Edward sat back on his heels and stared at the curves he'd drawn. He rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand, and spared a glance for Selwyn. The man was slouched in a wooden chair by the room's only door, and Edward made a face as the man's head tipped forward, then back, obviously fighting sleep and not succeeding. Edward dug his watch from his pocket and flipped the lid open, grunting in irritation as he snapped it shut and shoved it back in his pocket.
Almost eleven, he thought. That's seven hours I've been trying to get this array done.
Idly he scrubbed at a chalk line, redrawing it with a bolder curve. The strange thing was that every now and then, some of the lines flickered with a silvery tint, as though the array were kicking in already. It had Ed worried—that Selwyn would notice and ask—but also intrigued. Was something going on in Duo's world, to prompt this array to respond? And if he didn't finish the array fast enough, what if someone on the other end gave up, and stopped trying?
Part of him was almost disappointed at the idea of Duo leaving. It had been rather cool, for a little while, to hang out with someone his own age. Oh, it was annoying, sometimes, having to explain stuff. But there were more things, Edward had realized—with all the time to think, while he worked on the array—that he hadn't had to explain, at all. Duo understood. Ed had that with Alphonse, and maybe a little with Winly, and with Mustang, although he'd never admit that last one to anyone. But outside of those three...that was about it. Ed sighed. Another part of him knew that if Duo ever discovered that he'd had an opportunity to return, but Edward had screwed it up...he shook his head and bent to finishing the corner of the array. The last thing he wanted was to be on the wrong end of Duo's gun.
A few minutes later, he'd finished that corner, finally, and started on double-checking the six additional arrays. He'd tried to space them out into roughly equal distances, as the doctor had. Edward was standing on his tiptoes, adding the last swirl on the third secondary, when Selwyn's chair scraped across the floor. It startled Ed, and the chalk snapped in his fingers. He swore under his breath and bent down, picking up the chalk before shooting Selwyn a glare.
"Do you mind?" No, he probably doesn't, Edward immediately added. He glowered anyway. "I'm concentrating."
"I can see that," Selwyn replied, in a dry tone. He yawned and stretched. "How much more do you have to do?"
"I need to confirm the shapes of the secondary arrays," Edward said, not really paying attention. There was something wrong with the third secondary, and he wiped off one of the angular connections, replacing it with a curve. It flickered for a moment, and he smiled to himself.
"Your commanding officer's a real hard-ass," Selwyn observed, settling back down on the chair. He leaned his head back, his hands clasped behind his head.
"The Colonel's a good man," Edward retorted. He wouldn't ask me to do something he didn't think I could manage, either. Edward snorted. Well, Mustang might, but Edward would do it, anyway, just to prove Mustang wrong.
"Didn't say he wasn't," Selwyn said, in a reasonable tone. "Just...it's getting near midnight. And you're still here, drawing the array. Unless, of course, General Tanaka scared you into submission." Selwyn chuckled. "He does that."
Not even half as well as Mustang can, Edward thought. He gritted his teeth, determined to ignore the man.
"Although," Selwyn added, yawning a little, "it was rather amusing to see the General surprised. He was expecting a report...not a full-blown array." There was silence for several minutes, broken only by the scrape of chalk on painted walls. "What's this stuff do, anyway? If I had chalk, could I do this, too?"
"Maybe," Edward told him, a bit begrudgingly. "But probably not. Alchemy requires...more than just drawing. But you might be able to do the simple stuff. Or you'd get a rebound, and you'd learn to leave it to the experts."
"Like Colonel Mustang," Selwyn rejoined.
I hate this guy, Edward thought.
"So you really think the kid is just a kid?" Selwyn seemed determined to make conversation, probably to keep from falling asleep. "All the way from Xing, too."
"Could be." Edward moved to the fourth secondary, running his gaze across the lines. He touched one chalk line, experimentally, and saw the flash of silver run up its length, then blink out as it hit an intersecting line. Something's not right there, Edward thought, trying to remember the exact lines he'd seen. If only Alphonse and Duo were here...between the three of them, they would've had the array done in two hours: he and Alphonse to draw, and Duo to confirm.
"He didn't look like what I'd thought someone from Xing would look like," Selwyn commented.
"I've never been to Xing, so I don't know," Edward said, shrugging. He moved to the fifth secondary. If these last two were in place, he just needed to figure out how to get away from Selwyn long enough to call Mustang. He rubbed his eyes again, yawned, and blinked at the array.
"If he is a beginner alchemist, that would definitely fall under the heading of messing with things you don't understand," Selwyn commented. He grunted, getting comfortable again on the wooden chair, and stared at the ceiling.
For several minutes, there was no conversation, and Edward's mind wandered back to the evening, when he'd been halfway through the center array. He'd not filled in the interior angles, nor the references in the perimeter, but he had two of the six secondaries marked for location. A brace of boots stomping down the corridor had alerted him, and he had come to his feet right as General Tanaka and two of his aides burst through the doors. Colonel Mustang and Second Lieutenant Hawkeye had been right behind them.
Once again, Edward had refrained from saluting, but only gave Mustang a short, abrupt bow, and turned his attention back to the array. Mustang's gaze passed over the array, and Edward was quite certain the Colonel had missed none of the intricate details already present. They'd only stayed a few minutes. Edward had listened with one ear, his attention fixed on the way the exterior lines swirled inwards to meet the first triangle. He'd been too focused to care what Mustang was saying in the background, or to do more than absently register that his half-completed report was being handed over. He'd cocked his head, and frowned at the array. Stepping carefully over the chalk lines, he'd knelt down, scrubbing at the chalk and redrawing the intersection. He shielded the soft silver glow with his body, and by the time he'd stood up, General Tanaka and his aides were gone.
Mustang had remained in the doorway long enough to give Edward an inscrutable look. "Stay here, and complete this. I want it done before you leave."
Edward had gaped, then sighed. "Yes, sir." Reluctantly, he bent forward, ducking his head in a formal bow, and Mustang nodded before leaving. When Edward had raised his head, Selwyn was giving him an equally unreadable look. Edward ignored him, and got back to work.
And now, five hours later... Edward stepped back from the fifth secondary, and cast a glance at Selwyn. The man wasn't asleep, unfortunately, and his eyes were fixed on Edward's every move. Ed had to struggle to keep from bristling at the intense stare.
"I'm going to be here for a while longer," Edward told him.
"Just how much is 'a while longer'?"
"Depends on whether I can work uninterrupted," Edward replied, his mind moving a mile a minute, remembering something General Tanaka had said as he'd left. A second array...Edward nearly groaned, finally realizing the implication. A second array, when this was hassle enough to build—of course. How else could one test moving an item from one array to another without both ends present, to test the theory? But then, if he could get Duo into one array, would Duo only be moved to the next room? Or worse, would half of Duo go one place, and the other half—Edward pushed that thought out of his head. He didn't even want to consider ripping his friend into two pieces.
The problem, Edward told himself—doing his best to forget that he'd just thought of Duo as a friend—is that once this array is complete, the second one created will duplicate it exactly. He redrew the final swoop and finished it off with a small square. And I can't do this one incomplete, or the other will be as well. He rubbed his forehead, squinting through the haze of threatening sleep, and moved to study the sixth secondary.
I've got to figure out a way to send Duo home, before the second array is built, he realized. And that means...tonight. Is that why Mustang was so insistent that I start now? Get Duo out of here, before the chance of his discovery is too great?
Edward sighed, and watched the silver light flickering across the surface of the array. Strange, he thought, it's silver. Why wouldn't it be blue? Alchemical reactions start blue, but an array will tend towards gold as it reaches its apex. With his style of transmutation, the speed of the change often meant the gold flickered past too quickly to notice, but in a full array such as this, the golden-yellow tones would definitely be predominant for a good period of the process. He wondered what would cause the silver, and how that might impact the array's progression.
Edward stepped away from the array with a sigh. "I'm done," he announced.
"Great," Selwyn said. "Dorms, then."
"No," Edward replied, shaking his head. He shoved the chalk in his pocket and walked over to the door, grabbing his red coat and pulling it on. "I need to notify the Colonel that I'm done."
"It's almost midnight," Selwyn pointed out.
"And he's probably just getting in from a date, then." Edward shrugged, then halted, frowning. "I don't know where he's staying."
"I do." Selwyn opened the doors. Edward followed, his shoulders hunched.
The car pulled up in front of an apartment building about eight blocks from the North Annex, and Edward sat up with a yawn, climbing out of the car with his eyes half-closed. Two of the three men got out with him, one of them going around to the back of the building. Edward glared, stomping up to the front porch where he waited as Selwyn spoke in low tones with the guard.
"Top floor apartment," Selwyn told Edward. He pointed up at the light glowing from the front rooms. "And he's awake."
"Good." Edward put a hand on the door.
"We'll wait for you here. And then you're going to the dorms."
Assuming Mustang doesn't have something else for me to do, Edward muttered silently. He shoved the doors open and heading up the stairs. The ports in his right shoulder ached from supporting his weight all night as he drew, and he stretched and flexed the arm as he stomped up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, he rapped quickly on the only door. There was light under the doorway, seeping into the hallway, and he waited, listening for the sounds of footsteps. None came, and he rapped again, only to find the door swinging open under his knuckles.
Light glinted off something metal, a few feet away.
"Damn it, Duo, stop doing that," Edward sputtered.
"If I'd fired," Duo said in a completely deadpan tone, "it would've gone over your head, anyway." The gun disappeared into the back of Duo's jeans. Edward finally registered Duo's meaning, and opened his mouth to protest. Duo grinned and made a shushing sound, then beckoned Edward in. "Mustang is sleeping," Duo whispered.
"Sleeping?" Edward goggled, then smirked. "Sleeping off the effects of a date, you mean."
"Date?" Duo glanced over his shoulder as he led the way into the kitchen. "Drink? Food?"
"With some woman. He's got one in every town...or five," Edward replied, opening the cabinets. "Hey, this is all healthy stuff. Doesn't he have anything decent?"
"It's good stuff." Duo set some rolls on the countertop, then dug around in the icebox, appearing with a slab of ham and some vegetables. Working briskly, he soon had two sandwiches made, and they sat down at the table to eat. Duo finished first, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and gave Edward an expectant look. "Are you done drawing?"
"Yeah." Edward took another bite of his sandwich, surprised that it wasn't as bad as he'd expected. "Those secondary arrays were a bitch, and on top of that, it's acting strange. It keeps flashing. Arrays shouldn't do that."
"They shouldn't?" Duo shrugged, and got up to make another sandwich. "Want more?"
"Hell, yeah. I'm starving." Edward waited as Duo brought him a second sandwich.
"There are rats in my kitchen," a deep voice announced, and Edward started, a little guilty. Mustang was leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed, a small book tucked under one arm. Edward blinked, unused to seeing the man dressed down. Mustang smirked as he strolled forward to drop himself into the empty chair at the end of the table. "You finished the array?"
"Yes, sir," Edward answered, automatically.
"Food?" Duo held up the last bit of his sandwich to Mustang. He waved it towards the countertop, at the remains of a head of lettuce, two tomatoes, and sliced ham. He grinned and bit into the sandwich, speaking around a full mouth. "Very good."
"Ah, no," Mustang said, leaning back in the chair. He clasped his hands over his stomach, and watched as the two boys finished the second round of sandwiches. Mustang shook his head. "Johan is going to kill me," he muttered under his breath. When Duo looked up, Mustang shrugged. "My friend's place, not mine. He's out of town. You're eating all his food."
"Surprised it's not some woman's place," Edward muttered. Duo kicked him under the table, and Edward scowled. "Hey! What was—"
"You need to use that array tonight," Mustang interrupted. His gaze darted between Ed and Duo, and a small smile played on his lips, but it was broken by a yawn. "And do it quietly. I don't want to be dragged out to deal with your ass if you get caught."
"I'm not the one who blows things up!" Edward shot Duo an annoyed look. Duo snapped his fingers and went back to eating the last crumbs of bread on his plate. Edward raised his eyebrows at Mustang, but realized quickly he'd find no sympathy there. He got up, taking his plate to the sink. "That was the stupidest idea, letting Duo stay here," he muttered.
"What's that?" Mustang yawned.
"Surprised the building's still standing," Edward retorted. "Would've expected you two out in the alley, seeing who can make a bigger explosion."
"Tempting." Mustang laughed softly. Duo gave Edward an innocent smile, but it quickly faded into something a bit more wicked. Mustang set the book down on the table, and stood up. "I'm going to tell the guards that you've fallen asleep on the sofa. And you may want to call your brother, and let him know you're okay. Lieutenant Colonel Hughes said Alphonse would probably be awake and waiting."
"Yes, sir," Edward said. He picked up the phone in the kitchen, dialing, and waited as the phone rang. Mustang was gone, the apartment door shutting behind him, and Duo was putting away the food. Edward's eyes fell on the little book, and the bookmark, just as someone picked up.
"Hughes speaking." Hughes' voice was sleepy, but he seemed to wake up the instant Edward said hello. "Ah, Edward! Hold on, let me get your brother."
A minute later, Alphonse came on the line. "Brother! Are you done? Where are you now?"
"At Mustang's. I'm falling asleep, though, so I definitely won't be going out again."
"Not even to the dorms?" Alphonse sounded confused.
"Nowhere," Edward said. "Not going to budge. Cause, y'know," he added, leaning against the wall with a casual air, "it's just too late at night to go wandering about."
"This is true, brother," Alphonse said in a knowing tone. "Building Four was a long walk from there to the Colonel's?"
"Three," Edward corrected. "Not too far. Got a ride. Anyway, see you in the morning when you go to buy flowers."
Edward hung up, and turned to Duo with a grin. His gaze fell on the book again, and he frowned, curious. Glancing towards the door, he opened the book to the bookmark, his eyes running down the lines. Poetry, he noted, and his first thought was that Mustang was picking out poems for seducing his latest round of girlfriends. Then Edward read the lines.
"Remember me, implored the thief, oh magnanimity," Edward whispered under his breath. Duo, intrigued, came to stand by him, listening. "My visitor in Paradise, I give thee guaranty."
"What is it?" Duo peered at the book, confused.
"Shh," Edward told him, and kept reading. "That courtesy will fair remain, when the delight is dust, with which we cite this mightiest case of compensated trust." He paused, unable to reconcile such a strange passage with the man he'd known for four years.
"Is that it?" Duo leaned closer, and Edward shook his head.
"One more verse." Edward read it out slowly. "Of all, we are allowed to hope, but affidavit stands—"
"That this was due," Mustang's voice interrupted. He was standing at the end of the table, his dark eyes inscrutable. "Where some, we fear, are unexpected friends."
Edward scowled and slapped the book shut. "I don't see how you plan on impressing girls with that tripe," he announced.
"I wasn't," Mustang replied. "Full moon tonight."
Duo nodded, and took his coat from the chair. Edward gave him a puzzled look. "We're going now?"
"Sure thing, friend," Duo said, laughing softly, and slipped from the room.
"Go on, Fullmetal," Mustang told him.
It surprised Edward, how easily they could scurry down the gutter pipe from the darkened living room, landing in the alleyway with quiet thumps. They were both quiet for a second, and then Duo nodded, leading the way towards the back of the building. There, Duo grinned, pointing to the sleeping guard. The two tiptoed past, taking off once they'd turned the corner down another alleyway. A block later, they reappeared on the street, both looking pretty smug.
"You're looking forward to going home," Edward said, quietly, and a bit more reluctantly than he'd expected.
"Yeah." Duo shrugged. "I have too much to do. Besides," and he chuckled, "you'll be glad to get back to your own things."
"I guess." Edward shoved his hands in his pockets and watched his feet as they crossed the footbridge. "It's been kind of cool, though."
"Maybe I'll come back and visit," Duo replied, stretching his arms over his head. "But I guess that would take planning. If you didn't know..."
"...Unless you told me when," Edward said, then shrugged. "Not much point. I don't know what things'll be like in three months, let alone..."
"Yeah." Duo dropped his arms and kicked at a rock on the path. "I don't even know if I'll live through the year."
"Don't say that," Edward said, his voice harsh. The level of his anger caught him off-guard, and he frowned to cover his surprise.
Duo didn't seem to notice. "It's war. People die. That's okay."
"It's not okay."
"Well, maybe not." Duo's face closed-off, and he looked down the street. "Five years...who knows where we'll be, then?"
"Why five years?"
"I'll be...twenty," Duo replied. "Old!" He laughed.
"But still short," Edward retorted. He grinned at Duo's raised eyebrows. "I, however, will be four inches taller."
"Maybe I'll be five inches taller," Duo replied. He elbowed Edward, and jerked his head towards the corner. "I think that's Alphonse."
Edward looked up, nodding as he recognized his brother's shape, and picked up his pace. Alphonse was standing in the shadows by the flower shop. He was shifting from foot to foot, looking as nervous as a suit of armor could manage. "Brother! Are we going to use the array, now?" —
"Yeah, I hope. I haven't tested it..." Edward shook his head, and realized his braid was falling out. Holding the tie between his teeth, he quickly braided it and tied it off. "Long night...but we're almost done. Send you home, and I'll sleep for a week!"
Duo grinned, and the three figures fell silent, skirting the empty sidewalks and keeping close to the shadows. Edward's mind was still back on the conversation he'd been having with Duo, before they'd seen Alphonse. Duo was walking nearest to the buildings, following Ed's lead, but his face was constantly turned up to the sky. It made Ed wonder how Duo had managed to not trip over anything or walk into anything.
"What are you staring at?" He finally burst out, keeping his voice low. It echoed on the street, and he looked around nervously.
"That..." Duo pointed upwards.
"The moon," Alphonse said.
"Yeah." Duo smiled, a sincere, delighted expression.
Edward glanced up, and shrugged. "What's so great about the moon?"
"It's...the moon," Duo said, hesitating. He reached out and tugged lightly on a lock of Edward's golden hair. "You don't like the moon, hunh? You prefer the other...the..."
"Sun," Alphonse provided.
Edward batted Duo's hand away, and hunched his shoulders. "The sun's nothing big, either. It's just a ball of fire and gas that's the gravity well around which our planet revolves. Big deal."
"And the moon is just a rock," Duo replied, unruffled. "But it's still...it's..." He shook his head, a frustrated look crossing his face. "Where I live, the moon is too near. It's only a rock. But from here..." He stamped one foot, emphasizing the ground. "From here..."
"Beautiful?" Alphonse sighed. "It is very pretty. Silvery."
Silvery, Edward repeated, not sure why that word stood out. He halted in his tracks as Duo's words finally registered. "Where do you live, that the moon is close by?"
Duo laughed softly, and pointed towards the sky. "Up there."
"You live in the sky?" Alphonse tilted back, staring.
"No way." Edward scowled, and shook his head.
"Yes way." Duo laughed again, and shrugged. "Not your world. My world." A look of sadness flashed over his features, and he dropped his chin as he started to walk again. "Is the drawing far away?"
"Uh..." Edward trotted to catch up with Duo, annoyed at the fact that Alphonse had no trouble. "Yeah. Other side of the city, near the main military buildings. Ten more blocks."
"In alchemy," Alphonse said, very softly, "some say that pinnacle of transmutation is a meeting of the sun and moon."
"Metaphor," Edward retorted, his tone almost cranky.
"But still a very pretty metaphor," Alphonse said.
"Two things..." Duo sighed, and went back to staring upwards. "Dark, light, day, night. That makes sense to me." He held out a hand, palm-down, and tilted it back and forth. "You need both."
Edward grunted, and kicked at a rock. "It's still metaphor. It's not like you're going to squish the sun and moon together."
"Maybe," Duo said, with a smile. He glanced up again, a look on his face as though he were sharing secrets with the great silvery globe hanging low over the horizon.
"What?" Edward frowned, but Duo just smiled and kept walking.
"Okay," Edward said, as they neared the building. "I'll go in the front. That way, if the guards see the light of a reaction, they won't come investigate."
"I could—" Duo grinned, then stopped as Edward held up a hand.
Edward narrowed his eyes at Duo. "No explosions!"
Duo made a sulky face, and wrinkled his nose at Edward.
"Now," Edward said, starting over, "You two, go around back. There's a back entrance that should be unguarded at this time of night, but you'll need to get through the perimeter fencing. The array's on the fourth floor, room D."
"All right, brother," Alphonse said. Duo nodded.
Edward remained where he was, watching as the two of them slipped down the side alley, going around to the back of the building. He counted to twenty, and pushed away from the shadow of the building, striding down the sidewalk as though he owned it. At the guard booth, the man stepped out, about to ask a question. Edward pulled out his watch and swung it around a few times before catching it in his hand, shoving it in his pocket, and continuing on past without stopping.
At the front doors, he took a deep breath and pushed the doors open. Down the hallway, to the stairs, and up four flights: he counted them off as he climbed. He'd just reached the third floor when he halted, wondering if he should've had Duo and Alphonse wait for him in the stairwell. Suddenly worried, and not entirely sure why, he bolted up the stairs, pushing open the fourth floor doors to find an empty hallway.
He grinned at his own anxiety, and headed towards Room D. The door was ajar, and he pushed it open, relieved to see the thin trickles of silver lighting the room as the array's secondaries flashed like fireflies. Then he realized there were silhouettes blocking the lit patterns. Something cold bumped him in the back of the head, and Edward froze, instinctively putting up his hands.
"Go on in, Fullmetal," the voice said.
"Selwyn," Edward replied, stifling a groan. Damn it.
"That's right. Figured you might come back to keep working...or better, bring the kid with you." Selwyn flicked on the lights, and the silvery light dissipated. Selwyn stepped around so Edward could see the gun, and motioned Ed forward. "Go on, go stand over next to the array. And don't try anything. If you're here, we might as well make the best use of it, before that slippery kid decides to pull another vanishing act."
Edward scowled, then turned to look at Alphonse, and realized it wasn't Duo and another guard, but two guards, and no Duo. One of the men had a gun trained on Alphonse. The other was standing over a small black heap. A long chestnut braid snaked out from under the pile of black wool.
"What did you do?" Edward turned on Selwyn angrily.
"Just knocked him out," the guard standing over Duo replied, holstering his gun. "Keeps him quiet."
Edward turned again, snarling, "you didn't need—"
"Just shut up, kid," Selwyn interrupted. "The General should be here in a few minutes," He leaned back in the wooden chair with a smug look. Edward moved to stand by Alphonse and crossed his arms, glowering. Selwyn shrugged. "General Tanaka will enjoy catching you in the act of disobeying orders."
"I didn't disobey—"
"You did, young man," a deeper voice said, and the General strode through the door.
Tanaka nodded to the guards, and Edward belatedly realized that one was the man to whom he'd shown his watch, outside by the guard booth. Edward swore under his breath and moved nearer to Duo.
"We'll leave that to your commanding officer, though," the General continued. He was still dressed in his uniform, although his pants were a little wrinkled. He looked like he'd dressed in a hurry.
Yeah, like Mustang's going to give a damn about your rules, Edward thought, smug.
"Shouldn't be too long." Tanaka looked equally smug. Edward blinked, not sure he'd heard the man correctly.
"Mustang reporting, sir," a familiar voice said, and the Colonel stepped through the door. He was alone. His long black coat was open, revealing dress pants but no jacket. His top two buttons on his crisp dress shirt were undone. His eyes were sleepy, but he gave Edward a sharp look, missing nothing. "I wasn't aware you wanted a demonstration in the middle of the night."
"Well, we have all the players," the General said. "No time like the present."
Hell, Edward thought, cringing a bit when Mustang arched an eyebrow, then nodded. This sucks. I knew I should've ignored the Colonel and headed straight for Liore. Ed glanced down at Duo, who hadn't moved, but then he noticed Duo's fingers were twitching, just the barest movement. Edward looked up at Alphonse, an idea forming in his head. Mustang was explaining the array to Tanaka in flat tones. Edward ducked his head, but didn't bother to entirely hide the smirk forming.
Then again, he thought, this just might work.