It was supposed to be a simple task. Roy was hoping it would stay a simple task. But Fullmetal, being the insufferable child he was, somehow managed to make it complicated.
Riza had stopped at his desk almost an hour ago, letting him know an official from Mayfield was on the line about Edward. His mind had immediately jumped to the worst conclusions and without his permission questions about the boys’ health and safety were spilling from his lips. Riza had smiled in that infuriatingly knowing way of hers and responded with a to-the-point answer, stating yes, they were fine, it was just Ed’s usual slew of problems.
And so Roy, having become disgustingly emotional when it came to Edward and Alphonse, took the phone and demanded the official on the other end check on them to really ensure they were fine. He needed Edward to do his job. And the stack of paperwork the idiot was neglecting. No, Roy was not a hypocrite, Breda should stop bringing that up.
The official left him on hold while he went to check on them and now here Roy was, slumped in his desk chair, waiting (not worried, just waiting) for an answer. The man’s voice came through the phone, tinny and distorted slightly from the distance because Mayfield was way out in the middle of East Amestris.
“They’re fine, like I told you.” The man sounded slightly exasperated at this point but Roy didn’t care much. He didn’t even know this man’s name and he doubted they were ever going to meet. “Are you going to come get them? We all respect the Fullmetal Alchemist, of course, but—”
“He’s a pain, I know. I’ll be there.” He hung up and leaned back with a sigh. Of course the stupid chaos children have made a mess of the ridiculously simple task he assigned them. He was sending Edward on a stupidly difficult mission next, just to spite him.
The rest of the team eyed him from their scattered positions around the room, not bothering to hide their staring.
“Where you headed, boss?” Breda asked.
“It’s Fullmetal,” was Roy’s response.
“What’d he do?”
“Got into some trouble. The usual. I’m going to pick them up.”
“Someone has to get the idiots out of jail. They’re my shitty kids, I might as well.”
Roy shrugs his arms into his jacket, oblivious to what he’s said. The others eye each other with raised eyebrows, mouths turning up into amused grins. “Need us to come?”
“No,” Roy replied with a wave of his hand, opening the door. “This shouldn’t take long. We’ll be back in a week. Keep looking out for further homunculi activity.”
As soon as he was gone, Fuery turned to Breda with a smug grin, hand out in front of him. “Pay up.”
Breda grumbled as he pulled money from his pocket, counting off the right amount and paying Fuery. “The Colonel’s tired. Of course he slipped up.”
Fuery just shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I bet he would call Edward and Alphonse his children before Christmas and he did!”
Riza cleared her throat and gestured for them to return to their work. They followed without hesitation.
Edward sighed. He was slumped uncomfortably on the floor, back resting against the wall of his cell and legs sprawled out in front of him. Outside the cell, sitting on a chair, was Alphonse. He hadn’t stopped laughing since Edward was put in here. Which was 10 minutes ago.
“Al!” Edward groaned. “Shut! Up! This isn’t funny.”
Alphonse sobered, laughter quieting. “You’re right, brother. I’m sorry.”
After a pause, he said, “I always knew your refusal to drink milk would lead you down a criminal path.”
He managed to keep a straight face for all of 3 seconds before starting to laugh again.
“I hate you,” Edward said. “You’re the worst.”
The officer that put him in this stupid box came down the hallway. “Mr. Elric, we’re going to have to ask you to step outside for a moment. We have to discuss a few things.”
Ignoring Edward’s mocking repetition of “Mr. Elric,” Alphonse nodded and stood, metal limbs creaking as he tried to move slowly so he didn’t accidentally destroy their rather low ceilings. He followed the man down the hallway, past some empty cells, and out into a larger room. From there he was led to the man’s office.
Alphonse frowned as he looked through the doorway. The office wasn’t very big and the space was filled with the desk sitting in front of the back wall (the small plaque on it said this man’s name was Ernest Pritkin) and two large bookshelves taking up the left and right walls. That left enough space in front of the desk for two chairs, which Alphonse was sure was perfectly fine for normal sized people. Not so much for large suits of armour.
Alphonse hovered awkwardly outside the door, trying to figure out what to do. Pritkin looked up after he sat down behind the desk and realized the problem. “Oh, right. Sorry about how small this place is, we’re real short on space. And people ‘round here are typically a lot shorter than you city types. You can just… stay there, it’s fine.”
Alphonse nodded and lowered himself slowly to the floor so he could at least sit down. He was still tall enough to almost fill the door frame.
“I want you to know, we were delighted when we first heard the Fullmetal Alchemist would be present at our Annual Pie Eating Tournament. We still are! I’ll be honest with you, the experience has been tarnished the slightest bit by the… uh, we’ll call it the ‘unfortunate incident’. Nonetheless, the people of Mayfield would like to remain in good graces with the State Alchemists, and so we are willing to provide your brother with a chance to make peace.”
“That’s… very kind of you. May I ask what you mean by ‘make peace’?” Alphonse kept his voice pleasantly neutral, neither accusatory nor unassertive.
“Well, a public apology to start. And if he would kindly complete the ceremony as asked, I’m sure everyone would be perfectly happy to let him go.”
“Ah,” was Alphonse’s only response. Edward would never agree to that. He was too stubborn. Alphonse loved his brother but he also knew what a thick headed idiot he could be sometimes.
“And this is the only way he’ll be freed?”
Pritkin nodded. “It’s been discussed with the town council. The people have lost some faith in the State Alchemists, you see, and having the Fullmetal Alchemist agree to right his wrongs would remedy that. It would publicly show he, and by extension the rest of your people, is willing to correct his mistake.”
Alphonse nodded slowly. “I see what you’re saying. It’s just that, for such a crime I think this might be a little harsh.”
Pritkin tilted his head down, peering at Alphonse over his glasses. “I understand you’re not from around here so I will excuse your ignorance. This ceremony is a very important tradition here in Mayfield. It was wonderful for the Fullmetal Alchemist to volunteer to participate. To not drink the traditional glass of milk after the pie eating is a grave dishonour.”
“Surely you could let it go, for a State Alchemist? I understand what you’re saying but—”
His words are interrupted by a resounding crash echoing down the hallway from the cells. Alphonse lets his head slump, eyes closed as he sighs. “Oh, brother.”
Pritkin has jumped up from his seat and comes around the desk to go see what has happened. Alphonse merely leans to the side to allow him to exit, choosing to wait until the rush of people has subsided. Trying to get through the crowd would be a hopeless endeavour.
When Alphonse finally makes it to Edward’s cell, there’s a hole in the wall Edward was leaning against. It looks like he pulled the carbon from the metal bars, added it to the nitrogen and oxygen in the air, and created a pretty effective explosive. He should have used a little more because the hole he created wasn’t very big, but Alphonse supposed it was large enough for Edward to squeeze through. It’s not like he was very tall anyway.
People were swarming the cell. He could see some outside, examining the area for clues as to where Edward might have gone. One person was kneeling in front of the hole, searching the ground as though there would be anything useful. Alphonse spotted Pritkin standing rather aimlessly, staring out of the hole in his cell wall. He walked over and gently tapped him on the shoulder, not wanting to startle him. When he had the man’s attention, he said, “I’m going to try and find him, if that’s alright with you.”
Pritkin nodded slowly. He was probably regretting ever sending the invitation to Central in the first place. They definitely were not coming back to Mayfield for a while.
As Alphonse turned to leave, Pritkin called his name. “Make sure you bring him back here. He needs to fix all this.” Pritkin ended his sentence with a general wave to the room.
“Of course,” Alphonse replied, like a liar. While the reason for Edward’s arrest had been funny and Alphonse didn’t want to disrespect this town’s traditions, they didn’t have time for Edward to stay in jail. They needed to keep looking for the homunculi.
He left the station and immediately headed for the train station. Hopefully Edward was smart enough to stay away from the locals and was heading straight out of town. They planned to reconvene back at Central if they were separated.
Sure enough, Edward was trying to bargain with the ticket lady. “Listen, lady, I really need to get out of here.”
“Sir, you can’t trade automail for a train ticket.”
“I told you, they confiscated my money when they put me in jail!”
Alphonse decided to step in when the lady started to reach for her phone. There was no point in Edward landing back in jail now. He kindly apologized to her and promptly dragged his brother away.
“Al! Finally someone competent.”
Alphonse shook his head. “Really, brother? I leave for five minutes and you break out of prison.”
“I didn’t see you helping.”
“We both know you have no sense of diplomacy. You were supposed to let me handle it!”
“You took too long.”
Alphonse sighed. “Well, you’re out now. And really? What would Winry say if she found out you were trading automail for tickets?”
Edward pouted. “I wasn’t actually going to give it to her.”
“I may have been planning to knock her out as soon as she handed over the tickets.”
“You know, I’m surprised you haven’t been arrested before now.”
“Who’s side are you on?”
“It doesn’t matter. We need to get you out of here because I love you but I’m not going to jail for you.”
“All the shit we’ve done for each other and that’s where you draw the line?”
“I’m a law-abiding citizen—”
“—and I have a reputation to maintain. You’re the chaotic brother and I’m the nice one.”
“I hate you.”
“Can we go now?”
“Yeah, yeah. What’s your plan, genius?”
“I actually have money to legally buy tickets.”
With that, Alphonse led the way back to the ticket booth. He smiled at the lady and asked for two tickets back to Central.
Her mouth twisted into a pained frown. “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”
“Is this not enough for two tickets? Just tell me the correct price, I’m sure I have enough.”
“No, sir, a call just came through. You two aren’t allowed on transport of any kind. Apparently, you’re both wanted by the police?”
Alphonse sighed and turned back to Edward. “We’re on our own, brother.”
Edward grinned. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Alphonse turned back to the woman. “WIll you accept this money in exchange for not telling them we were here?”
The lady frowned but her eyes glanced to the money Alphonse was holding out. “You want to buy my silence, you’ll need a little more than that.”
Alphonse handed over the additional cash and she nodded, satisfied. “Good luck running from the law, boys.”
Edward tugged (uselessly) at Alphonse’s arm. “Let’s go already.”
“Why do you act like a child,” Alphonse asked.
“Shut up. We’re heading for the woods, right?”
Alphonse nodded. “Best to stay hidden. We have to walk to the nearest town and get a train from there.”
“Great. What’s the next town over, Larin?”
“I think so. It’s east of here, it should be a couple hours walk if we don’t stop.”
“Fun. I love hiking.”
“Stop complaining, this is your fault.”
Edward chose not to respond. He started walking away, heading for the treeline. Alphonse grinned (he won that argument) and followed.
Roy spent the day-long train ride wondering if the Elric brothers had managed to worsen the situation in the time it was taking him to travel to Mayfield. Surely not, he assured himself. Even Fullmetal had limits to the chaos he could cause.
He was so painfully wrong. He arrived at Mayfield and was greeted by a man who introduced himself as Ernest Pritkin. He informed Roy of the prison breakout and the damage to their cell. He was also delightfully informed of the ongoing manhunt and that he had been billed for the damage.
Roy told Maes he didn’t want kids and then he made the mistake of hiring this idiot, ended up kind of caring about him and look where it got him.
Roy pacified the officer with false platitudes, assuring him that yes, he would help capture Edward, he really must be brought to justice for such a heinous crime. And of course, he would face justice according to the town’s laws. Oh, jail for life?
Well, that was inconvenient.
Roy finally managed to extricate himself from the man’s never ending conversation two hours later. He breathed the fresh air as soon as he stepped outside. Someone needed to do something about the lack of windows in that tiny office.
He tugged on the cuffs of his gloves out of habit. His eyes scanned the street, watching a woman finish attaching a sheet over the hole Edward had made. He wondered what his course of action should be from here. Roy couldn’t let Edward go to jail, he needed him. And he was just a kid. No kid should spend their life in jail (no matter how annoying). Which meant, Roy had to find the boys before the authorities did and smuggle them out of town. He stepped back inside to borrow a phone and called Riza.
“Colonel. What do you need?”
Her greeting was straight to the point, as always. In this case, Roy appreciated it. “I need you to arrange some things. We’re going to need someone to pick us up. Discreetly.”
“What did you do?” Riza’s tone had the slightest inflection, a warning tone that said this better not be a huge mess.
“Hey, this wasn’t my fault. It’s the Fullmetal brat.”
“He does take after you, sir.”
Roy had to stop and process that for a moment. Did everyone think Roy had adopted the Elric brothers? “You too, Lieutenant?”
“Just wanted to check if you were aware of the rumours, sir.”
“People talk. Some speculate Edward is actually your son.”
It takes a moment for Roy to articulate a proper response. “Why?!”
“Might be because you’ve kept an eye on them since they were young. Or because of the way you rush to help them when they’re in trouble. Or because of the one time Edward fell asleep in your office and he was found covered with your jacket.”
“He’s my employee, he can’t get sick because he’s cold.”
“Of course, sir.” She pauses before continuing. “Maes Hughes may also be involved in the spreading of certain rumours.”
Roy swore. Fucking Maes. He was going to kill him when he got back. “Right, right, just get us a way out of this town, please?”
“Right away. Don’t make the situation worse, sir.”
“I would never.”
Riza’s silence on the other end was very telling. Roy chose to ignore it and hung up. Time to find his idiot children.
“And you say I’m bad at navigating.”
“You are bad at navigating,” Alphonse insisted. “Me making a mistake this one time doesn’t improve your navigational ability in any way. You still get lost trying to find places in Central Command.”
“Well, you said there would be a town here and there’s just a lake, Al. What are we supposed to do, swim across?”
“I guess the town was west of Mayfield.” Alphonse shrugged.
“That’s great, thanks.”
“Well, we have to go back the way we came.”
“I really hate this stupid mission.”
“Why didn’t you drink the milk, then?”
Edward stopped walking, face twisting in indignation. Alphonse braced himself for the rant that was coming.
“Listen, I decided to participate in their pie eating contest because what idiot turns down free food? And I was winning. I didn’t even get my prize money before they tossed me in jail. Ending the contest with a mandatory glass of milk is the worst idea I’ve ever heard of. And I’ve listened to plenty of Colonel Bastard’s stupid ideas.”
“Ed, your ideas are worse than his.”
“No, they’re not.”
“You baited Scar into attacking you in Central so he would come out of hiding.”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“You ruined your automail.”
“That’s not the point! Forcing people to drink milk after a pie eating contest should be illegal. What if a contestant was allergic?”
Alphonse sighed and kept walking. “You’re not allergic, though. If you had just been nice and cooperative, we would have been back in Central right now.”
“Sure, this might be my fault,” Edward muttered, voice low and almost inaudible. “But I think this response is just a bit over the top.”
“Suits you,” Alphonse snickered. “Overly dramatic response to the overly dramatic child.”
“You’re younger than me,” Edward said, voice flat. “My point still stands.”
Edward rolled his eyes and leapt up to walk on a fallen log. It made him nearly the same height as Alphonse. “What’re we going to do when we get back to town?”
“I considered turning you in—”
“You’re a disgrace of a brother, I can’t believe you would betray me like that.”
“I decided not to because it’s unlikely you’d wait in the cell for the Colonel to get you out diplomatically.”
“Damn right. He’d take forever.”
“So, I think we should try disguises. Maybe we can get a ticket back to Central that way.”
“Disguises huh?” Edward’s eyes glanced across the trees as he considered. “I like that. We could make something pretty good with some alchemy.”
“I bet I can make a better disguise than you.”
A few hours later Roy had almost finished his own sweep of the town. He just had to speak with the woman selling tickets at the station. There hadn’t been much to find in town, besides the destruction in the cell and a report from a store owner that said Fullmetal stole some juice. Roy didn’t stop to think about that one. He had stopped thinking about the weird shit that kid did a long time ago because Maes said it was giving him grey hairs.
The ticket woman was speaking with a short, old man with an absurdly large package covered in a sheet. From what Roy could hear, he didn’t want the package placed in the storage car. Roy guessed the man was losing some critical thinking skills in his old age because trying to fit that thing into a passenger car would be impossible.
He watched the argument for a while, partly to see if it would end on its own and partly because this little old man was entertaining. He was pretty energetic, yelling loud enough that people at the other end of the platform could probably hear him. Roy decided to take pity on the poor woman and stepped in with a gentle hand on the old man’s shoulder, assuring the woman he would handle it. She took a look at his uniform and nodded with a relieved sigh.
Roy turned to the man who had violently shrugged off his hand and was now… talking? To his package?
He walked over and interrupted him. “Excuse me, sir—”
“Took you long enough to get here, you bastard.”
Roy stopped and stared. Upon closer inspection, the “old man” was definitely Edward. He pulled off the old man look, but he was the most eccentric old man Roy had ever seen. His hair was covered with what looked like some kind of cloth transformed into a makeshift hat. His red coat was now something less dramatic, a duller red and more bulky. He was walking with a fake cane, hunched over like his back hurt.
“Edward. What the fuck.”
“Well, you took your sweet time getting here. We needed some kind of disguise to get out of town.”
“This is a shitty disguise. You’re supposed to be discreet. Fighting with the ticket woman only attracts attention.”
“She wanted to put Al with the luggage!”
Roy lifted the sheet covering the massive package to find Alphonse hunched over inside.
“Hi, Colonel,” he said, waving through the bars.
Roy closed his eyes and rubbed one hand across his forehead. “A simple diplomatic mission. This was supposed to be simple.”
“I disagreed with their outdated traditions and they reacted very harshly.” Edward said, arms crossed. It was quite ridiculous, with the ratty hat and too big coat.
“I’m sure. I am also tired and I want to get out of here. No more arguing with people.”
“You’re no fun.”
Roy went back to the counter, had a bland conversation with the woman, and purchased two tickets, agreeing to have Alphonse put in the luggage car.
All they had to do now was ride the train back to Central. But when he turned around Edward had his disguise off and was transforming his coat back to its eye-searing red.
Roy grabbed him by the arm before he could clap his hands together. “Fixing my coat, why?”
“Why are you getting rid of the disguise?”
“Because you’ve got it handled, right? I don’t need this anymore. And the hat was itchy.”
Roy groaned. “No, you moron. That woman thinks I’m helping an old man buy his ticket.”
“I thought you were here to pick us up. To fix this stupid mess.”
“I’m trying! You’re ruining it!”
The ticket woman was already hanging up the phone. At Roy’s glare, she shrugged. “Sorry, sir, I’m just following orders. He’s a criminal and I’m supposed to report him. And anyone helping him.”
“But we paid you,” Edward said, frowning at her.
“That was this morning, honey.”
Roy wiped a hand down his face. Well, this was just perfect.
“Now, we’re both criminals.” Roy hissed at Edward.
“Clearly, you’re even less competent than I thought.”
“This is your fault!”
“Can you let me out please?” Alphonse called. “I can tell things are going very wrong and I want to be able to run when the police get here to arrest us.”
The stupid lock on the stupid box was jammed and by the time Roy just blew it off, officers were surrounding them. They were handcuffed and led to waiting cars. Roy got put in the back of one with Edward. Alphonse was taken to a truck where he would fit in the back.
“The Lieutenant’s going to love this,” Edward taunted. Roy resisted the urge to punch him.
Riza was filing away the last of her work when she got the call. She grabbed her coat and set out for Mayfield immediately. They didn’t need a second prison break.
When she got there the next day, she was led to a cell where Edward, Alphonse and Roy were slumped in a heap, leaning on each in bizarre ways and fast asleep. “They wouldn’t stop arguing,” the officer said as he unlocked the door. “It drove everyone mad.”
Only Roy and Edward could get out of criminal charges by annoying everyone in the vicinity.
Riza nodded in thanks to the officer and he left her to wake them up. She pulled out a small camera to take a picture; it would make good blackmail. Then she left the room to find a bucket of water. She dumped that over their heads and they woke to her blank face with loud gasps. She snapped another photo of the outrage on their faces. Maybe she could get that printed on this year’s Christmas cards.
Roy sputtered for a moment, wiping the water from his eyes. When he could see her clearly, he said, “Lieutenant. Good to see you.”
“What was that for?” Edward yelled. Upon realizing who had splashed them, his anger vanished. “Uh, hi. Thanks for waking us up.”
Riza nodded. “That was for making me come all the way out here to get you. You’re all grounded.”
“Lieutenant, I really don’t think that’s necessary.” Roy said.
“We’re going back to Central Command and you’re doing nothing but paperwork that you have left piled up on your desk,” Riza said, pointing a finger at Roy. “You really have to get that done, Colonel.”
She continued speaking before he could protest, cutting off Edward’s laughter at Roy’s displeased face. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed the paperwork you’ve been neglecting. I know you slip it into the piles on the Colonel’s desk.”
Edward’s face turned to one of betrayal and Roy gasped in outrage. Riza left them to their argument, leaving the cell with Alphonse. They would follow when they realized they had been left behind. Riza brought two cars for a reason; she wasn’t driving all the way back to Central and listening to them argue. They could share the other car.
“It’s weird how alike they are,” Alphonse commented, sliding into the back of the car.
“Like father, like son.” Riza commented.
Alphonse laughed. “Yeah, I guess so.”