Munich. That was what Edward had called this city. It didn't look all that different from a typical Amestrian city, or at least the bits he had seen on his way to Edward's flat didn't. Bigger perhaps, more crowded surely, more sombre definitely, but this country had just been defeated in some kind of war and appeared to be preparing for another, Edward had explained, and things were pretty dismal right now. Sitting at the window, Roy could occasionally feel the younger alchemist's eyes on him, along with those of Maes Hughes, who looked like he was seeing a ghost. Roy knew exactly how the other man felt.
The time between his discovery of his old friend's double here beyond the Gate and this very moment had been filled with frantic activity. The wounded young man who so resembled Alphonse Elric was currently settled in his room, attended by Edward and the gypsy girl, Noa. A doctor had seen him, removed the bullet, stitched him up, and noted that the bullet may have actually done the young man a service. The youngster apparently had a tubercular infection in the lung the bullet had penetrated, and the procedure in this world for dealing with it was to collapse the lung in hopes that the infection would be eradicated and the lung could heal stronger. Time and attentive care would tell.
Mustang had done his best to stay out of the way while all this unfolded, considering his situation, aware of the eyes on him, both Edward's and Maes'. The impact of being without his alchemy in this strange place was only just starting to hit him. He felt helpless and off balance, his gloves in his pocket no longer the comforting weight that they had always been, a familiar feeling. When he had lost his eye he had gone through a similar experience. Without binocular vision, his depth perception effectively eliminated, he hadn't dared to so much as light his fireplace for fear of burning down his house. It had only been in the last six months that he had finally begun to practice once again, far in the north where he could do harm only to himself, and though the new visual cues he used weren't as accurate with extreme distance, his medium and close range precision were good as ever.
Not that it mattered now.
Mustang cleared his throat. "Can you understand me?" he asked without much hope. Edward had been speaking with the people around them in a completely unfamiliar language between fielding Roy's frequent questions, and no one appeared to understand the two Amestrians' exchanges.
"I can speak English," the police officer said in oddly accented Amestrian. "Who are you?"
Edward, coming out of his young friend's bedroom, leaned against the door frame, arms crossed. He kept silent, watching the exchange, for which Roy was very grateful. "My name is Roy Mustang. But you already knew that, from the moment you saw me. Just as I immediately knew your name was Maes Hughes."
Hughes slowly nodded, and with a slow exhale he leaned forward as he used two fingers to adjust his glasses. It was a mannerism so familiar to Roy that it was almost physically painful to watch. But as deeply as he might wish it, this man was not the Maes Hughes he had known. This was not his best friend, no matter how much he appeared to be. Roy had seen what had transpired from his vantage point inside the crashed airship earlier. This Maes had been a split second away from turning a gun on Edward, and the Maes Roy had known would have been more likely to turn a gun on himself. This man was a stranger, and though he appeared to have lent them a hand at the Thule's villa, he was still likely an enemy.
Hughes found his voice again. "You are from Shamballa? It really exists, this paradise? Is it the afterlife then?" The man's expression was guarded, and Roy wondered just what the other man was guarding. He looked closer.
And in that moment Roy realized that although he did not have his alchemy, he still had his ability to read the people around him with great accuracy, and his deep understanding of human nature. He was by no means helpless. He had come here because he wanted to be with Edward, and he'd be damned if he became a burden to the young blond he was so fond of. Mustang kept his barbed wire grin internal, and brought his considerable weapons to bear. Calm neutrality was the air he projected as he assessed the situation.
The man in front of him had been on the verge of doing Edward harm, and the only thing that had stopped him was Roy's sudden appearance. This not—Maes had an exploitable weakness, and it was Roy himself. Still, if this stranger was anything at all like the Maes Roy had known, and the fact that he had hidden his understanding of Roy and Edward's shared language until now showed that he was at least as crafty, it would be foolish to underestimate him. Roy had to play this situation carefully, because he and Edward were at a strategic disadvantage, alone behind enemy lines, and securing an ally was essential. With Hughes' willing assistance, Roy and Edward might just evade the danger Roy knew was approaching.
"I don't know about Shamballa," Roy said quietly glancing at Edward, who shrugged. "And I'm not exactly who you think I am. I'm from another world, and in that other world there was another Maes Hughes. He was my friend."
Hughes stared at Roy for a few moments, digesting his words, then came to a decision. He stood and reached into a pocket, pulled out some crinkled paper, and passed it to Edward. "Go to the pub and fetch us some dinner," the officer instructed the young blond, then held up a hand to cut off the inevitable protests. "And for once don't argue. Your friend and I have to talk privately."
"Go on, Ed," Roy said, smiling reassuringly at the other's indecision. "We'll be fine."
Edward looked from one man to the other, lips pursed, then turned to leave, muttering something about being kicked out of his own home by a couple of cranky old coots. The door clicked shut behind him, and the German police officer sighed.
"He is difficult to deal with," Mustang said, "because he is stubborn, and because he refuses to compromise his principles."
"We have never been on good terms," Hughes admitted. "I warned young Heidrich against allowing Edward to move into these lodgings with him. I knew he would be trouble. He continually and shamelessly consorts with the wrong kind of people for one thing. And now look at what has happened now to poor Alfons."
"Well, that's one major difference between the Maes I knew and you," Roy said mildly. "He was very fond of Edward and his brother. He adopted the two of them, in spirit at least, and he gave his life in his efforts to help and protect them. And I'm not sure what happened earlier, but I know Edward well enough to know that he would never shoot a man in the back, as it appears young Alfons was."
"No, you're right of course," Hughes said, uncomfortable. "I didn't mean to imply that he did. But if not for Edward's involvement, I wonder if Alfons might not have been in danger in the first place."
"Personally? I wonder who actually shot the young man." Mustang said thoughtfully, still the picture of calm. "That is the person I would hold responsible for his injury. But I suppose that blaming an outsider is easier than admitting a friend or neighbour could be capable of such an act of cowardice."
Hughes looked sadly away. "You are very much like the Roy Mustang I knew. He had very high ideals, always taking the side of the underdog, probably because his German blood was not pure and he knew what it was like to stand on the margin. But he was deeply loyal to the Fatherland. We fought side by side in the Great War." The German studied Roy's face, and the Amestrian saw his eyes catch on the small scar below his right eye. "That scar," the officer said finally. "Did the other Maes, my doppelganger, give it to you?"
"Yes. We went to a military academy together. It's where we met. We were practicing our swordsmanship, and he accidentally penetrated my mask."
"I gave the Roy Mustang I knew a scar, exactly the same, after we joined the army to fight in the Great War. Under similar circumstances." Hughes continued to search Roy's face, and Roy knew without a doubt what he was searching for, because he desperately wanted his old friend back as well.
"I'm not him," Roy said at last, and the other man's face fell, disappointment in every line.
"I know," Hughes said. "But you are so very like him, and not just in appearance. Our friendship was strong because each of our strengths complimented the other's weaknesses. I was the voice of reason he often needed to rein in his wildly idealistic beliefs, and he was the moral compass I often needed to temper my pragmatism with compassion. I have had great difficulty seeing the good in people since I lost him. What was this other Maes to you?"
Mustang chose his words with great care. "He was my best friend. He saved my life and gave me a reason to go on living in my darkest moment. He was married to the double of the woman I saw in the flower shop downstairs." Hughes sudden thoughtful expression was not lost on the Amestrian. "Together they had a daughter who was the blinding light of his life. And three years ago he was murdered by order of the corrupt leader of my country because he knew too much. I will miss him until the day I die. And I know you are not him."
Hughes nodded slowly, sorrowfully. "Your double, he was also my best friend. He was an expert with explosive devices, and the destruction he caused, the lives lost, played heavily on his conscience. Near the end of the war he was forced to execute a civilian couple that our commander claimed was giving aid to the enemy. They were just small town doctors who didn't care to check the nationality of their patients, and to this day I suspect it was really my friend's loyalty that was being tested." Hughes gritted his teeth. "He never forgave himself for carrying out that order. He sank deeper and deeper into the bottle and self loathing, until one day I found him dead by his own hand. He had used the same gun on himself that he had used on those doctors. I realize as well that you are not him. But at the same time, I'm glad to know that my double in your world was able to save you from perhaps making that same, ultimate mistake."
"He did," Roy admitted. "After he was killed, I was very lost without his friendship and support, but I kept to the path he had set me on, determined not to let him down." He paused, considering just how much more he would reveal, and continued. "Then someone else important to me disappeared from my life, and it all came tumbling down. I lost my sense of direction. And now I'm here."
"Perhaps it is time to find someone else to give you direction," Hughes said, and Maes' quirky grin on the German officer's face made Roy's heart grieve his loss all over again.
"Perhaps it's time you found some new moral compass to help you chart your course as well," Roy suggested. "And perhaps that someone is tending the flower shop below us as we speak."
Hughes made no comment, though he appeared to be contemplating the notion. The two men sat in companionable silence, waiting for to Edward to return with their dinner, until Mustang finally spoke again.
"So, what can you tell me about my new home?" he asked with a smile.
Edward hurried to his assigned task, anxious to get back to the flat. He was feeling very protective of Mustang, and that was stupid. The General was more than capable of looking after himself. In fact, his current circumstances didn't seem to be shaking the man's serene confidence in the least. Still, Edward didn't trust Officer Hughes one bit, and with good reason. The young alchemist hoped that the German policeman's resemblance to Mustang's old friend wouldn't put the General off his guard.
Edward mentally shrugged away his concerns for his former commander to a sense of duty towards a fellow Amestrian in exile. He had agreed to help Mustang get his bearings after all, and he took that responsibility very seriously. It certainly had nothing to do with any possible lingering feelings Edward may have for the older man. No. All that had been a long time ago, an adolescent rush of awakening hormones setting their sights far too high. And of course he had never let his Colonel know, showing only complete and utter disdain for the man at every opportunity, all in the name of self defence. If Mustang had ever discovered his youngest subordinate's secret attraction to him, it would have been one more thing the Flame would have held over the boy's head, a new trigger for that infuriating smirk.
So why had the fleeting notion that Mustang had come through the Gate for him given him such a jolt? And why had it stung so sharply when the man explained that his true motive for coming along was to make sure Edward didn't screw up closing the damn thing? Trapped here in this bizarre mirror world, Edward had often thought about the people he missed the most, and at first he'd been surprise to find that Mustang was one of them. The man had always been a royal pain in his ass after all, leading Ed around by the nose to do the military's dirty work while he relaxed behind his desk, smugly reaping the benefits of the younger alchemist's hard work. And the man had been beyond enraging, dark eyes sparkling with amusement as he picked away at all of Edward's inadequacies. The Flame Alchemist didn't have to use his alchemy to set Ed on raging fire, and had taken great pleasure in doing so at every opportunity.
Still, thinking back to those times, playing their interactions over in his mind with the perspective of distance and a bit more emotional maturity, Edward had come to wonder if the older man's teasing condescension was perhaps masking something else. Then, seeing him again, still drop dead gorgeous eye patch and all, fighting by his side, in the thick of furious battle Edward had still felt that familiar hum along his nerves just to watch the Flame in action. Ah well. No surprise that in the end it had just been a disappointing case of wishful thinking. What the hell would perfect fucking Mustang want with someone like him anyway? Ed was nothing but walking mass of scar tissue, both inside and out.
The young alchemist shook himself from his pointless ramblings. He was no stranger to the twisting paths his mind might lead him down in vain attempts to escape from loneliness. The trick was not to foolishly allow himself to believe he could have the things he wished for. Whatever the General's reasons for coming through the Gate, Ed was grateful that Mustang was here. It was like an enormous weight had been lifted from his chest, and breathing was easier now, just knowing that there was someone else around who knew who he really was. Edward had missed that when Hohenheim had disappeared, and was thankful that Mustang had shown up to satisfy that need. Ed hoped that by helping Mustang adjust to his new home, he could get to know the man better, and perhaps exchange friendship for their mutual animosity in the process.
He glanced into the beer hall as he passed its large window and then quickly stepped back out of sight. Was that Haushofer's pal, Rudolf Hess, there at the bar? Trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible, Edward leaned against the wall by the window, feigning a search through his pockets as he surreptitiously glanced inside the pub again. It was Hess alright, and he clearly wasn't there for the lager. Looming over the nervous barkeep, hands flat on the bar, intimidation was written all over the big German, and Edward could easily guess what information he was after.
Eyes on the scene in the bar, Edward stepped backwards away from the window, right into something solid and unyielding. He looked up into an unfamiliar smirk as big arms wrapped around him from behind, pinning his arms to his sides. The overgrown, bullet—headed man chuckled and started to say something, but was abruptly cut off as Edward's right heel hooked up between the goon's legs for a direct hit to the nuts. The man fell to his knees with a strangled cry, gasping and retching, as Edward sprinted away.
He didn't take the direct route back to the flat, mindful of possible pursuit, but Edward knew that it was only a matter of minutes before the Thules showed up there regardless. He darted through the back door and up the stairs, bursting into the flat and starling Hughes and Mustang to standing.
"We're out of time," he told them. "The Thules are on the way, and we need to get out of here." Edward looked at Hughes. "Are you going to try to stop us?"
"No, but what are you going to do?" the German was the picture of calm. "Run aimlessly through the streets? How typically impulsive of you Edward."
"It's Wednesday. This time of the morning, the shops are busy. We'll get lost in the shuffle until we can come up with a better plan." Edward said, mostly to Mustang.
"You can go to my flat," Hughes cut in, quiet voice all business. He reached into his jacket and came up with a key. "I live alone. Given our past relations, I'm sure no one will look for you there."
"Given our past relations, why would I trust you enough to go there?" Edward shot back.
Mustang reached out and took the key.
Edward stared, then his face darkened. "This guy isn't the Lieutenant Colonel," he said flatly.
"I realize that Edward," Mustang said. "But all the same, I think we should accept his help."
"He could lead them straight to us," Edward growled.
"He could, but I don't think he will."
"We are taking a big chance if we trust him."
Mustang snorted, amused. "Then I guess this is my day for taking big chances. It's your decision, Edward, and I'll follow your lead, but I don't think Officer Hughes will betray us."
Ed frowned. The Flame following his lead. That was novel. He studied Mustang's face, but as always, everything was hidden behind a featureless wall of cool confidence. Oh, how he wished he could break through that wall for a glimpse of what was going on in the older man's convoluted mind! The blond looked at the German police officer, standing quietly, awaiting Edward's decision. "Okay. Hughes' place it is, for now."
Hughes snatched a piece of paper from the table and scribbled down his address. "Can you find this?" he asked Edward.
"You're not coming?" Edward asked suspiciously.
"I will come after the Thules leave here. You don't want Alfons to be left unprotected?" Hughes smirked at Edward's scowl.
Mustang took Edward's arm and pulled him to the door, nodding at the officer as they left. The pair hurried out, down the stairs and cautiously out the back door. Running up the alley, Edward hoped they weren't making a big mistake, and said as much to his companion.
"I think we can trust him, but we're going to hedge our bets a bit too," Mustang smirked.
Edward smiled as he felt his apprehension slightly ease. Trust Mustang to always have something up his sleeve.
Finding Hughes' place wasn't difficult. The midmorning rush of shoppers on the streets provided excellent cover, and Roy was sure they entered the building unobserved. Edward followed along as they climbed to the second floor and found the flat, but passed it by. The older man could tell that his young companion was curious about what Roy had planned, but seemed content to wait and see it unfold. At the far end of the second floor hallway another stairway angled away from the landing. Opening a door directly across from these stairs revealed a small closet containing a mop, a broom, and a tin bucket, with a deep sink tucked in the back. Checking the door knob revealed a latch that could be operated from the inside, while a keyhole marked the hall side of the lock. Perfect. Mustang moved to the stairway, hitched up his pant legs, and settled himself down on a step.
"So this is your plan?" Edward asked, somewhat disappointed. "We wait in the hall to see who comes in, and hide in that closet if it's someone we want to avoid?"
"Very good, Edward. A simple plan I admit, but the simplest plans are often the most effective."
Edward shrugged and climbed up to sit on the step above Roy's. He sat quietly, but the older man could tell he had something to say, and his uncharacteristic hesitance made Roy smile encouragingly.
"I'm really sorry I snapped at you back at the villa," the young man finally started.
"You already apologized for that Edward, and really, no apology is necessary. I know it was just the stress talking."
Edward sighed and leaned back on his elbows, his legs stretching out past the older man. "I took my frustrations out on you. You didn't deserve that. So yeah, an apology was necessary. I'm still kind of amazed that you're here. That took a lot of guts, jumping into a flying machine from another world, headed into the unknown, knowing that there was no way back. I never took you for the impulsive type."
Roy could see that the blond was working his way to what he really wanted to ask, but he didn't press. He'd let his former subordinate get to it in his own good time. Obviously the young man wasn't quite convinced that Roy's only motive for joining him on this side of the Gate was a desire to help him close it. Apparently the young man had gained some maturity in the intervening two years, no longer so quick to accept other people's assertions without question.
Edward tried again. "What did you expect to find here?" he asked, curious golden eyes on Roy's.
You, is what the older man wanted to admit, but he couldn't, not yet. "I honestly didn't have time to consider that," he told the young man. "But I knew you had managed to survive where ever you were for two years, and didn't seem any worse for the wear, so I assumed it was possible for me to do so as well."
The young alchemist nodded, eyes still on Roy's. "It was tough at first. Alchemy had always been such a big part of my life. It took me a while to adjust to being without it. I missed it more than my automail, actually."
"I don't think I'll miss it as much as you did," Roy said with a slight grimace. "I haven't been using my specialty all that much of late. With one eye, my depth perception is rather limited. I put in a lot of practice when I was stationed up north and improved my aim, but never did get back my long range accuracy."
"You were up north? Let me guess. Brigadier General on the Briggs Wall." Edward grinned, sure he was right.
"Remote outpost sentry duty, Drachman border, voluntary."
Edward sat there for a moment, waiting for a punch line that never came. Finally he said, "You're not kidding, are you." Roy shook his head. "Why would you volunteer for that kind of duty, and why would the military allow a Colonel, the Flame Alchemist no less, to do it?"
"I was a Corporal at the time. As you might recall, the last time we saw each other I was on my way to assassinate Furher Bradley. I did manage to kill that . . . thing, but I suffered the consequences."
"Your eye," Edward said as he looked to the patch, gaze not sliding uncomfortably to the side as most people's did. The young man was too personally familiar with that type of loss to shy away from another's.
"That, yes, but my career suffered as well," Roy acknowledged. "Military Command was reluctant to accept the story I told about how I had uncovered a plot to kill the Furher but was unable to prevent it. The investigators wanted to dig deeper, and I was afraid that my team would be raked over the coals for their loyalty to me, so I made a deal with the Brass. I told them I would take sole responsibility for failing to protect the Furher, and agreed to give up my rank, in order to keep my team out of the proceedings."
"So you saved everyone from the sick fuckers who wouldn't have hesitated to all turn them into ingredients for a philosopher's stone, and as your reward, they took away your rank and shipped you up north to get rid of you." Edward growled.
Roy found the young man's anger at the injustice he thought done to his former commander touching. "No, I really did volunteer for that duty."
"Why?" Edward asked, incredulous.
Roy though carefully about what he wanted to admit to the young man, and decided to throw caution to the winds. This was, after all, his day for taking big chances. Before he could lose his nerve, he said, "I lost someone I cared for, someone I had hoped to someday confess my feelings to in hopes of having those feelings returned. I wanted to hide myself away, and grieve in private. Can you guess who that someone might have been, Edward?"
Edward stared at the older man, a look almost like fear in his eyes. He had to know Roy was talking about him. What was he afraid of? With a sinking feeling, Mustang though of an answer to that question.
"I suppose you might know how I felt back then. Perhaps you are feeling much the same way about leaving Miss Rockbell behind," he prodded.
Edward frowned at the turn this conversation had taken. "Winry? Well, I'll miss her, but crawling under a rock to hide would be an insult to her. She's my best friend, and she gave me this automail so I could stand on my own and keep moving forward."
Mustang mulled this over. "So tell me then, Edward. Are you and young Alfons Heidrich a couple?" the dark haired man asked, fearing once again that he already knew the answer.
The young man's alarm was replaced with horror. "You're kidding, right? He's, like, a mirror image of my little brother!" Edward looked sick.
"The gypsy girl, Noa then. Are you . . . ?"
"Holy shit, Mustang!" the young man cut him off, face pale. "I don't even want to shake hands with her knowing that she'd be rummaging around in my head while I did. I can't even imagine . . ." the young man's brows furrowed. "Why are you asking me this?"
"I'm curious to know whether you are currently in a relationship with anyone. Are you?"
The older man smiled. "That's a relief."
"Why is that a relief?"
Mustang mentally threw up his hands. The kid was either hopelessly clueless, or deeply in denial. "I think I'll let you figure that one out on your own, genius," he said, smirk firmly in place.
A sudden commotion downstairs interrupted any further commentary on Edward's part. Roy recognized Hughes voice, protesting something loudly in German from the sound of it. Edward sprang from his seat on the stairs to pull the older man into the janitor's closet, quickly and quietly closing and locking the door. It was cramped, and a faint tang of ammonia lingered in the air, but light seeped in through the gap between the door and its frame, making it a little less claustrophobic. The General could hear the irate voices coming closer, and a good number of booted feet on the stairs.
"What are they saying?" he whispered.
Edward frowned, and then began a whispered translation. "Hughes is insulted that they are questioning his loyalty. Some other guy is saying that if he has nothing to hide, why doesn't he just quit bitching, let them search his place, and get it over with." Mustang could see Edward's frown deepen. "Hughes is calling Noa a liar, and complaining about them taking a gypsy's word over his." A door opened, then closed, and the sound of voices was muted. Edward pressed his ear against the door, straining to hear, then shook his head. "That's it. I can't hear what they're saying." The young man leaned his forehead against the door and closed his eyes.
Standing so close he could feel the young man's heat, Roy rested his shoulder against the door as well, and took advantage of the close quarters. He leaned even closer to the boy, noting with satisfaction that Edward really had grown; the top of his bowed head was level now with Roy's eye. Breathing in deeply the older man caught a hint of Ed and iron, and smiled. Glancing down, he noted a narrowed, amber eye watching him, maybe not as clueless as he'd thought.
"It appears that we may be here for a while," the General whispered, suppressing a smirk with great difficulty. "Just to pass the time, would you care to hazard a guess about my real motive for coming here, Edward? Or would you perhaps like a few more hints?"
The blond reared back. "Do you always have to talk in fucking riddles?" Edward quietly hissed, greatly irritated. "Can't you just say what the hell you mean for a change?"
The light filtering in through the gap around the ill fitting door was enough for Roy to see the furious glint in the blond's eyes, and it lit a fuse along the older man's nerves. The small closet really was a tight fit for two, and always the opportunist, Roy pressed his advantage. He stepped closer to Edward, crowding him back until he was flush with the wall, then closer still, until their bodies were pressed together. Roy wound his arms around Edward's waist with a smirk. The anger in the blond's eyes was tempered now by confusion, as Roy slowly descended to capture Edward's lips with his own.
Edward's hands, pressed to Roy's chest to shove him back were suddenly clutching two fistfuls of the older man's shirt, anchoring himself, riding this out, and it was pretty clear the blond didn't have a clue, this was all new, as Roy tightened his arms around the younger man's waist. Teasing the boys lips apart with gentle nips, Roy pressed his tongue in to a taste like fresh air and summer sunshine. Edward's eyes were wide, stunned gold inches away, heat and confusion tumbled together, and a thrill rushed up the older man's spine when the blond's tongue tentatively stroked his. It was some moments before Roy broke the kiss, arms still pressing Edward to him.
"Was that clear enough for you Edward?" the General purred, all smug satisfaction as he observed the effects of his foray into the young man's uncharted territory. Edward looked quite thoroughly ravished, cheeks flushed, panting through slick and slightly swollen lips, his hands still fisted in Roy's shirt, holding on for dear life. Roy leaned to rest his forehead lightly against Edward's. "Really, you have no idea how long I have wanted to do that."
"I . . . what . . . is this . . . holy shit." Ed fell silent, cheeks burning so hot Roy could feel the heat across the small distance between their faces and the General placed his hands on the younger man's hips to gently ease himself away. Edward finally realized he still had a death grip on Mustang's shirt, and with obvious reluctance, his hold loosened. Hands shaking, the young man smoothed over the crumpled cloth, sending shivers down the older man's spine.
Mustang's lips brushed the younger man's ear as he whispered, "Why did you look so nervous when I asked you if you could guess who I had been so devastated to lose, Edward? Were you afraid that it was you?"
For a moment, it seemed the blond would not answer. Then, quietly, he said, "No. I knew it couldn't be, and I was afraid to ask who had died."
The Thules soon left amid a flurry of stomping feet and threats disguised as apologies for doubting Hughes' loyalty. The closeted Amestrians waited, listening carefully to the sounds of the building, but the quiet hum of traffic filtering into the hall was all they heard. Mustang pulled out his watch, silver glinting in the gloom, and they continued to wait, listening, until a full fifteen minutes had passed. Then he quietly unlatched the closet door and made his way down the hall to Hughes' flat, Edward close behind.
"What if someone is still in there with him?" Edward whispered, laying a hand on Mustang's arm poised to knock.
"We have to take the chance," Mustang whispered back. "The Thules might be watching the building, and I'd like to wait until dark before we have to go out. We are also in need of a reliable ally, and I think Hughes fits the bill."
Edward thought for a moment, then pressed his ear to the hardwood. "Okay, I don't hear anyone talking, but that doesn't mean a thing. Go ahead, but be ready for trouble."
Mustang knocked, the sharp sound very loud in the quiet of the hallway, and Hughes opened the door, scowl turning to relief when he saw the two alchemists. Darting a glance down the hallway, the German quickly pulled his visitors inside and closed the door.
"It is lucky you did not get here earlier. You would have been caught," the officer told them. "You might still be, if anyone saw you coming in from the street."
"We were already here when the Thules came earlier," Roy told him. "We heard what happened."
Hughes did not press for details. "Then you know it's not safe for you here," Maes said gruffly, eyes fixed on Roy's. "You must leave Munich as quickly as possible."
"Oh, that shouldn't be a problem," Edward said derisively. "I'll just hoist Alfons up on my shoulder, collect Noa from Gracia's flat, then we'll all stroll over to the train station and hop on the Orient Express."
Maes rounded on the young blond and leaned in, shoulders tense, steel in his tone that Roy recognized even over the strange accent. "Be quiet and listen, foolish brat!" the policeman said. "The two of you will leave. Alfons will stay here. I will make arrangements with Gracia, and we will both look after him. Noa will not be joining you, and will not know of your whereabouts. She can't be trusted."
"If this is more of your anti gypsy crap . . ." Edward held his ground unflinching, anger surging.
Hughes raised his voice to cut him off. "She is the one who told the Thules that you were hiding here! She must have been eavesdropping when I gave you my key. She has now betrayed you twice. You can't afford to trust her anymore."
The older man waited, arms crossed, as the blond's temper cooled, and Edward wondered if Noa had overheard, or had touched Hughes mind to get that information. "By your own reasoning, I shouldn't trust you either," Edward growled, glaring at the other man.
Hughes shot an embarrassed glance at Mustang and sighed. "I realize that. I have taken a few risks on your behalf today however, and I hope that will make up for my behaviour last night at the beer hall, Edward."
"You are speaking as if you already have a plan," Roy said to the Officer. "What do you have in mind?"
"An old comrade of mine is driving to Zurich. He has agreed to make you part of his cargo. He leaves tonight."
"What's his cargo?" Edward asked resignedly.
"Does it really matter? Good German beer. Just because our government feels free to cancel our Oktoberfest celebrations, doesn't mean Germans will do without it entirely." The Police Officer smirked. "The Swiss do so enjoy a hearty, extended festival, and the Swiss franc is strong,"
"Alright," Roy said, after a glance at Edward, who shrugged. "I assume we are waiting for dark."
"Yes, that would be best."
"Great, then I'm going to get some sleep," Edward said, noting that the other two men appeared somewhat relieved that he would be out of their hair. Speaking to the General, the blond jerked a thumb at Hughes. "Get this guy to find you something else to wear. There aren't too many Germans running around Munich wearing combat boots and sky blue military issue pants, and we need to be inconspicuous. And tell him what I told you about Noa. He'll probably listen if it comes from you."
Eyebrows raised, Hughes herded Edward down a short hall to his bedroom, wished him a good night, and pointedly closed the door. It looked like the German still had things to discuss with Mustang. Well, if Ed's best friend suddenly rose from the grave, he guessed he'd have shit to talk about as well.
The young alchemist sat on the edge of the mattress and toed off his shoes, wondering just how similar their doubles' past experiences were. While Alfons Heidrich and Alphonse Elric had similar personalities, Edward had discovered that the life events influencing them had been vastly different. Were the two older men comparing their life stories now, just as he and Alfons had? Did they perhaps see this as a second chance to say things they regretted never saying to each other before it was too late?
Edward pulled off his jacket, hung it on the bedpost, then stretched out on top of Hughes' comforter, folding his hands behind his head. The young alchemist supposed that Mustang must have had a similar hope of revisiting missed opportunities when Ed had shown up in Central yesterday out of the blue. The older man had an incredible talent for making a confession, that was for sure.
The memory of that searing kiss in the broom closet closed around Edward's mind, sending flames to the young man's face and setting a slow smoulder deep inside him as well. Edward was by no means completely inexperienced, but he couldn't compare his earlier trysts, desperate kisses and clumsy caresses with interested strangers, stolen moments while on his quest to get Alphonse back into flesh, with . . . Mustang. It would be like trying to compare a kid playing the kazoo with a violin virtuoso. You could argue that both created music, but aside from that . . . well.
Edward's eyes were drooping closed all on their own, and he realized that he couldn't remember the last time he'd slept. Yesterday? No, the day before, when Noa had raided his dreams. He could hear the low drone of the two men's voices beyond the door, and let that lull him closer to sleep's edge. It was almost like being back in Central, bunking over at the Hughes' home with Al, about a thousand years ago. The only things missing were the tinny squeaks and groans of shifting armour, and Elysia sneaking in to snuggle close under his flesh arm. Such a pity that this world had no Elysia Hughes to brighten it. Officer Hughes should just pry the enormous bug out of his ass, get his shit together and hook up with Gracia. She could mellow the grouchy old douche bag out, if anyone could. Maybe looking out for Alfons together would be the common ground they needed to finally make that happen.
Ed fell asleep, and dreamed of fire.