Roy was discovering that London was certainly a much bigger, much busier city than Munich. More crowded and smoggier too. Particularly down in the Docklands where Edward had lead them. They were going to a pub owned by a man Ed claimed could provide Roy with the documents he needed to create an identity for himself in this world. The trouble was, at the moment Edward seemed to be lost.
On arrival in the city, the pair had made a quick trip to Hohenheim's former lodgings to secure the funds the old man had hidden away in case of emergencies. It had been worth it, even considering that the Thules might have had the place watched. The old alchemist had a substantial amount of cash hidden there, and the fugitive pair were going to need it. Edward had slipped in and out through a rear window of the second storey flat under cover of the early evening darkness while Roy had kept watch from an adjoining alley, ready to join in any conflict that might occur, but fortunately all had gone without incident.
With cash in hand the pair still hadn't stopped to rest. Edward seemed driven to get everything done before the day was out, and Roy wasn't inclined to object. The two Amistrians knew it was only a matter of time before the Thules began to search for them in the Smoke, if they hadn't already. The Germans knew all of Edward's likely contacts through Hohenheim, so it was in the Amestrians' best interests to do what they had to do as quickly as possible and move on. Straightening out Roy's lack of proper identification was next on their agenda, and with Hohenheim's cash they were well on their way to solving that problem. If they could find the place Edward was searching for that was.
Ed finally located the establishment, and with a relieved grin he lead Mustang inside. At nine o'clock in the evening the pub was already well beyond busy. The noise level was very high, while copious tobacco smoke made the air quality very low. An intense game of darts was in progress, well attended by onlookers willing to put money on their favourites to win. Every table and booth was filled to capacity, and there was no place to stand at the bar, let alone sit. Edward scanned the room, vainly searching for his contact, and finally gave up.
"Greed!" Edward shouted into the crowded tavern, and a head of dark, spiky hair popped up out of the crowd placing bets by the dart boards.
"I'd know that annoying voice anywhere!" A tall slim man made his way through the throng to stand in front of the two Amestrians. He rocked back on his heels, mock frown playful. "Good thing, too, since you're not the only one calling me by that damn nickname anymore, Elric." Rubbing his square, clean shaven chin, Greed lifted an eyebrow as he gave Roy the once over. "And who might this be?"
"This might be the reason I need to see you in private," Ed told him. "Tommy Smith, meet Roy Mustang."
"Pleased to meet you, and welcome to my little establishment, Mr. Mustang," Smith said with a little bow. "And please do feel free to call me Greed as well. I rather think it suits me." Blue eyes twinkled as he shot a sidewise glance at Edward.
Roy accepted the man's offered hand with a firm grip and a friendly smile, but inwardly he frowned. He was catching signals here that he definitely didn't like. Greed motioned for Edward to lead the way to his office, laying a friendly hand on the smaller man's shoulder as if to steer him, and Edward wove a path through the busy pub, the other two men close behind. Greed's hand lingered on the young man's shoulder as he followed, gripping it almost possessively, running a long thumb over the rough cloth covering the boy's toned muscles, and Mustang gritted his teeth. This gangster asshole had just three seconds to get his hand off Roy's blond.
The Brit glanced Roy's way, and his brows shot up as he saw the countdown in the Amestrian's narrowed eye. He snatched his hand away from Edward like he'd been burned. "Ah, my apologies," he said.
"No harm done," Roy said easily, though he didn't completely relax.
Naturally the younger alchemist was totally oblivious to what had just happened, casting a puzzled glance toward the two taller men as he opened the door at the rear of the taproom. The trio moved into the office and shut out most of the rowdy bar noises behind the door. Greed's casual, lazy eyed grin was back in place as he took his seat behind a weathered, paper strewn desk, leaning his chair back against the wall. He planted his crossed legs on the abused piece of office furniture, put his hands behind his head, and smirked.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
Edward told him. Greed outlined the gargantuan effort required to complete the task, and expressed his deep regret at the exorbitant price he would be forced to charge for his services. Edward allowed that the price was rather high, even for Greed's admittedly premium quality merchandise, suggesting that perhaps the cost could be offset if the transaction were completed at an accelerated rate, for example, by the next evening. Greed admitted that he could accommodate that schedule with minimal difficulty, particularly if payment was made in advance. Edward lamented his current lack of available funds, offering half now, and the remainder upon receipt of the merchandise. A time was agreed upon for the next evening to complete the transaction, and as the pair clasped hands to seal the deal, Greed grumbled that he was helpless to prevent young blonds from taking advantage of his good nature.
Roy's eye shifted back and forth between the two negotiators, amused by the exchange. It was very much like watching a tennis match without net or rackets, though there was no lack of balls. Respectfully turning down Greed's offer of one for the road, the Ametrians made their way out of the noisy Pub.
"That went well," Roy said when they were back on the street.
"Yeah, I guess," Edward responded. "I was half expecting those Thule assholes to show up though, because their timing sucks just that bad. Maybe we finally gave them the slip."
"You don't believe that anymore that I do," Roy remarked. "Where to from here?"
"Cambridge. It's a University town north of here. There's a friend of my old man's there, and I want to talk to him." Edward's expression was sombre. "He was helping me search for Hohenhiem. I have to tell him . . . that he can stop looking."
Sir Phillip Armstrong sat in his favourite armchair by the fireplace, flames crackling low in the grate to keep the damp October chill at bay. A deep maroon velvet robe was belted around his stocky frame, open book forgotten in his lap, the sweet smell of pipe tobacco tinting the air. The big house was quiet these days, daughters married and living out in the wide world, his wife and son . . . gone. The big man brushed a hand through his thick blond mane, grimacing at his mood. He wasn't the type to brood on life's dark twists, but sometimes his loneliness got the better of him. Rain tapped softly at the window, a soothing rhythm.
It was quite late in the evening when he heard the soft chiming of the doorbell, and he was surprised when his manservant came to quietly inform him that Von Hohenheim's son and another man were at the door. His missing friend's boy was the last person he'd expect to come calling, and with a feeling of foreboding the house's master sent the servant to bring his visitors to the study. The lad soon returned with young Edward, and a tall, dark haired man that Armstrong did not recognize. The older man stood to greet them as Edward introduced his eye patched friend as Mr. Roy Mustang, and Armstrong was surprised he did not include a rank. The old man prided himself on his ability to read a person through the telltale signs their bodies unconsciously gave away, and Mustang definitely had a military bearing.
"I'm sorry to come calling so late," Edward started, after introductions were made. "Mr. Mustang and I are preparing to leave the country, but I had to see you. It's about my father." And the boy expression confirmed Armstrong's fears, his apprehension justified.
"So, he has passed on," Armstrong said quietly. "A terrible pity my boy. Please accept my sincere condolences for your loss. Can you tell me what happened?"
"He got mixed up with a group known as the Thule Society," Edward told him, doing an admirable job of keeping his anger at bay. "They murdered him."
"Ah, yes, Dietlinde Eckart's collection of vicious mystics. A few of my colleagues at the University have dealings with them. I will be sure to watch my back around them from now on." The heavyset man clasped his hands behind him and smiled sadly. "Did you know that it was your father's dearest wish to see that you returned home to your brother? I'm sorry to know that he did not live to see that wish fulfilled."
Edward frowned. It was clear the he wasn't quite sure of just what Armstrong meant by this. The boy knew his father well enough to know he wasn't the type to easily trust others with his secrets.
Armstrong had met Hohenheim two years ago when he had been part of Churchill's advisory staff. The eccentric stranger had mysteriously arrived on the scene near the end of the Great War, offering advice and suggestions so astute that they were impossible to ignore. At first Hohenheim's idiosyncrasies had set Armstrong's teeth on edge at the mere sight of him, but the man's genius was compelling. In many instances they found themselves arguing the same side of a debate, and Armstrong found a grudging respect developing for the stranger. A tentative friendship had taken hold, and grew. Then, when Armstrong's son had been killed , and his heartbroken wife's death had followed soon after, Hohenheim's undemanding presence had been the support Armstrong had come to count on through the ordeal. A trust had developed between the two, and Hohenheim had one day, almost casually, confided the fantastic story of his life.
When Hohenheim had become involved with the Thule Society, Armstrong thought at first that it was a harmless and almost inevitable alliance. The Thules were convinced that another world, Shambala, existed, and Hohenheim was searching for a way to return to that world. As time went on however, Armstrong saw the signs that Eckart's mystics were engaged in more than just a metaphysical speculation. He had warned his friend numerous times that perhaps the Thules were not as harmless as they appeared, but supremely confident in his abilities, Hohenheim had laughed and told him not to worry, that the Thules were no threat to him. And then the strange man from another world had disappeared.
At first Armstrong thought that perhaps Hohenheim had found his way back to his home world, but quickly dismissed that notion when a casual check revealed that his son was still in Munich, and had no idea where his father was either. Hohenhiem's driving obsession had been to get his son home, and there was no way he would leave him behind. So Armstrong began to search for his friend in earnest, but as time went on with no result, he began to suspect the worst. And unfortunately, he was now finding that his suspicions had been correct.
Armstrong nodded at Edward's frown. "Yes, your father told me of your origins, of the world that exists parallel to this one. Of course I didn't believe him at first. It's not uncommon for genius to walk hand in hand with at least a touch of madness after all, and Von Hohenheim's was one of the most brilliant minds I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. It took a great deal of persuasion, but he did finally manage to convince me that he was telling the truth. Are you from that other world as well Mr. Mustang?"
"Yes Sir," the dark haired man answered quietly, and did not elaborate.
Armstrong quirked a wry, self disparaging smile. "Now that I know of this other world, I find myself occasionally wondering how many more of your people secretly walk among us, though Von Hohenheim thought it unlikely that there were any others apart from you. I will miss him."
"My father once told me that he only ever had three real friends in his entire life," Edward said quietly. "I believe that you were one of them."
The stout man rubbed his neat beard, sad smile still in place. "We may have been from different worlds, but we had a lot in common," he said. "For one, we were both guilty of letting our sons down in the worst way." Armstrong considered whether or not to continue, and decided. "My son, Alexander, was killed in the Great War. I knew he did not have the temperament for field command, but I pushed him into it anyway, in the name of our family honour. I placed a tradition passed down through our family for generations above the wellbeing of my only son. Now, ironically, I have no son to carry on the Armstrong name and traditions."
"I'm sorry," Edward said. The boy appeared to have something else to say, but thought better of it.
Armstrong shook himself from his melancholy with a wry smile and stepped to his armchair to retrieve his pipe. "Well, it is quite late. Please, let me offer you a place to stay this evening. The weather is dreadful, and I won't see you off into the rain." The man raised a hand when it looked as if Edward might protest. "Let me do this one last favour for my old friend, your father."
The two otherworlders glanced at each other, and Edward nodded. "Alright. And thank you," the young man said. "For helping me look for my father. For being a good friend to him."
Armstrong pulled the bell rope and the burley young manservant was immediately in the study doorway. He had obviously been awaiting his master's call. "Tristan," the old man addressed him. "Please see that our guests are comfortably settled for the night."
The young man answered with a short bow, biding his charges to follow as he left the room. The two Amestrians offered their host a good night and quietly left.
Moving to the sideboard, Armstrong poured himself a snifter of brandy. Swirling the sweet spirit as he sampled its light caramel bouquet, he wondered where it was that old alchemists went when they died. Then he silently raised his glass to the memory of his friend.
The next morning saw Edward and Roy hurrying to the train station to catch the first train back to London. The streets were quite busy this time of the morning, but not overly so, the light rain hurrying pedestrians to their destinations and off the sidewalks. Phillip Armstrong had sent them on their way with his well wishes and assurances that he would be pleased to assist them should the need ever arise. Edward was still frankly shocked that his father had revealed their secret to the man. Hohenheim usually played his cards very close to his chest. In fact, the old man was so tight fisted when it came to information that he made Mustang look like a gossip columnist.
Ed had also been saddened to learn of Armstrong's son's fate in this world. He had considered telling his father's friend that on the other side of the Gate, there still existed an Alex Armstrong, strong and alive, but decided against it. The people on opposite sides of the Gate might resemble each other, but they were all individuals in their own right. Edward doubted that knowing there was someone elsewhere animating his dead son's face would ease this parent's grief.
"Why, if it isn't Edward Elric," a smooth drawl interrupted the young alchemist's thoughts. "What a surprise."
Edward turned to find Frank Archer, pallid features twisted into a sneer, moving to intercept them. This was bad. The younger alchemist briefly registered Roy's startled reaction to the intrusion, noted his carefully schooled expression, and the slight stiffness of his stance — then braced for the confrontation he knew was coming. Archer was the one who had introduced Hohenheim to the Thule Society, and he was probably well aware of their search for the escaped Amestrians. They had to ditch this asshole, and make sure he didn't get a clue to where they were headed, otherwise the Thules would be that much closer to finding them.
"Get lost, Archer," Edward growled. "I've got nothing to say to you."
"Of course not. I would never expect civilized discourse with someone like you. Your friend seems a more refined specimen however." Archer smirked, turning his attention to Roy. "Allow me to introduce myself, since Elric never learned respect for his elders." The sallow man extended a hand. "Frank Archer, at your service."
The hand hung unaccepted in the air between the two men, and after a moment Archer dropped it to his side, the smirk never leaving his face. Roy's expression was completely neutral, but Edward noted an unusual set to the older alchemist's jaw, evidence enough for Edward that the older man was uncharacteristically disturbed. They had to lose this creep fast and get the hell out of town.
"I'm not sure how it works here," Roy said, smooth as glass. "But where I come from, respect is earned."
"How interesting; I'm intrigued, and would love to learn more about your former home," Archer returned, sounding slightly bored. "Where I come from however, respect is something conferred by both merit and station. Young Elric fails to measure up in either department. Like his father, he is nothing but a pretentious mongrel setting himself above his betters. Be warned sir, that in this world a man is usually judged by the company he keeps."
"Setting himself above his betters?" Mustang finally managed a smirk. "I have yet to meet a better man in this world. Or our own, for that matter."
Archer returned Mustang's smirk in kind. "Only because you have only just arrived, and have been handicapped with the most callow of guides. I would be happy to take on that role, and assist in your integration to your new home."
"Judging by the treatment Von Hohenheim received from you and your colleagues, I think I'll pass," Roy said mildly. "Now if you'll excuse us, we have an appointment at the University."
"You are making a mistake casting your lot with Elric," Archer tried again. "This may be your only opportunity to avoid the same fate that awaits him."
"Shove it, asshole," Edward cut in, turning to go. "Why don't you run along and report to your Thule buddies. I'm sure they'll be happy to know their dog was able to sniff us out in Cambridge."
Archer turned a cold eye on the younger alchemist. "My condolences on the death of your father," he drawled. "Though I doubt he'll be missed, except as a source of biological material for my 'Thule buddies' as you call them."
Edward spun around, fists clenched. "You son of a bitch," he growled. "If it weren't for you, he would never have gotten mixed up with those murdering bastards in the first place!"
"Actually, he got involved with them because of you. He did so dearly want to get you back to your home." Archer laughed quietly. "Why he would want to expend so much of his energy on a pathetic little cripple like you I have no idea. I wonder what kind of lowborn garbage he must have consorted with to produce . . . "
Archer was lucky he was standing to Edward's left; otherwise the punch his face intercepted would have been steel instead of flesh and bone. The sallow man staggered back and sat down heavily on the sidewalk. The young blond was advancing on him, fists and teeth clenched, when Mustang threw an arm across his companion's chest to stop him, and then clutched the younger man's arm when he tried to surge past.
"Ed, no," Roy said, voice low. "Not here. Not now."
It took every ounce of will power for Ed to take the older alchemist's advice and rein in his fury. Body still poised to strike, he glowed with hatred for his pasty faced adversary, taking no satisfaction at all from the trickle of blood leaking from the man's nose.
"Miserable little savage," Archer spat, standing and straightening his jacket. "I look forward to hearing of whatever fate the Thule Society treats you to." The man turned on his heel and strode quickly away.
"Go fuck yourself, you piece of shit!" Edward shouted after him, turning more than a few heads his way, Roy's tight grip on his arm the only thing keeping the young alchemist from going after Archer again.
"Let it go, Ed," Mustang said quietly. "I know it's hard, but we can't afford to get arrested for assault right now. Come on, we have to go."
The pair made their way through to the train station, keeping a close eye out for anyone who might be following, winding through the streets and lanes of the University town. The train platform held only a few fellow travelers, and Edward eyed them suspiciously, knowing that any one of them could be tailing them for Archer and his German associates. He and Roy would have to be extra careful when they got back to London. The sooner they got Roy's documents and booked passage across the Atlantic, the better. Edward turned to say as much to Mustang, and words died in his throat.
In all the years he had known him, Edward had never seen him like this. Mustang's naturally pale face was even paler than usual, his dark eyes haunted. The younger man laid his hand on his companion's tense shoulder, eyeing him worriedly. A quiet, unsettled Mustang, emotional state in full display, was completely unnatural. "Roy? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," was the terse reply.
"You don't look fine."
"I know that," Roy said. He looked behind them, as if he could still see Archer's retreating back. "It's just . . . . He's the son of a bitch who took my eye," he quietly explained.
Roy stepped from the rooming house foyer into London's early morning quiet, the overwhelming greyness of the atmosphere pushing his low spirits even lower than they already were. He pulled his ignition cloth gloves from his pocket and slipped them on. The arrays were useless, but the gloves could still provide adequate protection from the chill air. The streets were empty of any sort of traffic, and that suited Roy just fine. He needed to walk off his funk in private with no distractions, not wanting to pull Edward down into his dark mood. The dark haired man picked a random direction and set out purposefully.
The Amestrans had returned to London the previous day. Doing their best to stay hidden, the pair had taken temporary shelter in a rundown rooming house in the Docklands. Finally alone, Roy's mood prevented his initiating any sort of romantic pursuit, and Edward's disposition unfortunately seemed in tune with his older companion's. The younger alchemist kept his distance, not sure how to offer his older companion comfort. With anyone else, Roy would have welcomed the distraction of a casual tryst, but what he wanted with Edward was far from casual, and the older man didn't want this dark spectre of his past tainting their first experience with each other. Edward could obviously tell that the time was not right, and was careful not to cross the line Roy had drawn between them for the time being.
The meeting with Greed set for later that evening, Roy and Ed had taken advantage of the down time to discuss possible destinations. The dark haired man wasn't surprised to discover that he and Edward made a very efficient team when it came to making plans. Edward, always the consummate researcher, had a straight forward, grab the bull by the balls and get the job done sort of style. And Roy, the quintessential backroom analyst, had a sit back see what develops, then manipulate the players to the most advantageous outcome sort of style. On the surface, their strategies seemed to be at odds. In reality however, each one's strength shored up the other's weak areas, making them a solid team.
With Edward outlining their options along with the pros and cons of each, Roy was in a position to point out how they could make the most of those options, even pointing out how some of the cons were pros in disguise. In the midst of their planning, the pair had passed the time leading up to their appointment with Greed very quickly, safely off the streets and possible discovery by the Thules. Meeting Archer the day before had proven that their pursuers were a danger that had not passed, and keeping a low profile seemed their best strategy at the moment. Edward had even suggested that Roy stay behind while the younger man kept their appointment with Greed, but the Flame wouldn't hear of it. Splitting up just felt like a very bad idea, and Roy had learned long ago to trust his feelings in matters like these, so together they had gone to secure the documents that would finalize Roy's presence in this world. They had not met with any trouble, but Roy couldn't shake the unease he had become infected with ever since their run in with this world's version of Frank Archer.
That confrontation was still playing through Roy's mind, along with the overwhelming urge to find and reduce the man to a smouldering heap of charcoal. The sallow man's open hostility towards Edward and the young blond's explosive response to it told Roy that the Archer from this world was a fair match to the one from the other. An image of Archer, a nightmare of horrific automail enhancements, looming in the darkness outside Furher Bradley's burning mansion, flashed into the dark haired man's mind, dragging him into the past. The eerie red glow of the maimed soldier's mechanical eye often followed Roy into his darkest dreams, shrill maniacal laughter echoing through his soul, interrupted by a single deafening gunshot. Lost in the memory of that fateful encounter, it took Roy a moment to register just who was blocking his path on the sidewalk.
Von Hohenheim stood directly in Roy's way, hands in his coat pockets, a slight smile tilting the corners of his lips. "General Mustang, I presume," he said. "It's been a while."
Roy blinked. Twice. "Von Hohenheim."
The older alchemist smirked, and Roy suddenly understood why that same expression on his own face so infuriated Edward. "We thought you were dead."
The old man shrugged. "So did I. Fortunately we were wrong."
Roy resisted the urge to pinch himself. If he did, and this wasn't a dream, he'd look like an idiot instead of just feeling like one. "Where have you been?"
"Amestris. Central City to be exact." Hohenheim's smirk relaxed into a grin. "I came back to find you and Edward, and bring you both home. I just missed you at the Armstrong estate yesterday. You left two hours before I got there."
"How did you find us here?"
"I followed Frank Archer actually, but I lost him a short while ago. I was wandering around trying to spot him again when I recognised you. I almost didn't. The eye patch is new since last I saw you."
Roy had frozen at the mention of Archer's name. The only reason that bastard could be here was to look for the Amestrians. In fact, for the man to be so close to their lodgings meant he must have had them followed from Cambridge. And if he knew where they were, then so did the Thules! Roy grabbed Hohenheim's arm, intending to hustle the old man back to their room as he explained what he suspected, and was surprised by a rush of pure energy through his palm, straight into the array on his glove. His hand clenched on the old man's forearm, too tightly judging from the pained expression on the older man's face.
"What the hell?" Roy growled through clenched teeth, loosening his grip only slightly.
"I have a Philosopher's Stone," Hohenheim said, laying a hand on Mustang's, loosening it further with a grimace. "That's how I got back here."
"Well, Von Hohenheim!" a smooth drawl interrupted. "It appears your death was reported in error. Pity."
Frank Archer stood in the darkness of an alley amid the putrid tumble of refuse, an appropriate setting for the man in Roy's opinion. Even in the shadow of the narrow space, there was no mistaking the glint of steel as the Englishman briefly exposed the gun he had hidden in his coat pocket. He motioned for the two Amestrians to join him, and reluctantly, the pair moved into the confines of the laneway.
"Mr. Mustang, so we meet again. How fortunate for you," Archer drawled, offering a thin smile. "My Thule Society colleagues suggested I try once more to enlist your willing aid. The gypsy they were counting on to pull information from you has suffered some kind of breakdown, and they are hoping to gain your cooperation. You don't have a choice about whether or not you will join their cause of course, just on the conditions you will experience as a participant."
Hohenhiem snorted, drawing an irritated glance from his adversary. He turned a narrowed amber eye on Roy. "Speaking from experience, making a run for it and chancing a bullet in the back would be your best option," the old man advised.
"Oh, but that would mean leaving young Elric behind," Archer returned. "I suspect that by now my German assistants have him in hand."
"That would be quite the achievement," Roy spoke up for the first time, anger slowly building under his calm surface, displacing his unease in the Englishman's presence. "Your colleagues have quite the track record of underestimating him."
"Only because we were unaware the he had somehow enhanced his prosthetics during his brief visit home," Archer drawled. "Our pet gypsy managed to discover a few interesting things from young Alfons Heidrich before he disappeared, about metal limbs that function almost like flesh, among other things. That's something else we are very eager to examine. And now that we will have three specimens from your world, our analyses won't have to be as delicate." Archer's muddy brown eyes were cold. "We need you for information and for the organic material necessary to perform your world's magic, but now, if we lose one of you, we have a spare." The pale man smirked pointedly at Hohenheim.
Roy saw it in his mind quite vividly. Edward, strapped down in some sparkling white, clinically spotless lab, automail removed ports and all, nothing more than a factory to produce fluids for the Thules' scientists to play with, dying by inches in the most painful way possible. His beautiful, brilliant mind would be the first thing to go. The Flame's anger flared and then collapsed into a single, diamond hard point of searing cold, leaving his mind clear. If this piece of shit thought he was going to steal away the young man Roy had willingly left his entire world behind to be with, he had best think again.
"Have you managed to seduce him yet?" the tall, pale man's lip curled in disgust. "The Thules did mention your unnatural attraction to the boy. Of course they would likely make him available to you for that purpose as a condition to ensure your cooperation if you so desired. Semen is a bodily fluid Haushofer also plans to harvest from the both of you after all."
Hohenheim glanced down at Roy's gloved hands and grimaced. Resting his palm on Mustang's tensed shoulder he quietly said, "We have to get to Edward. Try not to use too much. We'll need it to get home." And once again Roy felt a familiar surge of power run through him from Hohenheim's hand, drawn unerringly to the arrays stitched on his gloves.
Roy smiled pleasantly, and Archer frowned at the incongruity. "I must admit that I have met a number of people in this world that have earned my admiration," the Amestrian said as he slowly raised his right hand to tug the cuff of his glove, snugging it on more firmly. "You, of course, don't number among them. I do thank you though. You are about to afford me a bit of closure for something I was involved in a couple of years ago."
Archer schooled the confusion on his face back to cool disdain, firming his grip on his pistol. "Please don't move. You're a unique specimen of great value to my German colleagues, and they did suggest that I try not to prematurely damage you."
"While fortunately, I am under no such restriction," the General said. And he snapped his fingers.
Edward paced the room, impatient to get going with his plans to jump on the next ship heading in the right direction. As soon as Roy got back from his walk they were going to book passage to whatever North American port the next ship was leaving for. Once across the Atlantic, the Amestrans could disappear into the vast reaches of that continent, hopefully leaving their Thule pursuers behind for good. Spending time with Jean and Sheska had placed the idea of Canada in Edward's mind, and the more he thought about it the more attractive that destination became.
The trip from Cambridge, once again by train, had been uneventful. It had started to rain again as the train pulled out of the station, and Mustang had slowly settled into a sombre mood. The dark haired man had been very quiet, pretending interest in the soggy landscape coasting past their window, and Edward had let him be. Their meeting with Archer had affected the older man acutely, and Edward felt a surge of anger all over again. He wished he could do or say something that would help, but knew the older man had to deal with this in his own way, so Edward had given Roy some space.
The young man was becoming more skilled at reading through his companion's many disguises, and although Roy tried to hide it, the younger alchemist could see the older man's mood continued to darken as the pair had made their busy way through the tasks they'd had to complete in London. Neither had slept the night before, sitting up together to fine tune their plan of escape, but as the sun's morning rays began to seep around the window blind, Roy had said he needed to clear his head, and Edward had known the dark haired man wanted some time alone.
Roy had only been gone for a short while when the doorknob rattled, a quiet knock following. Wondering if the older man had forgotten his key, Edward quickly opened the door.
The first man through tackled Edward to the ground, winding him, using his full weight to pin the much smaller man down. The second man was on his automail arm before Edward could react, using all of his strength and considerable weight on that single limb. Apparently they weren't taking any chances with him this time. The third man grabbed his flesh arm and twisted while pulling it out straight, and Edward bit back a cry of pain, shoulder burning on the edge of dislocation. The forth man sprawled across Edward's legs, locking an arm around his automail ankle and bearing down with all his might. Edward bucked and writhed, but his struggles were to no avail. Panting, Edward glared as the first man eased himself up to straddle his captive's chest. It was Bullet Head again.
Stars exploded behind his eyes as the man's fist backhanded him. "That is for Munich," the man said, and then backhanded Edward again. "And that is for Zurich." The man smiled, and pulled a small brown bottle from his jacket pocket, along with a dirty handkerchief. Twisting off the cap, the man soaked the soiled cloth in the bottle's contents, smile becoming cruel. He leaned down and grabbed a tight fistful of Edward's hair and forced the young man's head back. "And this is nothing compared to what Haushofer has planned for you. By the time he's done, I think you'll be quite relieved to die."
"Fuck. You." Ed said through clenched teeth.
The man sitting on his chest laughed quietly, hand tangled in his hair to hold his head still while he pressed the damp cloth to Ed's face so hard his lips cut against his teeth, his lungs soon burning for want of air as he held his breath. He struggled against the men holding his arms, pulse pounding as someone punched him hard in the ribs and again and he gasped and the world tilted and went grey around the edges and then faded away.
Mustang flat out ran down the street, Hohenheim close behind, cursing himself for leaving Edward alone, hoping with everything he had that they were worrying for nothing, that Archer was wrong about how prepared for Edward his borrowed thugs were, that the Germans had underestimated the young blond again. Archer's pistol in his jacket pocket slapped against his hip, cold comfort but available if they needed it. Roy slowed when he came level with a delivery lane that ran alongside the rooming house as Hohenheim rushed past to dodge through the front door of the building. In a split second decision, the General slipped into the alley to check the rear exit. He had never once regretted following his hunches, and he wasn't about to change that winning streak now.
Roy quickly edged over to the bend in the laneway, taking the gun in hand, carefully silent. Hushed voices drifted to him in the early morning quiet, and with an adrenaline surge he realized they were speaking German. He eased his head out beyond the corner that hid his advance to see what he was up against.
A long black motorcar was parked by the back door of the rooming house, a large blond man behind the wheel. Another man was reaching to open the rear door of the car, grinning at another coming out of the building. A fourth man exited the building behind them and nudged the door shut with his heel, Edward slung unmoving over his shoulder.
Roy stepped around the bend, gun in a two handed grip, a calm familiar to any battlefield veteran settling over him. The man in the driver's seat saw him first, and was turning to warn his comrades that they were discovered, when Roy shot him through the windshield of the car. The man jerked back, then slumped forward over the steering wheel. The two men closest to the car froze, then scrambled behind the sedan for cover. The man carrying Edward was the most exposed, halfway between the car and the building, and he knew it. Crouching, he let Ed slide off his shoulder and hooked an arm around his back, holding the unconscious boy against his chest as a shield, his other hand fumbling inside his jacket. Roy took careful aim, thankful now for his extensive target practice in the far north, and fired. The bullet clipped the side of the man's head, snapping it to the left, and the German went down, Edward sprawled over him. Damn. He'd been aiming for the centre of the thug's forehead.
The back door of the building burst open and Hohenheim skidded out, taking in the scene. The two Germans crouched behind the car took that opportunity to make a break for the doorway, disappearing into the building, steamrolling Hohenheim in the process. Roy lowered his pistol, replacing it in his pocket as he rushed over to Edward's prone form.
Hohenheim dodged around to the driver's side of the car, and yanking the door open, tumbled the slumped driver onto the pavement. Then he slid into his place and started the engine with a roar.
"Get in!" he barked to Mustang. "We're leaving!"
Roy didn't have to be told twice. Scooping Edward up, he lunged into the rear seat and just managed to slam the door shut as Hohenheim pealed out, leaving twin rails of rubber and a mist of tire smoke in their wake.