.” He said, a perfect deadpan delivery and, to his dismay, Roy didn’t know if Ed was joking or not. He searched his face for any indication.
Eventually it broke away to something similar to worry, hints of defeat showing through the cracks. “Shit. You really are concussed, aren’t you.”
Roy’s eyes hardened and he settled himself in front of Ed as comfortably as possible. “What happened?”
“Gonna have to be a little more specific there, Colonel.” Roy sat there, dearly mourning the absence of his hands to pinch the magic pressure-point at the bridge of his nose that could shoo away the ringing cutting through his ears.
He closed his eyes, digging through the memories of the night before, or, wait… How long had they been here? It could be days now, couldn’t it.
What happened after Fuery left—Thats what he needs to know.
“You got knocked over the head with a shovel. Fuery got away.” Ed said before he had time to form a single word.
Great, the kid could read minds now. He brushed off the sudden clairvoyance and fixed Ed with a steely look. “What about you?”
He shrugged and it struck Roy as strange that he’d been allowed to keep his arm. These people likely knew who they were, and even if they didn’t, leaving a prisoner with a metal limb seemed to be in bad practice. He filed away the question for later.
“Someone helped me get real acquainted with the road. Blacked out.” The bruise was standing in jarring contrast now and Roy could see where he’d struck gravel. Dark blue was sprayed among the vivid purple, but at least the gash was shallow.
Ed heaved himself up, using the wall behind him like a very awkward crutch until he was standing.
“Turn around,” He looked at the dark haired man expectantly, eyes sharper than they’d been moments ago.
Roy stared back with a frown crawling over his skin. “Why?”
Sweet as arsenic, Ed glared at him. “Didn’t you hear me? You got cuffed by a shovel. Turn around.”
Ed stood over him, analyzing everything he could see. “Sorry,”
A hand prodded the back of his head and Roy flinched. The touches were light, exclusively made with his flesh hand and strung with hesitation.
He grit his teeth and swallowed back a pitiful yelp, focusing instead of Ed’s voice as he muttered curses and twisted his hands around to one side to part Roy’s hair where the sting of the collision was worst.
It felt matted and stiff.
He heard Ed sit down hard behind him, legs folded atop one another, his posture reading as exhausted.
“Bad. I’d be surprised if there’s no fracture.” Roy groaned in equal parts frustration and pain.
Ed was glowering half-heartedly, a weak underpinning of teasing buried somewhere in his voice. “Seriously, Colonel. You couldn’t have gotten hit with, like, literally anything else?”
“Yeah, cause I was just asking for this.” He shot back. The familiar tone sputtered out.
Neither had the energy to trade insults like volleys as they usually would. Its absence was stifling.
Roy’s ability to stay calm was disappearing, falling through his hands like grains of sand and it was all happening far too quickly.
Roy breathed, concentrating on that until the panic clawing at the walls of his chest retreated, still snarling and undeniably there, but hidden. He was determined to keep it together. For his own sake along with Ed’s.
If he was to be honest with himself (hah, no) it was mostly because he knew that if one of them started the fall apart the other would have twice as much hardship to dredge through.
No matter how competent Ed was, he wouldn’t put that kind of responsibility on him.
“Why’re these people after you anyways? You piss em’ off or something?” Ed was glaring up at the vent, another chill causing him to shrink back momentarily.
Roy pretended not to notice. “Why’d you assume it’s me? They could’ve been gunning for either of us.”
Ed shook his head. “Nah. You’re the one they drugged, remember? I was collateral. Besides that, they seem a lot more willing to knock me around than you.”
Roy’s head snapped up at that, eyes wide and there was the terrible realization that he was right.
The very real possibility of Ed bearing the consequences for Roy’s uncooperativeness was staring him in the face, reaching down his throat and grabbing his lungs with both hands.
Ed barrelled ahead regardless like a boat into a tidal wave, flags flying. “So again, why’re these assholes picking a fight with you?”
Roy shrugged, “Not a clue. I didn’t recognize the women. Hell, I’ve never been to Flamborough before.” There were no indications or hints either, not a single clue left for them to pick apart.
“When they were,” Roy floundered, largely disliking the way the feeling of sickness leaped when the word waterboarding touched the back of his teeth, “interrogating you, what did they say?”
“It wasn’t an interrogation.” Roy’s eyes narrowed. Ed set his jaw, working hard to keep his voice as confident as it typically was. “They just… no one asked me anything, or said anything at all really. I think they’re just trying to scare me...” He trailed off, the mask hitching noticeably.
Roy could hardly blame him: Waterboarding was brutal. It wasn’t allowed as an interrogation method, even in times of war lest the perpetrator fancied ten years in prison.
He shuddered inwardly, hoping that whoever these people were, that they’d have the decency to take it easy on someone as young as Ed. The kid was tough as nails, sure, but he wasn’t invincible.
“I don’t suppose you could dislocate your thumb and slip out?” Ed asked hopefully.
Roy looked at him in disbelief. “Okay, first off, no. They wrapped my hands.” The blond seemed disappointed at that, “Second, why the hell would you think of that?!”
He shrugged. “My teacher is crazy.”
Before Roy could respond to that baffling statement, the hum of energy siphoned through the air.
They both stiffened, exchanging a glance. Same as before, the wall trembled and the concrete popped from its place, folding in on itself to create an entrance. Roy fell back against a wall, eye closing and allowing his body to fall slack with Ed following his example.
A muted exchange took place from beyond his hearing range and moments later the wall was sewn back up tightly.
Heavy footsteps padded around the room, eventually landing in front of Roy. “C’mon, I know you’re awake.”
The voice yanked at a memory from the party that he’d set aside, deeming it unimportant. Like a lit stick of dynamite , he’d tossed it away. Now he was seeing it again, right as the fuse is about to blow.
His eyes flew open and there he was, kneeling in front of Roy with a sad smile and a white box in his hand, his shoulders broad and his hair dangling in front of his eyes. A locket hung from his neck just like before.
Roy could barely keep the growl out of his voice.
Fuery ran faster than he knew he could. He nearly lost his glasses when the road morphed to cobblestone and a loose brick latched onto the tip of his shoe.
But he didn’t stop.
He skidded around another sharp corner and held himself against the wall tightly. After a minute, a set of footsteps ran by, not bothering to glance at the crevice lined with redbrick.
Fuery nearly collapsed with relief; the adrenaline running through his system was dwindling and the shake in his knees had been worsening by the minute. One of the masked men had chased after him and somehow he’d been able to follow his path up till now.
For nearly six blocks he’d sprinted, twisting down alleys and side streets in an attempt to lose his pursuer and now he wished to be able to lay down for an hour and catch his breath.
But there were more pressing matters at hand.
It was a good thing that he knew where the MP’s were stationed.
He and Falman had gone over the map together, marking off the more important spots for later in the evening when they were stuck babysitting the Colonel, alongside Havoc and Breda while Ed snapped photos for blackmail purposes. That had been the plan, anyways.
The station was only two streets over. Fuery straightened and pulled in a long, stuttering breath.
Then he ran.
Luckily the military police were more than cooperative when he burst through the door.
They drove at breakneck pace and put all military personal that held the rank of Colonel or greater under guard. The crowd had dissipated, civilians rushing home and those of lower-ranks volunteering to watch over their commanding officers.
It helped that the event had already been winding down to a close, many people had already found their way home or to a rented bed.
Details from the fight were still bouncing around his skull, trying to organize themselves. As far as he could tell, most of the assailants has no formal training aside from the one he’d seen spinning a baton loosely around their hand. The way they’d held their weight was a dead giveaway, balancing on the balls of their feet with a curve along their spine that readied them for action.
Fuery didn’t, however, know if there had been an alchemist among them. He hadn’t a clue what to look for, after all.
The science—art, whatever you wanted to call it—was lost on him. Which was a problem because the presence of an alchemist would greatly change how this whole situation would need to be handled.
He’d seen the getaway vehicle slot itself in the centre of the road, no plate to be found. It was an older model though, one that might’ve left tracks. Skid marks or imprints in the ground that they could follow.
He shook his head.
They might not have been taken.
It felt like he had to remind himself of that every few seconds. For all he knew, they were lounging in their inn, wondering what was taking him so long.
Probably not, but it was hard to think about much else when he had yet to find a single teammate and was scrounging for good news.
Fuery had only just entered the building, having hung back to allow the MP’s to simply do their job.
That, and he desperately needed to sit down after his lungs had flipped him off and taken a paid break that certainly wasn’t in the contract. But now he darted around the smattering of people, trying to catch sight of—
Oh thank god, it was Havoc. He turned towards the voice and felt his relief increase three-fold at the sight of red hair and a tall frame standing next to the blond.
It almost immediately doubled back when he saw the sleepy tilt of Havoc’s head and the way Breda seemed to forget where his foot was every few steps.
They stumbled over, Falman in tow. “Hey! Where’ve you been?” Havoc squinted down at him, “And where’s the Chief? Weren’t you two going…uh,”
“A walk,” Breda said, looking mighty proud of his contribution. Fuery stared at them incredulously. There’s no way he can explain this while they’re drunk. But they need to know. He sent a glance to Falman, who was shifting anxiously, standing ramrod straight as ever, positively sober.
Some of his panic melted away, replaced by a very powerful urge to smack his teammates heads together. His self control was something to behold in that moment. People called him mild but really, he just wasn’t so crazy as to let impulse take over.
“A walk.” Havoc agreed belatedly. He blinked at them, swallowing back another rush of anxiety.
“We got jumped.” Fuery said plainly, not really knowing what else to do. Leadership wasn’t his strong suit, never was, but he was the only one with the information right now.
Breda seemed to process this quicker. “Jumped? Like.. like attacked?’
Falman stiffened. “The Colonel… I thought he’d been taken to be put under surveillance but—“
“I was with him when it happened. Ed too.” Fuery looked down, his eyebrows pinching together. He had be right there and he ran away.
Granted, it had been a direct order, but it didn’t make him feel better in the slightest.
“The Colonel told me to come back here. I don’t know what happened after I left.” He felt pretty helpless standing there.
Which was ridiculous, wasn’t it?
He’d done what he was supposed to.
Now he was going to drag his teammates back into the land of sobriety, kicking and screaming if need be, and make sure that neither Ed nor the Colonel had been taken from right under their noses. Unless they were already gone.
If they were then…
Slow down . One task at a time.
An idea popped into his head and he started to prepare an apology for later.
“Breda, Havoc,” They both looked to him. Surprise was tugging vaguely at the blond man’s eyes while Breda frowned. He knew the stern tone didn’t match him in the slightest, “follow me.”
All three trailed after Feury as he marched with as much confidence as he could muster to the bar. He hoped he wasn’t overplaying his hand as the lowest ranked among them, but frankly, he didn’t have the time or patience to get Falman up to speed and then have to re-explain once the other two weren’t flushed red and smiling at nothing.
Alcohol can take up to twenty-four hours to run it’s course and they didn’t have that much time to be tossing about so frivolously.
The wood of the bar was stained dark and the glasses all neatly placed on an assortment of rack with an empty flower vase sitting on one side.
He slipped around back and began skimming through the bottles housed below the bar, “Falman, a hand?”
“Sure.” He would have to thank the older man for being so willing to assist later.
Fuery handed the him two glasses. “Fill these halfway with water.” He received a sharp nod in response and continued picking through the shelves below the bar.
Havoc leaned over the side to peer down at him. “What’re you doing down there?”
A white label caught his eye and he reminded himself not to smile because this was’t going to induce anything pleasant. “Just getting you two a drink.”
He ignored how they snickered and shoved at each other, apparently already having forgotten about their two missing members.
Fuery made a mental note to have both of them officially banned from any and all alcohol from here on out.
He unscrewed the lid of the bottle he’d found and poured small amount into each glass Falman had set before him.
They both gulped it down without so much as a passing question about what it was. Fuery almost felt bad.
Havoc made a face at his empty cup. “What was in that?”
They both blanched and were suddenly sprinting towards the restrooms
At least throwing up means they won’t have to deal with the hangover. Small blessing could be found if you looked hard enough.
Ten minutes later they both stood before him, looking a little green but they were certainly standing straighter.
“You’re terrible,” Havoc told him, a weak hand on his shoulder, “but thanks. I can actually think now.”
He smiled back apologetically. “No problem.”
It was startling how quickly both of their demeanours flipped. Havoc’s eyes were like pounded metal and the sheer intensity of Breda’s expression made Fuery want to back up.
He gave them an abridged version, wincing inwardly as they all grew more unsettled and tense as he explained. Pushing through some of the details has been… difficult.
At the mention of their brush with carbon monoxide, Falman grew dangerously pale.
“Who could’ve slipped something into the Colonel’s drink though? He’s pretty sharp with this sort of thing normally.” Breda mused aloud, studying the ground like it might hold the answers.
“We should talk with the staff on duty. They might’ve seen something.”
It took them a few minutes before they found the manager and were able to talk with her. It felt like a pointless discussion and the poor girl was beyond tired, having to keep herself from snapping at them more than once. Fuery could hardly blame her as the clocks hand was crawling past midnight.
A hazy image floated through his mind.
Blond hair, wide shoulders. A man pouring amber liquid into a glass for the Colonel.
“Pardon me,” He interrupted, a hand cupping his chin in thought, “what about your bartenders?”
She blinked. “What about them?”
“What’s the name of the tall man with the blond hair? I saw him speaking with Colonel Mustang earlier this evening.” Fuery looked at her expectantly. He didn’t know how likely it was that this had been some kind of inside job, but it was worth looking at.
Something clicked for the manger and she brightened a bit, likely relieved that she could actually give them an answer this time.
“Oh! He’s a bit new here. Only started last month.”
Oh look at that. A red flag.
She drifted over to a wall where three sheets of paper were pinned up. They looked like schedules. She ran a finger along the rows until she found what she was looking for. “Here! Pavlo Feldt. His shift ended at ten-thirty.”
“Ten-thirty?” Breda repeated.
“It fits the timeline well enough.”
They were trudging towards the foyer when Hughes appeared out of nowhere. Literally nowhere.
Fuery yelped and jumped back when the man materialized at his side. “I heard what happened. How can I help?”
How he could’ve known so quickly was beyond Fuery, but another pair of hands would be graciously accepted.
It was easy enough to get him to do some digging on Pavlo Feldt.
He borrowed (dragged away) Falman as an assistant and promised to contact them as soon as he found something of note. It often slipped Fuery’s mind how scary Hughes could be when he had a goal.
The fact that this was targeting not only his friend, but a kid only fuelled his motivation like gasoline on an open flame: Perfectly safe if done right, but this was like dropping a match into a bathtub full of the stuff.
No matter how capable Ed was, no matter that he was technically a higher rank than everyone on their team aside from the Colonel himself, he was still young.
Fuery knew for fact that each of them had earned a protective streak when they were first joined by the young alchemist, a streak that’s only intensified with time.
“Are the MP’s back from the scene yet?” He asked Breda absently. Fuery knew he had as much information as he did on their alchemist comrades, but saying nothing was hard. Just a little sliver of information would help to curb the panic that was enthusiastically wrestling with his determination.
Before Breda answered, a young officer came sprinting over. “Sargent Master Fuery?”
“Lieutenants Havoc and Breda?”
The officer gave them a look that spelled nothing but trouble. “There’s a call from a Lieutenant Hawkeye at the station. She’s asking for you.”
Fuery’s heart dropped into his feet.
Ed knew what was going to happen the second the cloth had been pulled over his head.
Waking up in a barren, monolithic room with an unconscious Mustang had been a pretty bad return to the land of the living, but being grabbed by the shoulders and harshly yanked out mere minutes after his eyes opened was downright insulting.
Ed managed to drop a screw, the one at the base of his little finger, into the room before he left.
It was a marker, something to be sure that he’d ben taken back to the same space because once he knew that much, then he could start to build a mental map of wherever they were being held.
The idea was shot down soon enough. When he was manhandled into a chair and his head wrenched back, all the clues he’d been filing away vanished.
There was two people in the room with him, a woman with dull eyes and a tight grip, and a masked nobody who seemed to only be there as an assistant.
He’d been ready to showcase the brand new sailor’s dictionary he’d found in the dumpster fire known as Easter Command, a collection of colourful swear already bubbling up cheerfully, ready to fire away.
But he didn’t get the chance.
Neither of them spoke a word as they dumped water over him.
The woman’s hands scraped over the back of his neck when he strained against her hold and she would hum in disapproval, but nothing more.
Not being able to see was the worst of it.
There was a light overhead and shadows would pass over, but he couldn’t make out a single detail. More importantly, he couldn’t tell when they were going to force more water over his mouth.
The anticipation was almost as bad as the waterboarding itself, but the most panic-inducing moment by far was when the water didn’t stop.
It felt like minutes had passed but it was still flowing down, crashing into his skin with casual abandon—had they put ice in this?!—and his entire body was writhing. He wondered if there were smouldering coals sitting in his lungs, charring everything they touched and climbing dangerously towards his throat. It certainly felt like that was the case.
Without thinking, he tried to breath.
Inhaling water felt… different than he expected.
Not better, not less painful. But the way it sat heavily in his lungs before the hand tangled into his hair let up and he was able to cough it out was unsettling.
And it hurt.
Ed’s head was pounding, his pulse had grown thready. Every part of him felt shaky and weak. If the room would stop tilting out of focus, he might’ve felt the starting hints of anger or humiliation. It kept shifting though, laughing in his face as it turned in circles and made Ed wish the floor would inhale him so everything would stay still .
There was someone knocking on the door. Apparently they only had one alchemist (he wasn’t sure who yet) so not every room was sealed shut.
Soon there was a frantic voice coming from outside. Most of it was drowned out by his own heaves, but he managed to catch a single phrase, loud and clear: “We lost the third one.”
Ed grinned to himself.
Sorry if the formatting is weird on this one, I’m having to post it from my phone instead of my laptop. Hope it’s enjoyed nonetheless!
Drop a kudos if you please or a comment if you really wanna make make my day!
Havoc had gotten to the phone first.
Granted, both Fuery and Breda could hear every word of the exchange, but judging by the way they’d paled on the drive over to the station, neither would have all that much to contribute.
“Where’s the Colonel?”
Not even a greeting from Hawkeye when he picked up the line. Bad sign.
Havoc winced. “Abducted. Chief is gone too.”
“Edward?” She breathed. Her composure fell away for a moment and Havoc was sure he heard a note of worry in her voice. The cracks in her persona were filled back up with mortar in a blink and her voice turned cold.
“Major General Čatloš is dead. The request was forged. This was a set up.”
Hawkeye’s voice hummed through the phone with all the delicacy of a bull. She never was one to drag out the inevitable though. Havoc tensed, his grip on the phone making his knuckles turn white. “Damn. Do you know what killed him?”
“Drowned in his own home. The intruder used alchemy. No suspect or leads, but I’m willing to bet they’re in on this kidnapping.” Hawkeye sounded rushed, like she was trying to get this over with quickly. Which she probably was. The sooner she got off the phone with him the faster she could catch a train out to Flamborough.
The military police were waiting on them too. With nearly all military personnel either under guard or acting as a guard, that pretty much just left them to help with investigations. Havoc wouldn’t complain, he honestly doesn’t trust the MPs with this. There too much at stake to risk letting them chase after false leads until it was too late. Two officers were waiting just outside the door, ready to escort them to the site of the kidnapping.
“What’s happening on your end?”
He clutched the phone between his chin and shoulder to wave down a frantic looking Fuery who simply wouldn’t stop gesturing to the door. His message was loud and clear: Hurry the fuck up.
“Hughes and Falman are looking into our suspect. Some guy working the event apparently dropped something into the Colonel’s whisky. Breda and Fuery are coming with me to scope out the scene.”
‘I’ll…contact Alphonse.” There was the sound of pen against paper and quite murmurs in the background. “We should be there by morning, if you start a search before we arrive just send an escort to the train station.”
Havoc nearly saluted to open air. “You got it. Stay safe, Lieutenant.”
“Same to you, Havoc.”
He sighed when the line went dead and allowed himself to be hauled away by Fuery. Breda did absolutely nothing to help, the prick. But Havoc understood why the younger man was anxious.
He’d been there, after all. It would be hard to believe that Fuery wasn’t internalizing the blame for this, despite the fact that he did exactly as he should’ve. He followed orders and warned everyone else. If he’d stayed, all three would be missing and none would be the wiser for at least another twelve hours.
This, however, didn’t make it any easier for Havoc to hold back a few shouts of frustration as he was towed into a car and unceremoniously pushed inside. “Ow.” He stressed as the car peeled out of the street.
“Sorry.” Fuery didn’t bother to look very apologetic when he said it. He’s just worried, we all are.
The whole time they were in the car, Havoc and Breda were trading looks and casting glances at Fuery, whose hands were rubbing circles over one another in a nervous way that made Havoc want to tell him to stop.
“So,” Breda finally breached the silence, “the Major General is dead.” It wasn’t a question, so much as a musing.
He look down. “Yeah.”
“Death by alchemic drowning.” Breda leaned back against his seat heavily, a look of disbelief replacing the usually friendly smile. “What the hell happened to people shooting each other with guns?”
Havoc chuckled dryly. “Don’t let Hawkeye hear you say that.”
They arrived just after one in the morning. The street looked normal aside from a few things. There was a small dark stain near the middle of the road that Havoc knew wasn’t oil, and the car they’d been lended was stranded close to the sidewalk, doors flung open carelessly.
He turned to the officers who’d escorted them. “Block off the area. Interview the clerk at the inn. Ask if they saw anything.” They saluted and hurried off to relay their instructions to the other police filtering into the area.
Sleep was weighing down his eyelids and the thought of food wormed into his brain. What he wouldn’t do for a cup of coffee right now...
If he broke into a cafe, would he be able to pretend a caffeine addiction was a probable cause?
Back pocket idea.
The young officers rushed about while the three started to comb the area. Fuery took the car, making note of everything from an out-of-place dent to what was hidden in the glove box. Breda was scanning the entrance to the inn and the spots that Fuery had pointed out to them earlier as the hiding places of their attackers.
Havoc had the great pleasure of inspecting the street itself. Including the dark spot sewn into the asphalt.
They’d flipped a coin.
Breda cheated, somehow, and now Havoc was hunched over the ground, scowling at a small circle of what was definitely blood. It wasn’t a lot, but its presence was concerning regardless. Scorch marks were scattered around the ground, even going for enough to lick at a lamp and curl close to the car. The tires were looking rather sad, come to think of it. The Colonel might’ve been a little overzealous with his alchemy because the rubber was melted around the edges, sticking to the pavement like half-dried honey.
He brushed his bare hand over the ground, waiting for an abnormality. A sticky spot maybe, or some kind of fresh crack slithering through the ground. The closest thing was a scuff of gravel that could’ve easily been made with a shoe.
“Nothing,” He called, “Fuery?”
The bespectacled man extracted himself from the car wearily, his arm hanging off the door. “Just a footprint on the door from Ed.”
“A bit soft but not slashed.” Havoc pinched the bridge of his nose, his hand going to his pocket where a box of smokes usually sat.
Booted feet pounded against the ground, a young woman was looking at him sternly. “Lieutenant Colonel Hughes is here.” Havoc leaned around the woman to see Hughes holding a set of papers, tapping his foot impatiently with a determined edge to his brow. Breda was still occupied with poking through a looming isle settled between buildings, but Havoc and Fuery scrambled over and watched Hughes spread out a few sets of paper on the hood of one of the state issued vehicles.
“I got a hit on Pavlo Feldt.” Both men visibly brightened. “It’s not very good.” Fuery deflated and Havoc put an empathetic hand on his shoulder. The night air was like a razor, softly tearing through his meagre clothes and sending little tremors skipping down his back to touch his knees. The jacket really wasn’t enough.
He meet Hughes’ eyes. “Shoot.”
“What?!” Havoc shouted, “It’s only been a few hours!”
Hughes shook his head and pointed to a paper. It was a dense file, complete with name, birthday and…rank?
He’d had been enlisted?
Havoc pulled the file off the hood, studying it. The man had joined up during the conflict in Ishval, from the looks of it. He turned back to Hughes when he spoke again. “He’s been missing for three years, Havoc.”
“So our guy is using a fake name?” He asked.
Fuery snatched the paper from his hands. “Maybe... Hughes, did he have any next of kin?”
The man paused, his lips twisting into a jagged frown. He started leafing through the files at breakneck speed. It was a miracle he didn’t get a paper-cut. Hughes froze on one, setting it aside from the rest and scanning it. “Just one actually. His husband.” He waved a missing persons file, pointing to the bottom right where marital status was printed in old ink.
Neither Havoc nor Fuery bothered to look past the stamp. “Are there any pictures? We might be able to ID ‘em.”
Green eyes went scoring through the smattering of files, picking and prodding at them for something other than yellowed paper scrawled over with black and navy blue. “Uhh,”
Fuery gave Havoc a hopeful, nervous nod. Hughes paused on a folder. “Here.”
He handed them a small picture.
The photo dated back five years, all four corners frayed and the film becoming discoloured. It showed three people, two dressed up like soldiers, a dark haired man brushing arms with a woman, both smiling confidently, and one with a stethoscope slung around his neck with shoulders broad enough to fill a doorway.
“That was him!” Fuery exclaimed, “Light hair and grey eyes; it’s gotta be.”
“So we’ve got a missing spouse and ties to the military. Sounds like a revenge plot to me.”
Hughes was scowling again. “You could be right, but these three didn’t even see active duty.” He let go of the paper in his hand to avoid crumpling them, both fists coming to a rest by his sides and grasping at nothing.
“Was his husband a solider too?” Fuery strained to see the file while Hughes was still wielding it like a circus act. Havoc might’ve felt like they were being disrespectful had the situation been any different, but with two of their own missing and only one lead, respect was being sentenced to oblivion. They were grasping at straws anyways.
“No.” He pointed to the stethoscope first, then his fingers trailing down to a badge on his sleeve, “He’s a nurse, probably.”
“Whose that women with them?”
“I don’t know. Her name’s been redacted.”
Havoc tapped his knuckles against his head, closing his eyes and running through all their disparate, half-baked clues that didn’t add up.
A missing solider. A missing spouse. A nurse. Fake names and a target stamped onto the Colonel’s back.
You have the pieces. Just put them together. It’s a puzzle. All you need to do is step back.
Havoc breathed in and stepped back.
Literally, he stepped back. He could feel the odd looks he was getting from his two co-workers, even Breda’s stare was burning into his head, but he retreated up until he could see the entire scene before him, with his back pressed against a wall.
“You alright, Havoc?”
“Fine. Just… trying to think.”
His eyes roamed to space feverishly, darting from windows to off-colour bricks and back again. He saw the streaks of mud along the sidewalk, little communities of peeling paint fleeing from lampposts and neglected walls, staples marching up old wooden doors, and he saw the remains of a flower wilting in the maw of an alley. To the left there were old newspapers piled between fire-escapes, the latter looking ready to fall off and—
“Havoc?” Fuery asked nervously, approaching him with his head cocked to one side. He looked past the dark haired man, eyes locked on the little drop of purple sitting innocently on the ground and jogging towards it.
Breda trailed after him. “What is it?”
He knelt, wrapping his sleeve over his fingers and plucking the bright little bud up, holding it in his cloth-covered palm. “Hey, Breda. Are there any potted plants ‘round here?”
“None that I can see.”
He shook Havoc lightly, “What’re you getting at?”
He held the flower up, its pale purple petals hitching, fluttering in useless circles. “I know I recognize this from somewhere.”
Fuery was beside him now, Hughes standing just out of reach. He grabbed Havoc’s hand, pulling it towards him and suddenly draining of colour. “This… this is jimsonweed.”
Havoc snapped his free hand. “Right! That’s what it’s called! Back home they would tell the kids not to touch it.”
“That’s because it’s a paralyzing agent.” Came Breda’s grave voice. Havoc and Hughes blanched.
“That man was a nurse…” Hughes said slowly, backtracking a few steps.
“Bringing flowers to a party would hardly be suspicious.” Fuery’s voice was soft and brittle.
“He’d’ve known how to use them too.” Havoc looked down at the little flower, a dynamistic epiphany went barrelling through him. The four men exchanged glances.
Maybe he’d overacted when Mustang had covered his mouth.
Just a little. Ed could see the guilt flashing over his face when Ed had held himself against the farthest wall and it took a good few minutes to re-establish that no, Mustang wasn’t trying to kill him and yes, he could breath just fine.
He let his attention turn to the fact that they were being stalked by wild animals and the sun was still taking it’s damn time, meandering around before it decided to grace them with it’s stupid, essential presence.
Ed never thought he could physically resent the sun, but hey, he also never thought a party could end in a kidnapping.
“The hell are we gonna do?” He asked quietly. Mustang was running his hand over his own bruised shoulder, up and down and up and down like a looping record. It was a little unnerving and Ed was halfway to slapping his hands down, but it was obviously grounding the older man, so Ed kept a flurry of remarks to himself.
Mustang pulled his gaze up to meet Ed’s. “We’re out of our league.”
Ed’s shoulder was aching but he curled his hand around a small loose stone and hurled it towards Mustang. It was barley the size of a coin, but it smacked against his cheek with enough force to sting. “Hey—!”
“You don’t get to bail that easily.” He told the dark haired man, anger cutting through his words.
Mustang sighed. “I wasn’t going to,”
“Prove it.” Ed spat back. This whole I’m-too-tired thing was getting old after thirty seconds and no, Ed didn’t care that his brain had been knocked around. People don’t admit defeat if they’re planning to fight back. Least of all Colonel goddamn Mustang. He was as stubborn as they come and there was no way Ed would let him off the hook.
“It doesn’t need to be brilliant but we’re sitting ducks here. What do we have so far?”
That seemed to work. Ed smiled inwardly, mildly impressed with himself; Mustang’s eyes grew sharper and his lips twisted in thought. Antagonizing the older alchemist into actually using his head was a unique ability that Ed fully intended on abusing.
“We can’t risk using alchemy to build a wall, either the wolves or our pals from Flamborough would hear.”
“Wolves are nocturnal. The ones I’m used to are, anyways.” Ed said thoughtfully.
Mustang gave a sharp nod, “We can wait them out until morning. Follow the cliff going north until we find a way back up.”
The younger alchemist frowned. “But we don’t know how many there are.”
“At least five.”
Ed ran his hand down his face. “Which deity decided it was open season on us? This is bullshit.” Something in the air changed the second the words left his mouth.
Like the moment of dread right before you crash your bike into a pole while trying to prove you can ride without hands. Something Ed has never done in his entire life, obviously. This was also much more... somber. Bitter, and just a dash of frustration added to the lovely little pity-stew brewing about in the cave.
It had way too much salt.
He half wanted to whip out a fresh batch of jokes to wash down the taste, but thought better of it before his mind ran too far. Mustang grit his teeth, staring at his feet. His eyebrows were turned down, shadowing his eyes, hair curtaining over his face. He looked angry.
Beyond angry. Scared? That couldn’t be right…
The older alchemist shut his eyes tightly.
Ah shit, what’d I say?
The cave became smaller than Ed thought it was, suddenly shrinking in a rather suffocating manner, the smell of clay invading his senses. Mustang’s hand was curled, twisted into the hem of his shirt. A siren started to blare in Ed’s head as he replayed their exchange and wait since when did he care about pissing off Mustang?
A loud memory of them pulling each other out of harms way a few dozen times shoved its way to the front of his mind.
Yeah, okay. Point taken.
That might have something to do with it.
Mustang spoke before Ed could.
He said it like there was a storm about to dump rain over him; with ozone silently spreading anticipation or dread, depending on the person. This was definitely dread. Ed’s brow furrowed in confusion. “For… the wolves?”
Mustang was looking like he wanted to curl up and not say another word, but he stared the blond dead in the eyes. Apologetic and regretful glints coloured his face. “For not being able to protect you from any of this.”
Why, hello urge to punch Mustang! Back again so soon?
Ed couldn’t hold but the sputtering scoff. Annoyance and exasperation wove together to create a vivid tapestry plainly spelling out the word idiot.
“I don’t need protection, thats what I have several long-standing restraining orders for!” He cried indigently. Louder then he should’ve, but the look on the older alchemists face allowed him to let the slip-up fade out.
“That’s not the—“ Mustang paused, then sat back in bewilderment, ”wait, really?”
He threw on his very best five-star patented smirk, with no added sweeteners or preservatives (approved for the market, of course) and leaned forward. “You’ll never know.”
For the second time that night, Mustang laughed. It was sorta starting to freak Ed out. He’d rarely heard a chuckle from the man before now, and even those sparse moments had been riddled with a smugness and sense that he was being disingenuous; he’d always been laughing because he’d won. It meant he’d outsmarted someone or was teasing them.
Mustang’s actual laugh was… not that. It was still his voice, but it wasn’t nearly as empty sounding.
It was a bit fascinating to compare the two versions, but now really wasn’t the time to be giggling anyways. Ed waited until the snorts died down and all the remained was a startlingly genuine smile.
“You know, Fullmetal,” He started, “you’re surprisingly good at staying calm.”
Ed blinked at him, “Thanks. It’s the trauma.”
There! Again, Mustang had that look.
Like the one from few minutes ago. Though it had been touched with a little more bitterness, it was the same nonetheless.
For the life of him, Ed couldn’t place what it really was or where it came from, but every so often words would bounce from his tongue like a semi-automatic casually shooting ricochets through every wall and Mustang’s face would wilt. It was strange and Ed was reverse engineering the shit out of the hollowed out aura that kneaded at the dark haired alchemist. It seemed random, not a pattern or consistency to follow and was bugging Ed to no small degree, but it’s not like he could just ask.
That would defeat the purpose of figuring it out for himself.
Also, it would be awkward. Yeah, no thanks. He would die on this over-analyzing hill, he’d built a glass house here and everything!
“You good over there?” Ed prodded.
Mustang blinked and the expression was gone. “The sun’s coming up.”
He nodded to the craggily opening and sure enough, bleeding through the barricade of trees, there was a line of indigo toiling among the black sky. Stars were starting to fade by micro-increments. “Finally,” Ed sighed, “smarmy bastard was slacking off.”
“You know nights are longer in autumn, right?”
“Yeah, what’s your point?”
Mustang gave him the eye-roll of the century and made sure the pliers were still in his back pocket. It was silent as they simply watched the sun pull itself up, the violet upon the horizon tangling with blues and yellows. It was breathtakingly beautiful and also one of the worst things Ed had ever seen, because there were clouds among the dusk.
Dark ones that promised a downpour. His hand trailed over the walls, brushing over the damp minerals, sucking in a lungful of air through his nose. It smelled like mildew and a special kind of stone.
Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Yet another problem that was being graciously dumped into his lap as though there wasn’t a pile of setbacks to work through already.
“It’s gonna rain.” Ed muttered, shooting a glance to Mustang.
“Kindly shut up.”
“Colonel.” He said sharply, waiting for the older alchemist to look at him, “It’s gonna rain and these cliffs are chalked full of clay.”
Understanding made Mustang slump back. He rubbed at his eyes, a shuttered sigh dragging out of him. Ed watched sympathetically. “You know, I think you’re right. Someone up there—“ Mustang pointed upwards. “—gave nature a rifle and painted targets on us.”
“Don’t! You’re gonna jinks it.”
Ed snapped his mouth closed and wondered when the two literal scientists started believing in superstition. He had long since given up on whimsical things that were supposed to protect him, like magic or fate or the government. Those were all dreams of fantastical minds only kids were blessed with.
Maybe the desperation getting to them.
Before they left, Mustang stamped out the array that had been providing them with light. The sunrise wasn’t finished inching over the ground, but it was bright enough to see. They stood at the mouth of the cave, side-by-side, Ed silently letting Mustang rest a hand on his shoulder to stay balanced.
“A lot of this is riding on them being nocturnal.”
“The ones in Resembool are.”
“And if these ones aren’t?”
Ed raked a hand through his hair, grumbling. “Let’s just cross that stupid, shitty bridge when we get to it.”
Roy expected the man to stalk towards him, an ugly smile or low growl to accompany him. This was their captor, after all. Maybe he’d crack open the white case in his hand to reveal thumb-screws and knives or something equally nasty.
But he didn’t.
He pushed his hair out of his face, looking Roy directly in the eye. He stayed a good four feet away and didn’t even glance towards Ed, whose head was whipping between the two, trying to parse out what was going on.
“Actually, that’s not my name.”
Roy blinked, still pressing his back to the wall.
“…what?” He’s been caught—no that didn’t do it justice.
He’d been knocked off a cliff by an invisible opponent and had to scramble for purchase before he slipped.
“Pavlo. That's my husbands name. I had to borrow it. My name's Baris.” He held out his hand for a second before wincing and pulling back. Ed was staring critically at Baris, like he was some solvable puzzle. The man turned, acknowledging the younger for the first time with a minuscule, apologetic smile. “I’m not going to do nothing to you two, I want to help. Please, just relax.”
The shock faded away and the lights were glaring down over the man, giving him a hazy halo that made Roy feel like there were drugs being fed into his blood once again.
“Like hell I’ll relax.” He spat, tugging at his restrains as though they might magically come undone if he got angry enough. “You spiked my damn drink with chloral hydrate!”
His grip on the white box loosened. God, this room was tiny. Did it have to be so tiny? Maybe this guy was just taking up a lot of space.
Baris scratched his neck, he even had the gall to look sheepish. Roy bit the inside of his cheek and shot a glance to the younger alchemist. Ed shrugged back, but he seemed more confused than fearful or angry.
“No, that would’ve knocked you out for nearly ten hours—“ One slip of the tongue and they had a timeframe. “—Though it is soluble in liquids, so good guess.”
Was... was his abductor making conversation with him?
Baris made an odd hand gesture, like he was holding something between two fingers. “It was something a bit lighter.”
Baris bent down over the case. The first latch on the box was unclasped and Roy held his breath.
The second one fell open.
Then the third came off with a click and beneath the hard, pristine exterior was… a first aid kit?
Bandages and a set of metal tools were tucked into one corner with rubbing alcohol peaking out from a mountain of gauze. Cold compresses and little glass tubes with plasma and adrenaline lined the parameter, there was a single industrial torniquete laid out in the folds of disinfected cloth. Roy knew exactly what that case was. Who it belonged to.
“You’re a field nurse.”
The man nodded, his head ducking down lower than needed. He was avoiding eye contact. “I was, yes. I’m just going to check you both over. It won’t take long.”
He removed a string of gauze from his bag and padded closer to Roy. His shoulders were already aching from being shoved up against the cold surface of the wall, but Roy still glowered at the nurse, Baris’ eyes still only meeting the alchemist’s in tenth-of-a-second intervals, but each instant managed to be disarming.
Roy really almost could believe that he meant them no harm; he didn’t have the eyes of a killer, or even the eyes of a bully. Roy would know, he saw them every day walking through the halls of Eastern Command, not to mention his reflection chased him day and night.
Baris looked sad above all else, but Roy refused to relinquish his barriers so quickly.
Before his hand could make contact with Roy’s head, Ed shouted. “Hey!”
Baris recoiled quickly and swirled towards the younger. Roy half expected the kid to crumble under the weight that man held in his eyes, but he sucked in a sharp breath, bold and vibrant as ever. “Give us one good reason. Why should we believe a word you say?”
The nurse sighed, tugging in frustration at the little curls that fell above his ears. “If I wanted to hurt you, don’t you think I would’ve done it already?”
He held up both hands placatingly. It was almost a comical sight. This absolute tower of a man, someone who would be able to look a moose in the eye, was surrendering to a five-foot-nothing teen with a sharp mind and sharper mouth.
“I won’t touch neither of you less you say it’s alright.”
Roy caught the younger alchemists eye and a strange understanding passed through them. He wasn’t sure if this was new or simply a skill he hadn’t notice before now. A quick nod and they both looked to Baris.
“Get the hell out.” Roy growled.
His shoulders fell.
“You’re stubborn, I’ll give you that.”
Baris huffed, hands leaving his tools as he stood.
“You don’t have to trust me. Hell, I wouldn’t. But please, let me make sure he—“ He waved towards Roy, “—isn’t going to collapse from his concussion. And you—“ A pointed look towards Ed “—don’t have water sitting in your lungs.”
In three quick strides he was in front of Ed, lowering himself to eye level, rolling up his sleeves.
Roy seized up. “What’re you—?!”
Ed shrank back. Even when Baris stilled him with an easy hand on his shoulder, he tried to inch away. Baris placed two knuckles against Ed’s sternum.
“Just breathe, kid.”
Time slipped by, ever destructive. Roy ready to send out a half-assed kick to Baris’ heel, but he backed away from Ed before he got the chance. “You’re probably going to have a bit of bruising, but nothing that painkillers can’t fix.” The blond boy was staring in bewilderment, flashes of that wait I’ve almost got it twitch to his brow that only came along when he was knee-deep in research.
Again, Roy and Ed managed to have a silent conversation.
One that somehow ended with Roy being approached by their captor/medic with a handful of linen cloths and antiseptic. “Would you mind turning around?”
It all felt like some sick, bizarre joke. How could a kidnapper be this polite. How.
It was messing with his head something fierce that Baris said please as though he couldn’t simply force them to do whatever he was asking. It hand to be some kind of mind-game, right? Either that or…
File empty. No theories available. His good-for-nothing brain hadn’t a single idea to share with him.
Roy’s mouth was pressed into a dirty look, but he obliged. A calloused pair of hands thumbed across his scalp gently. He bit back a yell when he pulled Roy's matted locks away from the gash, a low hiss running through his body without permission. The dried-blood tugged and stung, tearing at the already broken skin. The stone beneath him was starting to leach away energy. He felt cold.
The smell of medicinal alcohol swam through the air. “Watch yourself.”
Roy managed to contain the grimace when the damp fabric dragged itself across the wound, biting and clawing all the way.
Thankfully, the cut felt shallow, skin deep instead of reaching down into his skull, but the pain was like a set of needles peeling a layer of flesh away. Baris was quick about it though, carefully combing out the blood and dirt before pressing a wad of gauze against it. Roy cringed at the pressure, swaying for a moment.
“Aw gee.” The blond man peaked under the cloth, “The hell’d they hit you with?”
“A shovel.” Ed piped up. Roy leaned forward so the bandages would stay in place while Baris organized his kit, his face pinched and troubled. “Idiots, the lot of them.”
“Can you tell us what’s going on?” Ed was inching across the wall from where he sat, still using it as support but coming closer to where the two men were situated. He looked better than he had ten minutes ago, colour rising through his face to replace the ashen paleness of before, but his breaths still came a little too heavily.
Baris circled Roy’s head with a bandage to keep the gauze in place, blatenly ignoring Ed. It hurt when he tied it off, but Roy knew the dull ache was better than letting the bloodied rag peel away any early healing the second he lifted his head too much.
Ed tried again. “What do you want? Why are we here?”
Baris sealed up his case, still perfectly clean even laid against the dust blanketed floor. “You were after me, weren’t you?” Roy cast a withering glare at Baris’ back.
He saw the mans form go taunt. “I’m the one you drugged, after all.” He said darkly.
Baris snapped his head to the side, looking down at the dark haired alchemist. His face was still soft and tired, but his eyes were alight with an emotion a little to the left of anger and north of frustration.
A darling little expression Roy decided he didn’t like at all.
“I also told you to stay away, Roy Mustang.” Baris hissed through clenched teeth and dear god Roy was glad he seemed to be such a pacifist.
In that single moment, he became a looming hurtle with no way around. He could be absolutely terrifying if he really wanted to be, Roy knew that as a fact. He held strong and fast against the verbal stones being thrown. “You helped get us kidnapped.”
Baris’ free hand curled. Antagonizing him while concussed and bound might not have been a great idea, but screw it. No turning back now, the guy was already pissed.
He nearly snarled at Roy. “And I’m leaving clues for your men to find you.”
Another scrap of information. He hoped Ed was picking up on everything he wasn’t, that way maybe they could crack this later.
“Why?” The surprisingly calm voice cut through their heated tones. Tension released Baris, his face softening at Ed’s question.
“Because the people here aren’t very forgiving. I’ll do what I can, but they’re after what’s up here, Roy.” He tapped his forehead, giving him a hard, pleading look. “Please just… cooperate. For the boy’s sake if not your own. They’re not afraid of violence.”
Roy’s hands twitched.
It was true that they’d likely take out their frustrations on Ed. They already had.
He’s a strong kid, smart as a whip and more ingenuitive than Roy could ever claim to be, but it was an alarming possibility that Ed could be... could be tortured in his stead. Deep down, it really scared him to think that, when push comes to shove, they would use his subordinate as leverage.
What’s even worse was that he might need to keep his mouth shut. There were certain things he couldn’t tell them, no matter what, and he sincerely hoped that Ed would understand if he bowed his head and bit his tongue.
Knowing him though, Ed would probably hold himself high in defiance with a knife to his throat, pouring taunts and jabs over the room until it was flooded with verbal grenades.
And of course, the brat would be holding all the pins between his teeth.
Roy let the anger that’d been bubbling in his veins cool. “What are you here for than? If you’re so concerned with our safety, why do this at all?”
“Because I’m a nurse.” Baris walked to the far wall where Roy had caught a glimpse of a hallway last time it opened. Ed tilted his head, frowning but silent.
“Whether you like it or not, you two are my patients for the time being. This was going to happen with or without me. I figured I could keep you alive and preserve a friendship.” Roy didn’t miss how his hand drifted up towards the locket. He wondered if it held some memento from his husband or perhaps it had more to do with whoever his friend was.
Add it to the mental file.
“A friendship?” He questioned, aiming for casual but landing in the mild-curiosity range.
Baris almost smiled. It disappeared before it fulled reached the rest of his face. “Long story.”
Ed scoffed and inclined his head. “We have time.” He gestured awkwardly to the rest of the room.
The empty room with no windows and Roy was now wondering what time it was. Less than ten hours was the only certainty, but that was a relatively big framework. A lot could happen in just half an hour. For all he knew they might not even be in Flamborough anymore. It would’ve only taken about an hour to spirit them away to another city or a hidden bunker.
Concrete everything and no windows? It fit the bill.
The man shook his head. “Less than you may think.”
“That’s not cryptic at all.” Ed grumbled.
He raised his hand to the wall but paused. “She’ll be back soon enough and I don’t want to make things worse by stirring up suspicion.” He knocked three times, dragging his hand on the second knock then looking back over his shoulder. “Keep your heads down and you’ll be alright.”
A small rumbling and the stone split open, sealing shut behind him.
Roy turned and was meet with a sharp look from Ed. “What’d you get?”
He smiled wearily.
Ed was still annoyingly attentive and insultingly clever. Roy launched into a spiel, sharing everything, from the locket to the possibility of being moved. Ed focused on him intently, crosslegged with his knee bouncing and the same motivated twist resting over his eyebrows.
“For starters,” Ed began once Roy had finished speaking, “his husband is probably dead.”
Holy crap the response to this fic has been amazing so far. Y'all are wonderful. Every time I get a notification my heart melts a little. I owe each one of y'all a smooch.
Oh! I have more lil tidbits for you this time:
- Jimsonweed is a naturally occurring paralyzing agent and an invasive species in most parts of the world. It is disturbingly easy to find and it will alter your mental state.
- The name Baris is a Turkish word meaning “peace”
- For those of you who don’t know, clay and rain can mean large rocks coming loose and occasionally, in severe cases, mudslides.
Chapter 5: It's winter and the fire won't light
CW: Non-graphic torture. Very brief mention of suicide. Discussion of war.
(Beta creds to my darling friends not-so-mundane-after-all and carnistervine on Tumblr. Y'all are wonderful!)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“For starters, his husband is probably dead.”
Roy recoiled. “How do you figure?”
Ed shifted, glancing to the wall Baris had exited through for a split second. He looked like he expected it to open up any second. “That locket he’s got on is a mourning necklace. Not very common anymore, but I’ve seen them before. You’re supposed to put a piece of your loved one inside. A possession, a piece of their clothing. Hair, even.” A sly smile appeared on his face, “Better yet, I got a good look at it when he was poking at me.”
“You saw what’s inside?” Roy prompted.
“A military badge. Or a piece of one, anyways.”
“Private, I think.”
Roy’s foot tapped against the ground, his hands fidgeting behind his back. “Well that could be a motive. Anything else?”
“Well he called you by name which was weird—”
“Okay, okay! I’m pretty sure he got his medical training before the civil war.” Roy’s eyes dropped down, glaring thoughtfully at a hairline fracture that snaked across the ground.
Maybe that could make sense. Even if Baris didn’t seem like a particularly vengeful person—he was trying to keep them safe…ish—maybe there was someone else involved that could’ve been motivated by the conflict in the east. He’d started up a round of the pronoun game at the end there, referring to an anonymous friend and then a she before he walked out.
There was a solid chance it was the woman who’d walked Ed back. Walked was being used very generously here.
With a dead spouse thrown into the mix…
His head hurt.
Whoever had sanctioned the jazz concert in his brain needed to be fired immediately because it was very distracting.
Roy looked back up to the younger alchemist. “Hold on. How do you know he was trained before the war?”
Ed smiled with a smug sense of dynamism, knocking his right arm against the wall with a loud resounding clang. “Cause they didn’t start teaching nurses about automail until afterwards. He would’ve taken this—“ The metal tapped against the wall again. “—if he knew how.”
Roy frowned. “What, they can’t just tear it off?”
“I mean, they can, but I don’t think they’d want risk me dying later.” The blond said with a shrug. A moment passed.
Roy sat in stunned silence. Another moment. He was very still.
A few more moments, drifting away for their payed vacation time.
“What!?” He roared. Ed winced, his shoulders came up around his ears like he was trying to block out the echos jumping around the room.
“Calm down! You’re gonna give me a migraine.”
Roy shook his head frantically, his eyes wide. “No no no, back up. What’s this about dying?”
“If you tear off someone’s automail, they can go into shock.” He said slowly. Roy didn’t even have time to get mad about the condescending tone because his mind was on overdrive. “And die.”
“Since when?!” He asked, trying to bring down the volume of his words but yeah, no. He was still shouting. Ed grimaced again, muttering something unkind before glaring at the dark haired man, his eyes painted with an unimpressed edge.
“Since right now.” There was the sarcasm, infuriatingly familiar, “Since always, dumbass!”
Roy’s head hit lightly against the concrete, a pang running from the gash and reverberating down his neck. Ed looked at him cautiously, blinking like he didn’t just drop a lit firecracker into his lap. “You’re going to give me a heart attack one day, you know that?” Roy said tersely. “Cause of death is gonna say your name. They’ll charge you with manslaughter or something."
“I genuinely thought you knew.”
“I should’ve. Shit, okay. So he’s not a recent nurse. Any other bombs you’d like to drop?”
“Just one.” Ed stopped looking at him like he’d grown a second head and was eyeing the ground critically. “I don’t think we’re actually underground.”
Roy squinted at the blond, looking him up and down no less than five times, his eyes lingering while he frowned. “You sure you’re not concussed too?”
To his credit, Ed didn’t shout, though every line on his face was reading mildly offended. “Like, eighty-three percent sure.” He replied glibly. Part of Roy wondered if he’d pulled the number out of a proverbial hat or if he’d actually done the math. Both were equally plausible. “But really, didn’t you notice how the room shook just a little when the wall cracked open? I’m reasonably certain that doesn’t happen underground.”
Roy tilted his head back to see the vent on the ceiling. Ever persistent, it filled the room with chilly air. “I don’t know… Look up there.”
Ed followed his eyes. “The vent?”
“The air coming from there smells like a mineshaft.”
“Old building maybe?” Ed suggested.
“Yeah, maybe.” Roy stressed, his eyes falling from the ceiling back onto Ed, “It’d make less sense to be above ground. Feel free to keep an eye out, but don’t jump to conclusions.”
Silence fell over them like a thick blanket.
“You don’t think the Lieutenant getting called away has something to do with this, do you?” Ed asked.
Roy subconsciously squared his shoulders. “Of course not. That’d be ridiculous.”
The document was clean. It had the Major General’s seal and signature.
That’d be nonsensical. A goddamn thermodynamic miracle.
A unhelpful voice reminded him that said miracles still happened from time to time.
“Don’t jump to conclusions, Colonel.”
It seemed like the rain was following her, trailing towards the train like a moth to flame.
Riza wished she could sleep. She knew that rest would likely do wonders for clearing her head, not to mention she needed to be fully-function once she arrived in Flamborough. But she simply couldn’t do that to Al.
The fastest route to her destination also happened to veer into East City, so she’d instructed Al to hop on the same train as her. He’d been rushing out the door before the phone hit the receiver.
Now they sat in heavy silence.
What could she possibly say?
That he shouldn’t be worried? That Ed and the Colonel would be alright? No, she’d resolved long ago that she wouldn’t lie to children. No matter how much hell they’d already seen, she wouldn’t fill the truth with flowery words or artful flourishes. No matter how you dressed up a body, it would alway be a corpse.
Riza considered trying to assure him that it wasn’t his fault, but knew how hollow it would sound. In the same way an apology sounds like it was built from flimsy paper after a tragedy. Quiet company could still be helpful though. A presence. Something grounding.
That’s what she could offer.
She looked up at the mass of hard metal gazing down at her, somehow managing to look worried. It was a talent all on its own, to emote from a suit of armour. “Yes?”
Al fidgeted. “Do you think they’ll be alright?”
Her face wilted in sympathy. “I don’t know.”
The soft grinding of metal on metal was so familiar it was almost comforting as Al’s head swiveled to the window where a dreary landscape was washed with pale moonlight. Stars never looked this bright in the city. “I know they can take care of themselves, but…”
His voice shook. It was something she’d heard a few times before and Riza knew everyone in the office held the same opinion on the trembling tone: Never, ever be responsible for it unless you’d like to get a punch to the nose from each person on their team.
It was hard thing to hear for all of them, a reminder of how young Alphonse, and by extension Edward, really were. She leaned forward, placing a hand over his and squeezing gently, even though she knew he couldn’t feel it. I might’ve been more her herself than Al, if she was being truthful.
She gave him a soft smile. “I know. I’m worried too.”
“It’s an invasive species,” Falman studied the dehydrated lilac plant, pinched between two fingers covered by cloth, “I remember a botany essay about it. They used Flamborough as a case study.”
Havoc was intensely gald they had a living encyclopedia with them to work out the nitty gritty of their discoveries, otherwise it would be four hours of research and chugging down a third coffee.
Fourth? He'd been drinking straight from the pot so it was a little hard to say.
They’d reconvened at the police station, laying out all their information to decide their next move.
He turned to Hughes. “Can you get us a map?”
He ran off to bully the MPs into giving him potentially confidential information, the scoundrel.
“So,” Havoc’s eyes landed on his teammates. Breda’s arms were crossed over his chest, glaring at the window as the sun peaked over the horizon, Fuery sitting with his eyes glued to the table covered in a patchwork of bureaucratic papers. Falman was stiff and, had it been anyone else, Havoc would’ve wondered what was wrong. But no, this was simply how the man always was.
“How are we going to do this?”
Fuery’s hand drummed against the table. “The car they used was old. If we’re suspecting they went out of town, we could look for tracks.”
“Dunno,” Breda grabbed a chair for himself, “they’ve been careful enough so far. We need to narrow it down first.”
Blue eyes were scanning the pages for the hundredth time, hoping to catch something he’d missed the other ninety-nine time.
All that surfaced was the old, dilapidated photo of the two soldiers and a medic. He picked it up, studying their faces. Committing it to memory and wishing they somehow had the name of the woman with them, her bright eyes staring straight though the grainy film at him.
His gaze drifted to the two men in the photo and something soft nudged at his heart. It wasn’t very intense, certainly not enough to erase his scowl, but it made the dark feeling that’d been rising through him fall back a little.
The fair-haired man was smiling sheepishly at the camera. A little to the side, actually, skewing closer to the shorter man with pin-straight black hair, hand interlocked with the blonds and raised high like they were celebrating some kind of victory, falling over one another with what he could only guess was affection. They all were beaming.
Havoc sighed and set it back on the table just as Hughes kicked the door open with an arm full of maps and zero ability to read the room. It had been quick, but the loud slam had sent the four men at least a foot in the air.
Havoc glared over at him, a rather childishly miffed look curling at his features. “Ever heard of knocking?”
“That thing that wastes precious seconds I’ll never get back? Doesn’t ring a bell.” Hughes didn’t miss a beat. Not now, not ever. Always rearing to go and with no sense of tact to boot. Havoc had no idea how Hughes had managed to go this long without giving someone a heart attack via poorly-timed intrusion.
“Why do you have so many?” He asked absently as the other man dumped his cargo onto the table.
“City schematics, geographical maps, sewer system, elevation and soil graphs—“ Hughes explained, rolling out the densely plotted scrolls.
Falman perked up. “Soil? Let me see.”
Hughes, with casual abandon, shoved all their previously acquired intel aside to make way for a colour-coded plan of the town and it’s surroundings. Falman’s eyes flickered over the legend, skimming the information and sucking it up like a sponge.
“Hughes, the elevation map?”
The grey haired man’s slender hands spread over the faded lines, turning between the parallel sheets. Havoc hadn’t bothered to even glance at a brochure when they’d arrived in town. It didn’t matter at the time, but now he was desperately trying to memorize all of it.
To his surprise, there was a large part under the town’s control that was just forest. Nearly seven square miles. All of it blanketed in a thick coat of greenery, shrubs and— “What the shit is that?!” He leaned over the table to stare at what looked like a hole in the ground.
Fuery squinted, reading the printed words aloud. “Dante’s Punchbowl. Two miles of cliffs. It’s… almost a seventy foot drop.”
Damn. That was a hell of a fall. Havoc wondered morbidly how many must’ve died before the area had been marked off. A lot, probably.
A small, incredibly rare smile jumped onto Falman’s face. He pointed to the soils map, tracing along the edge of the woods.
“There!” He declared. “Jimsonweed grows in richer soils. Along the parameter of the woods. That’s where we need to start.” Breda was already sprinting out the door to rally their meagre forces together. He could organize them well enough. Havoc eyed the map, “What about near the cliffside?”
“Not likely.” Falman gestured to the legend, “See, it’s made up of clay and maybe peat. This stuff wouldn’t grow as much out there.”
Havoc looked to Fuery sharply. “You said their vehicle might’ve left tracks?”
The younger man blinked at him, frowning, before his face brightened wickedly. “It could lead us right to them!” He stood abruptly, “I’ll brief everyone on what to look for—“
Falman straightened. “I know the safety measures that need to be taken with jimsonweed.” Havoc glanced to Falman, barely able to hold back a triumphant smirk.
“Help Breda with mobilization. Keep everyone informed.”
“Right!” They chorused, a sloppy salut decorating Fuery’s hand and a stiff nod from the other.
They rushed out, the door swinging behind them.
“Go on ahead.”
Havoc met Hughes eyes, bright as ever, thunderous and warm. “I know you’re itching to get out there, Havoc. I’ll draw up a route and meet you at the south end of town.”
He wore a grin to match sunlight. “Of course. Send someone over to the station for me, yeah?”
His glasses reflected the light as his head tilted. “Sure. What for?”
“Hawkeye’s on her way. Al too.” Hughes’ brow pressed down in a mix of relief and apprehension. Havoc jerked his thumb towards the door, floorboard creaking under his boots. “They should be here in an hour or so and I hear they’re bringing a storm with them.”
A tired hand rubbed at Hughes’ forehead. “Great. Keep a communications up. I’ll be right behind you.”
A rumble skirted along the walls of their darling little cell followed by an electric buzz driving through the air and making Roy’s fingers tingle with an alien sort of urgency.
An entrance appeared out of nowhere once again, with two people casually walking in. The woman from before, her face still wielding a smile like a shotgun, and some nameless thug who Roy thought to call Clown.
Not for any particular reason, just because he gleaned a little bit of satisfaction from insulting these people, even if it was just in his own head. The woman pressed a hand to the wall and it pulled itself back together, corners melting back into a smooth surface.
Roy caught a quick flash of an earthen tattoo on her left palm.
So she’s the alchemist.
Her other hand, strangely enough, was still gloved. Leather climbed up to her wrist, nearly meeting the hem of her sleeves hanging halfway down her forearm. Clown leaned against the newly sealed wall, arms crossed over his chest while the woman strode to the centre of the room, eyes locked on Roy.
“Evening! Or morning. Who knows. Name’s Hildy, I’ll be your host for your stay here.” The smile and chipper tone matched with the dark gleam in her face was almost enough to make Roy back up. She trotted over to him and leered down, beaming brightly.
“What do you want?” He bit out.
“Oh, lots of things actually.” She replied, matching his tempo like a pro batting against an amateur, “Tea, maybe a good book. Clean brass knuckles would be nice.” She ticked off a finger for each mundane item. Roy’s hands curled and uncurled into fists, his nails cutting into his palm as he glared at her, eyes of flint against her steely grin. Maybe something would catch fire.
“But I’m guessing you mean what I want with you.” She fanned out her hands like he was some prize she’d won.
Ed was scowling at the woman who had yet to glance his way, but the kid was beyond angry. She stepped closer to Roy, who held his head high in defiance. “I want to start a war.” Hildy said calmly.
His heart slammed into his ribs while his stomach melted into his shoes.
An actual war? As in, guns, bombs and a mountain of corpses; the thing that kills more civilians than soldiers; the thing that he still can’t shake from his sight whenever he closes his eyes?
His face felt too hot, feverish even, the words sinking into his flesh and striking a match beneath every vein and organ. He’s burning from the inside.
An ugly feeling washed over him and he was pulled back, back, back. Right down into a pit where the worst memories were held in a bottle labeled Do Not Drink.
And here he was, taking a big, involuntary swig. It still reeked of dirt and gasoline. The word war cracked over him like a whip. Roy could practically taste the stench of burning hair and flesh, branding him with the smell. He knew for fact it couldn’t be washed out.
Hildy sat down in front of him, placing a hand on his knee and holy shit she’s strong. The pain of her fingers grinding into his skin brought him back to the present. Roy snarled at her and jerked back. Any longer and he thinks she might’ve actually been able to break something. If he did’t know any better, he’d say her grip was supernatural along with that wolfish grin.
Hildy leaned back. “That’s right, Colonel! A real war. Exciting, isn’t it?”
Ed was watching, mouthing a string of silent curses that largely consisted of a variation on what the fuck.
Roy would never claim to be a very patient man. He had a damning streak of impulsiveness that had screwed him over more than once. Despite that, he wasn’t quick to anger in most cases. There were some exceptions. Ed was one of those exceptions, somehow knowing exactly which buttons to press in order to set him off, or at the very least annoy him into a routine argument. This was rapidly becoming another exception.
Watching as Hildy stuck out her hand mockingly, a blaze dancing over her expression, the urge to simply kick out and knock her down was becoming very tempting. She held all the cards and his leg protested that it was a great idea, but he upheld the thin layer of composure he’d managed to patch together when she’d arrived.
Hildy stretched her arms, stilly twitching giddily with her eyes trained on the older alchemist, swaying to a unheard tune she hummed under her breath. “You’re going to help me do it,” She sang lightly. He caught a note or two of a military march. It threatened to yank him back to his time spent at the academy, like a bucket of water to the face.
Roy opened his mouth, ready to ask a single question, but Ed beat him to it.
His golden eyes had solidified into pounded metal. Ed was quick to anger, he remembered belatedly. The way he’d spat the word like it’d been acid in his mouth sparked equal parts pride and concern in Roy. Ed never stopped being filled to the brim with boldness and sure, Roy was silently cheering when he’d shot the venom at Hildy, but he also needed Ed to shut the hell up and not draw attention to himself.
The kid’s sense of mortality had flown out the window years ago and he knew damn well Ed wouldn’t back down from any kind of fight so long as he has at least one leg and a working set of lungs.
Baris’ words rang loud and clear.
For the boy’s sake if not your own. They’re not afraid of violence.
Hildy didn’t so much as tilt her head towards the blond when the smile vanished, eyes going blank in a way that made Roy’s breath stutter. Her arm flung out. Something metallic glinted as it flew from her sleeve and sailed directly toward Ed.
A knife. Small enough to be hidden but wickedly sharp.
“Wait!” Roy shouted uselessly.
It embedded into into the wall with a thump, carving a thin line along Ed’s cheek and cutting firmly into his right ear. He froze, body locking in place, not daring to pull away with both eyes glued to the hilt that stood against his face, scoring into his skin.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” She said lowly, rising from the floor and drifting across the room. She tore the dagger from the wall, a small stream of blood slipping down Ed’s jaw and colouring the fabric of his shirt crimson.
“You really shouldn’t interrupt people.” Hildy told him. Her eyes looked dead, posture lopsided. Her shoulders skewed to one side in a mangled, distorted way. Like a weather-beaten scarecrow that had been animated into a person, creaking knuckles and all with the dagger held tightly in her fist.
Roy breathed in shocked huffs, pulling at the ropes around his wrists with renewed determination and ignoring the stubborn burn that followed.
Clown (he was regretting the name) grabbed him by the shoulders before he could rise up and shoved him back, an arm barring across his chest.
Hildy rested the flat of the knife lazily against Ed’s collar. “You know,” She turned it slowly until the edge sat against his skin, her head falling to the side, “people used to brand kids who acted out.”
Ed flinched when her thumb slid along the top of the blade carefully, pressing down until a rush of blood soaked into Ed’s shirt.
He breathed out through his nose, teeth grinding together but still glaring at Hildy. Roy reigned back his instincts that were shouting at him to knock her head off and forced himself into an expression as neutral as he could manage. It was easy as putting out a forrest fire with a garden hose.
The more he reacted, the worse it would get.
Don’t hate me for this, Fullmetal.
She leaned just a little bit more of her weight onto the blade and Roy watched it hit bone. Ed was glowering up at her through the involuntary twitches, not quite ostentatious enough to look at the fresh stream of red that was thoroughly ruining his clothes. It stood out so darkly against the white fabric.
“Don’t interrupt me again.” She pulled away, running two fingers along the knife and flicking away the blood—Ed’s blood—her smile returning with ferocity. It split across her cheeks in a calm curve, somehow looking both disturbed and kind.
Unhinged. That was the right word for her. Unhinged.
The blond looked to him with wild eyes, silently asking for permission send his metal foot into Hildy’s face. He shook his head subtly.
This isn’t a fight. They’re effectively prisoners here and she’s the fucking warden.
Ed, still coiled tensely, settled back against the wall staring dead ahead at Roy, likely trying not to notice the fist size stain that had muddled his clothes. He could be an anchor if that’s what the kid needed right now. The blond didn’t budge, but he did, however, shrug one shoulder towards his split ear, hissing softly as he wiped the blood away.
It was replaced quickly enough.
Hildy was gazing down at the blood on her fingers lovingly. Roy watched her eyebrows fidget and twist into something much more gruesome.
“Why?” He asked carefully. His voice didn’t shake. It didn’t.
Her eyes met his with an alarming lack of bloodlust. She was so casual about it all. Every word and movement, like it was all natural. An easy sort of flow followed her hand even as it had marred Ed’s skin. The implications happily fired off buckshots through his veins, speeding up the already racing thrum of his pulse.
The man holding Roy let go when Hildy stopped in front of him. She didn’t to sit this time. She examined the blade held loosely in her hand, still dotted with blood. The sight was enough to make him glare against his better judgment. Caution and the wind became well acquainted while a spike of rage lodged itself right between his shoulders and pressed through his chest.
“Why are you doing this?” He seethed, lips pulled into a startling scowl. Hildy brushed off both his vicious expression and the question itself.
She gazed at him lightly, twirling the knife as she paced. Her shoes scuffed against the floor, treading in a wide circle while solely focused on Roy. “What do you get,” Hildy held the knife between two fingers, “when you strip away every aspect of a person’s life and give them a single purpose?”
She tutted at him, head tilted like she was scolding a child. “A soldier.”
The blade vanished into her sleeve. Hildy waved a hand towards Clown and, to Roy’s horror, he handed her a gun. “And what happens,” She popped the cylinder open, “when you give that soldier a gun?”
“Screw you.” She delivered a swift kick to his gut. He hunched over with a strangled cough.
Hildy crouched down and watched him struggle to pull in a breath, looking amused.
Don’t do anything stupid.
She tapped the gun over his head lightly and he could hear the bullets rattling in their chambers, sounding all too eager to be released. Roy kept glaring. His eyes didn’t match the rest of him, a strained sort of calm clashing with rage.
“They kill people.”
Soldiers kill people. He killed people.
It made him feel dizzy but she wasn’t wrong. Teach a man to shoot and…
Her gloved hand pushed out a single bullet, letting it fall to the ground with a hollow clatter. “And what, pray tell…” A second bullet met the concrete. He flinched at the soft clink. “Do you think happens when you put food in front of a starving man—“ Another bullet. “—but don’t let him eat?”
A fourth charge landed at her feet. Only one remained in the gun.
“Yes, exactly!” The grin never left. From the corner of his eye, Roy could see Ed trying to pull at his restraints, looking nervous. Downright fearful, even, with dark red still dripping down his neck. He shot glances around the room, the lights overhead making his skin look far more pale than it should.
Hildy pushed herself up, flicking her hand over the smooth metal, the cylinder spinning wildly.
“You see, I was the soldier. And now I’m the starving man.” She spun it again, circling the room.
“I was drafted during the Ishvalan war. Trained and beaten until all I could do was fight. My friends got dragged in too, but we never saw active duty.”
The pieces started to fit themselves together and Roy felt his stomach curdled and flip. Before they’d brought in the state alchemists, thousands had been conscripted into the army and afterwards, thousands had been told to go home and simply pick up where they had left off.
Manufactured sociopaths getting dumped into sweet domestic nothings.
“They filed us down to nothing but a violent instinct. Then abandoned us into poverty, expecting us to adapt. Some of us did.” She paused, the smile faltering, “Some of us didn’t. I was one of the lucky ones.”
Roy knew how common suicide was among veterans. He was horribly, intimately aware of it and her words were not lost on him in the slightest.
“I’ll have my war.” Said whispered sweetly.
“For what? Revenge?” He barked out. Why the hell did they have to wrap his hand?! He could’ve been out of these damned ropes ages ago.
She shrugged. “Call it vengeance, karma, whatever. I really don’t care. It’s a release and nothing more.” Hildy snapped the cylinder back into place, letting the gun hang from her fingers by the handle. “Maybe I’ll start this war like the last one, hum?”
Her eyes strayed towards Ed. “With a bullet through a child’s head?”
Roy’s mouth went dry. She raised the gun slowly towards the blond, pulling back the hammer. It was all so deliberate and his breath hitched in his throat. “H-hold on.”
She ignored him.
She was going to fire at Ed. There’s a one in five chance that there’ll be a bullet and she was less than four feet away from him. Those weren’t good enough odds to play with, he needs to do something.
De-escalate. Talk her down.
“This won’t change anything.” Roy said. He could hear his own desperation, each word pulled tight and painfully thin. “Killing someone here and now is useless.”
His hands weren’t shaking. His voice didn’t stick to the walls of his chest. The words didn’t fall out coated in unadulterated pleads. His mind wasn’t filling with images of singed corpses and hole-ridden friends. Roy wasn’t panicking.
Her eyes were back to that cold, focused void of earlier. Ed didn’t move a muscle, his eyes locked on the barrel that was staring him down. Roy swallowed thickly and tried once again. “Think about—“
Hildy’s finger loosened against the trigger for a moment. And then she pulled—
It was empty.
Relief was a hell of a drug, wasn’t it?
It made the room swim and Roy almost felt sick from it all washing over him relentlessly.
The chamber didn’t have anything in it and Ed didn’t have a hole torn through him. Hildy tossed the firearm back to Clown cavalierly, as though she wasn’t just about to murder a fourteen year old.
Roy forced his teeth to unclench, exchanging a half-worried-half-reassuring set of glances with the younger alchemist. Ed looked ready to pass out. Roy felt the same as the adrenaline left him all at once and words became a foreign concept. All he could do was remind himself how to breath.
This was already up for nomination as one of the more terrifying moments in his life; she would’ve killed him had the cylinder landed on the wrong chamber. Ed would be a bloodied heap on the floor, either bleeding out or with red painting the walls behind him. Dead. Deceased.
Reality was looming over him with an anvil, ready to slam it down over his head.
The blow was sickening.
Roy‘s dignity retreated for a moment while he hung his head, somehow feeling exhausted like he’d been up for days on end. He felt nauseous and feathery.
The cartridges were scattered about near him, glinting under the harsh industrial lights. He blinked down at them through his relief and choked on nothing because there was the cartridges.
Only the cartridges.
Roy’s blood drained from his face.
She’d filled the gun with blanks.
This was a game to her. She was toying with them, waging psychological warfare on the two, treating it like a round of tag with every rule bent in her favour. Roy looked up at her slowly, sweat beading along his hairline. He couldn’t decide if he was mad or frightened, but whatever it was, it was strong and it was pleading with him to plant a knee directly into her throat.
“Are you done?” His words were made of poison. He sincerely hoped she could feel every bit of cold hate that was invading his eyes. “Why?” He spat, “You could’ve picked up any military officer if you wanted information. Why us?”
She chuckled. Roy seethed silently.
“Us? No, no, no.” Hildy brought her hand to his jaw wrenching his head up as her lips trembled with unheard laugher. “You. The Hero of Ishval.”
There was his confirmation. Ed had speculated, Baris had implicated it more than once, but she told it loud and clear: It was him they were after. Absolutely and undeniably.
The grin was almost painful to look at now as she leered at him. He could smell the iron of blood coming off her.
“You, Roy Mustang, are going to tell me the secrets of flame alchemy.”
Details from the earlier chapters are starting to pay off! I hope y'all were paying attention cause I went ham with Chekov's gun. Thanks for all the kudos and comments by the by! I owe each of you a kiss.
- Thermodynamic Miracles is “an event so unlikely, it’s effectivley impossible, such as oxygen spontaneously becoming gold.” The idea is from the Watchmen comics! Which are excellent and y’all should read it.
- Hildy was inspired by a character of the same name from the film "His Girl Friday" which has a script twice as long as the average screenplay because of how fast the characters talk.
- All the stuff about where Jimsonweed is likely to grow is true.
- Mourning jewellery was a real thing!
Chapter 6: Dime for your voice
CW: Non-graphic torture. Mentions of suicide. Discussions of war and terrorism.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It took an hour to get themselves organized.
They’d split up the fifteen extra pairs of hands into two groups, each with communications. Fuery, Breda and Falman would lead one to the south while Havoc and Hughes searched west.
They’d gotten word of Hawkeye’s arrival as well. She and Al were being ferried over by a very overworked secretary who Hughes silently vowed to buy lunch for as thanks. Later, though. After all this was done and images of dead friends weren’t leaking into his mind.
“Keep your hands covered and stay within earshot of at least two people. Your communications are for reports and movement updates.”
“Sir!” A symphony of voices called out, heels knocking together strictly.
He stood next to Havoc, a sense of shock welling at the absence of the cigarettes that were usually balance between his teeth. “Pardon me, sir.”
A young man dressed in dark blues approached him. “What is it?” He asked, wincing inwardly at the snap to his tone.
“There’s been a relatively recent development in the woods, about three months ago. I’m not sure if it’s been included in any of your research thus far.”
Havoc frowned at the man. “Spit it out.”
“Sir.” He bowed his head for a moment, “There’s a wolf pack in the woods. We estimate there to be four to eight of them.”
Ah, another variable to be tossed in. There was so much to keep track of that he wanted to write up a paper just as to remember all the details of the situation.
Names, faces, locations, all of it. But there wasn’t time for that, of course. Hughes nodded to him. “We’ll keep an eye out.”
The younger man, whose face had been stoically upholding professionalism, broke away a little to reveal worry. “Please, be careful. These ones are big, from up north. They might as well be giants.”
“…thank you. Good luck.”
“Same to you, sir.”
Beside him, Havoc sighed. “You think that’ll be a problem?”
He rubbed the back of his neck, the sleepless night beginning to weigh on his eyelids. “With our luck? Probably.”
The flash of dark metal flickered in the distance, an engine rumbling its way towards them.
The sun was fully up, but the moon had yet to clock out. It apparently didn’t realize that its shift was done, stuck in the crosshairs of dawn and day when the horizon seemed to sway. It was like the world was drunk, spinning a little slower than it should. Hughes couldn’t help but feel a selfish bit of relief knowing that Hawkeye was here.
She’d be anxious and exhausted, but damnit he needed something to anchor him. There wasn’t a soul in Amestris more grounding and present than Hawkeye and with his heart feeling like a balloon ready to fly off into the dark clouds overhead, he needed that now more than he had in years.
He could practically hear the mirroring thoughts that play in Havoc’s head, his expression doing nothing to hide how glad he was.
There was also the knowledge that she might very well beat him over the head with a pistol for letting it all happen.
“Hey,” A hand fell onto his shoulder. An attempt at comfort, he supposed.
“I’m sure that the Colonel is alright.” The blond sounded confident in a watery sort of way. Conditional confidence; stable until the circumstances began to shift. Hughes didn’t shrug the hand off, but he pulled away, his mouth pressed into a hard line.
“It’s not him that I’m worried about. It’s Edward.” His hands dug into his pocket, one feeling for the gun he’d borrowed and the other tracing along the seams for loose strings. His face was dim with concern. “They went after Roy, they need him for something. They won’t kill him. But Ed was there by chance.”
“Chief’s tough.” Havoc told him as he moved to meet the approaching vehicle, gesturing for him follow.
He grimaced inwardly. “He’s fourteen.”
The same hand that had touched his should rapped against the side of his head lightly. Havoc was gazing at him like he’d said something dumb. The blond man managed to look dignified with a stubborn pout. “He graduated from the school of hard knocks before either of us were cussing.”
The car was slowing, rolling down the edge of the street quickly, the haze of reflections around it dissipating with every few yards. The dark haired man sighed. “Havoc,”
They stood by the curb, Hughes with his hands nervously clasped behind his back and Havoc’s bright eyes watching him from his peripheral. “Listen to me Hughes, those two are damn smart and they’ll look out for each other. We just gotta trust ‘em to survive for now.”
Hawkeye was out of the car and rushing hurriedly towards them before the tires stopped turning.
“Lieutenant,” Hughes greeted. Alphonse clambered after her, the scraping of metal against gravel cutting through the relative silence.
Sure, he’d met Al before. In passing mostly and of course he’d heard about him a good amount from Roy. But it never got any easier to remember that he was only thirteen. The one thing that managed to push that reality into his brain-space was how soft and young his voice was.
A polite enough kid most of the time, but he didn’t even bother to say hello. Not that Hughes could really hold it against him. His brother was missing; it would be a terrifying ordeal for anyone. The boy went straight too Havoc. “Anything?”
The note of desperation in Al’s voice damn near broke his heart open. He could see Havoc and Hawkeye wordlessly agree with his own silent guilt. Neither could fully meet his eyes, but Havoc straightened anyways. “Not much. Sorry, Al.”
He saw Hawkeye flinch at the words. Anyone else would’ve missed the way her fingers twitched, itching to pull a trigger at something.
Problems you could fire at were a lot easier, after all.
“We can give you a rundown later. We’ve got a dozen MPs waiting to launch this search.” He eyed the both of them carefully, softening at the hopeful tilt of Al’s head.
They’d get them back.
The secrets of flame alchemy.
That’s what she wanted. Roy felt a dark bout of laughter rise in his throat. “Right, cause I’m just going to tell you that.”
He refused to remember the threats she’d just imposed on them. If she didn’t have full control, he might be able to turn the situation to his favour. This was, of course, one of the few things he really, really couldn’t tell anyone.
He’d sworn up and down that flame alchemy would die with him. It would be a betrayal of his very person to hand that kind of destruction over, but shutting his mouth promised nothing but pain for Ed.
Maybe if Roy could throw Hildy off balance, she’d retreat. For how long, he didn’t really care. Just enough to find a way out. Hildy didn’t falter though.
Not a twinge or pinch touched her face.
“I get what you’re doing. This town is already against the military and if you attack it with my fire, the whole country will take sides.” He said, filling his voice with all the boldness of a child with no sense of mortality.
She took a step back, a hand reaching for the dagger that had been hidden in her sleeve, spinning it between in fingers in a vaguely threatening way that Roy dismissed as performative. It’d have him rearing for a very one-sided fight if he gave it a legitimate thought. “Precisely! You’ve got the most identifiable type of alchemy, after all.” She agreed.
“And if you were missing the whole time... well, whose to say it wasn’t a rouse by the higher ups? Rumors are one hell of a thing you know.”
Hildy chuckled to herself and fixed him with a soft, frigid look. “Just imagine.”
On the other side of the room, Clown had moved far too close to Ed for Roy’s comfort. Only about two feet away, easily able to grab the kid should he need to. The hunting knife strapped to his leg only renewed his determination to be a shiny little distraction. No matter what, Ed was innately at more risk then he. He couldn’t afford to stumble or stutter.
Ed himself was breathing slowly in controlled inhales, in through his nose and out in a quick huff. Those golden eyes were sharp, choleric and acutely discerning as ever. He’d lying if he claimed to have not felt a little bit of gratification in how Clown had started to squirm a little under Ed’s glare.
He matched the younger alchemist focus and stared up at Hildy.
“I’m not telling you shit.”
She paused, the blade balanced on her index finger and poised to shoot towards his head. Roy brace for it to fly towards him, landing in an arm or leg. Maybe sinking into the wall like she’d done with Ed.
Non-lethal, but an admittedly brilliant scare-tactic all the same.
In a fluid motion, the dagger was back at her side, hidden in the folds of her clothes. Hildy tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, her eyebrows climbing up her forehead. Roy was really starting to hate how gentle her expression was. It had stayed calm and friendly since she entered, aside from when she’d used his subordinate as target practice.
“I know.” She said. Whether her voice was like honey or tar, he couldn’t tell. It was sticky and clung to him.
And there goes his single advantage of shock value.
“You won’t win this. You can’t.” He ground out, eyes flicking over the room as though an escape route would materialize, “You’re wasting your time.”
“Mm-humm.” Hildy hummed back. “You seem to forget, Colonel.”
“Forget what?” Roy growled.
“You brought another alchemist with you.”
Her shoes skimmed the ground lightly, the rubber leaving small streaks against the uniform grey floor. Roy kept his expression neutral when Hildy halted beside Ed, her head tilted to watch him out of the corner of her eye.
Roy was practically beating back a wealth of reactions—ranging from fury to pleading—with a sledgehammer. They would only make it worse.
Shockingly, she turned her back to him entirely, looking down at the blond alchemist.
“What about you? Wanna tell me how it works?”
Ed scoffed. “Nope. I don’t know.”
“Oh, come now. You’ve spent enough time around him, have’t you? He never shared that little—“ She snapped her fingers. The sound cracked out louder than it should’ve. “—trick with you?”
“Asking twice isn’t going to change my answer.”
She tutted softly, condescension draining her words of the coolheadedness of before. “You think I don’t know who you are? You’re a prodigy. I bet you figured it out ages ago.”
Ed sneered at her. “How does it feel to’ve thrown away months of planning?”
The first hit came fast and without warning. His head cracked to the side. Roy didn’t dare move, but his face was pulled into a fierce snarl. He could still only see Hildy’s back, but from under the brush of golden hair, he saw Ed’s mouth quirk up into a smirk.
“I don’t know why, but I thought you’d have a better arm than that.” Her hands curled.
“Brat.” Hildy’s voice was flat.
Ed pulled his gaze up to meet hers, burning from the inside and ready to speak in embers and smoke. “I hear clifftops are lovely this time of year. It’s nice jump off them. Maybe you should try it sometime.”
Roy could see the tension in her shoulders grow. The second blow had the kid’s head cracking against the wall, his eyes were watering but he looked apathetic and smug. Roy belatedly realized that, for all the force Hildy was putting into her fists, Ed hadn’t gained a bruise. In fact, he should’ve gotten his nose a bit busted up from her last swing.
Roy felt an involuntary smile itching over his skin.
This damn kid.
He was literally rolling with the punches, moving so her hand landed but minimizing the damage. Whoever Ed’s teacher was, she’d been smart. He’d have to buy her a drink sometime, or at the very least say thanks for drilling her student so thoroughly.
Hildy kelt to eye level beside the blond, gaze boring into him. Roy was able to see her profile now, her face blank and cold like it had been before. Ed’s left leg was drawing back like he was posing to kick her away. With the metal foot and all, he’d probably end up breaking her shin.
Hildy was slowly tugging off her glove with stiff indifference, her voice going deadly calm. “Do you always cause such trichotillomania?”
“Give me a dictionary and I’ll tell you.”
She tore the glove the rest of the way off, grabbing Ed by the jaw, her now bare palm covering his mouth and jerking his head to face her. Ed looked just about ready to bite her fingers off.
“Don’t forget that you’re useless to me.” She said smoothly.
Ed was glaring at her in defiance but something wasn’t right. Roy could practically taste it in the air, a surge of energy that made goosebumps race along his arms. Ed’s eyes went wide.
He strained against Hildy’s grip, a red flush spilling over his face.
Clown was hauling Roy back before he even realized his legs had started to move. “What are you doing?!”
Ed was writhing, done up in shades of agony, pushing against her hand as Roy was knocked onto his knees and his shoulders were wrenched back. Hildy slammed his head back into the wall without hesitation, holding Ed there while Roy thrashed. “Stop!”
It was like she didn’t even hear him.
He had no idea what was going on but she had to stop whatever she was doing because Ed looked like he was close to collapsing. How many minutes had passed? Two?
The grip on his arms was tight enough to bruise, the ropes were burning up to his forearm.
Hildy finally relented.
Ed pitched forward and heaved up water.
Roy caught a flash of Hildy’s palm and it all fell into place. There were two distinct symbols inked into her skin. Oxygen and hydrogen. Water.
She’d filled his lungs with water.
Ed’s breathing was ragged, still hunched forward but somehow found the strength to glower at her.
He shouldn’t’ve. He should’ve kept his head low and not moved. And yes, Roy knew Ed was stubborn.
Everyone did. He thought it as a good trait to have. Being unflinching and steadfast would always hold more value in his mind than a willingness to bail out.
But just this once, he wished Ed could’ve surrendered. Otherwise maybe Hildy wouldn’t have grabbed him again and forced his mouth shut while Roy shouted protests and Clown pressed the heel of his hand into the slice at the back of his head until it pounded. Ed’s gaze locked on his.
Roy’s heart lurched painfully and he wanted to squeeze his eyes shut.
Don’t look away.
Ed was blinking to him through his slitted, watery eyes.
Don’t look away.
Roy saw the panic that was sewn into the brilliant gold and his lungs sputtered to a stop.
Don’t look away.
It took everything in him to hold Ed’s gaze and quietly reassure him.
He needs you right now. He needs someone to look back.
It took too long for Hildy to pull away. Ed coughed and sucked in thick breaths of air, his head bowed with flyaway hair strands curtaining his eyes.
Roy was unequivocally pissed.
Part of it was because she’d looked so apathetic the whole while. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, in her eyes. Their colour seemed to return when she vaporized the water and skipped back a few steps. But mostly he was angry that this was all based in fear-mongering.
He couldn’t demand any kind of medical attention because Ed wasn’t in danger. Not that he could really speak from experience, but Roy knew that any amount of water in ones lungs was excruciating. Like swallowing glass, someone had once told him. But when it was gone, it was just a matter of remembering to breath.
“He doesn’t know anything.” He spat. Clown’s hands left his arms and Hildy was looming over him. Roy wished he could lash out and break one of her legs. Maybe land a kick to the hands that just tried to drown Ed.
“Figured.” She responded airily. “But that certainly got you talking, didn’t it? Thanks for the tip, I’ll keep it in mind for next time.”
His hands were shaking, jaw locked shut so tightly he wondered if it would be aching later.
What was that about anger clouding judgement?
“I’ll kill you.” Roy growled. Hildy chuckled darkly.
“Oh very scary. Especially with that concussion, I’m shaking in my fuckin’ boots.” He recoiled as she drew closer, the cheery little smile making another appearance.
“I’ve killed plenty with that little trick. Don’t think it won’t kill him too. I’ll be back in a few hours. Think it over, hum?”
Roy didn’t want to dignify the threat with a response. He just tried to calm the fire racing through his veins and tamper down the ringing in his ears, not yet brave enough to steal a glance at Ed. He could hear him well enough, still trying not to choke on the air entering his body.
Hildy gazed at Roy, her brow twitching upwards. Without preamble, she struck him across the face. Roy felt his lip split open and the room was ripped out of focus, swimming in shades of the night sky. When he finished blinking the spots from his eye, both she and the man were gone along with the blank bullets. The wall was solid as before.
Roy was beside Ed in a second.
“Hey,” He nudged Ed with his shoulder, “talk to me, kid.” He could see the shiver racketing his small frame. “C’mon Fullmetal, say something. Are you alright?”
“Relatively.” He breathed, his shoulders slowly unfurling. Roy sat back and let Ed collect himself.
His voice sounded rough, but it was still firm. “D’ya know,” The blond started, looking up to Roy slowly, “what the human body is mostly made of?”
He’d burn this place to the ground later.
Just... calm down right now.
He swallowed. “The array on her hand?”
Ed nodded. “Targets pre-existing water.” His eyes grew hard, his face stern in a way that Roy severely disliked. Someone as young as him shouldn’t know such a steely expression, even one who’d seen the insanity that Ed had. “Don’t give them anything.”
He tensed. “I wasn’t—“
“Colonel.” Ed cut him off, “I’m serious. They’re trying to start a war.”
Roy studied the younger alchemist, searching for some tick or twinge he could read because he’d done a good job masking the inflections in his voice. His breathing had settled a little, his colouring returning to normal. The shivering was a bit concerning though.
One thing at a time.
Ed lifted his chin towards the ceiling, sitting crosslegged and looking contemplative. “For all her talk, she hasn’t actually done much yet.”
He would've smacked Ed right then and there if he could. “Did you forget that she almost killed you?!” Roy shouted, reeling back incredulously.
“Operative word being almost.” He responded, apparently not noticing how his own chest was still heaving and the coughs that sounded like a busted car engine.
“Don’t think I’m going to let you sacrifice yourself for this.” His voice was stern, yet it was impossible to fully erase the underpinnings of nervousness teasing at the syllables.
“I’m not going to.” He brushed his hair from his eyes with his shoulder, a damning determination hardening his features. Roy briefly considered telling Ed to shut up because he honestly thought whatever off-the-walls idea was being pieced together might give him an aneurism. Sadly, he didn’t say that.
A messy plan, or even a vague idea was better than waiting for an escape to be handed over on a silver platter.
Ed nodded towards the designated door-wall. “You were seeing stars when she left, but that nurse guy, Baris, he wait waiting outside. She apologized to him and… I think he can reign her in a bit.”
“You’re really tempting fate Fullmetal.”
He flashed a tired grin. “It’s a hobby.”
“Do you really wanna put your trust into the guy who got us into this?”
“Oh, absolutely not. But would you rather Hildy get her war?” He said her name like it was a curse, a nasty word that could only ever be thrown or spat as a weapon.
He thought back to the deadly still expression and her smile like barbed wire stretched over a prison fence.
She’s the warden, after all.
Ed huffed, rolling his shoulders to a chorus of pops. The older alchemist caught a flash of his hands. Similar to Roy’s, his thumbs were pressed to his palm, but whatever was holding his wrists together was glinting.
He quickly looked away.
“What’d you think happened to Baris’ husband?”
Roy shrugged. “You said it yourself, he’s dead.”
“No, I mean how he died. Hildy said they never actually fought in Ishval, so what got ‘em?” Roy pulled in a deep breath through his nose and sighed. Ed was touching a subject most people would avoid like the plague. But when you’ve already faced death so personally, it was probably hard to retain the same senses of sacredness most people held.
“Not a clue.”
He didn’t want to share his theory. It was an over-educated guess, really, there wasn’t much doubt surrounding it. But Roy selfishly didn’t tell Ed that Pavlo probably killed himself. Not out of any sense of protection over the kid, but because he didn’t want to think about it at all. Good thing he’d remembered how to lie through his teeth.
Ed frowned at him. “You’re a terrible conversationalist.”
“Yeah, well, you’re terrible at picking topics for the conversation.”
Ed listed to the side, falling to the floor with a sigh, gracelessly on his back with his hands beneath him. Roy almost thought he’d passed out, startling the man into a split second frenzy. It vanished when he saw Ed’s eyes were wide open and a look of exasperation over his face. He propped both legs up against the wall, glaring at the ceiling.
Then he smiled. It was small but filled to the brim with mirth.
“I can’t believe this started cause you went for a damn drink.”
Roy groaned, slumping into the corner of the room. “Please don’t remind me.”
“Pass. I’m never letting you live this down.” He absolutely meant it too. It should’ve been more of an irritant than it was, but some measure of comfort came from Ed’s confidence that they would make it out of that. Cynicism has already been whispering in his ear constantly, so the blond’s promise of relentlessly dragging his ego through the dirt was a kind thought. Sorta.
“You’re insufferable.” He said, shaking his head while Ed snorted.
“Like you didn’t already know that.”
They dissolved into an easier atmosphere. It was still heavy, but it wasn’t hanging over their heads like a guillotine.
“This’ll be a pretty lame way to go though.” Ed said softly. He still held an edge of humour in his voice though. “I mean, they weren’t even after me. It’s kind of insulting honestly.”
Ed didn’t mean much by it. It was an attempt to lighten things a little, Roy knew that. Gallows humour, sure, but that was something he’d expected of the younger alchemist at this point. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but the words still felt like a slap to the face.
A head on look at reality.
It was ugly and terrifying. Roy wished he could unseen it, but the truth was Ed could die.
They both could.
This was planned to target him, but Ed had been there by accident. Not even that, he’d been there helping Roy.
Roy had gone very, very still. He felt vaguely sick.
There was a part of him, a terribly selfish part of him that was glad Ed was here.
It was inexcusable, unforgivable really, but undeniably there. Because otherwise he’d be alone. It was a feeling that wrung every ounce of blood from his veins and made his head pound with shame and rage.
He was glad he wasn’t alone.
Maybe he should set that part on fire... that was probably a good idea, right?
Fuck that part of him.
Exhastion was building in concert with guilt and anger. So, like a child, he lashed out. In his defence, there was more than enough stress being piling onto his shoulder to justify it. He growled in frustration and kicked the wall with all the energy he had left.
The sound reverberated around the room deafeningly. He and Ed both froze. Then they looked to one another.
They both scrambled towards the wall, pressing their still-bound hands to it instead of only examining it with their eyes.
“It sure as hell isn’t concrete.”
“Not plaster or drywall either.”
“There’s no way—“ Roy started in disbelief.
“It’s glass.” The single wall with the heavier paint wasn’t a wall at all. They’d coloured it darker to block out any light that might’ve leaked through a lighter grey.
“A window.” He breathed. So the floor really had been shaking like Ed told him. The stench of sodden earth was filtering through old pipes and not through layers of dirt.
“I knew it!” Ed beamed fiendishly, “We’re above ground! You owe me lunch.” He looked to the dark haired man with all the smugness of a student correcting a teacher. Buried in the smirk was hope, he could see it bleeding past the edges.
“I don’t owe you shit.” Roy muttered indignity with inklings of an idea starting to swirl together in the back of his mind.
Ed shrugged. “Fine, I’ll just steal your wallet.” He stood and turned to the wall, tapping it experimentally with his foot. “Think I could break it with my automail?”
Roy frowned, considering the potential outcomes. There were a lot of unknowns. Like how high up they were, if the window even led to the outside, how strong the glass is…
Roy shook his head. “Maybe, but you could just bust up your leg trying. We need something less blunt.” He glanced around the room. Of course, there was nothing. His index finger slipped into his back pocket where the screw still lay. It was too small to be of use, but it sparked an idea.
“The walls are thick enough that if we broke through they probably wouldn’t notice. Not right away, anyways.”
“If I can get my hands free this’d be easy.” Ed lamented with another kick to the wall, testing its strength, listening for the warped ring that followed.
“I could try untying them,” He suggested but the blond was already shaking his head.
“It’s practically welded shut.” Roy calmly ignored the implications of that and instead dwelled on a thought that had started to nag at him insistently. The tactical side of him was stringing together something about what Baris had said.
Whether you like it or not, you two are my patients for the time being.
His hands twitched. If they could get the man alone for a while, maybe…
“Alright, what’re you planning?” Ed was glaring at him suspiciously. When Roy merely blinked at him, he sighed and blew his hair from his face. “You’ve got that look. The one when you got a crazy ass idea that somehow works. So spill.” He plopped back down in front of Roy, waiting for him to speak.
“It’s not a very good one.”
“None of your ideas are good.” Ed scoffed. He leaned forward though, wholly contradicting the bitter words. Roy’s gaze dropped to his lap.
“If one of us get’s hurt. Like, actually hurt, they’d have to send Baris in. He’s already on the fence about all this and there’s a chance he might forget something.”
There was no mistaking what he really meant. Forget was acting as a stand in for let’s take advantage of this guy and knock him into the ground. There was bound to be something sharp enough to free their hands in his medical case.
“Okay, two problems with that.” The blond started. Roy held back a choked, wary laugh.
“There’s definitely more than two but go on.”
Ed stubbornly ignored the comment and plowed ahead. “First, they’ve been pretty careful so far.”
It was true that they’d avoided injury since arriving, but that didn’t guarantee much. There was always a chance Hildy or one of the goons she brought along would fly off the handle and give them a beating. Roy’s mind ran through a list of potential outcomes, most of them ending with Ed being the target. He grimaced at the thought.
“Goading them into it could work though.”
Ed looked darkly ecstatic. Roy decided to add it to the growing pile of expressions Ed shouldn’t be allowed to wear, with every line on his face spelling out danger. “Finally, a chance to put my skills to use.”
“Why not? I’m way more annoying than you.”
Roy lifted a shoulder. “Not that I disagree, but you already got knocked around enough.”
“Please.” Ed apparently had access to a lecturing tone now. Roy thought one could only get it once they’d surpassed twenty. “You’re the one with a hole in your head.”
“Secondly!” Roy was cut off again, much to his annoyance, “That guy is built like a bear. What makes you think we could knock him out?”
“You’ve got a metal leg.”
Ed sat back, his face pinched and downcast. “And if that fails?”
“Then we’re screwed.”
“Sounds about right.” He was mulling over it just as much as Roy. It was reckless and had only a fraction of a chance of actually working.
These people had been thorough in a way that made Roy suspect they’d been preparing this for longer than he’d ever care to know. The fact that the visits were randomized was troubling too; humans thrived off of routine and to have that taken away would disorientate anyone. They’d yet to provide any kind of food or water too. Granted, it’d been less then a day, so it wasn’t particularly high on his list of priorities, but running on an empty stomach never did him any favours.
Roy was suddenly reminded that water had been forcefully torn out of Ed and concern was back, tugging at his hands and feet like he could do something about it when he simply couldn’t. Ed was dehydrated, without a doubt.
The fact that the last thing either of them had to drink had been alcohol, the one liquid that doesn’t hydrate, was another setback. He didn’t want to be here for longer than necessary and--
Ed huffed. “Okay. Let’s hope luck is on our side.”
Hah. With what’s happened so far, fortune would be spitting on them from above. “I’d cross my fingers if I could.”
“Dumb luck.” Ed amended.
Do the people who comment on each chapter know I love them with all my heart? Do the people who leave kudos know that I'm going to give them my soul?
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You are all wonderful. Thank you so much for the overwhelming support and enthusiasm.
Kisses to each of you, my darlings!
Ed really wanted to sit down. Maybe take a ten year nap. Potentially slip into a coma.
It sounded rather nice, if you asked him. That way he wouldn’t have to deal with everything that came with being lucid and on his feet.
The numbing pain that meandered around his mangled port had slowly been traveling through the rest of him, reaching lazily across his shoulder blades and making his ribs ache. The cuts on his arm had started to sting and burn the way day-old wounds tended to do and his leg was loudly reminding him of the oncoming storm.
What a pity he couldn’t chug a bottle of ibuprofen and doom himself to sleep paralysis. It would’ve been preferable. At least the demon lounging in the corner would have a chat with him, cause that’s normal right?
Mustang was only in marginally better shape, mostly due to the fact that both his arms were still attached and he was unintentionally shoving it Ed’s face.
How dare he have two sleeves.
His disrespect was unprofessional, really.
It’d been two hours since they’d clambered out of the cave at the base of the cliffs and had followed the red and grey wall northward. The two had been exchanging tired banter if for no other reason than to focus on something that wasn’t the cold. It distracted him from the phantom snapping of branches and rustling of bushes he kept thinking he heard.
Also, Ed was bored.
Talking made him less bored.
“You’re imagining it.” Mustang told him as he stepped over a felled tree, the trunk slumped to the side, melted into the soil and raised almost two feet off the ground. The thing must’ve been ancient.
Ed waved off the hand the man offered. Just because his leg was being stupid doesn’t mean he couldn’t vault over the rotting carcass, thank you very much.
“Yeah and you’re concussed.” He shot back. Colonel Jackass glared down at him.
“Are you gonna stop bringing that up every five minutes?”
“Nope.” He let a smile quirk his lips upwards. It was gone moments later when his teeth clamped shut and his hand flew to where he metal arm should’ve been.
The nerves were firing at random, spiking electricity through him at the most inconvenient of times. It had gotten substantially worse once they’d started moving, the increased jostling doing something that made the frayed wires and stinging metal go haywire.
Each time he felt like he was going to be sick, but there wasn’t anything in his stomach to throw up.
Mustang hadn’t said a word about it yet. He would just stop walking and wait. It was a surprisingly tactful response. Ed had been expecting him to demand an explanation and condemn him to staying put or taking time to rest.
Maybe Mustang knew they didn’t have that privilege, or maybe he just didn’t know what to do and decide to ignore the situation. It was appreciated regardless.
When his body remembered how to move, he sighed. “This is ridiculous.”
Mustang chuckled bitterly. “Yeah. Hawkeye is gonna shoot me if they ever find us.” Ed didn’t miss the failure to say when and not if.
He’d known for a while that Mustang’s pessimism had been weighing him down, waning at his determination slowly. Which was stupid, objectively speaking, and it frustrated the younger to no end. Physically tripping the dark haired man was out of the question, much to his disappointment, so Ed aimed for verbal jabs instead. At least shots to his ego would only kill his pride a little, and there was plenty to spare.
“You’d shoot yourself in the foot first.”
Ed scanned the area, greeted with the watery light of mid-morning bouncing from weather soaked leaves. It made him feel horribly out of place, dirty and bloodied like a wounded animal. It was the sort of thing you’d see on a postcard, but his and Mustang’s presence turned it into a gruesome crime scene.
“At least I have a hand to shoot with.” The older muttered and Ed’s playful smile fell away into melancholy.
Mustang blanched, and slowed his pace. “Sorry.”
“Didn’t know you had it in you, Colonel.” He said brusquely, his mismatched steps picked up, carrying him past Mustang with nothing but an apathetic glint in his eyes. He heard the careful scrambling of shoes against the unforgiving terrain as Mustang caught up.
“It’s fine.” Ed brushed him off casually, grasping at his empty sleeve, pulling the threadbare fabric of his shirt around him tightly, as though it would help keep the wind from cutting through. He could feel Mustang’s stare on him, likely wearing that apologetic expression that Ed had started to hate.
The bastard had never seemed all that eager for forgiveness before, why start now?
He shooed the voice from his head and trudged on pretending like nothing happened. It was a shitty thing to say regardless of the situation, but hardly mattered. He wasn’t really privy to hold grudges.
Not that he’d really come to expect any kind of sensitivity from the Colonel, but he had grown used to the mutual respect they held for one another. Considering his missing automail was a symptom of escaping, it almost stung. Ed couldn’t really bring himself to care beyond that though, especially when he still had sharp stabs of agony jamming into his shoulder and tracing down his back like a series of needles crawling under his skin.
He could feel the split in his mouth reopen and had to stop to cough out a mouthful of dark blood. The taste of iron stuck to his throat, clinging to the back of his teeth and it was all he could smell.
He really felt sick.
“You need a break,” Mustang said from behind him.
“Nah.” Ed pushed himself away from the tree he’d be holding onto. His lungs were silently burning holes into his chest.
“You’re spitting blood.” He approached Ed cautiously, looking worried and guilt-ridden.
Oh for fuck’s sake.
“We can’t—“ He tried, but Mustang’s voice cut him off sharply. The concern was drowned by his newfound commanding tone.
“We can, actually. You look terrible.”
Ed glanced down at the red stains dying his clothes, the flesh leg that was holding most of his weight. If he had to guess, he probably looked tired beyond belief. He certainly felt it. The way his eyes would try to slip shut at every chance was proof enough.
Ed turned to Mustang with a dull, bleary glare. The mans dark eyes were hard like obsidian and steadfast. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Ed didn’t answer. Instead he let his back touch the tree bark beside him and slid down wearily.
Mustang joined him on a drier patch of fallen leaves, looking over the blond and picking him apart only to be sewn back up. It was unnerving.
He crossed his arms and gave Ed a hard look that managed to be tainted with unease. “This isn’t the time to be stubborn.”
Ed turned and spat crimson, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and dutifully avoiding the dark gaze that was pulling him in five different directions. Without thinking, his had trailed upwards.
“It’s your shoulder, isn’t it.”
He lowered his head. “Yeah.” The damp earth below him was stealing away what little heat he had. Ed suppressed a shiver as air breezed past his ear, biting through the missing slice and making his head feel light.
Mustang’s frown deepened. “It’s getting worse?”
He shrugged and gazing up at the half-barren branches hanging over them. It looked like a hundred spindly, wooden arms stretching out at nothing. “Not much either of us can do about.” He said plainly, tugging the cuffs of his left sleeve down over the makeshift bandages. “I’ll manage though. It comes and goes.”
Mustang pushed back his hair with a heavy sigh. He didn’t look much better than Ed, truthfully. The bruises that marred his back were hidden, but Ed knew they were there. It’d been making his movements stiffer, more cautious and mindful. The blood occasionally dripping down from his head was an alarming sight as well. Mustang had been pressing a hand to the gauze still tied around his head, trying to be subtle about it and failing miserably.
The bright red rings that circled his wrists hurt to look at, though Ed supposed it was a slight improvement from the gashes over his own skin. The ones that had started to bleed through the bandages
Cloth rustled as Mustang moved to Ed’s side, holding his functioning hand out and nodding to his arm. ”Let me see.”
Ed winced as the fabric was peeled back and discarded, catching a glimpse of the bruised, feverish flesh and regretting it immediately.
“Doesn’t look great.” Mustang gingerly turned his wrist, wrapping it with one of the spare strips of cloth he’d stashed in his pocket.
“What else is new.” Ed muttered, willing himself not to flinch away when the ends were tied together. Before Mustang could back away, Ed snagged the sleeve of his tattered jacket and studied the set of twisted-up fingers. Nothing looked wrong, but in the world of broken bones, appearance was meaningless.
He let go of the older man and stood, helping Mustang up and admonishing him all the while. “Quit using your hand to balance. You’re gonna make them heal wrong.”
“It’ll be your hand that doesn’t work right.” He snapped. None of the usual energy was present, that much was obvious. He shook off the leaves clinging to his shirt and was a bit amazed to find he felt better.
Not great, not even good. But his eyelids had stopped knitting themselves shut and the spiraling of his exposed nerves was easier to push through.
They continued on, falling back into the same half-baked flavour of conversations as the previous night. Anything to keep coherence close enough that it wouldn’t slip past them.
They’d found a pitiful stone carved into the shape of a basin slowly filling with rain and drank as much as they could without risking throwing it up. After pushing two days with no water, the lucky find probably saved both their lives. To think they’d almost stumbled right past it...
By the time the sun had climbed into centre stage and was beaming down at them graciously, he’d fallen behind by a little. The heat soaked into him, breathing a little bit of energy back into his weary form.
“Slow down a bit, would you? S’not a race.”
Mustang looked over his shoulder with a pompous raise in his brow. “Not my fault you’re too short to keep up.”
Ed pitched forward, skipping over the forest floor in a split-second of adrenaline, landing just behind Mustang. “Say it again you jerk. I dare you.”
Mustang smugly refused to reply. Ed wondered if he’d done it on purpose, suspecting that the comment would spur him forward or if teasing the younger alchemist was merely a good pastime. To be fair, Ed hadn’t exactly been pulling punches to the mans ego in the past few hours.
He’d taken it in stride though, trading shots with one another and chucking insults just for the sake of filling the open air.
Tactically speaking, it was stupid. They should keep their mouths shut and hope that the ghosting sound of feet that Ed swore would scamper just beyond view when he turned his head were just paranoia. They should’ve been silent and cautious.
But in terms of mentality, it was practically the only thing that kept them sane. Eventually the sun became overrun with clouds, the first drops of rain pattering down. “I swear,” Ed said, shooting Mustang a dubious look, “after this I’m going to steal one of your coats.”
“So you’re a thief and a brat.” Mustang mused, holding out his hand to catch some of the water. It was slow enough now, but it would be battering against the woods in a matter of hours.
Ed eyed him. “What, you gonna turn me in?”
“Please.” He watched the dark haired man pull his broken hand into the sleeve of his blazer, a slight grimace touching his features. He cast a matching glance to Ed. “What’s the most dangerous crimes you’ve done, huh? Loitering?” The torn article hug off one shoulder while he rearranged the items hidden in the pockets. Namely, the pliers and bandages. Both were tucked away quickly.
Ed held up his hand defensively. “First off, thats a perfectly respectable crime.”
He didn’t even feel surprised when Mustang yanked his jacket the rest of the way off and draped it over Ed’s shoulders. The shivering had gone from occasional to almost consistent, so the newfound warm weight was almost blissful.
“No it’s not.” Mustang toed his way around a set of mangled roots, entirely acting like he hadn’t just done something considerate for the blond. Nice, even.
Ed blinked owlishly at the older alchemist when the intentions of the action settled over him before snapping back into their very important discussion.
Ed tipped forward, balanced precariously on a string of flat stones tracking forward. “It is if you do it in front of a shooting range.”
He sputtered. “You’re joking.“ Mustang nearly slipped, catching himself only to stare at Ed, his tone was filled to the brim with incredulousness.
“Anyways,” He continued, silently relishing the absolutely priceless look on Mustang’s face that could only be described as beleaguered. “I break into Eastern Command every other week. Also you should really fix that blind spot by your office.”
Mustang paused, his eyebrows rising. “Pardon?”
“There’s a wall that makes it easy to slip past patrols.”
“Fullmetal, you have a key to the building. Why are you breaking in?”
“Uh, because it’s fun.” He said it like it was obvious. Which, to be clear, it was. What isn’t there to love about sneaking into the office? Free coffee and a good place for a nap when he didn’t feel like dragging himself all the way back to dorms. The heater was far better than any hotel too. And yeah, it’s fun.
Actually, don’t. He might get in trouble.
The rain was still gentle, tapping along branches and the cliffside with a soothing percussion chasing after. Ed was tempted to tip back his head and see how much water he could catch on his tongue. He was still dehydrated, but figured it would be pointless to try now. Maybe when the rain screamed onto the land he’d scrape together a mug and wait for it to fill.
For now he was content with letting it bounce off the newly acquired jacket.
“You need a hobby.” Mustang said firmly.
“What happened to tempting fate?”
He scowled at Ed, possibly considering tripping him. “Doesn’t count.”
Ed kept a close eye on Mustang’s feet just in case because he had that insufferable sleep with one eye open shine to his shit-eating expression. Little did he realize that Ed could mimic the tilt to his brow damn near perfectly. The idiot doesn’t yet know he’s created a travel-sized monster.
“Well its bold of you to think that breaking and entering isn’t my hobby.”
Mustang was rubbing at his temple. “You evade taxes too?” Ed grinned.
Then his shoulder sparked.
Physically, it threw out a tiny lick of fire and the ground turned into a liquid, engulfing him up to his knees. The metal felt numbingly hot, like a furnace had been switched on in his port and was bent on searing more marks onto the already knotted mess of scars.
The woods grew very dark very fast. The sun shouldn’t be going down yet, it had barely reached midday. Was he... on the ground?
Ed blinked and the sideways forest came into focus. He groaned and pushed himself upright, much to his still-sore left arm’s disapproval. A pair of hand’s steadied him and Mustang knelt in front of him, voice in his ear.
“The hell just happened?”
Ed absently wiped away the dirt from his side, carefully flexing and testing the muscles that fed into his port before kneading it experimentally. “Something moved.”
“Moved as in…?” Mustang helped him to his feet. The vertigo wasn’t as bad as he’d expected, but it still had his eyes pinched shut.
Ed waited for the colours of the trees to stop modulating. There’d been a shift in the remains of his arm, metal snapping against metal and vibrating through his bones. The mangled wires might’ve caught a lever or clamp and it took until now to force its way through.
“Don’t take my word for it but I think the bell crank got all screwed up when it broke.” Mustang frowned. He’s a smart man, that much was known, but being intelligent in the world of alchemy and strategy was a far cry from the intricacies of mechanics and especially automail. Hell, the only reason Ed knew about it was because Winry had drilled him with terminology for a full year.
“Like, in my shoulder. I didn’t noticed it before but something was locked. It just moved.”
“Is that good or bad?” They hadn’t started walking yet and Mustang was looking at him like he thought he might collapse again. Ed might've, just maybe felt a little bad seeing the strained and poorly masked worry. After so many near-deaths in the past few days, Ed dropping to the ground without warning had probably shaken the older man up a bit.
“Dunno.” He slid his hand along the frigid metal, the nicks and scratches catching at his fingertips, prodding at where the metal was screwed into his skin. “Good..? Doesn’t feel as dicy now.” There’d been a flittering, erratic swell of displaced energy tap dancing across the open nerves that… well, it wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t nearly as unhinged. It had numbed, and the outpour of pain was less like a twisting knife and more akin to half-healed burn.
An improvement in his books.
It also had sharpened the senses he didn’t realize had been muted. Everything seemed much louder all of a sudden and the woods more vibrantly painted with warm dashes of sunlight.
Mustang hummed thoughtfully. “Alright. You think you’ll pass out again if we keep walking?”
“No, no. I’m good. You can stop hovering.” Mustang turned away sharply. Ed pushed down a chuckle.
“I’m not hovering.”
“Yeah you are.” He said with a wave, beginning to pick across the mosaic of upturned roots and muddy slopes, a second pair of shoes padding along beside him, grumbling stubbornly.
“You know what? If you fall I’m going to laugh.”
It was an empty threat, but it pulled a snicker from Ed. It was a little strange how easy helping one another felt. Using the other’s shoulder to balance over an outcrop of rocks or edging around steep inclinations and dilapidated banks. Offering a hand had started to become second nature.
“Sure you will.”
His eyes darted to the Colonel’s feet once again, just in case Ed pressed one too many buttons and he decided that second-degree murder via tripping wasn’t all that bad. He hardly expected it to happen, but every once in a while Mustang would surprise him by being a poorly timed jerk.
If not for the soreness that clawed at half his body, Ed could almost pretend they weren’t lost and beat. Something about the persistent stench of blood ruined the tiny moment of escape though.
“Think we can find somewhere to hole up again by nighttime?” He asked before Mustang could prolong the pointless squabble.
“Maybe. If not, we can cobble something together.”
He stumbled over a split-open log, his head whipping to the side again because he definitely heard something this time. Ed froze and listened, straining to hear anything past the weeping of the sky.
“Not like we have much—“
“Shut up.” He hissed. Mustang, for once, actually listened to him. A low crackle echoed up the bluff, coming from beyond a fold of thick pines. His breath caught in his throat.
A canine growl sent goosebumps up his arm. Neither of them moved, only able to stare wide eyed at a shadow materializing before them.
So they’re not nocturnal. Fucking awesome.
Before Ed could think, Mustang grabbed his arm and bolted, pulling him along like a rag doll with blood and adrenaline thrumming from his chest to the tips of his fingers.
It could’ve been hours or seconds, but Mustang only slowed when they reached a small clearing, both panting and acutely aware of the pounding of paws into dirt that would be overtop of them in a matter of minutes.
“Shit.” Ed breathed, standing with his back against Mustang. He tried not to let panic send him into overdrive, calling over his shoulder in a whisper. “Plan?”
Mustang stayed silent for a little too long. They were crowded against the stone wall stretching upwards.
“Can you cover me for a few minutes?” He saw the mans hand slip something from his pocket. The pliers. Ed wished he had a choice, but saying no meant they’d be mauled to death. Not ideal. So he squared his shoulders and thought back to all the ways he’d been taught to be on defence without the use of his hands.
His was gripping the pliers hard enough to turn his knuckles white and Ed’s gaze was darting around feverishly, picking apart the area as quickly as possible so he could use it to his advantage and hoping the older alchemist would be able to complete a functional circle before any dark canine shadows came stalking into the little clearing.
The scraping of metal against stone was a soft chorus compared to the deafening rustle of leaves.
“C’mon...” He urged, scanning the line of trees over and over for hints of life.
“I know,” The battered tool was dragged in a series of arches, Ed threw a glance over his shoulder to see Mustang hunched over a hastily scrawled array, swearing under his breath.
“What is it?” Ed backpedaled to see the pale lines, entwined and tangling with one another.
“I’m missing something.” He muttered. The panic pulling at his words didn’t help to settle Ed’s own anxieties at all. He was tempted to fully turn his back to the trees, but didn’t trust how close the wolves sounded to be. He stayed standing, chewing his lip and studying the circle.
All things considered, it was clean. Everything was there, all the right angles on the lines and the correct symbols fitted neatly into place. His eyes narrowed. “Shit. Okay the soil is clay based with bedrock and…”
“What the hell did I forget?” Mustang pulled back, the pliers tapped against the ground in a quickening rhythm. A loud thump sounded from behind them and he sucked in a sharp breath, head turned to search the woods while Ed fell deeper into concentration.
The alchemy side of his brain was up and running, firing on all cylinders like a racer who just learned that he could do donuts in the parking lot so long as he didn’t get caught. Water caught in his hair, sliding and dripping to the ground where a wealth of dead vegetation curdled beneath his shoes.
His held onto that for dear life. Plant life. That was important because…
“It’s peat.” Ed blinked, then he tensed and whirled to Mustang, “Calcium!” He shouted. It was so tiny, but it felt like a victory nonetheless. “You didn’t forget anything, this is bentonite clay!”
Mustang gave him a hard grin. “Did I ever mention you’re damn brilliant?”
Ed looked back to where no less than four shadows were stalking through the underbrush. The triumph melted away into a puddle at his feet. He blocked out the sounds that came from Mustang frantically scribbling, tuning out the rain and wind, training everything on the snarling wolf that emerged, slinking forward. It was only fifty yards away and the array wasn’t finished.
It’s a good thing he’s got a metal leg.
Before Mustang could protest or even pull rank, Ed took a step forward. The thing in front of him paused, spiting and snapping. Then it bounded forward.
He didn’t need to do much, just stall for a little. A few seconds.
Ed’s legs carried him a few quick, short paces before breaking into a sprint. He kicked off, swinging his left leg forward with the momentum of a speeding train. It caught the beast just below its ear and threw him off balance enough to stumble on the landing. The wolf rolled once before arching dangerously.
Ed wheeled back.
An arm wrapped around his shoulders and yanked him back, hauling him into the—now fully operational—transmutation circle.
Violent crackles of energy danced at its boarder as Mustang activated it, a dome of earth climbing around them while several more monstrous looking wolves burst from the foliage. The dirt and stone shuttered, solidifying, then slamming shut before any of their new attackers could charge forward.
Mustang’s arm slowly slipped away.
They were both breathing hard, sweat and rain trailing down their faces and washing away flecks of mud, watching the far wall like it might break at any second.
The older alchemist had been smart about the structure, as at the very top there was a hole. It was only about a foot in diameter, but it provided three important things: Light, time, and sound.
They’d be able to watch the shadows it cast and estimate how long they had until dusk. Ed opened his mouth to speak but the violet impact against the dome cut him off. He and Mustang both reeled back until they were pressed against the opposite end of the dome.
The wall shook again, spilling chucks of soil down over them.
“How long can thing thing hold up for?”
A long, echoing howl came from outside. Mustang put a hand to the side of the structure, examining it.
“Half an hour at best.” He drew back when a third tremor threw dust into the air. Ed held back a fit of coughs and hesitantly stepped towards the little beam of light glaring down from the curved roof. He looked up to where a smattering of orange branches spilled across the cliffside. He squinted, mouth tugged into a frown. “We could tunnel out,”
“Did you forget it’s about to start storming?! It’d collapse on us, not to mention there’d be no way to know where we are.” Mustang padded over to the ring of light and tilted his head back, following Ed’s line of sight to a ledge with saplings precariously balanced, jutting out halfway to the top.
A lone droplet of water landed on his cheek. It was cold and startling.
Ed squinted at the stone barricade. “It’s lower here.”
They’d been traveling along the ravine for a while, but staying a few hundred yards away in case the predications of rain loosening the clay into a mudslide came to pass, so the slight decline had escaped them. It wasn’t all that drastic either, with the climb looking to be about a fifth less than the initial seventy-ish foot drop. “If we can reach that ledge…” He pondered aloud.
“There’d be nothing stopping those wolves from going after us.” Mustang countered, but his expression was shifting into one of deeper thought. From outside came a cry. A roar, really.
The walls shuttered again. They tensed and ducked away from the spits of dirt pelting them. A fracture carved along the edge of the roof, threatening to crack away with the grace of a glacier being torn apart. That is to say, none.
“We can’t make it then.” Ed’s hand balled into a fist, pulling sharply at the tears in his skin. He barely caught the way the older alchemist’s jaw set and his eyebrows were pulled low.
“I can’t. But you can.”
Ed stepped back, his eyes widening, staring at Mustang. The shock was replaced with dread, then an inexpressible type of anger. The kind that could be observed and felt, but no amount of yelling could do it justice. He glowered. “Oh, no no no. You put that sentence back in your mouth.”
Mustang didn’t meet his eyes, head still tipped to see the ledge, his frame stiff and stubborn. “It’s our only shot. There’s no way we can both get up there. I can fend them off for a while, you go find help.”
“You’ll get yourself killed!” Ed shouted. His shoulders were taunt and coiled like he was waiting for an attack while his head tilted and spun wildly. The numbing jabs of pain were rapidly being replaced with a steady heat, licking up his collar and throat to fill his eyes with liquid flame.
From the inside out, he was burning.
“Bound to happen sooner or later, right? We’re living on borrowed time.” Mustang parroted, looking to him.
His own damn words being thrown back in his face. Ed snarled.
There it was again. The resigned, apologetic look that washed over Ed like gasoline.
“You prick.“ He spat. Words were flashing through his head, insults and venom soaked epithets. Things he’d’ve hurtled at Mustang in rapid fire if his teeth would allow more than a hiss to escape. They didn’t stop racing past, the words only halfway coherent and without any discernible pattern.
Selfish. Idiot. Self-sacrificing. Cruel. Stupid. Thoughtless. Patient. Jerk. Smart. Narrow-minded. Overprotective. Moron. A goddamn asshole.
Some managed to surprise him, feeling a little out of place in the strings of cursory monikers.
The bastard had the nerve to smile. “Go. I’ll be fine.” Terror reared up in Ed, ugly and dark. Overpowering, above all.
“You’re really forcing my hand Colonel.”
“Sorry.” Mustang said, the lie slipping easily from his tongue like oil from a ditch-aquatinted car. Oil was flammable, as luck would have it.
He turned away from Ed, taking quiet steps towards the side of the dome that still trembled.
He wasn’t going to let another par—another person he trusted walk out and never come back. He pulled back his arm and put all his weight behind the heel of his hand, sending it right onto Mustang’s jaw.
Bit of a lighter chapter after those last two. I had a blast with the dialogue. that screenwriting class really coming in clutch!
Also! raise your hand if you remember Falman talking about the soil a few chapters back!! I really tried to set all the important plot points up in advanced.
Set up and payoff is my lifeblood.
Again, the response is wonderful and I actually cry when I get comments and kudos.
Apparently someone recommended this pic on Tumblr and I-
Chapter 8: It's spring and all the bees are dead
CW: Discussions of war and implied terrorism. Mention of suicide.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It’d been two days.
At some point, Riza, along with the rest of her team, had been bullied into sleeping by Al. He was surprisingly persuasive. Possibly from years of having to convince his brother not to work himself into an early grave.
He rambled to them about how useless they’d be if they were sleep deprived, all the things they could miss and the ways a fight could go wrong should conflict break out. He’d actually had the guts to go after Riza as well.
“A gun is useless in the hands of someone too tired to aim!” Al had almost been shouting at that point. She couldn’t bring herself to fight him when his hands began to shake and suddenly she was the one being glared daggers at by the five men. It was odd to be on the other end of that.
Riza’s pride dissolved. “Okay.”
They’d crashed in the seats of two patrol vehicles, Havoc and Fuery both passed out in semi-reclined chairs with Breda sprawled over the backseats, herself, Hughes and Falman laying back to back in a paddy wagon. They folded up their jackets like pillows and were dozing before Al returned with blankets. She assumed it had been him who’d carefully tucked the sheets around each of them, having woken up later to the feeling of fabric brushing against her face.
They’d allowed themselves four hours to rest. The MPs promised to continue the search, as at daybreak their shift change came about. The freshly instilled officers dutifully swore to be thorough and provided regular updates to Alphonse.
But it’d been two days.
Over forty-eight hours since the Colonel and Edward had been stolen away, and still they only had scraps of evidence to go off of. Time marched forward aimlessly, agonizingly slow and scarily fast all at once.
The sound of clanking metal roused Riza. The sun was hanging overhead, streaming onto the gravelly road. She pinched the bridge of her nose, willing the daze of sleep to leave her be while she collected her thoughts.
Al was practically bouncing as she slipped out of the vehicle, standing in front of a radio unit they’d borrowed. “They found tracks!”
It took all of thirty seconds for her to shake her comrades awake and drag them outside. Havoc started to complain when she grabbed him by the leg and pulled him into the bright glare of sunlight.
“Hey!” He whined.
“They’ve got a trail.” He quieted down after that.
Once they received the location (only a ten minute drive away) they filed into the paddy wagon, herself at the wheel and Al perched in the passenger seat. His feet were tapping together in nervous anticipation. Everyone could hear it, but at Riza’s sharp glance their mouths snapped shut, either glue or fear adhering their lips together.
A small collection of MPs were hovering around a gap between the trees when they arrived.
Sure enough, there were twin tire tracks pressed into the mud, swerving to avoid gnarled roots and crooked rocks springing from between shrubs. Riza knelt to study the indents. Hughes and Fuery ran off to find the officer they’d left in charge while Falman crouched beside her.
“They were moving slowly. The tracks wouldn’t be this deep otherwise.” Her hand touched the forest floor, tracing the textured marks.
Falman nodded, “But these aren’t fresh. I’m guessing a day or so old.”
She sucked in a puff of air, wringing her hands and casting a sideways glance at Al, who had allowed Havoc to lead him away while the rest were busy being stressed out of their minds.
“Most likely.” She jerked upright, smoothing down her uniform and brushing the non-existent dust from her palms. Fuery popped up at her side before she could turn to look for him.
“We’re ready to move.” It was quicker than she would’ve normally expected, but really this skews far closer towards a state of emergency—for Al and her teammates, at least—than any semblance of normality. They couldn’t use vehicles to travel, unless they wanted to risk losing the tracks, and additionally they’d be erasing their only lead by literally stomping it out.
Instead, they marched in groups of two along the impressions, each pair keeping six feet between themselves and the ones in front of them with herself and Al stationed halfway to the back of the party. The intent was for it to be a failsafe if the prints faded or grew incomprehensible; those behind them could pause and search for potential alternative routes or signs of backtracking without trampling the trail. It also meant their conversations could be more private. They wouldn’t have to speak in hushed whispers the whole while, and Riza in particular wouldn’t have to reign in the urge to comfort Al as much. With less prying eyes, she assured him that they were making progress.
“I’m scared.” He admitted softly about half an hour after they’d set off. His arms were limp at his sides, looking downcast and despondent. Her heart fragmented into exactly seven pieces. For Alphonse and her peers (friends) and a little sliver for herself to hold onto. She reached up and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You know your brother and the Colonel are far too stubborn to go out like this.” She carefully danced around a few words when she spoke to him.
Dead, killed, murdered and any synonyms that existed for them.
“I should’ve been there,” Al hung his head.
“Alphonse.” Riza said, stern but not unkind. “This is not your fault. I promise you it’s not.”
After a few moments of silence, Al made a soft sound of resignation and then nodded, which Riza took as a success. Their surroundings had gone from scattered patches of trees to a thicket following a grass-accented pathway carved into the woods. She noted the occasional stump flattened beneath her feet along with the lowest hanging branches having been hacked off and discarded, with light purple flowers swallowing them up.
Jimsonweed, Havoc had told her. A paralyzing agent.
It had been found at the scene.
She could tell this route had been there for a while. Someone probably wouldn’t be able to find it unless they knew what to look for. Upon entering the forest, they’d been notified of a ridge. A drop-off sharp enough that it used to kill people before the area had been mapped.
Dante’s Punchbowl, they called it. It spanned several miles, with a maximum height of almost seventy feet. They were briefed on it as a precaution, as there’s no way to take a vehicle down into the ravine, and the likelihood of anyone going through the trouble of building a base of sorts there were slim to none.
Riza had to continually pull her eyes away from the array of colours woven into their surroundings, spread out against the dim sky and leaping across the terrain. It was a tapestry of warmth; branches of wool; skies of fine silk and the twisting of cotton over it all; the floor quilted into blood-tinted leaves. A soft wind pulled at the dead foliage littering the ground and the air smelled like damp earth.
It could’ve been pleasant.
The sun had sunk to the tops of the trees when the pathway split open into a small expanse. Only a hundred yards away sat a concrete building, stacked no more than four stories high and not even brushing the treetops. The woods dwarfed the damn thing.
From where they stood, it was slanted, one of the four corners angled towards them. The windows all seemed to be blacked out. The only door was peeking around a wall on the right and, horribly enough, Riza thought it looked alarmingly like a prison.
The MPs filed out of the woods, each with a gun in hand. Riza squinted at the tree line to the east, glancing between where their wooden bodies scrapped at the sky, then back to the ground. There was a cutoff, she realized. Her eyes narrowed at the trees, their branched wiped completely clean. The tips were darker than the wood of the trunk as though they’d been dipped in ink. Al straightened and looked to her. “This is it, isn’t it?”
Riza nodded, motioning for Al to follow as she made her way to where Breda, Fuery and Falman stood.
She heard anxious mutterings among the MPs, chief among them being the word punchbowl.
It didn’t look like much from where she was positioned, but she didn’t doubt the air of danger that encompassed the words the officers traded.
Hughes was hissing out orders, while Fuery wordlessly accepted the pistol she offered him. The MPs split off, racing around the parameter and crouching among the underbrush that seemed to be sucked dry of colour, the grey of the building dulling everything in its wake.
Hughes rounded on them.
Riza watched Al for something other than his balled fists, but there was nothing. Her attention turned back to Hughes when he began to speak.
“The seven of us are going to rush the entrance—“ He gestured to a steel door just within view. “—flush out as many as we can for the MPs to deal with then search the other floors. Clear?”
“Sir!” They chorused. His eyes lingered on them grimly, straining and searching for something Riza couldn’t quite identify, before he turned to the building. She didn’t fail to notice the ice in his gaze, wicked sharp and unforgiving. The group sprinted forward, creeping along the wall and surrounding door. The sun had vanished beneath the trees, the last colours of daylight staining the landscape red. She closed her eyes and breathed, counting down in time with Hughes’ fingers being ticked off.
The air was biting and pulling at the loose strands of her hair. She memorized the feel of the concrete behind her, hard and stalwartly unmoving. It was filed away for later, once they’d recovered their lost members.
And they would recover them. It had been two days, but that couldn’t be enough time to wring a sufficient amount of information out of them. Unless their captors had more brutal methods than she anticipated…
The click of a hammer being pulled back—a welcome sound—had her train of thought slamming to a halt.
She opened her eyes and glanced around. All of them held themselves mindfully, poised and pressing their hands together around the handle of their weapons. Havoc’s finger was already tracing the trigger.
Her heart was thundering. It was almost painful. Bullheadedly, it went ramming into her ribcage and squirming in wild circles.
A look from Hughes and Riza shot the lock. A second later his foot was careening through the door.
Ed has a wicked good left hook. Who knew?
Roy staggered back, blinking dots from his vision and swallowing back the aftertaste of iron. It shouldn’t have been that strong, especially considering the fact that his arm had been out of place the night before. The haze faded and he straightened up. “What the hell was that for?”
Ed was livid, marching up to him and looking ready to try rearranging his teeth around his knuckles. “For trying to get yourself killed!” He yelled, glaring fiercely.
“So what? You’d rather we both die?” Roy fired back with a one-handed gesture to the blond. The fury rolling off the kid was nearly palpable. Roy could hear the yipping of wolves cut through the air, frenzied by the noise. Another fist went flying. He saw it coming this time, but that didn’t stop it from clipping his cheek with just enough power to push him back a step.
“I’d rather you stop trying to be the fucking hero and use your head for once!” Ed was breathing hard, hand shaking at his side. “There’s a way out of this. There always is.”
Roy wilted by a fraction, ready to protest. It was a hard thing to swallow, he knew, but they were in the eleventh hour, nature’s little monsters knocking on their door while any remaining strength was being sapped away and they’re running out of options. “Fullmetal—“
“I know you’re not stupid!” The younger interjected. His shoulders had started to shiver in rage. Roy couldn’t help but feel taken aback at the tone, anger bleeding with desperation in a way that left it in a league of its own.
The blond pulled back and started to pace. “An idiot, yes. Bullheaded, sure. An egomaniac who can’t multitask to save his life, absolutely!”
“Now you’re just insulting me!” Roy said indigently.
“But you’re not stupid. C’mon, we’re alchemists. Solve the damn equation.” Ed rounded on him, letting the challenge ring out. Roy could only stare. Ten seconds, maybe fifteen passed. They were still.
Ed glaring at him through steely eyes and Roy simply trying to figure out what to do. See, one thing that Roy had figured out somewhere in the three years he’d known Ed, was that he had this weird, performative sort of bluntness. He would be outspoken and graceless to people, openly addressing gripes or truths without concern for the chaos in his wake.
But he really held everything very close to his chest. Ed acted abrasive so no one would suspect differently, but in reality he was like a walking riddle. A clever allegory wrapped in sharp jokes and distain that one would need a magnifying glass to properly pull apart and understand. This was one of only a handful of times Roy didn’t have to do that. For once, Ed wasn’t speaking in cryptograms.
“You’re insane.” He finally said.
“Thanks, I try.”
Roy shook his head, his voice dropping into a soft murmur, “I’m trapped with a crazy person.”
Ed levelled his hand very deliberately to Roy’s forehead and actually flicked him. “Screw you for telling me to leave. You could try having a little faith in me, you know.”
“Betrayed by my own words…”
He fell into a crosslegged position on the ground, the energy seeming to drain away. Ed shot him an exasperated, but ever conniving smirk. He should’ve known better than to think he could tell a thing like Ed what to do.
“Now that I’ve knocked the stupid outta you, let’s find a way out of here that doesn’t involve someone dying.”
Roy wanted to collapse. To lay down and rest for as long as possible and pop as many painkillers as physically possible. Ed looked as tired as he felt, but he they couldn’t rest just yet. They had a job to do.
Don’t die and don’t let his subordinate die.
Subordinate. It felt incorrect for some reason.
It hit him like a bag of bricks. It always does, doesn’t it?
Roy had already let Ed down too many times. He refused to do it again. He wouldn’t make the kid go through this alone because he knew Ed would never forgive him for it. He latched onto that drive and plowed forward.
They burst inside and were met with...
Riza couldn't help but draw a total blank on how to react. It was possibly the most bizarre thing she’d seen in her military career.
Before them were about twenty-five people, all dressed in dark clothing with resigned scowls painted over their lips. Most of them sitting limply on the frigid floor, and nearly all of them with their hands bound behind their backs.
They held their firearms steadily, but Riza could feel the confusion toiling around the room, billowing off her comrades in spades. There were four people standing, each leaning against the walls with their arms free, devoid of weapons save for what looked like batons.
“Evening,” The one closest to the door said, his voice casual like they were old friends. With as much delicacy as possible, her eyebrows shot up. The room, what Riza guessed to be a dilapidated foyer, grew lighter, less stiflingly tense.
“We’re surrendering.” The man told her easily. Hughes snapped out of the shocked daze before anyone else, whirling around and calling for the MPs.
“Could you put the guns down?” Another asked, her hands also hanging loosely by her sides.
Hesitantly, she obliged along with the rest. “What’s going on here.” She demanded.
“A mini-revolution.” Someone said.
“A coup.” Chirped another. She couldn’t pinpoint either voice.
Those who’d been waiting outside were stepping into the room and it drew Riza fully back to the present.
She strode forward, dipping around the rather miserable looking people. From the corner of her eye she saw Havoc and Falman sweeping through the space, stoping every few feet and tugging at the twine-woven cuffs lacing their wrists together. Each one held fast.
What the hell was going on?!
She scanned the crowd for their suspect but came up empty-handed. The four who’d been free were pliant, calmly allowing metal ties to lock their hands in place and listening to every order. And here she was thinking this was going to be a shoot out.
Before the last of the four was pulled away, she marched up to them. “The two people you kidnapped.” She gave the hardest look she could and saw them pale considerably. “Where are they?”
“I don’t know. Hildy does. She was the one in charge.” They nodded to a woman wedged into a corner, head bowed and legs folded beneath her.
Riza padded over with Al on her heels, avoiding the miffed stares from those who laid strewn about the floor. Her shadow fell over the woman, glaring down wordlessly. She—Hildy—looked up and two things immediately stuck Riza.
First was the smile. It was so innocent and steady while her eyes rang with hunger. It sent a small shiver across her shoulder blades.
Second was that Riza recognized this woman.
She had been in the photograph Havoc showed her, the one with their main suspect alongside two other people. She looked older than in the photo of course, her hair was shorn closer to her shoulders and there was a bruise over her cheek, but it was her.
The woman gazed up at her. “Hi.”
“Havoc!” Riza called. The blond man scurried over, gracefully dropping the person he and Breda had been hauling up. “What is it?”
“That picture,” She didn’t take her eyes away from Hildy, “do you remember the woman from it?” His blue eyes darted between Riza and the brown haired women, jaw falling slack and eyes striken to a brilliant brightness. He ran to drag Fuery over, as he was the closest thing they had to a witness. Hildy just kept smiling, humming to herself a marching tune that had Riza calling back to days of training.
She shook herself out of the hazy nostalgia.
“Where are they?” Riza growled lowly. She could feel Al’s imposing figure behind her, coming to the same realization about who this was. She heard the telltale sound of leather against leather as his hands twitched and curled.
Hildy lilted to the side, the grin rolling in concert with her drawling voice. “Oh. Sorry, you just missed them.”
Riza’s stomach decided to practice gymnastics while her mind was speeding down an endless highway. Fuery and Havoc were coming up beside her. “Missed them?” Fuery asked. “What do you—“
“They’re dead, see.”
Her heart stopped, the blood in her veins freezing over. Without thinking, Riza’s hand toyed at her holster, floating around the handle and trying very, very hard not to press the muzzle against Hildy’s forehead.
She took a deep breath and reminded herself that she couldn’t trust much of what the woman told her. “I won’t ask again. Where are they?”
Hildy blinked up at her, the grin pulling tightly over her skin and etching the starts of crows feet by her eyes. Her head tilted gently. “That young one didn’t take so well to having his lungs filled with water and the Colonel simply wouldn’t cooperate. What was I to do?” Hildy shrugged at them, leaning nonchalantly.
Lungs filled with water...?
She felt like she’d been slapped. The cause of death for Čatloš had been drowning. Before Riza, or anyone else for that matter, could press Hildy further, a gauntlet slammed into her face.
“You didn’t!” Al cried, pulling her up by the collar, his whole body trembling.
Havoc grabbed him by the arm, Hughes and Fuery pulling at his middle. It took all three of them to keep the boy from bludgeoning her over the head. Hildy was laughing. It wasn’t even the maniacal kind of cackle one would expect. It was airy and familiar, the sort of sound that came with a sunny day or with a drink in hand.
Riza refused to believe her until there was proof to her claims. Until then Hildy’s words would receive nothing but her own stubborn denial. Al was struggling against the three men, shouting across the room. “What did you do?!”
“I already told you.” She responded.
Riza looked to Breda and Falman from across the room. “Take Al. Search the other floors.” They nodded and took hold of Al’s metal wrists. She needed to get him away from this woman before he actually tried to beat her. The first blow had been strong enough to crack her head back, a second would surely’ve drawn blood. More could knock her out, consequentially throwing the only person who seemed to have any substantial knowledge in the lap of unconsciousness where she couldn’t say a word to them.
Breda’s grip managed to wrangle Al to a set of stairs and Falman helped in pushing him to take steps. “They’re here, Al.” She heard Breda say. “We just gotta fine ‘em. Come on.”
The clanging of metal slowly faded away. Hughes was glowering down at Hildy, his hand straying dangerously to his back where a particularly sharp blade lay waiting. “Here’s what’s gonna happen. We’re going to ask you some questions and you are going to answer them. If you don’t, I’ll see to it you received the harshest possible legal punishment.” It was the most professional sounding threat she’d ever heard, but she caught the way Hughes’ voice trembled around the edges of the words.
The woman nodded. “Alright. Don’t get mad when you don’t like the answers though.” Havoc snarled beside Riza. She held out an arm before he could step forward, shooting down his all too clear intentions with a torrent of emotions flickering through her eyes, everything from the promise of a bullet in his foot to soft pleading. He relented, arms falling from where they had risen to strike.
“Why did you kidnap Colonel Mustang and Fullmetal.” Hughes asked. It was wrong on some level to hear those words leave his mouth. Riza had only ever heard him refer to the Colonel as Roy, and to Ed in the same way. Never by rank, and absolutely not by title.
“To start a war.”
“I didn’t get the fight in the last one. Not even after…” She faltered for a moment, something almost human flickering in her eyes. “It ruined me, ruined my friend, widowed his husband.”
So they’d been conscripted. Havoc was furiously writing on a notepad that had materialized from nowhere. Or perhaps just his pocket. Those who’d been tied down were being led outside while two officers were radioing the station for vehicles, warning that they were going to need all holding cells at the ready. Her patience was wearing thin already, as was Hughes’ based on the way he was gripping his the cuffs of his sleeves. “And who are you people, exactly?”
“We’re soldiers, of course!" She exclaimed brightly. "What does a soldier want more than anything?” None of them answered, either with their mouths wired shut by waves of fear and anger, or their hands too busy dancing around weapons. Her eyes faded. Everything went blank. Riza barred her arms out and pushed both Fuery and Havoc back like Hildy was a bomb about to go off.
“A fucking war.”
Riza’s heart made itself a lovely and very inconveniently home in her throat. It was a little hard to breathe.
All of their heads whipped in the direction it came from, finding a very well hidden door being eased open. At the threshold stood a tall, sturdy looking man, a pale suitcase held at his side, coils of blond hair curving along his head in a way that could’ve been statuesque is his hand wasn’t running through them anxiously.
“You,” Fuery breathed, the stiffness to his frame having slacked with disbelief and Havoc sputtered alongside him. Hildy’s smile had stayed hidden, a glare being sent towards the man. Riza sucked in a sharp breath. “You’re—“
“The bartender, yeah. I’m sorry.” He stepped into the room, the troubled gleam of his eyes making Riza want to grab him by the shirt and demand answers. He set down the case and they all tensed, expecting a weapon or maybe a bomb of some kind. But he merely knelt and raised his hands, nudging the case away in as placating a way as possible.
“Are you... Pavlo Feldt?”
He shook his head quietly like the name itself was some kind of court sentence. “He’s—was my husband. Name’s Baris.”
Hughes motioned for the MPs to escort Hildy away, mindful of her unsteady calm. They obliged, but before she was pulled out the door, Hildy lunged.
“You traitor.” She spat at Baris, leaning against the arms carting her backwards. “He’d hate you for this.”
The blond man grimaced, one hand falling to a necklace hanging loosely over his chest. But he didn’t say a word to her. When she disappeared from view, he looked back up, meeting each of their eyes with startling clarity.
“Your friends aren’t dead. They escaped a few hours ago, down into the punchbowl.”
Riza’s eyes narrowed at him. “And no one went after them?” She asked. She was hopeful of course, the news that they’d managed to break out felt like the weight of half the stars being lifted from her shoulders, but she was suspicious all the same.
They’d gone through all the trouble of kidnapping them only to have them slip away? Seemed unlikely.
Baris smiled dryly. “You know, there’s a lot of weird plants around here.”
Oh alright. The sly look spoke volumes and a tiny, almost insignificant amount of begrudging respect sparked somewhere in her chest.
“You left that flower there on purpose, didn’t you?” Havoc moved forward, snatching up the case and fixing cuffs around Bairs’ outstretched hands. Riza padded over as well, taking the case and sliding the three clips out of place to be met with a collection of medical equipment. A helpful voice remind her of his status as a nurse.
He nodded to Havoc. “I thought it’d help you folk figure it out.”
The med-kit was passed off to a nameless officer and Riza’s expression soured. “So you drugged your comrades and were dropping hints for us. Why?”
His face crumpled.
“I didn’t want any of this to happen. I thought she’d get better if… I don’t know.” His voice grew strained, eyebrows turned down into a pained expression. “I don’t know.”
“You and Hildy meet through the military.” Riza asked… stated, really. On some level, she could feel herself softening at his voice. Simply because of how tired he sounded, apologies sown into every word and his entire body made up in a sad brand of regret.
“That’s right.” Baris replied with a slow nod, his face remaining mild.
A phantom of a smile drifted over him, clashing with the aggressively dull grey that stained the walls. “They’d been friends before that. When he died... when he killed himself, a piece of her went with him.” His shoulders drew up towards his ears, a decidedly resigned frown pressing into his lips. “But you know, the military made her. They made her then set her loose on the world.”
He sounded sad.
She shut her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see the tears gathering around his. Riza just listened to the sound of rubber soles over stone, someone ushering Baris out to where the roaring of car engines were growing near.
“He said it was only a few hours ago. We can find them.” Hughes said sternly, touching her arm. She didn’t pull away, but she didn’t reciprocate either. The hand vanished, Riza’s eyes still trained on the space the blond man had occupied.
“Hawkeye?” Hughes prompted cautiously. There must’ve been a dangerous light in her gaze.
Riza twitched, meeting his eyes for only a moment before turning and running for the door. Baris was standing in a line of men and women, all waiting to be loaded into vans flanked with military police. She jerked to a stop in front of him, eyes hardening.
“You’re not telling us everything.”
He looked at her solemnly, his lips quirking in a dizzyingly poignant flash of pity. He sighed like the winds from every nation had gathered in his lungs.
“Don’t you know? There’s giants out there.”
Welcome back folks! This is one of my favourite chapters for several reasons and has the BEST chapter title of the bunch by far. I wrote most of it while listening to Scarlemange's Waltz. Which slaps. Also, Baris redemption! We did it!!
As usual, I am amazed by you all. I've been getting asks about this fic and more support than ever before and it's giving me so much motivation and really, thank you times a million.
I can and will hug all of you because, honestly, you're all just... so so kind.
Chapter 9: Quarter for your lungs
CW: Non-graphic torture. Implied panic attack.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It felt wrong to say, but Ed was bored.
You’d think getting kidnapped would be more exciting but no, they had been left in an empty room with nothing to do but kick the walls and pull at their restraints. Restraints that were sharp against his skin and absolutely weren’t rope. They’d dug slits into his arms, trails of blood having long since warmed the material beyond recognition. He guessed it was metal, most likely some kind of wire.
Ed did his very best to not turn his back to Mustang all the while, knowing his reaction would be pointlessly loud.
His head preferred the quiet, thanks.
It had been ages since Hildy had swept out of the room. They estimated it had been between twenty to thirty hours since they’d been kidnapped and six since anyone had come into their little prison.
He and the Colonel had theories and ideas about everything possible, half of which were nothing more than listless ramblings to fill to silence with something other than the steady brush of air from above. Ed had been so close to suggesting a game of eye-spy out of sheer boredom had his pride not come round the bend with a shotgun to blow the idea away and preserve his claims to maturity.
They’d attempted to sleep, maybe be able to build up some energy, but it was damn near impossible. The lights overhead were nothing short of nauseating and every time he’d managed to doze, his wrist or ear would feel a tear and Ed would flinch back awake.
Mustang was facing a similar problem with the gash on his head. Ed could tell just from the way he ducked away from the light that there was a migraine pressing between his eyes.
The most recent spell of quietness had made his ears start to fill with an imagined ring and he promptly sat up and shook himself.
Just as he opened his mouth for another aimless conversation, the officially sanctioned Door Wall sparked and, devastatingly, Ed perked up.
He then immediately kicked himself for it.
Bad. Door is bad. Do not be happy about the door, you dumb shit.
Feather-light steps bounced off the concrete, accompanied by two heavier, less coordinated pairs of feet. He heard the soft ting of metal before Hildy or her goons crossed the threshold.
She held a coin, tossing it and catching it and, for some reason, leaving the entrance open.
The two men that had followed her inside were looming over her shoulders like pair of watchdogs. One he recognized as the man Mustang had lovingly dubbed Clown, a stupid moniker that Ed had prompted adopted for himself, and a new face framed by a buzzcut.
He looked like a jarhead.
Hildy caught the coin between two fingers. “Have you come to a decision yet?” She asked, turning to Mustang.
He glared at her. “Go to hell.”
She sighed, flipping and turning the fleck of gold like a tiny baton between both her hands, her knuckles catching it each time before it slipped. She looked impatient and Ed had to prevent a knowing smile from ruining his neutral expression.
“Already been. Not very nice this time of year.” Her footsteps became lazier by a fraction, turning in slow circles. The men stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the exit, Clown with his gun of blanks sticking out of his boot, a knife on his leg, and the new guy with what might’ve been scissor handles peeking out from his belt. Kind of tacky, if you asked Ed, but something to remember. He didn’t dare steal a glance to the older alchemist. Not yet.
“Normally I’d just drag it out of you.” She sounded all sugary and kind, turning the sickeningly chipper smile to Ed. “I could just drown our golden child here over and over and over…” Hildy’s head lolled at him.
Ed stubbornly kept his breath from sticking in his throat, but sweat still tapered over his skin. He pressed against the bindings around his hands, focusing solely on the sting of pain instead of how Hildy was stalking forward with hunger in her eyes and bloodlust in her fidgeting hands. He shrank back against the wall, her inked hand reaching towards him.
He took back everything he’d thought about the woes of boredom. This was worse.
The thumping of blood in his ears and the memory of water choking him from the inside forced his eyes shut. Hildy’s hand touched his shoulder, thumb grinding into the slash over his collarbone. Ed flinched, but didn’t cry out.
Her prying fingers fell away. Ed watched her retreat to the centre of the cell. “That’s all rather tedious.”
The relief pouring over him was short lived, as the thugs elbowed one another and snickered wickedly. Quicker than a flash of lightening, Ed looked at Mustang. He was tense, arms drawn back tightly and eyes trained on Hildy’s movements.
She continued on despite the obvious scrutiny. “So, we’ll leave it to chance. Heads—“ She balanced the coin on her index finger, the dirtied edges rolling along her skin like a circus act. “—And I’ll go ahead with slowly suffocating you.”
Ed bit his tongue to keep from firing a volley of vulgar insults. Mustang was looking really to start throwing kicks, his eyes growing darker with each word. The coin passed into her other hand.
“Tails, and I’ll let my associates take a crack at interrogation.” She eyed them both. It was really starting to make Ed want to squirm, and the predatory set to her shoulders certainly wasn’t doing anything to deter it. The coin balanced on the tip of her thumb then, with a tiny flick, it spiralled upwards.
Tails tails tails tails…
Turning over itself so quickly it looked more like a sphere than a stamped currency.
Tails tails tails tails…
Ed held his breath as though that would somehow help.
Tails tails tails—!
Hildy caught it on the back of her hand. “Tails.”
Three cheers for dumb luck!
Just from looking, Ed could tell these idiots were more trigger happy than Hildy, and their egos would be chipped away at much quicker. Goading them would be infinitely easier, not to mention neither of them were alchemists. Both he and Mustang could take a few hits as opposed to repeatedly being subjected to asphyxiation.
The two men were muttering to one another rather openly. Maybe as some kind of scare tactic. Maybe they’re just dumb and loud.
“I’ll just squeeze it out of them.” The newcomer said. Ed squinted at him critically. Specifically, the handles protruding from his belt.
He blinked and oh those are definitely not scissors.
Terribly enough, it ignited an idea in Ed’s mind. Hildy was saying something to them lowly, both men giving her their full attention and what a perfect window of opportunity it was. Practically handed to him on a silver platter. Ed caught Mustang’s eye and mouthed the word screw.
The man stared back quizzically, but produced the piece of metal anyways. Ed motioned as subtly as he could and was immensely grateful that he seemed to understand what Ed was asking.
Mustang shifted and flicked the screw towards him. Vaguely Ed heard Hildy tell Clown and… he’d get a name later, to not kill them. She didn’t say anything about beating the crap out of them though.
With his hands still stuck behind his back, Ed opted to catch the screw between his teeth and push it beneath his tongue. More pieces of his plan were falling together in an almost artfully reckless way. Mustang was going to be pissed. Oh well, that’s par for the course and this had a better chance of working than their whole try to beat up the seven-foot-something guy idea.
The dark haired alchemist was still watching him, silently asking what the hell he was thinking. Ed threw him a familiar, shit-storm inducing, assuring smirk.
Mustang’s face stayed hard for a moment before relenting as the stone wall was stitched up with a pulse of alchemic power, leaving them to the whims of Clown and the other guy who Ed hadn’t picked a sufficiently insulting name for yet.
Anything he could do mentally to make these guys less intimidating was on the table, including the nickname he saddled them with. Ed was devastated to hear Clown call the man before he got the chance. They were both facing Mustang, towering over him.
“Mal here is gonna ask you some questions. You’re gonna answer ‘em.”
Clown moved faster than Ed thought he could, grabbing Mustang by the shoulders and kneeing him just below the diaphragm. Ed winced at the sound of the mans breath rushing from his lungs and saw his eyes glaze over. Mustang was pulled away from the wall enough for Clown to kneel behind him get ahold of his hands.
Surprisingly, they started to unwrap the cloth that had been holding his thumbs to his palm and for some reason Clown stayed where he was, both hands circled around Mustang’s wrists and—
Mal deliberately stood just to the side, glancing back to make sure Ed could see what was going on with his arms crossed over his chest and indifference written over his face. Mustang was clawing his way out of his dazed state and cast a fierce snarl at Mal. The man didn’t flinch.
Ed corralled his panic into a sturdy cage at the back of his mind that hopefully wouldn’t break open any time soon. He just needed to wait and hope Mustang doesn’t set him on fire later for what he was going to do.
“We’ll start simple. What ciphers do you use on your notes?” Mal leered, a wicked grin pulling at his lips.
Mustang glared right back, holding himself with a tired dignity. “The ones idiots can’t read.”
The snap that carved through the air made Ed flinch. The way the older alchemist’s face twisted and curdled sent his herd of panic bashing against their enclosure. Clown had broken the bone between his first and second knuckle, letting it hang loose and crooked between his hands.
“Who taught you alchemy?”
“A corpse.” He growled. The crack was drawn out this time, purposely slow and Ed could see the way Mustang was biting back cries, breathing harshly through his nose and jerking away from Clown. Mal remained unfazed, digging his hands casually into his pockets.
Ed didn’t want to see this. He especially didn’t want to hear it.
His shoulders were held up as close to his ears as possible, his head bowed, wishing to block out the sounds of splintering of bones and muffled shouts. Waiting had never been his strong suit. Ed was known for impatience, some might say he was infamous for that trait, even.
But he couldn’t intervene yet.
The taste of metal in his mouth and the biting cold from the screw under his tongue made for his jaw twitch. He was in a constant wrestling match to keep it locked shut because the way he wished to spit profanities and stitch them together with snark would send everything crashing down. He couldn’t afford to be impulsive.
Mal took a step forward, his annoyance beginning to show itself. His hands were drawn out of his pockets and his hands had started to drum lightly over his leg.
“What’s their name?” The man demanded, taking another step.
“Check for yourself. It’s written on their grave.”
A choked, pained sound tore from between Mustang’s teeth, a noise that was now going to live in Ed’s mind forever. Like a ghost or a freeloader who refused to pay rent.
“Where did you study?” Mal’s face was pinching. Clown looked more resigned than anything else, but he grabbed hold of an unbroken digit and strained it backwards.
“In a house with four walls.”
“Who else knows about flame alchemy?”
That was four now. They’d broken his index finger in two places, and Clown was pressing for a twin fracture on his middle as well. The sound cleaved right through the room.
A dying animal would’ve been easier to listen to. It would’ve shaken the younger alchemist less too.
Ed grit his teeth and, for a split second, locked eyes with Mustang. They were sharp as ever, not even a cloud of pain teasing at the corners. He was all there and he was looking at Ed with an enormous amount of trust.
He has an idea and Mustang trusts him. That was all the encouragement he needed.
Refusing to accept failure before sacrifice was its own art form. One that Ed learned young. Now it was time to break out a brush and paint a mighty convincing picture.
Of course, it would be in shades of red.
His hand had its own heartbeat. It pounded and throbbed, he could feel the bones from the inside shifting among his skin and flesh. He’d never thought to sense his hand from the inside before, but it was agonizing.
Roy breathed and kept his eyes trained forward to meet the golden ones staring back. Ed was huddled against the wall, knees drawn up and clarity ringing from his face.
God help him, he trusts the kid.
His eyes were fixed with determination while nerves were being packed into his limbs. Roy gave him a nuanced, nearly invisible nod. Ed returned the gestured and opened his mouth.
“You really think the Hero of Ishval is going to cave just like that?” Clown’s grip slackened. Mal whipped toward Ed, a scowl on his lips. The blond smirked at them. “What, you drink extra stupid juice on your way in?”
Ed was goading him.
Stringing them both along until they got cocky or mad. Anger and arrogance clouds judgement like nothing else and Ed was about to earn himself a beating trying to exploit that. It was reckless, painfully on brand for Ed and it seemed to be working.
“I think it’d be better for everyone’s kneecaps if you’d shut up.” Mal tried to appear collected, but the growl harmonizing with his voice ruined the effect entirely.
Ed actually laughed. Right in his face.
“Please, I bet you couldn’t even get me to talk. And you’re, what, twice my age?” He drawled. It was a clear challenge. One that Mal was either too stupid or too irritated to think twice about because he lumbered right on over to Ed and backhanded him.
His head snapped to the side, the smirk widening when he pulled his gaze back up to meet Mal’s. His eyes were shining mockingly, like the gleam of a desert mirage. Roy was torn between yelling at Ed to stop talking or cheering him on.
His mouth stayed glued shut by apprehension. Roy reminded himself that Ed had something up his sleeve because doubt was already prickling at his skin.
Mal wiped his hands down on the fabric of his shirt, like Ed’s slandering had somehow rubbed off onto the man. “Fine. Since you’re so eager to take his place. Where do you keep your research?”
Mal’s heels were holding steadily, tensely to the concrete floor. His whole body was stiff. Roy leaned forward but was yanked back by Clown, whose hands had migrated to his forearms and were digging painfully into his skin. Roy hissed through his teeth.
“It’s in my pocket,” The blond nodded to the visible patches of extra material at his right leg. Mal knelt, looking proud as if there was even a sliver of a chance that Ed was telling the truth.
“There’s nothing here—“ Ed lashed out with his flesh leg, kicking the man in the stomach. Not very hard, but enough to push him back and more than enough to humiliate him. Roy’s hands fidgeted carefully. Clown was watching the blond and his associate’s interaction like it was a sport and his hands were more free than they’d been in days. His right hand was engulfed with aching spasms, but the left was perfectly functional. He felt for the touch-warmed fibres that held the backs of his hands together and started to thread his nail between the knots, pulling at it slowly.
Ed’s smile looked downright derisive as Mal rose back up to his full height. He feigned ignorance like he had a monopoly on the expression itself, an innocent confusion playing about on his lips. “Well darn, where did I put that rats ass I don’t give?”
Mal reared back, his glare thunderous. The man forced words from his throat. “I thought that State Alchemists were all stoic masterminds.”
“I’m sorry you were lied to.” The younger alchemist said smugly. He was rewarded with a kick.
Mal had a temper, that was for sure. Only a few insults and he was already starting to unravel.
Speaking of unraveling…
Roy’s little finger was successfully wedged between two twists of rope. He worked it back and forth, trying to widen the gap enough for the knot to pull loose. He knew there was multiple spots where the rope was tied off, he could feel them chaffing against his wrists. He’d have to deal with them one at a time.
Ed was relentless, taking every word he was handed and fashioning it into a weapon. Shooting off taunts in rapid succession and brushing aside the occasional kick or slap with a grin. Roy was firmly biting into his cheek to prevent any protests from slipping out. It was harder than he’d like to think, each hit resounding for a moment and halting his efforts before he regained focus.
Mal was coiled tighter than an industrial grade compression spring; he’d snap any minute now.
He didn’t know exactly what Ed’s scheme was, but he hoped it wouldn’t last long enough for their tormentor to split down the middle and start beating him bloody. Roy didn’t catch what exactly it was that Ed said, but he heard the distinct thump of skin against skin.
He looked up, focusing on the scene before him, his hand stopping in place. Mal pulled back and punched Ed a second time. An honest to god punch right across the face and Roy had to remind himself once again that this isn’t a battle.
It’s not a standoff or showdown. It’s a hostage situation and they’re both in the line of fire.
He can’t charge in.
A dark laugh came from the blond alchemist. He raised his head slowly to look at the red-flushed and positively furious face of Mal, mirth flickering over his features.
“Don’t you know not to hit someone with a closed fist?” Ed breathed out, glaring through his bangs. The Roy felt ice creep into the room.
He stopped trying to untie himself.
Mal’s shoulders dropped, tension gathering in the rest of his body. Ed sneered at him. “Even your punches are pathetic and half-baked.”
A hand slammed around Ed’s throat, dragging him up against the wall and off his feet.
The second hand joined, curled around the younger alchemists neck and they were tightening at an alarming rate.
“I could kill you.” Mal barked, pressing his weight onto Ed’s jugular, “Half-fucking-baked. I could kill you.”
Ed didn’t fight him, he just stared down with gritted teeth as he struggled for air.
Roy’s heart was beating so quick and fast he could feel it all through his arms and legs, the roar of blood filling his ears. Every part of him screamed and begged for him to move.
To get up and do something.
His breathing is picking up and he tried to wrench himself out of Clown’s hands, twisting and straining wildly.
Ed caught his eye before he could get his feet under him. They were clear. Not a whiff or hint of trepidation.
Roy must’ve lost his mind somewhere along the way. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have stopped fighting. He wouldn’t have given an undoubting nod and relented to the man behind him. He wouldn’t have allowed himself to be jerked backwards. He wouldn’t have whispered to himself with enormous bitterness. “Okay.”
Then there was a snap.
Ed fell limp. There was blood running down from the corner of his mouth.
Roy’s eyes widened, his mind screeching to a stop.
No no no no no—
His bright golden eyes had remained unfazed, even as they fell to mere slits.
Mal dropped him, stumbling back. Ed didn’t catch his fall in the slightest. His body thudded against the cold floor, blond hair spilling over his face.
He’s not moving.
Why isn’t he moving?
Roy was frozen. Horror dripped over his neck, deathly cold, spreading through every part of him and something heavy dropped in his stomach. Lips parted in fear, he felt his lungs collapsing.
He couldn’t tell if Ed was conscious.
He couldn’t tell if Ed was breathing.
The tips of his fingers were numb, a bone-deep hysteria shivering it’s way through him. He was shaking. Really badly.
Clown was no longer behind him. He was standing over Ed with Mal at his side. Roy wanted to tackled them away from his subordinate but he couldn’t fucking move.
“Aw shit.” Clown eyed the blond. Roy considered committing several crimes in that moment. “Did you kill ‘em?”
It was a knife to the chest. The world was spinning madly and he felt sick. Mal only shrugged. Roy vowed to beat him black and blue once his stomach wasn’t flipping and his heart wasn’t lodged in his throat.
Clown knelt and started to turn Ed over. “Get his hands.”
Mal removed a pair of pliers from his belt and oh god was that wire?
Had they really tied his hands together with metal wire?
The logical part of him (the traitor) reasoned that it made sense: It’s a lot easier to break out of ropes when one hand is made of metal. Wire meant squirming at all would bring a genuine pain that kerosene wouldn’t. Logic was now balanced on the edge of a cliff, with a protectiveness that Roy didn’t know was existed barreling forward, knocking it into oblivion.
No one would be mourning for logic anyways.
They cut the restraints away and the soft sliding sound of the metal being lifted from the gashes on Ed’s wrist made his heart lurch. Roy swallowed back a wave of nausea. Both his flesh hand and the metal one flopped to the ground mutely. He saw Ed’s hand twitch by just a fraction, but he didn’t know if he’d imagined it or not. There was terror, staring him in the face and holding him down, exacting some sickly retribution. His insides were twisting and the pounding of his heart wailed through his head. The air was thick and hot, despite how cold the room was. Every intake was impossible.
Mal hovered over Ed, a hand reaching forward to search for a pulse or a puff of breath.
His mind could only chant at him over and over that Ed still hadn’t so much as tensed. His eyes were half closed and streams of red were bubbling from his mouth.
Laid on his back Roy could very clearly see that his chest wasn’t moving.
Roy suddenly didn’t give a flying fuck about any plan the kid might’ve had. He was on the floor, slack and pale, bleeding from somewhere and so very still. That loud crack could’ve only been from one thing and Roy’s vision started to tunnel.
He was panicking. Every inch of his body seizing, eyes blown wide and scared beyond belief.
He could barely force himself to blink. Ed wasn’t moving. Or breathing.
And—and he’d been looking right at Roy. Straight through him, he’d been confident and steady and now the kid was too fucking quiet. Ed has never stayed still for this long in his life. He didn’t know how to stop talking, so why had he started now?
Roy had seen bodies before but this couldn’t... it wasn’t.
The colour was still there, staining onto his skin and he‘s not—Ed’s not—
Please move. Roy found himself begging internally. Rage clawed at him viciously. There was blood pooling below the ribbon of red pouring from Ed’s mouth and Roy’s chest constricted further.
For fucks sake, just move. It wasn’t like Ed could hear him, but he kept on pleading to the kid silently. I trusted you. Please move.
Shock held him hostage while Mal held two fingers to Ed’s neck and—
A metal hand wrapped around the mans wrist.
Roy’s mind stuttered.
Mal tried to jump back, but there was a fist clutching the front of his shirt. Ed’s eyes flew open and he yanked the thug towards him, head butting the man hard in the nose.
I’ll just squeeze it out of them.
That’s what Mal had said. That’s when Ed had lit up with the devil dancing around in his eyes and an idea brewing in that idiotic, brilliant mind of his.
Screw these guys, he was going to kill the kid himself.
He’s not dead. He’s not dead.
Mal fell back with a yowl, holding his probably broken nose. He watched as Ed stood, rolling his wrists before vaulting forward with a foot aimed for Mal’s chest. Clown wrapped both arms around the younger before the hit landed, pulling him back while Mal scrambled up and pitched towards the wall they’d entered through.
Roy suddenly remembered Baris’ visit, how he’d knocked on the wall to open it. Three taps and a long drag against the concrete. His body unlocked and he surged forward, ramming a shoulder into the man before he could touch the stone. They both toppled.
Ed had managed to elbow Clown hard enough to slip from his grasp. They traded blows, Ed getting tagging once or twice in the flurry until his attacker swung just a little too wide. He stepped between his fists, grabbing hold of his shirt, tangling into the fabric where his collar and shoulder met. Then he twisted the man hard to one side, his foot knocking Clown’s legs out.
Stop panicking. He’s okay. Stop panicking.
Mal shoved Roy away and made another lunge for the door. He caught the man by the ankle with his own foot and wrenched him back with every ounce of strength he had left. Mal’s head knocked against the floor loudly and he didn’t try to get up again.
Ed had gotten into side control, his hands locked together and firmly cutting off blood-flow to Clowns head, dodging his flailing arms all the while.
He strained, squeezing his forearm against Clowns throat until he succumbed to unconsciousness. For good measure, Ed drove his elbow into Clown’s temple. Technically it could be reasoned he intended to keep him sleeping for longer, but there was malice in the blow.
They both sat back, panting. Roy was still in a state of shock. That all happened… way too fast.
Ed had the audacity to be grinning, blood still pouring from his mouth and several things not making sense. The blond pushed himself upright, staggering over to Mal.
He retrieved the pliers and collapsed to his knees beside Roy. He couldn’t find any words. They’d abandoned him. So he sat in silence while Ed carefully cut away the ropes and his hands fell loose.
Roy cradled his broken fingers, staring at the younger alchemist who’d turned to the side to spit out a mouthful of blood.
Roy drew in a shaky breath. “Never do that again.”
Damn it all, I was scared. Damn it all.
He rubbed at his burning wrist, fixing Ed with a stern frown. Or, at least that what he hoped it looked like. In reality it probably read more as unadulterated panic. Ed coughed, almost laughing. As if any of this was funny.
“Sure. Hey, does the military have dental insurance?”
Roy’s dread took a backseat to the confusion that grabbed hold of the wheel. He half expected to be driven into a ditch. Roy blinked at the blond. “I don’t—why do you want to know?”
“How do you think I made that snapping sound?”
He spat again and this time, something clattered against the floor. Something metallic.
He blanched, looking at Ed sharply. The remnants of terror hadn’t left Roy. That’s probably why he started yelling like an idiot instead of keeping his voice low.
“You broke your fucking tooth?” He gaped in a mix of disbelief and anger because, honestly, what the hell.
Ed blew something white and dotted with red from his mouth, wiping away the blood on his chin with a tired smirk. “Hurt like a bitch too.”
Oh that was his—
Roy was going to kill him.
For giving him a heart attack and for being so reckless. He’d push the brat out the window and say he fell. “The hell is wrong with you?!” Roy yelled.
“Oh, lot’s of things.” Ed shrugged, “But it worked, didn’t it? Use all the tools at your disposal.”
“Yeah, said the fisherman with a gun.”
“Was that… was that a joke?”
He struggled to shake off the lingering fear that still pressed at every part of him, desperately trying to convince him that there was still danger swimming in the air. He beat it back as best he could. Not all of it would stay down.
“Let’s just break the window and get out of here.”
“Cheers to that,”
He tossed the pliers to Roy, rummaging through the two unconscious men’s pockets. A gun and a hunting knife were both carefully tucked away into Ed’s shoes, the blade sheathed and the safety on. He wondered if Hawkeye had ever pulled the brothers aside for a crash course in gun safety.
Roy pressed a hand against the painted glass, feeling for where it melded into the wall. The edges were the weakest point, after all. His fingertips searched and searched but the paint was making it hard to find even a slight deviation or rut. Theoretically, Ed could simply transmute the glass and they’d be on their merry way. Such a shame that alchemy tended to be loud, especially when it was involving earthen materials. They couldn’t risk the sounds reaching through the walls unless they wanted a whole host of trigger-happy visitors.
The shattering of glass, in comparison, was light as a mouse’s footsteps.
“No edges?” Ed asked, peering over his shoulder.
He sighed, “None that I can find.” The tip of the pliers held against the glass, slowly dragging along and waiting for some ridge to catch it. After a few minutes, Roy very eloquently muttered, “Screw it.” And used the metal tool like a chisel, his elbow like a hammer. It took a few tries, but a low crack rang out.
He knocked the metal tip against the window twice more and felt it give way. It would've been faster if his hand would stop trembling.
A chunk about the size of his hand crumbled, letting orange light flood the room. Roy never knew he could be so ecstatic to see something that wasn’t grey or red.
Ed reached forward with his right hand, knocking away more pieces until they had a clear view of the landscape rolled out in front of them. They were a few stories off the ground, low enough that jumping wouldn’t kill them, but far enough that there’d be at least one broken leg if they were lucky. Ed cracked a smile at the broken glass. “Hah. Suckers. Good luck getting your security deposit back.”
Beyond the glowing yellowish light was a forest. It went for about five hundred or so yards, then dropped off. There were more trees past that, but it was obvious they were lower.
They were balanced in a cliffside. A convenient enough way to slip from sight. It looked like early evening, meaning they’d have the night to cover them soon enough.
“I could probably jump from here, but you’re all flesh and blood. Something’ll break.” Ed mused, staring straight down the side of the building and somehow not getting dizzy from vertigo.
Roy looked to Mal. More specifically, to the layers of clothes he wore. The ones that wouldn’t be hard to tie together and lower halfway to the ground.
“I got an idea.”
“You gonna rob them?”
Ed opened his mouth to respond but stiffened. Roy felt it too, the electric tinge that danced into the air.
His hair stood on end and he desperately wished they could have just a little bit of good luck. Like if his gloves could drop from they sky, that would be excellent. Alas, they did not and he hardly had time for a fight. They would certainly lose. So, in a moment of either tactical brilliance or utter stupidity, Roy grabbed Ed by the arm and jumped through the hole in the window, shards and splinters chasing after them as a shrill cry came from above.
Wee tidbit that I forgot to drop eariler:
The geography of Flamborough (not real in FMA, by the by. Just a random town cause I needed a setting I could mold) is inspired by a real place in Canada called The Devils Punchbowl, and it’s called that because of how many people have fallen and died there. Look it up. Shit’s wild as hell. There's a thirty foot tall cross too??? Seriously, it's nuts.
Drop by on my tumblrfor some doodles! I dumped a bunch of sketches from various scenes. (Under the tag "ceces fic art").
Anyways. No regrets. Suffer with me, you poor sweet fools. I love you all.
Chapter 10: North of the Wind
CW: Disassociation. Implied panic attack. Non-graphic violence.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Riza was… frustrated.
It was too small a word to describe the outpour of emotions that flooded her, but it was the only one she had.
She was frustrated because, in sheer scope, they were outmatched. They had access to a total of twenty MPs, plus her own team, Hughes, and Alphonse. But that could hardly dent the twelve square miles of land that made up the woods within Dante’s Punchbowl. Only five of which were under Flamborough’s control. If they came up empty handed, it would mean at least a days wait before they would be granted permission to search the remaining area. Not that Riza would wait that long, it simply meant she could be suspended for breaking bylaws. It’d be entirely worth it though if it meant they’d be able to find Roy and Ed.
The layers of vegetation at the cliffs base made finding any kind of trail impossible, so that left them needing a full sweep of the forest. They found a beat-up revolver with three missing bullets and a jammed hammer. The remaining bullets were blanks. A hunting knife was driven into the face of the cliff, hanging only about a foot from the topmost ledge. None of it indicated direction or health status.
Hughes had suggested they start in the south and work their way northward.
This time, Al didn’t push that they rest. He was dead set on starting as soon as possible. She suspected that if someone wanted to take even a power nap, he’d burst. No one dared suggest it. Not when they boy’s hands still shook at his sides and his voice rang with desperation.
They marched in a horizontal line parallel to the cliffs, a team of medical personnel following them from above. She made sure to keep all her comrades close as they went, each of them within earshot. Riza was second closest to the wall, Hughes having taken up that particular position for himself.
Armed with guns and flashlights, they set off into the moonlit terrain.
The night passed in a blink, the suns shining face filtering through the trees before anyone spotted so much as a hint of human life. It was the third sunrise since they’d been taken.
Riza felt cold.
Every time the wind howled, her hand flinched dangerously close to her holster.
Most of the time she was unshakable, a pillar that held through time and weather. But the wind sounded far away and the breeze that came with it didn’t match the ferocity with which it whistled through her ears.
Don’t you know? There’s giants out there.
She remembered being warned of a pack of wolves by Hughes. Riza hoped she was wrong, but the reality was grabbing her by the throat and refusing to lessen its hold. The cries bouncing through the woods brought little comfort. Involuntary shivers passed over her in tandem with the rustling of fallen leaves, somehow cutting through her coat and uniform with an almost tangible sharpness. Occasionally she’d run a hand through her hair, pushing it aside simply to have something to do with her hands.
At around midday, Hughes called out to her.
"Hawkeye! come over here!"
She clambered over bushes and stones to find him crouched at the mouth of a cave.
“What is it?” She stood behind him, trying to follow his gaze to where it was trained.
“Look there,” He leaned forward, not bold enough to enter the crevice, pointing to something scrawled out amongst the stone. “I think that’s a transmutation circle.”
Riza studied the space with wide eyes, a swell building in her chest. It was messy and half destroyed, but the markings were new, carved from a layer of dirt over the stone floor by something sharp.
“They were here.” She breathed. Hughes looked hopeful for the first time in hours.
Neither ventured further, but they saw scraps of dirtied fabric strew about haphazardly.
Through a game of telephone, they got the news across their line of officers. Riza smiled when she heard Havoc’s loud whooping and a few others cheering along. She couldn’t even bring herself to tell them to hush up because, small as it was, it felt like an unequalled triumph for those moments.
They’d survived the fall and were moving. That had to be a good thing.
Her mind wandered back to Al. He’d been anxious and angry since their encounter with Hildy, but had softened considerably. He almost was himself again, their newest clues singing calm to his chaos and leading his thoughts away from potential tragedies. The boost in enthusiasm tapered off when no other substantial trails were found and the sky started to open up on them.
She glanced up. Hughes was gazing at her, an assured look plastered over his face.
“Don’t get lost in your head.”
“You were close.”
Riza looking down, watching her footing as she balanced over a collection of upturned roots. He was right, of course. She’d done nothing but dwell and meditate on a filing cabinets worth of plausible outcomes. None of them were good.
She’d set off hoping the two would be unharmed, now the bar had dropped so low she was merely wanting them to be breathing.
She sighed. “Alright. I’ll be more careful about that.” Hughes offered a meek smile in return.
Riza wished she could talk to Al.
Partially because he was still beside himself with worry. Once you knew what to look for, he was easy to read and everything was screaming out with grief. Being able to talk would give him an outlet for all the fright that was surely filling him up, but conversation is a two way street and perhaps she wanted to voice concerns just to hear them out loud. Just as confirmation that this wasn’t a twisted dream and maybe it could give her resolve a fresh coat of paint.
God knows it needed to be renewed after having been whittled down to a twig and broken in half.
He was within reach, bouncing between Fuery and Havoc to keep himself occupied, but something stopped her from waving him over.
It might’ve been fear.
At one point, it probably was.
But now it had morphed, modulated and braided into knots until every twist was a dead end, creating some dark, horrible mass that reared up simply to remind her of what they stand to lose.
If it once was fear, now it was abhorrence.
It had started to rain. Not hard, but enough to hear the droplets smacking against the ground and gathering into fist-sized puddles. There was ozone in the air, warning them of the storm brewing above. The one that was following her all the way from Central. It really had chased down the Colonel after all...
Riza never knew the phrase about having dark clouds over you could be so literal.
Havoc stumbled upon a few tattered pieces of cloth. Falman discovered a stone basin. Breda found tufts of fur hanging off of tree bark. Al picked at some chips of metal that had been almost swallowed by mud.
It doubled their efforts every time. They knew they were heading in the right direction and, if they kept on, eventually Ed or the Colonel would appear from the thicket. Conversely, every little sliver of information that was found was so vague that it made Riza chew at her lip in worry. The cloth they'd found was bloodied and the fur had been matted through with dirt. Riza was left trying to rationalize and ended up hating everything her mind suggested.
She could feel it from the others too. They were all waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And it did drop.
In the evening as the rain began to sob over the land and soak it through, with their torches back in hand, they heard it.
And saw it.
And felt it.
A brilliantly loud rumble and a flicker of blue energy that crackled through the air and made goosebumps prickle over her arms. It was as though the thunder and lightening had made a home amongst the forest, weaving between trees and shooting upwards in a backwards exchange of weather to the earth.
It was alchemy, no doubt about it.
She registered, in some dulled part of her mind, the sound of Hughes barking at their communications officer to notify the medical team that had been trailing after them along the top of the ravine. Riza pitched forward, racing towards the source of the sound with the rest of the search party sprinting right along beside her.
We’re almost there.
Please be alive.
The free fall only last a few second thanks to a drilled sense of instinct. Ed clapped, reaching for the stone wall that rushed past and cobbled together a platform, lowering them to the ground with a heavy rattle buzzing through his body and glass raining down.
It was rather juvenile, but the pure thrill of using alchemy was like a shot of adrenaline straight up his arm. After being deprived of the familiar humming so forcefully, the feeling of mathematical power and scientific vibrance being blasted outwards and ringing through his body was damn near euphoric. He was ashamed to admit it had almost made him giddy.
Mustang didn’t bother to say a word when they touched down, instead he pulled Ed up and fell into a sprint, breaking for an autumn ravaged line of trees. Beyond that was the cliff they’d spotted from above.
The blond managed to stay at his heels, throwing a look over his shoulder to see fifteen or so people streaming from the building alongside Hildy, circling it defensively.
“So much for slipping away.” He muttered between breaths. They sprinted onward, falling over each other in haste, flinging grace and caution to wind in the name of getting the hell away.
They reached the trees, diving behind a cluster of bushes. Ed rolled to his feet and nearly started running again, overeager to get as much space between them and Hildy as possible, but halted. Mustang was kneeling, looked over the shrubs at their pursuers, mouth twisted downwards. Ed went ridged as he recognized the expression creeping over the older man. It was that cynicism that chiseled away at him day and night, mixed with an unhealthy dose of recklessness that Ed knew from one too many glances in the mirror. He wanted to knock it off Mustang before his mouth opened, but he wasn’t quick enough to stop the words from bursting out.
“We can’t outrun them.”
Ed’s stomach dropped, a scowl painting his face an ugly shade of pissed. “We sure as hell can’t fight them either!”
He could feel the slight updraft buffeting at his back and a glance told him they were very close to a very big drop. Like, within jumping range and suddenly the space was far too small, claustrophobic and crowded, despite there only being the two of them.
Mustang’s brow furrowed and the sky might’ve shattered.
He was asking Ed to return the favour he’d granted just minutes before. Ed sincerely didn’t want to, not when the older alchemist was holding a hand to his chin and looking almost remorseful. A stubborn response was already happily waiting on Ed’s lips before the man spoke again.
“We need to stop them. Or at least stall them long enough that they’re not on our tail.” Mustang said, his hand straying to the pliers hidden in his jacket. Ed’s self control was a miracle in the moment because he really, really wanted to scream at the Colonel. They were regrouping around Hildy. She stared straight ahead towards them, cold and mindless, her eyes nailing the shine of an actual demon. Ed saw her lips move and a dozen sets of eyes were trained on their pathetic hiding spot. A smile twitched at her face and it made Ed’s stomach shrink into a coiled knot.
Without thinking, he brought his hands together, ready to build a wall or even a set of spikes to slow down the group barreling forward. Mustang stopped him before he could transmute the ground beneath them, pushing both his hands down.
“It’s no use. They’ve got an alchemist too. A wall isn’t going to work.” He paused. “Fire would, though.”
Ed’s hands dropped to his sides, crouching down as his fists curled and became very keen on smacking the older alchemist upside the head. “I hate to break it to you Colonel, but you don’t have your gloves.” He hissed.
Mustang stiffened, his eyes darting between the drop-off and the people dressed in all black who refused to slow.
“I don’t need them to draw an array. I’d just need a spark.” His determination was back, blazing with a furious energy. He looked to the younger pointedly and a split second debate happened. A silent screaming match about what the worse idea was that ended with Ed’s hand straying to the gun stuck in his boot. He sighed, wanting to oppose the batshit crazy plan and masking the frightened trembling in his hands with frustration. It was all he could do to not lose it right then and there.
A spark. That’s all he had to do.
Gunpowder and the violent click of a hammer would work well enough. Even blank rounds could spit a mouthful of light.
He sighed. Resignation mixed with anger until neither were recognizable and he fixed Mustang with a steely look.
“Fine. Be quick.”
He started drawing only about twenty or so yards away from the gorge, tearing into the dirt with the pilers at lightening speed. Ed was mildly awestruck at how easily Mustang finished the array. Like it was easy as signing his name; done in half the time Ed expected. It made sense though. He studied fire more than anything else, so of course the circles would be seared into the back of his eyelids like afterimages. The lines turned in on themselves, furling into complex knots with the trademark salamander scrawled into the base. They knelt side by side, transfixed by the horde rushing forward, wielding everything from quarterstaffs to rusted plumbing pipes.
Ed tried to ignore how well the gun handle fit into his palm, the smooth surface balanced so perfectly it made him angry. He grimaced, not even wanting to acknowledge the way his hands had started to shake. If Mustang noticed, he didn’t let on.
He blew stray strands of golden hair away from his face in a painfully mundane way while his finger rested against the trigger. He readied to shoot, squeezing the handle. Anxiety riddled his entire form as precious inches were severed from his fuse. Ed just about pulled back when the older spoke.
“Wait.” Mustang told him.
The man’s eyes didn’t leave the group still careening towards them, helmed by Hildy with a dangerous calm about her expression. The blond forced himself to breath in measured intakes. He counted to five before those careful inhales grew frantic. His eyes darted to Mustang.
“Colonel…” He said nervously. Hildy was only a few hundred yards away. A piercing gale of wind made him shiver. The older alchemist held fast at base of the circle, still as a statue with a cold, hard look in his eyes.
Panic had started too well up deep in his gut. A slow, heavy kind that was nailing him in place and toiling at the back of his throat. It felt horribly similar to water materializing in his lungs, making him want to choke and sputter. They were way too close. He could hear their footsteps and see their eyes and that was too fucking close.
The thudding of steel-toed boots against dirt was overwhelming. Their heaving breaths were close enough to hear individually and Ed swore he could count the lines on each of their faces.
“Wait!” He shouted and this time, Ed could practically taste the dread.
He was scared.
Colonel Mustang, the fucking Flame Alchemist, was just as frantically fearful as Ed.
He should run. He just get up and sprint for as long as possible and hope the dark haired man followed his lead. Hildy was practically on top of them. He was stubborn but this was insane.
He trusted you.
It’s your turn.
It was stupid. Idiotic, mindless, moronic... and other synonyms for dumb. But he listened. And he waited.
It felt like a lifetime, but finally the word left Mustang’s mouth. “Now!”
He fired, a spark flying from the barrel and a wall of flame engulfed the air. Sprouting up from the blank, it spread to the height of the trees in a split second. The flames knocked him back a few feet and sucked the oxygen from his lungs. Ed held up an arm, shielding his face while the fire still expanded, blooming into a pillar. The circle glowed beneath Mustang’s fingers, sustaining the blaze.
It was beautiful and terrifying all at once. Ed simply watched the flames swirl into plumes for a moment, scorching the trees and blackening their branches.
Then he smiled.
“Holy shit.” Ed breathed out in a puff, looking to Mustang who matched his tired, victorious expression.
Relief and vicious satisfaction came in clutch to deliver the grin of the decade, swinging for the fences and flying two towns over. Goal. Home run. Touchdown. Whatever. They fucking won and Ed was almost gleeful with disbelief.
It was short lived.
The second Ed stood and turned away from the fire, something hard and burning hot slammed into his back, cracking against his shoulder blades. It felt like stone and it sent him tumbling. The world spun around him and suddenly the ground was gone, replaced with open air.
He… he’d been pushed off the cliff.
Completely off the edge, with the forest below him readying to swallow him whole the moment his weightlessness faded.
A flash of brown hair and a shining smile flickered just beyond his view. Her gaze was built from nothingness, but shining violently.
Somehow, Hildy had gotten through the fire. Perhaps using a stone shield or through pure willpower. Maybe she’d figured out flame alchemy all on her own and maybe pigs could fly. It didn’t matter. Time crawled, letting her make eye-contact with him and Ed felt white hot rage.
This wasn’t over. No way in hell.
He refused to let her win.
Gravity grabbed him by the ankles and pulled. His stomach abandoned him. The knife tucked beside his foot screamed out, begging to be used. Ed’s hand moved before the thought finished processing, gabbing the hilt and driving it against the cliff-face while the rest of his body twisted violently. The blade didn’t waver and he jerked to a stop, hanging by his blistering fingertips.
Ed swayed, but his grip held, clutching the leather-bound wood like a lifeline, gasping and gritting his teeth.
Everything was happening so quickly and his heart was lurching, warning him it was all going to hell. He couldn’t hear anything beyond the roaring of fire. Something dark passed overhead.
Ed didn’t have time to think. He let go of the blade with his left hand and reached out, grabbing the older alchemist by the forearm. His flesh shoulder was yanked down and a jolt of agony stabbed through him.
Why yes, that was a grown ass man. And yes, he did overplay his hand. And no, his arm could not cash the cheque his mind had written.
He felt a severe pull and an awfully distinct pop. A fiery, freezing burn gripped the shoulder he’d just torn out of place. But Ed couldn’t let go.
He yelped, biting back the full-fledged screams that tried to burst from his throat. They swung for a moment, moving with the momentum of the older alchemist’s fall. The blood from his own wrist was making everything slick. His fingers were slipping. He squeezed Mustang’s arm, desperately fighting the way he was sliding and threatening to fall. Breathing was like deadlifting a bull.
The blond looked down to find that the man was indeed conscious and making a point of holding onto Ed’s hand for dear life. And of course, the moment he met the mans eyes, something wrenched him upwards by his automail. Ed cried out in a mix of surprise and pain as Hildy yanked him up, holding his forearm with both hands and letting him sway above the punchbowl.
It shouldn’t’ve been possible. A grown adult and a kid made of bolts and metal. But Hildy had pulled the younger alchemist right up to eye level like the both of them weighed nothing.
She was angry.
Ed hadn’t seen her angry until now but she didn’t quite look human anymore. More like a feral animal that had learned to walk on its back legs. And god, was it horrible. She snarled and Ed thought she might find a way to snap him in half with her gaze alone.
“Brat.” She said with the voice of a hurricane.
Eye of the storm, surrounded by carnage, Ed froze.
It was inexpressibly and numbingly panic inducing. He could hear his heart pounding. He could feel it all through his body. Ed’s eyes flicked downwards and Mustang, bless his stupid fucking heart, looked just about ready to either burn the woods down or throw up.
Hildy’s grip was drawing a dangerous creak from his metal wrist and he made a split second decision that hopefully wouldn’t kill them.
Ed swung his left leg up, wrapping it around his arm and squeezed. His shoulder splintered, cracking open with a low groan.
It gave way, his arm coming loose and leaving the rest of him to fall. The wires frayed and split away.
Everything was blurry and his shoulder felt cold as the wind cut rivets into his bones. Time doubled its pace. He fell through the open air, unable to force himself to move or even take a breath before it would inevitably be knocked out of him.
From behind, there were a pair of arms wrapping around him.
Mustang hugged him to his chest as they tumbled through the brambles, shielding the younger with a protectiveness that Ed only ever saw in fleeting moments.
Usually from a hospital bed.
Always when the Colonel thought no one was watching.
They hit the ground hard, rolling for a few dozen feet with Ed still trapped in the dark haired man’s grasp. His entire right shoulder exploded into pain. The frayed nerves spasmed and sparked, like salt over a raw wound. Electricity raced through him with a vengeance. Everything was hurting from the inside. Even places deep in his bones he never thought could be touched by outside forces had started to tremble.
Ed couldn’t move.
He could only lay there on his side, heaving and wheezing and trying not to suffocate on plain old air. The forest was rippling, out of focus. Mustang’s voice sounded like it was through a layer of wax paper, all fluttery and muffled.
“What do you need me to do?”
He couldn’t think. He couldn’t force himself to answer through his heavy gasps.
Ed curled, teeth chattering in time with the sparks drilling into his collar and vibrating through his spine. His tongue was heavy as lead. He could feel his hair soaking through with dirt and sweat, tasting blood in the back of his mouth. He coughed violently, pressing his forehead into the ground, searching for an anchor.
Somehow, that anchor turned out to be the frightened and demanding voice of Mustang.
“Fullmetal, seriously. I don’t—Fuck—” A hand clamped onto his shoulder a little too tightly and Ed flinched. The hand retreated. “What do I do?” Mustang asked again, hovering behind the blond. He sounded uncharacteristically unsure. Lost, nervous in a way that made Ed’s head spin faster.
“Talk to me. Say something.” The man urged. “Fullmetal.” He wouldn’t soon forget the desperation tinting the words. The hand was back, much more careful this time. Ed really wished he could stop shaking enough to say something properly. It took a lot of energy, but he forced words from his throat where they’d been stuck.
“Don’t—” The blond grasped at the empty port, twinges rocketing directly into his lungs. “Just give me a minute.”
Ed swallowed back bile and the blood leaking from the wound in his mouth, nearly gagging on the thick scent. He was shaking harder than he would ever admit. Mustang touched his shoulder again, carefully this time. It felt like copious amounts of acid had been dumped over Ed and he tried not to pull away too harshly.
“We don’t have time,” Mustang said softly. The gentle tone didn’t suit him. Ed felt like he might throw up from the shock of it all.
“I’m sorry. We really don’t have time.”
With a grimace, the older alchemist helped him sit upright, still shuddering. Ed quietly noted the unadulterated concern worn upon Mustang’s face. Ed closed his eyes. His lungs were folding, every inch of his body aching along with them.
He stood on trembling legs nonetheless. He didn’t even complain when Mustang slung Ed’s arm around his own shoulders, heaving him up and apologizing again when Ed yelped.
They ran beneath the sinking sun, trees casting shadows along the ground, the screaming of fire fading slowly away.
“Please state your name.”
“Were you involved with the abduction of Colonel Mustang and the Fullmetal Alchemist?”
“What role did you play in the abduction?”
“I was their medic. I drugged Ro—Colonel Mustang. Hildy asked me for help a month or so earlier and I couldn’t talk her out of it, so I figured I could reign her in a bit.”
“Do you know her motive?”
“She wanted to fight.”
“It’s all she has left.”
“Why did she kill Major General Ferdinand Čatloš?”
“He was the one who called us all home. She hated him. He hated the war so she hated him.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, no. She wanted to get that sharpshooter out of the way. Riza…?”
“Yeah. Hildy heard that she was a good shot. Sharp eyes would’ve made the whole thing harder.”
“Pavlo Feldt was your husband, correct?”
“That’s right. I keep him with me.”
“He was listed as missing for over three years. Why?”
“I… I was scared of getting the death certificate. Would’ve made it real, so I filed him as missing instead. It hurt less.”
“Why did you betray your allies?”
“I’m not supposed to hurt people, indirectly or otherwise.”
“I’m a nurse.”
“Okay, but I’m faster.”
“You’re also off balance.”
The dome shook again and, as luck would have it, rain had started to stream down. Great. Awesome.
Just… fucking dandy.
Ed glared at Mustang. They’d been bickering about who’d serve as a distraction for five minutes now. The man seemed to be forgetting that he didn’t have any expendable limbs while the Ed did and he had experience with one-armed fights. The blond’s fist had curled and he thought to put his new Punching Colonel Dumbass technique to use. Again.
It worked last time and...well frankly is was rather cathartic to deck the baster between the eyes so maybe Ed was looking for an excuse to do it again. Maybe.
“Full offence, what the hell you are you going to do? Shake a fist real hard at them? Tell them to get off your lawn?” He gestured mockingly, drop-kicking a depreciating glare right into Mustang’s face. The older sat back, arms crossed and looking miffed. If there was one certainty of the world, it was that Ed really knew how to get on Mustang’s nerves and damnit he was going to use that if he could. It’s not the time to be prideful or stubborn. They weren’t exactly swimming in free time.
Stone and soil was still falling from above, tangling into Ed’s hair and leaving streaks over his face. He wiped away another scattered brush of dirt from his forehead, staring the dark haired alchemist down.
Still, the man bristled. “I do know how to fight, you know.”
Where was a brick when you needed one? It would look lovely in Ed’s hand, ready to be hurled forward because someone decided to start being protective all of a sudden.
(It wasn’t sudden. It had always been there. Ed knew it was there.)
“You know how to fight people. I learned how to deal with animals a while back.” So that was an outright lie, but it’s not like Mustang was going to call him on it.
Ed waved him aside. “Screw off. I’d be too slow at drawing anyways.” He nodded to his port, “Non-dominate hand and whatnot.”
The older alchemist held up his bandaged hand with an unimpressed look. “Mines messed up too. You’re not special.”
“You already made the same array! It’ll only take a few minutes. I can dodge for that long and there’s no way we can get a spark going in this.” He pointed the the growing hole in the roof where water had started to pool. “So your flame alchemy is out of the question.”
“And if you can’t dodge?”
“I’ll improvise. You don’t have to be happy about it, but I’ve got a better chance here. The alternative is risking a mudslide and I'd rather not drown.” Ed sounded confident enough. At Mustang’s continued look of stern worry, the younger's face fell just a little. “It’s not ideal, but there’s not much else we can do. At least I sorta have a weapon.” He thumped his foot against the ground with a thick, metallic clang. “Just, like, trust me? For two goddamn seconds, trust me on this cause Al’ll kill me if something this stupid gets either of us and Hawkeye’d drag you out of hell just to beat you.”
Mustang frowned. There was another rumble, this time from the sky. “Hold on—“
“I’m the one with a metal leg.” Ed interrupted.
Mustang was staring him down with ice and anger in his eyes. It could’ve been intimidating if Ed had the energy to care. “I hate you.”
The blond smiled wryly, tenacity sparking up in his face. “You hate that I’m right.” He corrected, pointing at him in a semi-accusatory way. Ed squared his shoulders and brushed his rain-damp hair away from his eyes, looking dead ahead to Mustang.
The structure shook again. They both looked up to find large chunks of hardened dirt cracking, ready to give way.
Mustang pulled Ed towards him, ducking down and letting the debris roll off his back. The shelter was falling apart on top of them. Mustang blocked as much of the falling rocks and clay as he could, pressing Ed down, shoulders hunched into a human shield. When the dust was tampered down by the storm, they two looked up to find half the dome crumbled into rubble.
“Now or never, Colonel.”
Mustang inhaled, steeling himself with overwhelming bitterness coming to his voice. “Fine.”
The climax approaches... I have no regrets. The past has finally caught up with the present and the squad is on their way. Y'all have a big storm coming and I refuse to apologize.
You've heard it a million times, but you guys continue to blow me away. Both on here and on my tumblr, you've been nothing but enthusiastic and incredibly kind. I am so so honoured to have such a fantastic and talented group of readers. I love you all so so much and, as usual, feel free to drop by my tumblr to chat! I would love to hear from you guys plus I ramble about my WIPs constantly so.. that's fun.
I gotta dip. Till next time darlings!
Chapter 11: It's summer and we're running out of ice
CW: Moderate gore. Non-graphic violence against wild animals. Discussion of terrorism and implied disassociation.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ed took off running, skipping over stones slicked by water and making as much noise as possible. Equal parts relief and fear flooded him when the yowling of wolves clambered after him.
All he had to do was stay out of reach. Be a pretty little distraction for no more than five minutes and then hop onto a platform with Mustang and carve their way up the cliffs. It was a last resort, of course. The possibility of it causing a mudslide was certainly there and it could very well land them both with extra injuries, but there wasn’t much else they could do.
Alchemy was notoriously loud when it came to stone and earth. They might be alerting Hildy to their location in the process. There was a lot that could backfire. The whole reason they’d fled into the ravine and made no effort to get back up was because they hoped she wouldn’t follow, but now that was shot too. It was a sorry last ditch attempt to get away, but if it worked they could very well be waltzing right back into the hands of what was effectively a terrorist group.
Ed kept within earshot of Mustang, vanishing into the trees for cover while the rain pelted down. The downpour made it a bit hard to see, but the dark shapes of canine beasts stood out vividly. Good thing the branches were low enough for Ed to grab hold of and swing himself up. It sent a dull throb through his arm, but he managed to land on a little net of branches, woven like a loose blanket just high enough that the mutts couldn’t reach.
You know, hopefully.
He grinned to himself as they circled the base of the tree, barking and growling up at him.
Hah. Losers. Good luck getting up here without opposable thumbs. Evolution was a bitch and it was currently the best tool Ed had. Other than the steel limb.
One bounded towards him, its jaws snapping a little too close for comfort. Ed yelped at the feeling of its fur just missing his leg, the ghosting sensation brushing over him precariously.
“Hey! You okay?” Mustang called.
He launched himself from the branch, rolling on impact and kicking up a spray of mud. The petty side of his head whined a little about how many showers it was gonna take to get all the nasty crap out after this. The more pragmatic side told him to shut up and focus. The pack was scattered about and disorientated, skirting around him somewhat cautiously. He pressed his back to a trunk, hand held defensively to his chest
Ed saw a grey wolf charging him from the corner of his eye.
He jumped up, using the poor thing like a springboard and catapulting back into the tangle of half-bare trees, landing with a slight stumble at a fork in the wood. He looked over to Mustang.
The dark haired man was a quarter way through carving the array onto the wall, dragging the pliers hastily along its surface and creating strings of white lines. With the mud having turned to a liquid, it left Mustang with having to physically carve the circle into the cliff, digging through the slab of stone hastily but needing enough accuracy for the damn thing to work. Ed squinted, counting the lines of writing and symbols and—
Oh that was definitely a wolf biting his foot.
His metal one, thankfully, but the weight dragged him down into the damp folds of leaves and sludge with a heavy crash. He pushed himself upright and looked around. There were three focused on him, snarling and pawing at the ground. He was used to the odds being against him but this was absurd. Absolutely ridiculous. Ed wished he could grab karma by the throat and demand a refund. There's no equivalence in a brawl.
Evade. Don’t engage. Evade.
Ed jumped and skirted around their yipping and sudden lunges but something sour poisoned his mouth.
They were corralling him, backing him against a wide oak trunk and snapping at his feet to keep him off balance. Ed’s eyes darted to the one on his left, the one that had been the boldest thus far. It was hunched low, spiting aggressively.
“What’s going on?!” Mustang called to him again. Two sets of ears perked up and began to stray towards the older alchemist.
“Stop talking!” Ed yelled back. “You’re drawing their attention!”
The two had already lost interest in him and were stalking over to the small clearing where a pile of rubble still stood, doing little to obscure Mustang’s presence. Damn. So much for not engaging. He silently swore to apologize later because Reckless Ed had sprung up and was desperately needing to do something… reckless.
It ended up being his foot firmly planted in the back of a wolfs neck, his boot digging into the thick rope-like twist of pure muscle. He kicked off, rolling forward onto his shoulder and forcing the momentum to carry him upright. The movement made him unbalanced and disorientated. Reckless Ed promptly retreated and he wanted to set something on fire. Preferably the beasts that had gone back to growling at him. The smallest of the wolves surged forward and Ed made good use of his automail, kicking it hard in the front legs, hoping for a break or at least to knock it down.
Apparently, the mud and rain were making his attacks more sluggish than usual because it only tumbled for a moment before creeping forward once again. He scanned the dreary landscape, the previous warmth having bled into muted colours that simply drowned in the massive streaks of rain. Ed back-peddled.
His shoulders knocked into another tree trunk.
Not good. There were five now. He didn’t know when the other two showed up but they were big and he was securely surrounded and he couldn’t see Mustang.
“I swear…” Ed swung again towards a wolf coming at him from the right. It made a pitiful sound upon hitting the ground and Ed winced inwardly. They were all growing bolder, wary of his leg but snapping at him. Another swiped, claws raking against steel. He was able to defend well enough, to kick them away one by one but…
There was five. There was five and he'd been cornered
Use your head, idiot.
Ed lashed out again when one got too close.
He overestimated himself.
He underestimated the damn animals.
There was Mustang, standing between two trees with those damn pliers hanging loosely in his hand. For a moment, he looked startled. His expression smoothed and pitched into a scowl. “Run!” He shouted.
Ed blinked. Then his face hardened. He kicked off, sailing over the mutts in a graceless leap that left him staggering, briefly dropping to his knees before scrambling back up. He saw the Colonel skidding backwards to where his freshly drawn array was plastered over the wall.
The wolves were close behind him and all at once the realization washed over him like the rain being sent from above.
He was too far away.
Mustang must’ve seen it too because his dark eyes went wide and, with a cry, he slammed his hands into the circle. It crackled to life. Instead of a platform, dozens of pillars and spikes surged forward, darting towards Ed, defending him.
That… wasn’t the plan.
Something rammed into Ed’s right side just before the stone snaked around him, careening into the snarling animals whilst weaving to avoid him. His head felt light and feathery. The roaring of alchemy blended with thunder and his side felt warm.
It was spreading and his throat closed up when he tried to take in air. There were still towers and spires flying around him. It was incredible. He didn’t have the mind to appreciate the display as it crawled to a stop and several corpses laid around him.
The woods were still soaked in dulled colours and it felt like he was being drained rapidly of energy and colour. The landscape dulled further.
Ed’s hand trailed to the source of heat at his side. He was tired. Really tired.
Mustang called to him. His ears stopped working.
For Ed, god had been a distant dream and faith wasn’t part of his dialect. Trust in yourself, maybe one or two people at your side. If you can get that far, you’re one of the lucky ones.
What’s your favourite animal?
Dogs I guess.
For a solid second, Ed believed in god. Not any single one in particular, just in concept. He’d joked, but really, what else could be throwing this much at them all at once? For a solid second, he relented to the idea and sighed.
You cheeky bastard. Your sense of humour is awful.
When the monumental rumblings of alchemy slowed to a stop and the dust cleared, Roy was breathing hard and his clothes were drenched with rain. He shivered, taking a step forward and straining to see through the mist.
“Fullmetal?” He called out, cautiously approaching the labyrinth he’d created. He saw a flicker of blond hair mixed with the white and grey. Roy picked up his pace a little, fearing that, after the considerably thoughtless use of alchemy, a landslide might be chasing them down soon enough. Ed’s silhouette came into view, standing among the tangled mess of vines and pillars.
He turned, catching Roy’s eye for a split second and his stomach fucking dropped.
Roy thought he’d grown numb to the panic that had soaked into him since he first woke up in a brutalist cell. But right then, when Ed collapsed to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut for the second time, he found he’d been very, very wrong.
His heart turned itself inside-out and his breath stuttered.
Time didn’t slow down.
Wasn’t it supposed to?
It moved twice as fast and he could hardly keep up. He ran as quickly as his legs would allow, hauling himself over the maze of stones and not even glancing at the dead dogs scattered about. He reached the younger and dropped to his knees. “What happened? Are you—“
He gently rolled Ed from where he was laying on his stomach and was met with a lot of blood.
The kid didn’t even have the grace to look dazed. Ed was curling in on himself, his hand desperately clasped against the growing plume of red while his eyes screwed shut, watering dangerously.
Roy’s breath hitched. “Shit.”
He took hold of Ed’s hand and tried to pry it away as carefully as possible. “Let me see. I can help,”
It was awful because that was exactly when he realized he couldn’t help. Because right there, a few inches below Ed’s port, there was a hole in his side.
The skin was torn and bloodied and shaped like a set of fucking teeth.
Roy pressed down with both hands, trying desperately to erase the image already burned into his mind. Ed groaned, his hand falling limply beside him. Those sharp eyes were already threatening to fall shut.
“Hey!” He cried, “Don’t! Keep your eyes open.” The hot feeling of blood on his hands made his stomach clench and Roy gagged on bile. “You gotta stay awake, okay? You can do that.” He didn’t even care that he was practically pleading.
Roy could feel Ed’s ribs. There was no skin or tissue in the way he could just feel them under his hands. Roy bit downward on his lip and tried to ignore the way Ed was shuddering.
“Knew it…” Ed rasped, dragging his eyes up. “Knew s-something would kill me.”
It hadn’t even been a day since that conversation.
“Give me some credit you little jackass.” He hissed back, hunching his shoulders in an effort to staunch the red streams still welling between his knuckles. Roy tried again, looking for any kind of real reaction from the blond. Ed’s gaze lilted to the side. Roy could feel himself falling apart. “Central. You said—For fucks sake, kid.” His voice shook and broke off. The younger didn’t respond and the rain kept on pouring down. “You said you’d go to Central in five years—Hey, hey! Listen!”
Ed coughed red—dark, oily red—with his hand curling weakly.
“You’re not gonna die.” Roy grit out.
But he was dying.
For the first time in what had to have been years, Roy wanted to cry.
He was watching a kid die. He was watching a kid choke on air and slip between his fingers like the grains of sand in an hourglass because he was running out of time. He was watching a kid he was explicitly and exclusively responsible for die. One that he was meant to look out for. Like a broken record, his mind treaded in place and simply said no. Over and over.
No no no no no…
He won’t let it.
Ed was going to bleed to death if he didn’t do something right now. He was hiccuping in crimson and turning ashen by the second so Roy did the only thing he could think of: alchemy.
For the first time in his life, he was glad there was rain. Because rain was water and water could be frozen. He shut his eyes and thought back to Hildy, as much as he hated too. He’d caught a glimpse of her tattoo. Ed said it targeted pre-existing water. He reached into the back of his mind to remember what the circle looked like, drawing it out on his own palm. The lines were shaky and muddled, but he hoped it would be enough. He didn’t have any other option.
“Listen to me,” He lessened the pressure on Ed’s side. The boy looked up at him blearily. “I’m going to try to freeze it, okay? To stop the bleeding. I need to—“ He cut himself off to catch the breath that had ran the moment Ed looked him in the eyes. They were so clear and Roy felt sick.
The kid was still conscious and awake and most certainly feeling every ounce of pain being inflicted. And it was about to get so much worse.
It took a monumentally slow moment, but Ed nodded. “Okay.” He breathed.
Roy filled his hands with the droplets falling from above and solidified it as he poured it over the gash in Ed’s side.
The cry that wrenched itself out of Ed rang of death and pain, but he didn’t stop.
The blond curled, teeth grinding together in a desperate attempt to hold back shouts of agony. He was horribly alert, acutely aware of the icy burns caused by Roy’s own hands.
The tension started to dissolve from Ed’s body. His eyes fluttered dangerously low, nearly slipping shut when Roy’s hand scrapped the half-frozen wound. He could see between the bones. It was nauseatingly easy to stare at it. He tore his eyes away. The liquid mixed with blood, crystallizing on contact and the irony was unappreciable.
The Flame Alchemist using water. What a joke.
Ed’s breathing was shallow, a wealth of emotions—horror, rage, desperation, worry, fear—flashed through Roy, his chest felt like it was about to cave in and he was starting to feel dizzy.
“You won’t die.” Ed was fading away, his hand slack beside him and he wasn’t even trying to grasp at the gash anymore. Roy’s arms slipped below his shoulders, propping him up against his chest in the hopes that it might make Ed’s breathing less strained.
It didn’t do a damn thing.
Ed’s bright eyes slowly turned up to meet Roy’s and he breathed out a single word.
Rain crashed down over them. It should’ve been loud but he just focused on the blond’s wrist, where he was counting the weak pulse that beat beneath his fingers.
What do I do?
I don’t know what to do.
What the fuck do I do?
The sky was falling and the ground trembled. He couldn’t be bothered to see if there was a mudslide about to drown them both because there’s nothing he can do. It was beyond him. So Roy wrapped both arms around the younger alchemist’s shoulders tightly with protectiveness wailing at him, pressed his face into the tangled, rain drenched, ever-bright golden hair and prayed to a god he didn’t believe in.
Five years. Five years.
He deserves that much.
Just five years.
Roy’s head was pounding and specks of light had started to flash before his eyes, taunting him and—
Those were real lights.
He wasn’t seeing things. Those were real lights bounding off the trees and rocks, flickering over Ed’s prone figure and the four bodies around him. When had it gotten so dark? The sun must’ve been so blotted out by the storm that he didn’t notice nightfall. Had he been kneeling here for that long?
A beam lashed over Ed for a split second and the sight made his throat close up.
He was just… so pale.
Roy could hear shouting and the lights were growing closer and more frenetically dancing through the dim woods. He saw a flash of honey-blond hair among the flickering torches and hoped to any deity who might listen that it wasn’t Baris.
The lights grew more steadily fixed on him as Roy trekked forward with Ed slung onto his back. Shouts ricocheting through the thicket. And of course, that was when a heavy set of teeth sunk into his leg and dragged him backwards.
There’d been five wolves. Only four bodies.
He craned his head backwards and kicked with his free leg. Blindly and violently, he hit the wolf a few times. He dug both hands into the dirt dispite the grinding of bone against bone from his mangled fingers, grime bending his nails backwards. Roy could feel his leg growing warm with blood and a voice cried out. The… the thing snarled and yanked again. He could hardly register the shooting pain through the spinning of his surroundings.
“Colonel!” His head whipped up to see Hawkeye. “Get down!”
She sprinting towards him, gun drawn and sticking her flashlight between her teeth. Roy didn’t think twice about flattening himself to the ground and ducking his head. She aimed and allowed her gun to speak a single, damning word.
The grip on his calf fell away and he crawled forward on his elbows, wincing all the while, eyes trained on Ed. Up ahead he could see a small crowd rushing forward. Havoc and Breda were in the lead with a hulking mass that had to be Alphonse following close behind. Hawkeye knelt beside him, hands on his shoulder. “What happened? Where are you—“ He grabbed her wrist, eyes wide.
“Hawkeye,” Roy gasped out, “he’s gonna die.” His leg spasmed and he bit back a scream. Roy’s energy was fading rapidly but he squeezed her arm anyway.
“You have to… Fullm—Ed.” Her head snapped up and Roy’s hold loosened. “Help him.”
Hawkeye stiffened, a look of cold terror colouring those normally steadfast features. She called to Havoc while Roy’s vision grew more and more blurry.
More shadows and lights were flashing about but he could only see Ed as Havoc knelt and pressed a hand to his neck.
Roy’s eyes slipped shut, not knowing if the kid still had a heartbeat.
The sheets were stiff.
That was the first thing he noticed. They reeked of starch and antiseptic, feeling almost prickly over his skin. He also noticed that he wasn’t soaking wet like he’d been the last time he was lucid. Roy cracked open one eye and was meet with a blank plaster ceiling.
That alone was enough the elicit a relived sigh. It wasn’t concrete. It wasn’t grey.
His eyes drifted towards the voice. There was Hawkeye, sitting on a chair against the wall, a book in her lap and a mug held gingerly in her hand. She leaned forward, blinking at him.
“Lieutenant...?” Her stoicism faded just a little, brows tilting upwards.
He glanced around and concluded that he was definitely in a hospital. Good thing too because he felt like he’d been hit by a train. A big train with teeth.
Or, like, a wolf.
That was probably more accurate.
“What happened?” Roy tried to sit up, but was stopped by a stern look.
“Let me help.” Hawkeye dragged her chair a bit closer to his bedside while Roy silently took stock of his… everything.
There was a slight pinch at his forearm, likely from an IV. Right hand was in a cast and there were bandages wrapped around his head. His leg was propped up and aching loudly. Things were hazy at best but one memory sprung forward with a vengeance.
Roy tensed, his face hardening as Hawkeye helped him sit up, arranging a mountain of pillows behind him. She was very quiet and it made his nerves flare. The Lieutenant had yet to answer him.
“Hawkeye,” He started slowly, trying to meet her eyes, “where’s Fullmetal?.”
“He’s safe, sir.” Her mask was back up despite it just being the two of them and it made his worry increase tenfold. Soundlessly, she handed him a cup of water. Roy looked at it for a moment, then back to her, his expression caught in the middle of being firm and being fearful. Why would she want to hide something? There wasn’t any reason to lie.
“Hawkeye.” He repeated.
Her gaze was still turned down. “He’s in the... left wing of the hospital.”
The left wing? Was that bad?
“No.” She cut him off quickly, leaving no room for argument. But she knows as well as Roy that he could do the exact same thing in reverse. He took the cup from her grasp and set it down on the side table.
His voice became more stern, commanding to an extent. Familiar above all of that. “Hawkeye.” Why not? He wanted to demand an answer but her eyes told him he wouldn’t get a word from her.
“Sir,” She was clipped and careful, both hands folded in her lap, picking at non-existent loose strings in her uniform.
That got her attention. She finally locked on his eyes, her expression shifting in a way most people wouldn’t notice.
“He hasn’t woken up yet.” Something wasn’t right about what she said. Roy couldn’t tell if it was his own anxiety and distrust or the concussion still pounding away at his skull with its pickaxes and chisels. Who’s given them tools in the first place?
He reminded himself that breathing was helpful for staying alive and leaned back against the pillows, looking at the blessedly light ceiling. It had normal lights and everything. He never would’ve thought the yellowish glow could be so comforting.
“How long was I…?” He trailed off. There was the faint sound of rustling and he realized Hawkeye had dropped another blanket over him. He must look pretty pathetic for her to do that. Roy almost laughed.
She was gazing at him like he was a kid in need of scolding and Roy wanted it to be known, to be written on record, that he probably deserved it. That wouldn’t stop the loose and stupid parts of his brain from whining about it, however.
“You were missing for three days, unconscious for two.”
That was a long time to be asleep. It made sense though.
The combined blood loss from his head and leg, not to mention good old fashion shock had been flooding his system. Add in the exhaustion from not sleeping and an unhealthy absence of food… two days was pretty tame, all things considered. Hawkeye sat with him, explaining what happened in Central and their investigations within the town. Hildy and Baris were in custody, along with all the others they’d found at that building. He only half listened, his mind elsewhere.
Roy found himself mildly impressed that Baris had taken over the place and kept them from chasing after their prizes. He hoped the man would get off lighter than the rest. Roy wasn’t a particularly forgiving person, but Baris had warned them. He’d left a trail and, according to some of the thugs they’d questioned, he had been talking Hildy down the entire time. It could’ve been so, so much worse.
An accomplice, yes, but one that passively, then actively tried to stop it all. He worked from the sidelines. Roy understood that.
Hildy was being admitted to a mental hospital. He selfishly wished she’d been jailed. The woman deserved to stay stuck in a cell for the rest of her life, but there was more to it than that. The situation wasn’t as binary as Roy was used to. It required a bit more tact and nuance.
Hildy’s story could be turned into rallying cry for others like her. The killers their military had build from the ground up and released into the world. There was so much about it that simply wasn’t fair, but there wasn’t a damn thing Roy could do about it.
He had hoped to at least get to punch her once, but was robbed of that too. He’d been doing everything possible to quell his nerves, but after two hours of talking he couldn’t keep his mouth shut anymore.
“Hey,” He started before Hawkeye could continue with what was rapidly devolving into a report. He understood the instinct for her to detach and wouldn’t hold it against her. This had likely been harder on her than he’d ever really know.
Her brow furrowed. “Yes?”
“Do you know about the military’s health benefits?” She raised an eyebrow, her mouth pulled down into a mindful frown. She spent a while filling him in on that before diverting back to the information they’d gotten about Hildy’s accomplices. Again, he barely heard it.
From what he caught, this had been something Hildy's group had been putting together for a while and he couldn’t help but feel a small burn of satisfaction knowing that they’d only managed to hold him for two days in spite of the wealth of planning they had poured into it.
Apparently they had men staked out at both of Flamborough’s inns and several people who attended the party were to watch over the situation. She’d told him—very blatantly—to shut up when he tried to apologize for sending her to Central. He sat back and let her speak for a good while longer about the names and occupations of his other captors, most of them were simply bitter townsfolk, but there were a few others who’d been drafted and then left in the dust when all was said and done.
“Lieutenant. You said the left wing, correct?” She twitched, her hands drumming lightly over the arm of her chair.
“...I did, yes.”
“Could you tell me what room?” He asked, keeping his voice as casual as he could. In truth there was panic still climbing up his throat, washing over his chest and freezing his lungs. It hurt as bad as the physical injuries, making everything feel heavy.
Guilt hung over him like a sickly constellation, grinning down and whispering that he’d failed. That Ed had bled to death and she was sparing him from the responsibility of it.
It was something she would do. For all he knew, it might not even be the first time she'd ferried away guilt for his sake.
Hawkeye was looking at him. Through him, actually. Her eyes tore through the veil he’d patched together and zeroed in on the tiny flicker in his expression. God, that woman could read him like a book. Maybe he should just start wearing a bag over his head so she couldn’t pick apart his brain so often.
He tried again. “Just for my own peace of mind. I won’t do anything stupid, really.” She remained unconvinced, brushing aside her fare hair with a stoney look. She stared him down for a moment and then, to his absolute and utter shock, she sighed.
It was a pitiful sound. A sigh that, if it had been huffed through a harmonica, it would’ve played on tune.
That’s how strained it was.
“He’s in room thirty-five. You best not make me regret this.” He smiled wearily at her, his shoulders sagging by a fraction.
“I won’t. Thank you.”
Her eyes were still trained on Roy, pulling him apart like she always did and sorting through his head, but she didn’t call his bluff. Half an hour later she left. There were official matters for her to oversee. Roy politely turned down her offer to send in Havoc to keep him company, feigning drowsiness and saying he’d probably sleep some more. The sun had gone down anyways and the halls had fallen dim, it was an easy enough excuse.
He pretended to sleep for about three hours, waiting until the pattering of nurses and doctors finally lessened to a halt. He was glad this wasn’t the Central hospital, otherwise the commotion would’ve never settled and he’d never get a chance to break his promise to Hawkeye. Not that she’d really expected him to keep it.
There’d been hope on her face that maybe he’d listen. Maybe he’d just stay in bed and trust her to tell the truth about Ed.
But he didn’t.
The nagging feeling in his stomach had him gritting his teeth and clutching at the sheets bundled around him. Roy wanted terribly to believe her, but he just couldn’t. Not when the last thing he remembered was Havoc’s alarmed face over Ed, unmoving and bloodied.
The kid didn’t have a lot of blood to spare so yeah, Roy had doubts. They wormed through his head and battled viciously with the remaining ounces of self-preservation until they finally relented. Roy swung his legs over the edge of the bed, peeling off the blankets that clung to him. The slight crackle of static made his anxiety whirl up into a small tornado. He glanced around the room, half-expecting a wall to split open and reveal and grinning lunatic.
Roy shook his head, reminding himself that that was impossible. Hildy was in a holding cell. There were guards posted around all the entrances and the tingling of power had come from his own movements. If this was going to be a thing now…
He ran a hand through his hair, careful to avoid the bandages. Hopefully the fright would calm down with time.
If not, well, he’d figure something out. Roy made a mental note to keep track of any other newly appearing reminders of his fun time spent in Flamborough. Roy gripped the side table and pushes himself up, his left leg hovering over the ground, already protesting the movement. He winced at the idea of hopping around on one foot through the halls and scanned for some kind of crutch. There was one hidden behind the curtains. Hawkeye had probably taken to keeping it out of reach just in case.
She shouldn’t’ve left it in the room at all if she wanted to keep him in place. No matter, the slip up would work to his favour.
Roy swallowed back a yelp when he took a step. It jarred him from head to toe.
The door eased open quietly, not so much as a squeak coming from the hinges. Roy slipped into the hall, limping to the nearest sign he saw and trying to situate himself, figure out where to go. His sense of direction was normally pretty good, but now he was stuck staring at the words as they blended together until he gave up.
“Screw it. I’ll just guess.” He muttered under his breath.
Turns out, the hospital was bigger than he’d thought. It took him half an hour of hobbling through the maze of rooms and hallways to find the left wing. His leg was pulsing dully, frequently suggesting that he sit down or, better yet, go back to his room and sleep.
Roy glared at the uncooperative limb and trekked onwards, skimming over the room numbers until, finally, he came to thirty-five. He stared at it for a while. Longer than a while.
A few dozen minutes at least, with his stomach practicing its gymnastics and his lungs went off skydiving. His hand hovered over the doorknob.
What if he’s not there?
What is she had lied to him?
If Roy opened this door right now and the room was empty, what would happen?
Maybe the floor would open up and swallow him, or the sky would turn purple and rain fire. Most likely though, he’d just collapse.
Anticipation was holding him hostage.
Get it together. Open the damn door.
Roy breathed and twisted the knob.
How much of an asshole would I be if I postponed the next chap? Ahaha...
I'll be running for the hills now, thanks.
I did warn y'all.
(THAT WAS A JOKE IT WILL BE UP TUSEDAY JUST TO BE CLEAR DON'T KILL ME-)
Chapter 12: Dollar for your life
CW: discussion of injuries and terrorism. Implied panic attack and disassociation.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Roy didn’t collapse, but he damn near sank to his knees.
He certainly started to shake as his mind went skipping and skipping, like the needle of a record player flinching over vinyl to spit a phrase on repeat.
Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fucking fall.
The room wasn’t empty.
Relief hit him hard and fast like a bucket of ice water being dumped over his neck.
Ed was propped up, looking out the window spilling silvery moonlight across the floor. There were bandages covering his ear, the scraggly wisps of automail that were once there had been removed. He felt dizzy at the sight. Roy’s hand slid away from the door absently and it fell shut with a thud.
Ed stiffened and turned, the light catching on his hair and Roy suddenly felt like he shouldn’t be there. Like he was intruding on something. The blond blinked at him.
He blinked right back. “Uh, hi.”
It was very, very quiet.
Ed stared a moment longer, eye wide, before doubling over laughing. Roy watched him, too confused and relieved to be offended, leaning against his crutch precariously.
“Hi? Seriously?” Ed covered his mouth, trying to stop the snickering, wincing through the small fit. The older alchemist didn’t move.
He simply took in the sight of a fully alive Edward Elric, laughing at Roy like he always did. He looked tired and small, but he was awake with a beating heart. A weight lifted from his shoulders and the offence that’d been reigned back was released. He scowled at Ed.
“I’ll stop.” The blond said with a snort.
He didn’t stop. He kept right on laughing, making no effort to actually calm down. It took Roy a moment to regain his bearings and remember what he was doing here if not to have his ego dragged through the mud by his subordinate.
“It doesn’t.” He blurted out before he could stop himself. Ed raised his eyebrows, the amused huffs finally slowing to a stop. He tilted his head at Roy questioningly.
“You asked if the military has dental insurance. It doesn’t.”
The blond frowned, looking at his lap with distain. “Aw shit.”
“I’ll cover it.” Roy added hastily. It would hardly dent his bank to do so, and Ed, self-sufficient and world-weary, still couldn’t budget for his life. Roy slowly padded over to a chair jammed into the far corner and started to pull it across the floor. Ed eyed him, his expression narrow, waiting for whatever catch the older would tact on, as was tradition with these things. Never in writing, just for the sake of repaying Ed for all the crap he would typically pull.
Namely, property damage.
Ed’s face went flat, his shoulders shrinking in on themselves. “How many favours is it gonna cost me?”
“Just one.” Roy beat back the urge to make unrealistic and worry-ridden demands with a very big stick because it wouldn’t work, obviously. Even if he found a way to subtly air concerns, Ed would grab his comments by the throat and break them over his knee. Probably while smiling. He’s a force to be reckoned with and there wasn’t a thing Roy could do to change that.
“Don’t tell Hawkeye I was here.”
“Why—oh my god you broke out of your room.” He looked like he was going to laugh again. Roy closed his eyes, back going ridged and trying to wash away the remaining hysteria that was still prodding his mind.
“Maybe.” The dark haired man admitted quietly, looking at the ground, pausing from his task of yanking the chair to Ed’s bedside. A task, might he say, that was really hard to do with a crutch.
“You broke out of your room!” The younger alchemist was full on grinning, the devilish look in his eyes batting a million.
“Quite!” He hissed back, dropping down into his seat, shoulders slumped.
“I can’t believe you’re risking the Lieutenant’s wrath to tell me about dental insurance.”
It felt rare to see Ed acting so... unguarded. Wrong, actually. Like this was a breach of trust, some secret he’d just accidentally eavesdropped his way into knowing. After a savoury moment of contemplating how quickly Roy could launch himself out the window, he let his eyes stray back to the blond in front of him.
“That’s not why I’m here.”
This was stupid. He should leave. Or, like, pretend to collapse so he could end the conversation before he admitted to any of the millions of emotions and thoughts that had been tearing up his mind.
Ed’s hellfire smile faded away at the sobering tone. “What?”
“She—Hawkeye said you were okay but she’s never been afraid to lie to me before.” He tried incredibly hard to not fidget. It wasn’t something he was all that prone to, but it served as an excuse not to watch Ed’s expression as he, sacrificing as little pride as possible, explained his sudden appearance.
Ed was watching him as though he was puzzle with a few pieces missing: this goes here, that goes there, but the dead centre was missing. Ed tried peering under the older man’s hair to catch his eye because that was where about ninety percent of his bottled up emotions tended to pool. “Lie about…?” The blond leaned forward, waiting for a response.
How do you delicately tell someone you thought they were dead?
Is it even possible?
Roy could, in theory, just say it aloud.
I thought you died.
It would be the quickest and easiest. Ed would understand why he’d come to check in and think less of it. But also... absolutely not. He wouldn't be that blunt in these matters, and maybe Roy didn’t want that kind of anxiety traipsing about in the open.
He took all of three seconds to throw caution to the wind and hope that whatever his brain and mouth conspired to say wasn’t too damning. “I passed out before Havoc found a pulse on you. I… didn’t know if you’d made it back or not.”
“Yikes.” Ed looked taken aback. “Well, I’m not dead.”
“You could be hallucinating or something.”
He rubbed his temple. “Do not say that.” Roy grumbled without a single ounce of authority. He wasn’t an officer right now. He wasn’t a Colonel or a State Alchemist. He was just tired, sore, and submerged in relief. And Ed was alive.
The blond waved to him cautiously. “Spacing out on me?”
Roy shook himself from the stupor and focused on Ed who, unsurprisingly, had started trying to shift out of his bed. No one else was this stupidly tenacious, or even half as determined and it was going to kill Roy one day.
Like, actually physically kill him. The kid was going to do something and he would drop dead from sheer exasperation.
“You shouldn’t do that.” Roy had half a mind to try to stop Ed from getting up. He was reasonably certain that Ed’s injuries would hinder the attempt, but he liked having all his fingers intact so he backed off and waited for the kid to buckle.
“You are definitely right.” Ed said with a wince, his arm cradled against his chest. “Ow.”
“Lay down,” He aimed for stern but missed by a mile. It sounded pretty frail, his voice becoming rather brittle as another relentless wave of oh thank fuck came crashing down. It was by far the most pleasant tsunami he could imagine, though.
“Your request is being processed,”
“You’re gonna hurt yourself—“
Ed cut him off. “Request denied.”
Roy sighed, running a hand down his face. “I can’t believe I was worried about you.” He muttered. His voice was a bit too loud, apparently, because Ed had stopped trying to get up and was staring at him.
He wasn’t smiling anymore, just watching.
“Was it really that bad?” He asked softly.
Error. Nope. Ed wasn’t ever supposed to sound like… that. Whatever it was.
“It... yeah.” Roy deflated. Once again his shields were crumbling. “It was bad. I honestly thought you might’ve died.”
“Sorry for what?”
“For making you worry? I dunno.” There he goes ago, putting on steel-soled shoes and clattering against touch sensitive bombs, leaving a lost and frustrated Roy in his wake. Tappity-tap and he’s off doing pirouettes.
Ed pulled at a loose string on the sheets. “Nearly dying is a pretty dick move, if you ask me.”
Roy couldn’t refute it in the slightest. It terrified him more than he ever thought something could. He wouldn’t say it, but those moments of not knowing if Ed would breathe past the moon’s shift had edged into his official book of gut-wrenching horror, claiming a spot right near the top of the list with smug ease. But that would just start up a round of the blame game and he didn’t have the mind to wrestle Ed’s obsessive ownership over responsibility into a waste basket.
So he changed the subject. Evasion was a good tactic for these sorts of things most of the time. “Do you remember the last thing you said?”
Ed slumped against the headboard, “Yeah. I called you a liar.”
Emphasis on most of the time.
“You sure did, prick.” Roy tried to let himself chuckle but it was pulled tight over the air. Ed’s brow pressed into line, his eyes dulling. It could’ve been guilt had it been anyone else, but that was impossible with Ed. It wouldn’t be.
“You said I wouldn’t die and... I called you a liar.” His voice had grown very fragile in the precious seconds it took to say those words, as though they were thinning his defences as he spoke aloud.
Roy nodded. “Yeah.”
“That was mighty shitty of me.”
“No seriously. That was... crap, Colonel. Are you okay?”
Since when does Ed sound this apologetic? A sharp jolt shot through Roy’s head, tumbling through his ribs and bashing his torn leg. He grimaced, then painted on the best smirk his could, barreling through the throbbing mess of wounds with sardonicism.
“I told you to have more faith in me.” Roy leaned back, mindful of the bruises that still prickled beneath his skin. It looked casual enough, not too pained.
Ed huffed weakly, his head tilting in tandem with a lopsided smile. “Still a cocky bastard, I see.”
“Of course. How long have you been up?”
The younger alchemist paused, frowning in thought. Roy did, in fact, notice how his hand had left the blankets to hug at his side. There was an IV in his arm, disappearing into the folds of cloth. He wondered how many pain killers were being pumped through Ed to allow him to speak. How much of him was missing now?
How much blood had he needed?
Had the wound claimed a rib or two? More? What if it had taken a organ or torn into—
It took a lot of effort but he pulled himself from the nasty catalogue of presumptions, refocusing on Ed when he answered. “An hour, I think.”
“Ah.” A tiny pinch of regret stemmed in his throat. Ed had woken up to a dark, unfamiliar room. Alone. He was calm enough now, though, so many Roy was overthinking this. “You feel okay?” Roy asked.
“No, I feel like I got kidnapped and attacked by wolves.”
There goes his resolve. A puddle at his feet. Roy’s vision tunnelled and tilted. It happened all at once with no real warning. The words made him dizzy. His stomach flipped and his heart nearly broke his ribcage down the middle, thrashing in his chest while he clenched his teeth, willing himself not to get sick at the memories bombarding him relentlessly.
Ed sounded a bit far off. Roy was getting more and more lost in his own head. He could feel it happening but was too caught up in the cold mix of guilt and anger to claw his way out.
Down, down, down, it dragged him. He was stuck in place. A house of cards ready to fold and cave.
Ed had been so close to dying. If Hawkeye had been even a few minutes later, he’d’ve been gone. People appear and disappear off the face of the earth and Ed would’ve been added to that. He could have disappeared. A statistic. A number. It would’ve just… happened. Because Roy hadn’t done enough. What could he have done different? Better?
There had to’ve be some way to prevent this. He knew that the younger alchemist was capable. Closer to an adult than most people twice his age, but it wouldn’t change that he should’ve been looking out for Ed—
He jerked back, blinking at Ed who suddenly was watching him nervously, searching for something that wasn’t there. His bright eyes softened by a fraction, brows tilting up with a weak smile. “I’m fine. Okay, not fine, but I’m not dead. Relax.”
He forced air into his lungs. It was tasteless and thick, filled to the brim with the stench of a hospital, sharply cutting through the clouds forming over his head. “I—right. okay.”
The blond fell back a little. “Good.” He sighed, looking relived for a micro-second before it was replace with a twisting, disgusted frown. “Holy shit that was weird. Who the fuck is Roy? That felt wrong.” Ed shuddered. “Don’t make me say that again.”
Roy looked down, his good hands wrapping around his broken fingers while they twitched, trying to curl into a fist. “I’m—“
“If you say sorry I’m going to knock your teeth in.” Ed said sternly. He even had the gall to hold up his hand, dragging the IV with it and reducing any menace he could’ve had to that of a very angry mouse. The older alchemist blinked owlishly. A small bubbled bloomed deep in his throat, pushing through him until a feeble laugh slipped out. He glanced out the window to where the moon was firing bullets of white and silver down onto the land, breaking through the glass and ricocheting around the room. It was rather calming.
His eyes flicked back to Ed, who was frowning at him. Childishly, at that.
Ed give him a hard smile, the young, troublesome side of him charging up to the home plate. Five days ago, Roy would’ve been loathed to see that smirk. Now? Eh.
“Are dogs still your favourite animal?”
Hughes wanted to be anywhere else.
Even a wasteland would be preferable to this tiny box of a room, one way mirrors glaring at him and a smile spread against a blank face like a grisly slash. Hildy hummed at him from across the table, a tape recorder sitting between them. Hughes kept his face neutral, sending a glance behind him to where Fuery and Falman stood.
The were armed, passively hoping for an excuse to pull the trigger on the woman before them. In writing, they were here to protect him, in truth, they were here to keep him from committing a crime. They wouldn’t do anything unless Hildy gave them a reason. Hughes on the other hand…
His fingers had been tracing the knife in his sleeve since he walked into the station.
He did up his face in shades of intimidation and took a deep breath.
“State your name.”
“Brunhilda Markov.” She replied easily.
“Where were you born.”
“Eastern Command training camp, fifth barrack. As luck would have it, that’s where I died too!” She spread her bound hands like she was showing off a prize. A pleasant thought of breaking her nose wormed into Hughes’ normally pragmatic mind. He shooed it away with a scowl.
“Why did you kidnap Colonel Mustang?”
“God, you’re boring.” She huffed, blowing a strand of hair out of her face. His hands curled, from the corner of his eye Hughes saw Fuery glowering harshly, backed by his teammate’s steely glare. Hildy continued before he got the chance to intervene. “I’d much rather be around Mustang and that little prodigy of yours. They were much more…” She paused to fire off a cruel look, “lively.”
If looks could kill, Hildy would be a corpse on the ground, beaten by the three sets of eyes trained on her. Hughes gripped the cuffs of his jacket. “What exactly happened when they were in your… custody.” He spat the word out, the rotten feeling of the bureaucratic bullshit burning at his throat.
Prisoners. They’d been prisoners.
There was no tip-toeing around that but all he could do was cock back the official words like a bullet in a gun and shoot them full throttle.
She shrugged. “Oh, this and that.”
Murder is a crime. Murder is a crime. You can’t claim self defence. Murder is a crime.
“Just asked some questions.” Hildy lit up, leaning forward in her creaky folding chair. “Oh, you should’ve seen Mustang when I filled up the golden boy’s lungs. Like a true dog of the military, snarling and everything.” She exclaimed. As if it was something to be happy about. Hughes felt his stomach curdle, the sourness clawing into his mouth with a helping hand from nausea. He growled, hands shaking below the table. She beamed. “Yes! Exactly like that!”
“Stop it.” Hughes hissed through his teeth.
“He started out all big and tough, but he was pleading soon enough.” His blood boiled as she chuckled to herself. “Stop! Wait! He doesn’t know anything.” She intimidated in a high, shrill whine. It broke off into another airy snicker.
“Can’t see why he’d be so adamant though. The kid’s a brat, through and through.”
Fuery’s tight hand on his shoulder was the only thing that kept him from slamming her head into the wall. Hughes drew in a deep breath, struggling to calm the nerves that had been frayed and sparked viciously at her words. He slammed both hands not the table, pushing away from his chair. His knuckle jammed down on the recorder, halting it coldly.
She raised a brow. “Oh, did I strike a nerve? Pity.”
Hildy tilted her head. “By all means.”
He wordlessly pushed through to door and made a B-line for the restroom.
His fists found a home in the plaster wall, shoulders trembling. “Damn it all.”
He wanted to be in the hospital, watching over his friend and checking in on Ed. Talking to Alphonse and Hawkeye, keeping himself updated. He wanted to be there if they woke up, but instead he was stuck interrogating the delusional terrorist who’d torn them to pieces.
“Damn it all.”
He washed his hands till they were red and raw, then strode back to the horribly small room.
He was gone.
Of course he was! Why would she expect anything else? Riza marched through the halls of Flamborough’s general hospital, her expression neutral save for the half-dozen knives shooting from her gaze and leaving holes in the walls.
She’d arrived to find the Colonel’s room empty and the crutch she’d hidden was missing. His IV hung limp and she watched her self-control fly out the window. Riza was ready to slap him upside the head as soon as she found the stubborn idiot.
Though… part of her understood. He’d probably panicked in the night and ran off to make sure all the worst case scenerios bouncing around his skull were just figments cooked up by his own frantic mind.
Edward had been slipping away when they got to them, barely alive and rapidly falling into the damning clutches of shock. She’d been in the ambulance when they started doing rescue breaths and scrambling for an oxygen mask. It shook her to the core.
Still, Riza wished the Colo—Roy would’ve trusted her. For his own sake.
If that man had torn his stitches so help her…
Riza halted in front of room thirty-five. It was the most likely place for him to have gone. If he had passed out in a hallway, the staff members surely would’ve found him and dragged him back to a bed, syringe in hand filled with something to keep him down. She turned the knob swiftly.
The sight she was met with was… not what she expected.
Sure enough, there was Roy. Sitting in a rickety looking chair, slumped forward, his face buried in his arms on the edge of the bed with a growing stack of paper cranes balanced atop his head. Ed stopped midway through placing a tiny bird on the mop of dark hair when she burst in.
He was propped up against roughly ten pillows and managed to look dignified with the impish surprise written over his face.
“It’s an experiment.” He said plainly, nodding to his paper flock.
“An experiment.” She repeated, dumbfounded. There was at least ten cranes, varying in size and shape. They didn't look exactly like cranes, actually... ravens? Crows?
Riza sighed. “When did you wake up?”
“Few hours ago.”
“How do you feel?”
“Terrible.” Ed offered a pained smile. “Could you get someone to up the painkillers? I am in absolute agony.” He said it so glibly that it seemed like a joke, but Riza didn’t miss how he was straining. Shoulders drawn up tightly and his hand looking for anything to stay busy with.
She couldn’t help the fond, worried smile that tugged at her lips. “Of course. Right after I get him—“ Riza looked down pointedly. “—back to his room.”
He sank back into the cushions with a huff. “Please do.”
With the help of a conveniently located wheelchair, Riza dragged a comically drowsy Roy back to his room and unceremoniously dumped him back into bed, tossing blankets and pillows over him until he was awake and scowling at her.
“I’m not a child, Lieutenant.” He grumbled when she convinced (threatened) him into letting a nurse replace his IV.
“You’re certainly acting like one.”
That shut him up quick enough. The frown stayed put, but he let himself be looked over while Riza strode back to the left wing to discover that Ed was running a fever. He looked tried and flushed as a middle aged woman calmly explained that he’d developed pneumonia.
He was still recovering from… everything else, so this threw a big shiny wrench directly into her day. Havoc had gone off to retrieve Al from where he was curled up in a phone booth, talking to the young girl Riza had meet once in Resembool. He’d been like that since Ed had been admitted to the hospital, unable to bring himself to sit and wait for his brother to wake up but too anxious to focus on another task. Al had gently approached her alongside Hughes and her teammates to meekly ask if he could borrow some money. In a blink they had showered him with coins, no questions asked and stalwartly refusing reimbursement of any kind.
He’d camped out with a receiver cradled in one hand, bouncing between the Rockbell’s to someone she overheard him calling Sig. Of course, Riza had stooped by twice a day to give him updates and pull him out of the cramped box for an hour or so of walking. Even if it was in circles around the block, she made a point to get him into the open before he drove himself crazy.
The nurse assured her that Ed would recover, but it was disheartening nonetheless.
Apparently the boy had passed out mere moments after getting shot full of morphine and fever-reducers. There was a chance he would be able to sleep if off, if they were lucky. Al would be relived.
Hughes, Feury and Falman were all dealing with the more technical fallout go the kidnapping, so she could volunteer to watch Ed while Breda and Havoc stared the Colonel down in her stead. Riza spent the time brushing sweat-soaked bangs away from the young boy’s face and obsessively replacing the cool cloth on his forehead, listening to his feverish murmurs carefully.
Most of it was incoherent, but she caught him whispering the word liar more than once.
Riza's hand rested over his the whole time, squeezing gently when his face would pinch.
Her heart bled itself dry before the sun was overhead.
Ed slept until noon, eyes flying open urgently as he tried to sit up just after the minute hand brushed the hour. Riza managed to catch him before he ripped his side open and eased the blond back down. “You’re alright,” She said gently. His skin was hot to the touch, opposite of the deathly cold he’d been when she’d been in contact him, desperately trying to haul him onto a stretcher before a chunk of earth went melting off the gorge. She promptly purged the memory and concentrated on the Ed in front of her. The one who was blinking at her, squinting and drawing in heavy breaths.
“You’re not—“ He coughed. “Lieutenant?”
“Hi, Ed.” She touched his arm lightly, just in case his vision had gotten spotty. “Do you know where you are?”
He frowned, looking past her to the ceiling. “Hospital?”
“That’s right. You’ve got a fever.” He groaned and draped his arm over his eyes. Riza reached to the wall and flicked off the lights, drawing the curtains shut before returning to the boy’s side. Hopefully it would ease the migraine kneading into his head.
“A fever...” He started, lowering his arm hesitantly to meet her eyes, “why the hell do I have a fever?”
Ed was dead. A nurse had come in said that pneumonia killed him. She smiled when she told him and Roy couldn’t remember if she had ever been in his room before. She had holes for eyes and the space looked hazy. It didn’t much matter because she’s just told him that Ed was gone. The nurse melted away into the floor with a splash.
After everything, it had been sickness that took the kid.
He was dead.
The room shook and Roy bolted upright out of bed with a strangled gasp, blinking hard. The hallways were dim and his leg screamed as he limped down the corridor all the way to the left wing and into room thirty-five.
He sat pressed against the wall and watched Ed’s chest rising and falling, feeling sick with worry and fright because fuck…
It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare. He’s alright. It hadn’t been real. There was no nurse like the one who’d appeared. He’s still breathing.
Hours later Hawkeye found him and tried to coax him back to bed.
“One minute.” He said weakly, eyes still locked on the younger alchemist, silently counting the up and down of his inhales.
“One minute.” She agreed softly.
She managed to pulled him back to his room before the nurses started tearing their hair out. Roy didn’t want to close his eyes after that.
Calamity was a pretty word, wasn’t it? Euphonic too. Which is why Ed wanted to know who in the fresh fuck decided to drop-kick the word over to the destructive side of the dictionary and dump it into the lap of chaos.
It was the only thing he could think to fit his situation right now. Apparently Mustang had decided to perform not one, but two encores of his dumb little disappearing act whilst Ed had been soaring with the clouds, high on painkillers and cocooned in a metric ton of blankets like some kind of junkie caterpillar.
He was only awake for the aforementioned second reprise.
“Runt.” He’d announced the second he stepped through the door.
“Bastard.” Ed replied after digging his head out of the mountain of covers. The man hobbled to his chair and propped a battered leg against the bed, tilting precariously on the back legs of his seat. Ed almost expected him to fall.
“Aren’t you supposed to be, you know, recovering?”
Mustang shrugged back. “Bored.”
“So you decide to annoy me?”
Ed glared at him weakly. He couldn’t really ace the intimidation check with an icy cloth over his head and the worlds longest straw floating just a few inches from his face. The absolute mess Ed’s hair had become only made matters worse. His bedhead rivalled the sandman himself. “I’ll call Hawkeye.” He threatened.
Mustang toppled out of his chair. Gracelessly. “You wouldn’t.”
“Oh, but yes I would.”
The dark haired man pushed himself upright, glowering like someone had dumped out his coffee. He fixed Ed with stony glare. The blond gave a one-armed shrug and flopped back. “Have fun talking to the wall. I’m gonna try to untangle my insides.” He rolled over and burrowed into the mattress until nothing but a few loose strands of hair gave away his presence, a hand pressed to his side as he failed to sleep.
Soon enough, Mustang was being yelled at by a very exasperated Hawkeye. Ed is sure he heard her swear through the lecture and he could hardly hold in the snickers that bounded forward from his throat.
“Fine!” She threw her hands in the air and stormed out of the room. Mustang was pale and blank-faced.
“Oh my god.” Ed laughed into his hand unabashed and demonically gleeful. “I’m going to break a rib. Oh my fucking god.”
“She’s going to kill me.” The older said dumbly, staring at the door.
“And I get to watch!”
Mustangs head thumped against the back of his chair. “You’re being very insensitive. I’m about to be murdered.”
“Maybe if you’d just asked to come visit, you cryptic weirdo, she wouldn’t have to.” He just sank down further into the chair while Ed cackled at his very outright embarrassment. It was his job, after all. It said right there in the contract that he must be an asshole and make fun of his CO. That’s how Ed remembered it, anyways.
Maybe it had been his own personal amendment, actually. Either way, it was in writing.
Hawkeye didn’t, in fact, kill the Colonel.
(Ed was devastated.)
She did arrange that Mustang’s room be only a few doors down so that he would drop all two hundred pounds of stress and stupidity onto a creaky hospital bed and take a goddamn nap.
With his own personal shadow gone, Ed quietly acknowledged that he’d been robbed of a rib and the sharp pain that filled every coherent moment didn’t let him forget. It was a good thing he’s grown used to acting through the loving blaze of aches. It could’ve been far worse, he knew that, but it didn’t make the lengthy recovery time any easier to swallow.
The Lieutenant had given him the rundown of everything he would need to pull through as his face fell to the floor.
Missing arm aside, he would be on bed watch for the next three weeks at minimum. The hole in his side could spell lasting consequences.
As in, lifelong issues.
Phantom pains and breathing difficulties could hang over him for years after, but it’s not like he wasn’t already familiar with that. It was just another knot of, ragged, twisted skin that would solidify into a scar. Another tally mark on his flesh. She’d left him after explaining, claiming to need to talk to one of the nurses concerning his recovery, but Ed knew she was giving him space.
He ran his hand lightly over his ribs, feeling where his skin gave way to nothing beneath the bandages swathed around him. The dent was enough to steal away his breath in shock. Horror too.
Ed didn’t cry, but he did hold his flesh hand over the space for a long while. Like that could fix it, somehow.
Winry was working overtime to get him a new arm, according to Al.
Al, who had been in and out like a currier for the first day and a half, relying messages both to him and Mustang’s team, much to Ed’s dismay. He simply wanted to take a few ounces of comfort in his brother’s presence, was that too much to ask?
Ed knew not to press. Al coped with things very differently than him, so Ed let his brother clank around until he was ready to sit and talk. Which is where he was now, staring at the suit of armour that he could only ever see as something small and young.
“Don’t you dare.”
That was the first thing Ed said. Without fanfare or preamble, giving the sternest look he possibly could from under an avalanche of sheets.
“Huh?” Al tilted his head, his fists coming loose from where they’d been tightly coiled.
“You’re beating yourself up over this. Stop it.” Ed demanded, stubbornly planting his hand on Al’s head in a light smack. It was barely admonishing, leaning into affectionate and worried beyond a real scolding. He softened at his brother’s sigh. “Al, there’s nothing you could’ve done.”
They sat and talked for hours about anything they could. From guessing games to complex alchemic problems, they blasted through discussion material until the stars glared down at them through the window. It was overwhelmingly reliving to have Al there. Ed made a note to thank Hawkeye for bringing him out.
It was a bit selfish, as it had forced his brother through yet another traumatic experience, but Ed also needed someone familiar. They already have baggage crammed up to the eyes, one more thing to their list was par for the course. A morbid thought, but truthful. But Ed still made sure that Al wasn’t stuck watching over him day and night, knowing full well how much it pained the younger. Even if he never said it, Ed knew it hurt.
The third night Mustang snuck out, Ed snapped.
“Alright, what’s going on with you?!” He cried when the older silently took up residence beside his bed, quietly having cracked the door open in the watery moonlight that bled through the curtains.
“No idea what you’re talking about.” Mustang said casually, flipping through a book Al had left on Ed’s side table. It was obvious he wasn’t paying any mind to the words written on the pages, just skimming, leafing through to appear busy. Ed wished he could cross his arms.
Woe is me, my other one appears to have been misplaced.
Instead he picked up one of the dozens of pillows and threw it at Mustang’s head. His aim was impeccable, nailing the idiot right between the eyes and leaving him dazed and deadpan. Ten points!
Ed had exasperation and curiosity swallowing him up to his chin, threatening to drown any pride for the sake of some straight answers from Colonel Cryptic. “Why do you keep coming here? I get the first time, but now?” He leaned forward, crossing his legs beneath the blankets. “What the hell, Colonel.”
Mustang looked at him. Past him, actually.
His eyes were ringed red and shadowed with sleeplessness. Ed tensed a little, looking over the older alchemist and noticing that he looked pretty disheveled and out of sorts. His voice was low, edged with a line of fuses. “You ever have nightmares?” Mustang asked, dropping the book into his lap.
Ed frowned, brain running like crazy to find the logic in any of this. Otherwise he was going to be lost forever in the confusing, unexplained void pouring off Mustang like oil or something even darker. “What does that have to do with—“
Whish goes the match.
The older man cut him off with a weary sigh, pitched like the cry of a dying storm. “I just needed to be sure.”
Hiss goes the fuse.
The blond wrinkled his nose, head tilted and catching slivers of light out of the corner of his eye, port glinting just slightly. He parroted Mustang’s words. “Needed to…”
Bang goes the bomb.
The man looked defeated, burying his face in his hands. “Don’t laugh.”
That was not what he’d expected. Ed doesn’t know what he did it expect, but it certainly wasn’t what he got. Ed’s lips pressed into a line, gravity and maybe a little bit of sympathy pulling the corners down.
“I’m not going to laugh.” He was sincere, gazing over with a very disorientated look playing over his features.
“You did last time!” Mustang huffed.
Ed winced a little. “I didn’t know that’s why you snuck out! I thought you were just trying to bug me.”
“You’re real stupid, you know that?”
“Thanks, Fullmetal.” He muttered, combing a hand through his hair in a very half-ass attempt to make it look like less of a rats nest. It only improved slightly. From a rats nest to, like, a rats vacation home. Cottage? Whatever.
Ed shook his head, muttering some creatively put together curses under his breath. Havoc would’ve been proud. He watched Mustang from the corner of his eye, expression caught between a glare and a meaningful shine. “If you’re that worried, just ask for a shared room.”
“It’d save Hawkeye some of the years you keep chipping off her lifespan.” The younger alchemist had already calculated the woman would be greying by thirty at this rate, so really, he was just doing her a favour. He tried not to flinch when Mustang’s head jerked up to look at him in surprise, his good hand wrapping around the busted one.
“Not that I’m opposed but, uh, you sure?”
“You’re not the only one who get’s nightmares, Colonel.” The spiteful admission felt bitter on his tongue.
“I…I see,” Mustang said slowly.
Ed was very tempted to throw another pillow because the look on his face was far too gentle and understanding. It didn’t even register as the same person, his brows pitched upwards empathetically, eyes dark while his entire demeanour twisted to cautiously extend a branch in Ed’s direction. He begrudgingly accepted the offering with a tectonic eye-roll. “Whoop-dee-fuckin’-do. Trauma buddies.”
“Not how I would put it.”
“Whoop-dee-freakin’-do.” He amended, piling on snark like an overeager toddler at a self-serve buffet. Mustang stood, shakily grasping the back of the chair while he rediscovered the fine art of not falling flat on his face, tilting dangerously before his feet graced him with balance. He limped towards the door, kicking the cushion Ed had pelted him haphazardly.
He touched the wall whilst Ed eyed him curiously. “I’ll bully the hospital staff tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” The younger prompted.
“Yep.” He sounded almost cheery, “I’m gonna steal a spare cot.”
The blond saluted with the wrong hand, grinning. “Godspeed, Colonel dumbass.”
There was an understanding to simply not speak about the tiny moments that existed in the intervals between twilight and daybreak. It was only the first night spent in the same room when Ed had shaken Roy awake from a vivid dream and calmly, silently, allowed the older man to hug him like his life depended on it.
Ed didn’t move, just wordlessly rested his chin on Roy’s shoulder, letting him cling. The whole time, Roy expected Ed to just… vanish.
To not be there anymore.
To dissolve and leave him in an empty room.
Of course, he was still there and torrent after torrent of relief crashed over him.
The younger didn’t seem to care much, neither leaning into or away from the contact, so he held on as long as he damn well pleased. Every time another fresh epiphany that the kid was alive hit Roy, he squeezed Ed tighter.
“It’s fine. Nightmares are a bitch.” Was all the blond said when the other finally pulled back. Roy didn’t have the energy to feel any kind of embarrassment at being comforted by a kid.
The image of a body bag instead of white sheets and bandages had stained his mind red. It really didn’t matter if he had some kind of image to uphold because it felt all too real when the dream showed him a battered metal arm spotted with blood, it’s owner staring blankly out of a six foot hole.
Later the same night, Roy went rummaging through a storage closet for a bucket. He didn’t say a word placing it at the younger alchemist’s bedside, steadying him with a hand because Ed could barely move and was sick beyond belief.
“This is stupid.” Ed muttered between heaves. “This is so stupid.”
“Yeah.” His hand edged around the chilled metal of the blond’s port, keeping him from slumping off the bed altogether. “I know.”
He dug another bin from a room full of cleaning supplied and kept it under his bed in case it happened again. Hawkeye noticed, but she didn’t ask.
Dozens of times a day he would hobble over and poke Ed once or twice just to know for certain that he’s real. Roy wouldn’t soon forget the far off, panicked look the kid got every time the squeaking of the drains and pipes sounded a little too much like the high squealing of animals, nor the slight buzz of lamps before they flickered on sending goosebumps over both their necks.
There were the times in the dead of night when Roy was staring over at Ed, watching the kid breath as his thoughts ran in circles because he was just a little too still and there was too long of a stretch between breaths.
(Stop panicking. You’re both safe.)
Right when Roy would be ready to surge out of bed and shout for a nurse, the younger would, without even cracking open his eye, mutter: “Not dead.”
“I know.” Roy replied the same every time.
Ed would flip him off and roll over to glare.
“Go back to sleep. Goddamn paranoid ass...” The expletives would trail and he slipped back into a throne of blankets.
None of it would be brought up later. Roy discovered that a great way to calm Ed down was to plant a hand on his head and tell him all the dumbest stories Roy had piled up of his and Hughes’ days at the academy.
In turn, Ed learned that the older had a nasty habit of punching in his sleep.
“Ow.” He said from the floor where he’d been knocked, dumbfounded. Roy’s hand shook, eyes going wide.
“Oh relax. You’ve got a weak arm anyways.” Ed pushed himself up and leaned against the wall, subconsciously prodding at his freshly hit jaw.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll get you back later.”
And he did.
He spent the night side by side with Ed, shoulders brushing as they both quietly looked out the window, sitting on the floor and leaning against his bed. Ed’s hand lashed out and punched him in the arm without warning. He carried on as though it didn’t even happen and Roy almost started laughing at the bizarreness of it. The night was calm for a while longer.
Roy froze entirely when there came a soft weight in his shoulder. He didn’t dare move as the kid’s breathing was ironed of it’s creases by the whims of sleep. He just stayed in place, watching clouds out the glass panes and letting himself essentially be reduced to a pillow.
It was surprisingly easy. No air of awkwardness, just a weird sense of mundanity tinted by... comfort? Yeah.
The peace was interrupted by a terrifying whisper from beside him.
“I can’t breathe.”
Roy dashed from the room frantically calling for a doctor or a nurse or a miracle-worker.
The stitches had been torn in Ed’s side and he swore not to mention the anxiety that left him shaking for hours afterwards and slipping into the restrooms to wash out his mouth.
Of course he wasn’t going to bring up his own denial at the morphine-induced confession from Ed that he couldn’t remember either of his parents anymore. He certainly wouldn’t ever talk about the conversation that followed.
“Never heard you talk about him before.” Roy sat with his legs folded, a quilt around his shoulders and curiosity in his eyes. Ed steered clear of the topic of his father like the word itself was toxic and would strike him down if it came too close.
He blinked up at the ceiling sleepily. “What’s to say? He’s a brilliant alchemist and a shit dad.”
“That so.” The dark haired man replied plainly.
“He left when I was, like, four.”
Roy crossed his arms and fell against his headboard, frowning. “For such a smart alchemist, your dad is stupid.”
“Not that I disagree but, uh, what makes you say that?”
“He left two good kids behind. I think that’s a pretty stupid move, right?” He glared at the wall, his mouth running entirely un-policed. “Anyone would kill to have sons like you and Al and he was dumb enough to walk out. Stupid.”
Ed was staring at him. The implications went barreling through him and Roy blanched.
He really just… said that? Out loud?
“Wait. I… misspoke,“ He tried to correct himself clumsily.
Roy started again. “For the record, I’m concussed and—“
He stopped and turned to Ed, ready to be teased relentlessly. The careful smile he was meet with instead was a welcome surprise.
We did it. The curtains are closing. First and foremost thank you. The response to this story has been mind boggling. It's helped me grow more confident in my writing and strive to improve. Your comments leave me breathless and I cried every time I had an ask in my inbox.
There are not one, but two stunning pieces of fan art both by the amazing @csealia. So yeah, thank you.
Second I'M SORRY FOR BEING SO CRYPTIC ABOUT THIS CHAPTER!! I really wanted to keep y'all guessing and I suppose it worked but WOW I was an asshole. Will say I'm a tad offended some of you think I wouldn't correctly tag a fic... honestly though, apologies for being a bit of a dick!
Third I'm just going to shamelessly plug for my next FMA fic: It's supposed to start on Monday but I might get impatient and post sooner. Rundown is pre-shamballa 03 Ed gets thrown into post canon brotherhood. Mystery ensues!
Thank you again for reading. It's been a pleasure and I hope the ending was satisfactory. I love you all.