Ed woke in the night, his heart pounding, his body tensed for battle and every instinct screaming at him 'danger, danger, danger'. Beside him, Roy was sleeping deeply, comfortably. Their room was silent, their house was still, even in the neighborhood nothing stirred—not the bark of a dog, the slam of a door, a free floating voice. All around him, Ed had the evidence that all was well, that there was nothing for him to fight, and yet he couldn't convince his body to accept it.
For a moment, Ed lay back, trying to force himself to relax, willing himself to believe that nothing was wrong. When minutes passed and he was no closer to calming down, Ed pushed back the covers and slipped out of bed. At times like this, Ed was happy Roy was such a deep sleeper so Ed's insanity would disturb only his own sleep.
Down the stairs, just off the entrance to the house, Ed paused to look at the phone, wondering if he was actually going to do this. He reached out and touched it, even went so far as to lift it off the cradle before setting it back. Twice more he picked it up only to lose his nerve. At some point he would have to learn to let things go. Yet his body thrummed with something close to panic and his palm itched with desire to hold the phone.
"Fuck." He grabbed the receiver and dialed before he could really think of the consequences.
Six rings. Seven. Eight. With each ring, Ed's heart pounded harder until he thought he would have a heart attack right there in their hallway. On the tenth ring, just as Ed was getting ready to throw on clothes and head off across the city, the line clicked in.
"Hello?" Al sounded sleepy and confused, but unharmed. The relief Ed felt overwhelmed him enough to steal his speech. "Is anyone there?"
It was enough, really, to hear Al's voice and know he was all right. He didn't actually have to speak and confirm for his brother that he'd lost his mind. His heart rate was slowing already and he could breathe easier.
"Brother? Is that you?"
Ed wondered briefly if it was normal for siblings to understand each other so well. "Hi, Al. How did you know it was me?"
"There aren't many people who would call me at, what time is it? Three in the morning and then not say anything."
"I'm not angry." If anything, Al sounded tired and a little resigned.
"Please tell me what's wrong. And don't say 'nothing'. You wouldn't be calling at this hour if it was nothing."
Despite the command in Al's tone, and the concern, Ed almost told him it was nothing. He was ready to laugh it off as a bad dream brought on by too much stress and not enough sleep. But this was Al. Al knew everything there was to know about him, all the good all the bad and everything in between. He'd lost Al his body for more than six years and his brother still stood by him. "I don't know."
"I'm not trying to be difficult." Ed put his back to the wall and slid down until he was sitting on the cold tile, his head tipped back to stare at the ceiling. "I don't know, at least it's nothing I can put into words without sounding insane." He sighed into the phone and he could hear Al's soft breathing echoing down the line, patient, waiting, without judgment.
"I've got all night, and if you hang up on me I'm going to come over there and hold you down until you tell me. You can save us both the trouble if you'd just talk to me."
Ed smiled, certain that Al would make good on his casually delivered threat. "I've," he blew out a breath. "This sounds so stupid. I've been having dreams."
"About the Gate?"
A chill ran down Ed's spine and he sat up straight, clutching the phone in his hand. "You're not having them, too?" Please, please, not Al as well. Not after everything. If something was coming, Ed wanted it to come for him and him alone.
"It's hard to say. I don't remember it as well as you do, but I think so, yeah."
Ed closed his eyes and tried hard to clamp down on the panic growing at the edge of his mind. "You should get out of Central. Take whatever you need and get out of town. I mean it, Al. I don't know what this means, but it can't be good. Nothing good ever came from the Gate." Don't think about it, don't think about it, don't think about it. He shoved all thoughts of the Gate into a tiny box in the corner of his mind and crashed down the lid. Now wasn't the time.
"I think you're overacting, just a little. I've been dreaming about the Gate, but none of them are bad dreams, exactly. And nothing bad enough to make me call you in the middle of the night."
"I said I was sorry." Was it too much to hope that they'd be left alone? They had struggled for so long, been through so much, it didn't seem fair that the Gate would try and force its way back into their lives now. He'd learned long ago that life wasn't fair, but he could still hope. "It doesn't matter if your dreams are bad. Mine wake me in the middle of the night feeling like someone's standing over me with a knife at my throat. Like everything I care about is about to be ripped to shreds, so I don't give a fuck if you think I'm overreacting, I want you to pack a bag and get the fuck out of here."
Al was silent for a long minute and when he spoke again, there was a hard edge to his voice that told Ed that he'd crossed a line. "If you don't care what I think, then you shouldn't wake me up in the middle of the night, brother. And last I checked, I'm not a child anymore and you can't tell me what to do." The soft click of Al hanging up his phone was as loud to Ed as if Al had slammed it against a wall.
"Fuck." Ed let the phone fall from his fingers onto the floor. He should know better. He did know better. Everyone thought Ed was the stubborn brother, but it only looked that way because Al was usually too polite and too quiet to really make that kind of impression. The truth of the matter was that Al could out-stubborn him any day of the week. And if there could possibly have been a better way to guarantee that Al wouldn't leave Central, Ed couldn't name it. "Fuck."
He jerked at the sound of Roy's voice, muffled and soft with sleep from the top of the stairs. "Yeah. I'm down here."
"Everything okay?" He could imagine the expression on Roy's face, confused and worried.
"Yeah. I just wanted some water."
"Okay. Bring me a glass?"
Ed pushed himself up off the floor and reset the phone on its cradle. As he filled a glass of water for Roy, he wondered what it was that made it okay to call Al in the middle of the night and wake him about a half-formed dream but not able to talk to Roy, who was already awake about things that had actually happened.
Roy was already sleeping when Ed entered their room, so he set the glass on the table next to Roy's side of the bed and crawled in. In his sleep, Roy turned to him, his hands ghosting over Ed's arms and side, soothing him. The room was dark and quiet, and Roy's breathing was soft and rhythmic and still, Ed was awake when the first signs of light filtered through the heavy curtains.
The next day, Ed didn't intend to have any contact with Al at all. He went through his morning routine, ignoring the looks cast his way by Roy. He went to his office, took his messages from Margaret and the papers she'd collected for him. At his desk, he worked his way through the news of the city, the country and the world around them, all the while not thinking about Al.
Around noon, he let Margaret call out for lunch. The thought of food still put him off, but she seemed keen and Ed liked her, kind of, and wanted to make an effort to keep her around longer than the last secretary. It was an effort not to think about what Al might be eating for lunch, and if he'd gotten any more sleep last night than Ed.
With no pressing cases from the military and no leads from any of the papers, Ed spent his afternoon buried deeply in alchemy, working through new arrays and tinkering with his old ones. It wasn't work that had to be done, or even work he really wanted to do, but it was the only thing in his office that he could immerse himself so deeply no thoughts of Al could penetrate.
It was ridiculous the way that Al could make him feel like total shit without raising his voice or using a single foul word.
By the end of the day, Ed found he'd worked for hours and was no closer to finishing anything that he had started that morning. Nothing in the papers sparked something in him that could be the reason for his dreams. None of the work he'd done with his arrays was completely satisfying. He's had sent Margaret home hours ago; the sun had long set and he was still sitting in his office, afraid to go home. Home meant he'd have to deal with either Roy or Al, if not both of them, and he'd spent so much of the day feeling so shitty about everything, he could think of a million things he'd rather do than go home and feel worse.
At nine, Ed's phone rang and he ignored it. It rang every ten minutes for the next hour before whoever was calling gave up. Probably Roy. It was just annoying and short lived enough to be him.
He should have expected the knock on his door, should have expected the one person he didn't want to face to stroll through his door looking disappointed and concerned. But Ed was so busy trying to avoid everything that the knock caught him off guard, as did Al's entrance.
"The General said you never came home."
"You can call him Roy." Ed shrugged, looking everywhere but at Al.
"I was working. I guess I lost track of time."
Al let out a heavy sigh and dropped into a chair across from him. "Oh, brother. You're a terrible liar."
"I hate it when we fight." It was ridiculous, really. He was a grown man now. He had a job and a life, he had Roy and it shouldn't feel this way. Yet Al was his bedrock and when they were fighting, it threw his life into total chaos and really, with the dreams and his general sense of unease, there was only so much chaos he could take at one time.
"I don't particularly care for it when you try and run my life. You can't shove me out when things get tough, and you can't send me away when you think something bad might happen. I appreciate your concern, but did it ever occur to you that I might worry about you at least as much as you worry about me?" Al ran a hand over his face, the dark circles under his eyes making Ed think that his brother managed about as much sleep as he had. "Whatever this is, we'll figure it out together. There isn't anything we can't take on together, remember?"
When he thought about it, when Al put it in those terms, there really wasn't anything he'd been able to do on his own. He'd needed Al with him every step of the way from the very beginning. He might still hold the title as the youngest State Alchemist, but it was only because Al couldn't finish the exam process without exposing everything. Without Al, he wouldn't have lasted a week on Yock Island. Without Al, his life didn't really bear thinking about.
"We'll figure it out, whatever it is. But first you need to go home, get some sleep and stop acting like such an asshole."
Roy was sitting at the table, leafing through a stack of papers when Ed got home. He looked innocently enough ensconced in his work, but there was a tension in Roy's shoulders and a faint frown at the corners of his mouth. Ed really should have answered the phone, but he didn't want to go over it and over it and over it. "I don't want to talk about it," he said, holding up a hand and halting Roy's words.
Roy closed the folder and stood, his face shutting down into the expressionless mask that Ed hated. "Excellent. Because God forbid we ever talk about anything. I mean, clearly sharing the same house makes the sex more convenient, but otherwise I don't see why you're even here."
Ed stopped, his coat halfway off, feeling like he'd been punched in the gut. "Do you want me to go?" He couldn't think it was so horrible. Life couldn't be that unfair as to have both Roy and Al pissed at him at the same time. If Roy kicked him out, he didn't know where he'd go. Havoc's, maybe.
Roy was quiet just long enough for Ed to start thinking seriously about what he was going to do now. Panic was building, but instead of shouting or crying, which was ridiculous and exactly what he really felt like doing, he shrugged his coat back on and forced anger up front, covering everything else. "Fine. You want me to go, fine."
"That's not what I said."
"But you weren't very quick to deny it." He felt like he might throw up or pass out. How, how in one say could his whole life fall so completely apart? "Sorry to be so fucking inconvenient." He turned around, jerked open the door and slammed it behind himself. He managed to get all the way down the steps before he collapsed on the last one, his head in his hands as his breathing echoed in his ears. A moment later, the door opened behind him, bright warm light flooding against his back as Roy descended the stairs and dropped down beside him.
"Is it meant to always be this hard?" he asked, not raising his head from his hands.
Roy sighed. "Sometimes, I think you make it harder than it has to be."
"Nice, asshole. Make it all my fault." It didn't matter that it kind of was; Roy didn't need to point it out. He felt bad enough already. All of his anger drained away, leaving behind exhaustion and nausea.
"Where were you planning on going?"
Around them, crickets and other night insects chirped and buzzed, breaking the silence when Ed failed to answer immediately. Across the street, a light came on in one of the front windows as one of their neighbors peered through the curtains at them. "Hadn't thought that far ahead."
Roy reached out and ran a hand along Ed's spine. "Impulsive."
"Yeah, I think you covered that already." His hand stilled, forming a warm point on the small of Ed's back. "Come back inside? I really don't want you to go." He stood and offered Ed a hand up, which he accepted. As they walked inside, Ed felt much the same way he had when, at age six, he'd decided to run away from home. He'd walked as far as the Rockbell's before he'd gotten tired and lonely and he'd had to wait for his mom to come find him. Sometimes, he wondered if he would ever reach a point when he stopped feeling like such a fuck up.
Inside, Ed managed to get his coat off entirely before Roy spoke. "You didn't answer your phone." He took a step towards Ed, his eyes dark and luminous.
"I didn't want to talk." This must be what it felt like to be a moth, to know the fire would kill and yet helpless to stay away. He took a step forward, close enough to be overwhelmed by Roy's expensive aftershave and to see the fine worry lines just beginning to take hold around Roy's eyes.
"I was worried." Another step and they were chest to chest, each breath pushing them against each other.
Ed ran his hands up Roy's arms, over his shoulders to twist in his hair, pulling Roy down for a kiss as he thrust his hips forward. "I can tell," he said against Roy's mouth before stopping all further attempts at speech with his tongue.
He opened his mouth to Roy, letting him explore his teeth and palette, bite almost too hard at his lips. With his free hand, the one not buried in Roy's hair, he fumbled with their belts and pants, trying desperately to get them skin to skin. The cool evening air hit him like a splash of water as Ed finally managed to release them both from their clothes. Roy hissed into Ed's mouth and pushed Ed back, stumbling to the door.
Ed's back hit the front door with an echoing thud. Though still mostly dressed, Roy had their exposed cocks trapped against each other in his hand. God, there was nothing he loved so much as the feel of Roy's tongue in his mouth and Roy's hand on his cock. Why everything couldn't be this simple, this open, between them, Ed didn't know. With their bodies, they never miscommunicated. When they were like this, Ed could anticipate Roy's every move. He knew what Roy was thinking, what he wanted and he knew Roy was as tuned into him. Somehow, when they added words to their relationship, things got fucked up.
Roy growled low in his throat, dissatisfied with Ed's wandering attention. With his free hand, he captured both of Ed's and pinned them against the door over Ed's head. Had he wanted, Ed could have broken the hold with ease. Roy was stroking their cocks together, though, and Ed would be damned if he would do anything to stop Roy from touching him.
Roy tightened his hold around them and began thrusting his hips against Ed, forcing the air from Ed's lungs. Ed tilted his face up and cracked the back of his head against the door, but he didn't care as Roy began rocking against him in earnest. He hit his head again as Roy's head dipped down, sucking at the flesh of Ed's jaw, his throat and the sensitive patch of skin just below his ear.
Each thrust pushed a gust of air from Ed's lungs and if it didn't feel so fucking good, he would have been more than a little horrified at the sounds escaping him. As it was, he was so close to release, he pushed back against Roy, forcing twin sounds from him. They rarely spoke during sex, but Ed loved the little, half formed sounds Roy couldn't help when he was close.
Ed lifted his head from the door, seeking Roy's mouth with his own, catching Roy's bottom lip in his teeth before sucking Roy's tongue into his mouth. Against his lips, Roy muttered Ed's name, but anything else he might have said was lost over the sound of their combined breathing and the rustle of their clothes. Roy's hips jerked against his own, losing the steady rhythm as he pressed closer and closer to Ed until Ed thought they might end up back out on the street if the door didn't hold.
And still Ed wanted to be closer. When they were like this, so in tune with each other, they were perfect. The feeling was so powerful, so right, Ed longed for a closeness that wasn't possible. He wanted to live inside Roy—breathe his breath, beat with his heart. In this they had no secrets, they shared everything down to the core. In this, there was freedom.
With one last thrust, strong enough to crush all the air from Ed's lungs, Roy's hand tightened around them as hot, slick fluid filled the space between them. Roy held them both in place for a long moment before he let Ed's arms drop. They rested, foreheads pressed together and breath mingling until Ed felt sure he could stand up straight without Roy or the door supporting his weight.
Roy stepped back, giving Ed space to collect himself. In silence, they passed through the downstairs, turning off lights and locking doors for the night. Once in their bedroom, they stripped off their clothes and the remaining evidence of their activities before collapsing in bed. Roy's hand found Ed's again in the darkness.
"I was worried."
"I'm sorry." His body felt relaxed and languid, but his mind was quickly recovering from its sex-fogged state.
Roy moved close enough to kiss him. "Next time, don't be sorry, just answer the fucking phone."
The surety in Roy's voice, the absolute knowledge that there would be a next time, made Ed's throat close up. It wasn't the knowledge that something would happen that would make Ed retreat from those around him; Ed felt he spent most of his life in retreat mode. No, it was that when he fucked up, Roy would understand, would still want him here, in this house, in this bed.
Next to him, Roy's breathing evened out, the small, half-formed twitches in his fingers signaling his sleep. Though Ed was exhausted, it was hours before he dropped off as well.
Ed woke the next morning to someone pounding on the front door. Light already streamed in through the windows, Roy was nowhere in sight and Ed was sure it was much later than it should be. He swore as he sat up, trying to get his bearings and to figure out how he'd slept through the alarm.
Something crinkled on his right hand as he got out of bed to pull on some pants before heading downstairs. A note, taped to his automail. Ed swore again. He hated it when Roy taped notes to his automail. Yes, he was guaranteed to get the message, but it was still damn unsettling.
I called you in sick, today. You need the sleep. Rest, eat something and Al will be by around noon. R.
Like there was anyone else on the planet with big enough balls to tape a note to his fucking metal arm. And God, had he already missed that much of the day? Ed couldn't think of a time he'd slept until noon that didn't involve hospitals.
"I'm coming!" he shouted in exasperation as the pounding continued. He reached the bottom of the stairs, crossed to the door and jerked it open. "I said I was coming."
"I'm sorry. Did I wake you?" Al stood on his stoop, holding a bag that smelled suspiciously good with a worried look in his eyes.
Ed made a show of looking himself up and down, sleep pants, no shirt, hair undone and probably hopelessly tangled. "You think?"
"Roy said, I mean, it's almost noon. I didn't think you'd still be sleeping."
Ed backed up, letting Al in. "Yeah, whatever." He stopped when faced with Al's politely embarrassed expression. "What?"
"Maybe you'd like to shower, brother?"
Ed looked down at himself again. Sleep pants, last night, fuck, he probably still smelled like Roy. He would not flush with embarrassment. He would not. Al woke him up, so he got whatever he deserved. He had had a mind to lounge around the rest of the afternoon just the way he was, but then Al shook the bag he was holding.
"I'll make you lunch while you shower. By the time you're done, it will be, too."
All through his shower and his second trip down the stairs that day, Ed had to keep reminding himself that he should be on his best behavior with Al. That he should apologize for being overbearing and whatever else he'd been. That he shouldn't be starting fights. It was hard, though, when Al seemed to have started his day off by discussing Ed behind his back.
"I see sleep hasn't helped your foul mood."
It was unfair, really, for Al to make that kind of statement and shove a plateful of food under Ed's nose. How was he supposed to respond with his mouth full of food or even respond at all when his brother had gone out of his way to feed him? Speaking of, "What about your patients?"
"I closed the clinic for the day. I'm dealing with my most important patient, right now."
Ed frowned. "I'm not sick."
"But there is something going on with you. With us. I thought we might try to figure it out. If nothing else, we can talk through your theories."
Ed continued to eat, using food as an excuse not to speak, but the truth was he had no theories. He had nothing. Nothing beyond dreams that left him in a blind panic and absolutely certain that something bad was coming. All he wanted was to put the past behind him, to not have to feel every day that he had to work to redeem something for which there was no redemption.
"I'm sorry I was such a stupid fuck on the phone." He pushed his plate away, convinced if he ate another bite it would revisit him in the most unpleasant way.
Al cleared away the dishes and sat next to him, an easy grin on his face that reminded Ed so much of their mother. "I told you it was fine. Now let's see what we've got."
"I heard you're looking for something." Hughes took a careless seat next to Ed. They were in the backyard of the Hughes' home, watching Elysia and Benjamin play while Roy and Gracia provided the approaching army for the kids' fort. Ed was still too full from Gracia's amazing lunch to move.
"Don't you people have a country to run? You can't possibly be working on making Roy Fuhrer and gossiping about me at the same time." Already this week he'd had 'Oh, I was just in the neighborhood' visits from most of Roy's staff.
Hughes shrugged, not affected by Ed's tone. "When Roy worries, everyone worries. Also, it's my job to gossip." He looked toward the scene of the mock battle and cheered. "Good job, Ben. Excellent shot. Roy, you might want to learn to duck if you want to make it through the afternoon with both of your eyes." He turned back to Ed. "What, exactly, are you looking for?"
"That's the thing. I don't know. I just have this feeling that something isn't right, but I don't know what it is. The only thing I can find that's remotely disturbing is a series of disappearances out East. Three men, middle aged with the same build and coloring, all family men went to work and never came home. If I didn't get local papers from all over the country, I would have never put them together." Their faces haunted him, floating at the back of his thoughts during his waking hours and filling his dreams. "But I don't know what it means." Nearly a week of research had left him no closer to understanding.
Ed shot Hughes a glance. "Hmmm?"
Hughes stood and gestured Ed up as well. "Come with me." He waved at his children. "I'll be right back. Save all your cuteness for Daddy."
The interior of the Hughes' home seemed dark after the bright afternoon sun as Ed followed Hughes to his study. Once inside, Hughes closed and locked the door. Ed thought to ask him if it wasn't being overly cautious, but images of Hughes spending months lying in a coma made Ed hold his tongue. Ed didn't think there was a precaution that Hughes wouldn't take to stay with his family.
"What I'm showing you has been classified. It's only making the rounds in Intelligence right now, even Roy hasn't seen this."
"Right." A simple mental switch was required to move from Ed to Edward Elric, alchemist for hire. "What do you have for me, General?"
A nod was all Hughes gave to acknowledge their change to business as he handed over a folder. "Six disappearances in addition to the three you've mentioned. All men with similar characteristics and social status. All left for work and never came home. We found the first body this morning."
Ed flipped through the pages, photographs of missing men, pages describing them and their families and finally—"God. That's awful." What was left didn't even look human.
"I planned on calling your office in the morning."
"Why? Not that I'm not going to find who's doing this, but it doesn't seem like something that I should be involved in." He couldn't draw his eyes away from the photo. He'd been someone's husband, father and now he was a pile of meat and bones.
Hughes reached across the picture and traced a faint line around the edge of the body. "Do you see?"
Ed brought the image closer to his face, squinting at the glossy image. "It looks like, I think that's an array. An alchemist? A fucking alchemist did this? I swear to God, Hughes, if this is one of your fucking state sanctioned psychos, I will spend the rest of my life working to shut that program down." He closed the file and began pacing the room, his mind already trying to recreate the array just on a single line and what was left of the victim. Nine disappearances already, and there was no reason to think the other victims wouldn't end up the same way, if they hadn't already. The first had been near Eastern command, all the rest moving steadily towards Central.
"If it starts happening here, we're going to have a much harder time keeping it quiet. The only reason it hasn't gone country-wide is because the disappearances have been far enough apart to only hit the local papers, if they're making news at all." Hughes leaned against the edge of his desk, out the way of Ed's pacing.
"Why would you want to keep it quiet? If people know, they could protect themselves."
"If people knew, it would be mass hysteria. Neighbors turning against each other, strangers shunned, if not worse. We have to keep it quiet as long as possible, until we know more and can give the people some kind of accurate description."
Ed shook his head. "People are better than that. They are. And don't you think they have the right to know there's someone out there doing this?" He shook the folder in Hughes' direction.
"I think they have the right to believe that we do everything in our power to keep them safe. Which we do." He stood straight and crossed his arms over his chest. "This is coming directly from my office. I'll send the appropriate paperwork and expense reports to your secretary in the morning. What's the new one's name?"
"Margaret," he said, flipping distractedly through the papers. Almost as if he was drawn to it, he landed on the final page, the gruesome photograph. It may be just the first they'd found, but there were be more, others they hadn't found and those not yet missing. He could feel it with the same sureness he could feel when an array was activated.
"You and Hughes were locked away for a good while this afternoon. Anything to worry about?" Roy's voice was soft, muffled against the skin of Ed's chest.
"Mmmm. Your birthday party this year is going to be horribly embarrassing." Lies came so easily, Ed thought he should be worried, and wondered what Roy kept from him. He ran his fingers across Roy's shoulders and up his neck. Few things pleased him as much as how relaxed Roy was after really good sex.
"As long as I get to have one this year, anything will be fine." Ed poked his shoulder. "I was in the fucking hospital, you ass. It's not like I forgot; I was trying not to die."
Roy pressed a light kiss against his collarbone. "I know. Should I be concerned, about Hughes, I mean?"
"It's just business. Don't worry."
"With the two of you, I always worry."
The dark and quiet of the room was nearly absolute, but comforting to Ed. "I think that's supposed to be my line. If the other General knew what the two of you were really capable of, they'd work harder at keeping you apart."
"Lucky for us all they don't know." Roy released a long breath that wasn't quite a sigh. "Elysia's getting big, isn't she?"
"It's weird. I remember when she was born. I was there when she was born and she's going to be a teenager soon."
Roy stroked a light hand down Ed's side, coming to rest against his hip bone, his fingers tripping lightly in the indented flesh. "She's going to be a heartbreaker."
"Yeah, and Hughes is going to go to jail for breaking faces." They fell into silence then, only the soft, constant motion of Roy's fingers let Ed know he wasn't sleeping. His hand stilled and Roy became suddenly tense in his arms. "I think the Fuhrer is going to send me away on an assignment soon."
Ed had to force himself to stay relaxed, to keep breathing. "Yeah?"
"Those of us in the unofficial running to inherit his post are being sent out. I've heard a couple rumors and there's been some activity in his office and a few calls to my people."
"What does it mean?" The thought of Roy leaving, of Ed not being able to see him everyday while this persistent feeling of danger dogged his every breath filled Ed with terror. Why was it that danger made him want to send Al away and keep Roy close, and what did it say about him?
"I'll probably be gone for a few days at some high profile but ultimately useless dog and pony show."
"But it could also be something more significant. He sent General Revel on a tour of the Western Command outposts. He's not due back for another three months."
This is what they were working for, this is what it meant to be in line for succession to the Fuhrer. Of course Ed should expect this kind of thing, he'd been in the military long enough to know how it worked. It didn't mean he had to like it, especially now when people were disappearing from their homes. "Okay."
"I can decline."
"Not without ruining your chances to become the next Fuhrer."
"I don't like the thought of leaving you here with everything so unsettled."
"You mean when I'm acting like a crazy person."
Roy shifted, leaning up on one elbow. Even in the darkness, Ed could see the faint glimmer of Roy's intense gaze. "Did I say that?"
"I won't go if you don't want me to go."
Ed pushed against Roy's chest, rolling him onto his side of the bed. "Don't be stupid. Of course you have to go."
"I'm serious. I'll be fine."
Roy threw an arm over him, dragging Ed close as he pressed his nose into Ed's neck. "I know."
"There's a package for you from General Hughes' office and he's called already twice this morning." Margaret handed him the package with one hand a coffee with the other. Dear God, the woman was gold.
"Thanks. Can you see if you can get through to him?" He walked to his office, not bothering to close the door, dumped the package on the desk and took a minute to breathe in the coffee. When Margaret came in with the news that Hughes was in a meeting, Ed cracked open the paperwork and set Margaret to filling out military liaison forms.
Not half an hour later, Margaret stuck her head into his office; Hughes was on the phone.
"We found another body." Hughes' voice was tight and strained. "It's about a day outside the city. I think you should go take a look."
"He's moving this way. Wouldn't it be better to stick close?"
"Sometimes you find things at crime scenes that you just don't get in a photograph. There's an express that leaves in an hour. Be on it. And keep in touch."
If anyone else tried to dictate his movements during one of his consults, he'd not only be extremely irritated, but he'd opt out of the contract, but this was Hughes and he sounded worried. "Right. How bad is it?"
Hughes cleared his throat. "As bad as the last one, at least. It looks. Early reports show that they poor guy was alive for most of it."
Ed closed his eyes, wishing the images of the photograph from the first scene weren't etched so clearly in his mind. "Right."
"Sergeant Brayer is your contact and will meet you at the station. Call in when you get there, we may have more information for you by then."
Ed hung up, debated for all of two seconds before he picked the phone back up. Three rings and a cheerful, pleasant and unfamiliar voice greeted him. "General Mustang's office."
"I need to speak with the General. This is Ed."
There was a slight pause. "Please hold while I check to see if the General is available."
Ed drummed his fingers on his desk, hoping that the woman went to actually check with Roy. He'd forgotten Roy's regular secretary was on vacation. Come on, come on. How long does it take to wake the lazy bastard from a nap?
"Ed? Is everything all right?"
"Yeah." Just the sound of Roy's voice relaxed him. "Listen, I'm working on a case with Hughes and I'm going to be out for a few days."
"Okay. You'll be careful."
"Of course. I shouldn't, hmmm." He paused. "Listen. Just listen and don't think too much about what I say next. Just do what I say."
"Okay." Roy drew out the word and Ed could taste his curiosity.
"Be careful the next couple days, all right? I know the Fuhrer may be sending you out of the city and I just want you to be on guard. Keep your gloves on and don't go anywhere by yourself."
"Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"No. I'm just being cautious. And I want you to be, too. So promise, please."
Roy sighed and Ed knew he wasn't taking the warning seriously. In Roy's head, this was just Ed being Ed—overprotective, strange and a little crazy. "Okay, I'll be careful."
Ed slammed the phone against the desk, hoping the crash would get Roy's attention. "No. You'll be more than careful. Nowhere by yourself. Promise. You've got like, fifteen people in that fan club you call an office. Take one of them with you."
"What's going on?"
"I can't talk about it, but I need to know you'll be safe while I'm gone." "All right. I'll be careful and I won't go anywhere alone. You'll tell me what's going on when you get back?"
Ed sighed. "If I can."
"I have a meeting. I have to go, but call me when you get it."
"Yeah. I love you."
Silence echoed down the line. It wasn't often that Ed told Roy how he felt. "I love you, too. We'll talk later."
Ed hung up the phone, thinking how he was going to have almost the exact conversation with Al. Hopefully he'd make his train.
Train travel, when one was not a fifteen year old boy with boundless energy, the ability to sleep anywhere and a traveling companion to keep one occupied, was not all it was cracked up to be. As the summer-bright landscape slipped by, Ed had nothing new to occupy his mind. More than twenty hours into the trip and he'd long ago memorized every word of the briefing packet. He had nothing new to look at, no theories that he hadn't already spun into a dozen conclusions.
"Kensington Station, next stop. Next stop, Kensington Station." Ed looked up as his stop was announced. He stood, grabbed his bag and moved down the car to an exit point. Long gone were the days of lugging a trunk around. He didn't have to carry his whole life with him from place to place; he had a home. And also, he didn't have Al to drag the damn thing around when he got tired.
Ed turned at the sound of his name as he exited the train. A tall man in a blue uniform waved him over. "That's me."
"I'm Sergeant Brayer. I've been appointed as your contact by General Hughes." Ed shook the man's hand, pleased at the firm, no nonsense grip and followed him from the station. "There's a room booked for you at the local hotel, if you want to settle in first."
"I'd rather go right to the scene, if that's possible." Enough time had passed that Ed didn't know if he could glean any kind of information, but it was something he had to do and putting it off wouldn't make it any more pleasant a task. "I'll need to phone back to Central after we've finished, though."
Brayer nodded and led him to a car, pulling smoothly out into the light afternoon traffic. "We've set up a command center not far from the scene, sir. All the lines are secure."
Ed let the sergeant chatter on at him about specifics of the post and the case, all things he either didn't care about or already knew. Still, it was nice to hear the sound of another human talking, the sound of a voice that wasn't a crying child and feel like he wasn't the only one in the world with the burden of this terrible knowledge.
With each passing mile, tension grew in Ed until he was clutching his hands into hard fists. He wanted to tell Brayer to stop the car, to turn around, or just let him out to run. The pressure building in his head and in his bones made him certain that they were nearing the site of the crime. Ed thought he might be able to get out of the car, close his eyes and find his way there by this feeling alone.
"We're here, sir." Brayer parked the car. "Are you feeling all right, sir? We could come back."
Ed shrugged, trying to loosen the feeling that there was a house sitting on his shoulders, crushing his chest. "I'm fine, it was just a long train ride." He pasted on a false smile that would fool any but those closest to him and made his way to the scene.
Their killer had chosen the perfect spot. It was a warehouse, long abandoned when the train lines took a more direct route between cities. No inhabited buildings were present in the vicinity, but there were clear roads to make a swift getaway. The person they were looking for was smart, organized and familiar with the area.
Gravel crunched under his feet as Ed ducked under the barriers that cordoned off the area and approached the warehouse. Two men in uniform stood guard and waved him through to the inside of the building. When he entered, Ed felt like he was stepping into his own private dimension and the rest of the world ceased to exist. No sound penetrated from the outside, no light filtered in except from the high, small widows. It was a self-contained and private world, the perfect place for murder.
The body had long since been removed, but the evidence of the crime was all around him. Splashes of red colored the floor. Markings in dark charcoal lined the kill site. And the smell. The smell was just like—
Basement, pain, blood everywhere, where's Al, movement, sound—wet, sucking, moaning—, blood, pain, that cannot be our mother, that thing, blood, pain, Al, blood, blood, blood—
Ed choked back a retching cough, shaking the memory free and detaching himself from the memories. It wasn't here, it wasn't now. That was gone and done long ago. Paid for.
He was relieved the uniforms and Brayer hadn't followed him inside. There was only one person he'd want to have with him, one person he could bear to see this and see him. Roy was hundreds of miles away, however, and Ed would never ask it of him.
Focus. Ignore the blood. There was so much of it to ignore. It painted the floor and marked the wall, like the room was drowning in it. Underneath the blood, though, there was an array and if there was anything that could distract him, it was alchemy.
Ed paced around the edge of the outer circle, his mind automatically filling in gaps where careless footsteps or blood had washed away the markings. That the array had been drawn in charcoal and not chalk was an interesting choice, since charcoal was a difficult medium to use for alchemy. Most alchemists used chalk because it was sturdy, reliable and not terribly messy. Charcoal coated the hands and clothes, it left smudged lines and imprecise markings where precision could mean the difference between fixing and axel and blowing up a car. It was easy to carry and purchase and easier to see on most surfaces—especially the dirty floor of a dark warehouse.
The person committing these crimes had to either walk away from the sites covered in blood and charcoal, or he'd have to bring a change of clothes or have a way to clean himself. Ed thought the man would have to be obsessively precise in his movements and actions. His array demanded perfection—one misplaced finger, one misstep and it would mean the ruin of the entire circle.
This meant that when their killer dumped the victim into the center of the array, the victim had to be debilitated. The killer wouldn't be able to risk a struggle from the victim which might disturb the array, so either the victim was unconscious or incapacitated in some way. Unconsciousness left too much to chance for a man so intent on every other detail of his scene. Ed knew there were some poisons available that could freeze every muscle in the body, and it seemed likely the killer was using one of them.
Kidnapped, drugged and dumped into an array that did—what? Ed finished his circuit around the array, seeing the finished product in his mind. The lines and patterns were strange. The calculations were unnecessarily complicated in some areas and intuitively simple in others. Ed could see easily a dozen areas where a slight adjustment would mean a cleaner, smoother result. The person who drew this array—who created this array—was no State Alchemist. This person had never been through formal training. He'd learned through books, maybe, or a second rate teacher.
Ed let out a sigh. At least it wasn't someone the State was paying. It was little comfort in the face of this horror, but it was something. Alchemists were supposed to be for the people. Why everyone had such a hard time comprehending that, Ed would never understand. Their power should be used to make lives better, not for something like this.
Suddenly, Ed couldn't stand to be in the warehouse any longer. He couldn't take another moment surrounded by the evidence of this insanity and death. Everything he needed to know was scored into his mind and he knew he would be able to reproduce the scene, array and everything else on paper if needed. What he needed most right now was to get the hell out of this place and be with real, living people.
In the bright light of the afternoon, Ed felt the tension in his chest ease as he walked away from the building. "I have everything I need from here. I'd like to put in a call to Central and then if you could take me to the hotel?"
Brayer nodded, efficient and polite as he filled the silence of the drive with pointless, efficient chatter. In any other circumstances, the sound of Brayer's voice would have driven Ed to conduct unbecoming a military liaison. As it was, the sound was strangely soothing and exactly what Ed needed to pull his thoughts from the warehouse. When they arrived at the post, Brayer led him to the communications room and left him to make his calls in peace.
While he waited for someone to get Hughes from whatever meeting he was in—and why was it that Hughes always seemed to be at meetings, but whenever Ed called for Roy, the lazy bastard wasn't doing a damn thing—he downed some of the bitter, tepid coffee on offer at the post. He was nearly through his second cup when Hughes finally picked up. "Do you have anything new for me?" Since he'd left Central, Ed had only been able to call in twice at the scheduled stops of the express train, but everything had been quiet on Hughes' end.
"We think there might be another disappearance." Hughes sounded, if possible, more strained.
"It doesn't quite fit with the pattern. The missing guy is a family man, and went missing on his way to work, but he doesn't match the physical characteristics of the others. And he has a history of taking off for days without a word."
Ed shook his head. "I don't know. I don't think it sounds like our guy. Every step he makes, everything he does is planned out. He's not going to change patterns unless something forces him to." Ed sketched out for Hughes what he'd learned from examining the scene and what he thought they should be looking for in suspects. "I'm going to stick around for a bit, talk to some people, but I doubt I'm going to find anyone who's seen a thing. This guy is far too careful to leave witnesses."
"All that from charcoal instead of chalk?"
"Among other things. Hey, you pay me ridiculous amounts of money to be brilliant. This is what I do." Hughes gave the appropriate laugh, but Ed could hear the strain in his voice. "We're getting closer. We'll get him." It wasn't in Ed's nature to offer comfort with words he didn't mean and he realized after he spoke his words were true. He'd seen this man's killing ground and Ed had a feeling that faced with a crowd of thousands, he could pick the murderer out sight unseen.
Know a man's alchemy, know the man. They would find him.
Half a dozen fruitless interviews and one day later and Ed was more than ready to get back to Central. He didn't feel that he'd learned anything since the first day at the warehouse and there was so much more he could be doing back in Central where all the reports were being funneled.
The only good that had come from his time here was that the team had managed to identify the remains. Not only could they give the missing man's family some sense of closure, but it gave them another clue.
"Looks like he picked this guy up three days ago. He's the one missing from two towns away. He keeps them for a while before he kills them."
Ed could hear the click of Hughes pulling off his glasses and setting them on his desk. "He must be getting close to Central now. The question is, is this his final destination or is he just going to try and pass right through?"
"He's definitely got a purpose. He's heading towards something, maybe following an old path or familiar route. This guy knows the places he's killing people in. It's clear from his ease of movement, lack of witnesses and locations that he's been in these areas before." Ed rubbed his gritty eyes, wondering if he'd be able to get any sleep on the train back. "I'm through here, so I'm heading back on the express return. I'll call to check at the scheduled stops, though."
Ed laughed. "It's a little late in my life to worry about that now, don't you think?"
"We always worried, Ed. What do you want me to say? 'Hope you get killed by a serial killer?'"
"I'll be fine. You worry about everyone there. I'll be back soon." Ed hung up before he could get more of the concerned father routine from Hughes. He'd done just fine without one for this long. "Brayer!"
The Sergeant came out from wherever he hid when he wasn't attending Ed. "Yes, sir?"
"I'm heading back to Central, but keep the area secure and keep talking to people. We might get lucky and someone might remember seeing something."
"Yes, sir. Have a safe trip back."
Ed waved him off and went to collect his things. The disparity between his age and how he felt was never as strong as when he was dealing with the military. Brayer was probably a couple years older than himself but he was fresh faced and wide eyed as a puppy. Like the dark things in life had yet to touch him. It was how Ed should have been, would have been, if only one or two things had gone differently in his life and the lives of people around him. Instead of Ed having to defer to Brayer, Ed was the one with more experience, the one who had seen more action than most of the men at the post. It was disturbing.
By the time Ed got to the train station, boarded and collapsed into a seat, his head was swimming with exhaustion. Every time he closed his eyes, details of the case swirled through his mind as his brain tried to work out the facts as the rest of him could only manage enough energy to keep breathing and blood flowing.
Alchemy filled his dreams. Lines, symbols, smooth arcs shifted and changed. He knew he was dreaming, but alchemy had always been soothing so he didn't try and wake himself. He recognized the killer's array, he could see the signature patterns that identified it as the killer's work. He could taste the charcoal dust on his tongue and the bitter metallic sting of blood at the back of his throat before the image twisted, pulsed and burst into the Gate. The doors strained, looking battered and Ed scrambled away only to find nothing but pure white emptiness surrounding him. No matter how quickly he ran or in what direction, the Gate was always there, just ready to open.
Ed jerked awake and grabbed the hand touching him. In less than a second and with no conscious thought at all, Ed had the man attached to the hand on the floor with an automail blade at his throat. A second after that, sleep cleared and Ed saw the terrified face of the train attendant under his blade.
"Sorry." He let the man go and helped him to his feet, ignoring the stares directed at his performance. "Sorry. You startled me." And the idiot should know better than to touch sleeping people anyway.
The attendant cleared his throat. "Perfectly understandable," he lied. "Are you the Fullmetal Alchemist?"
"I was." He shook his head, trying to shake off sleep and the strangeness of hearing that name again. Hardly anyone called him that anymore. "Is something wrong?"
"There's a message for you in the front car. General Hughes from Central is waiting to speak with you. He said it was urgent."
Swallowing the sick feeling rising in his stomach, Ed followed the attendant to the phone at the head car, apologizing again. He didn't feel too badly, but the man seemed so twitchy and Ed wasn't keen on the idea of getting kicked off the train.
"Hughes, what's wrong?" Please not Roy, please not Al.
"We've found another victim. I've instructed the conductor to make an unscheduled stop in Fyrlon. There'll be a driver waiting for you."
"How far away?" Ed looked out the windows; he didn't even know where he was.
"Less than twenty minutes, I think. The body will still be on site."
"All right. I'll call if I find anything." As Ed hung up, he wondered if Hughes knew how difficult this case was turning out to be for him. Of course, it was ultimately worse for the dead men and their families, and it wasn't like Ed was going to go whine to anyone who would listen. But just the thought of seeing the remains of the latest man and how it was so much like the basement of the house when he was ten left him cold.
And it didn't help that he couldn't stop dreaming about the Gate.
Ed collected his things under the watchful eyes of those around him, trying to move like he wasn't being kicked off the train, like he was on official business. Which he was, but their regard and the unscheduled stop felt like he was being removed for his unruly behavior. He wanted to wave a hand at them, drop a grin and announce he was off to catch a serial killer, but instead, he slung his pack over his shoulder and followed the attendant to the door.
From the moment he stepped off the train Ed began preparing himself, talking himself into a greater state of calm than he really felt. This scene was still new, filled with people taking notes and photos and trying to find evidence. If he threw up or passed out, there would be witnesses and witnesses meant the information would get back to Hughes and Roy.
Right. No throwing up. No passing out.
Military vehicles and soldiers surrounded the scene, as well as the casual neighborhood onlooker and a handful of reporters. Their killer had chosen an abandoned house on a residential street this time. Not too many people still lived here, but enough to start a rumor or two. Hughes was going to have a harder time keeping this one quiet unless his uniformed officers had some quiet words with the men with the pencils.
Ed had to push his way to the front of the crowd, only to be stopped at the barricade. "I'm Edward Elric. You should be expecting me." Papers were shifted, contacts contacted and Ed found himself missing the only thing that had ever been easy about being a State Alchemist. With the pocket watch, there had never been any question of his place or authority.
"Of course. I apologize for the delay. I'm Major Jensen, we have the authorization for you from General Hughes. Would you like to go through?"
Ed almost shouted at the man that of course he wanted to go through, but instead he gave a tight smile. "Lead the way."
This time, the smell was nearly overpowering. At the last scene, the body had long been removed. Here, though, the smell of death coated the air, filling Ed's lungs with each breath. And it was just like before. Just like the basement. He was not at all surprised to find the same half twisted remains, a form that could be counted more as a failed attempt at life than murder.
"Are you all right?" Jensen's words were condescending in their concern and Ed contained a growl. He waved the man off, half temped to tell Jensen that he outranked him. He did, or had at one point. Just because he'd left the military didn't mean he wasn't still a Lieutenant Colonel. It was just he had to put retired at the end of his rank.
Pacing along the edge of the array allowed Ed to study the design and lose his babysitter at the same time. Charcoal again. It was such a strange choice. It would be fine for smaller arrays; Ed had used it once or twice in a pinch, but chalk was so much more reliable. Less room for error, less mess, easier to transport.
Did their killer consider himself and artist, maybe? Was the killer taunting them? Did he know he was being watched, tracked, followed? Did he want someone to appreciate just how difficult his kills were, the level of skill required to execute such an undertaking? He'd made no contact with the press or the Military, but it still felt like he was putting on a show, a private performance for those who could understand the technical difficulty.
And how was he keeping his victims from moving and ruining the array?
"How close are your men to moving the body?"
Jensen gave him a faintly sympathetic smile. "They're almost done. We can leave if you want."
What Ed wanted was to punch Jensen in the face. "Yeah." He drew out the word, matching Roy's most irritatingly superior tone. "Actually, I need to take a look at the body and I need it off the array."
"Give them just a couple more minutes. We can step outside to wait if you want."
"I'm fine!" Ed stalked off, taking another circle around the outside of the array. It was very similar to the last one, though there were some subtle differences. Their killer was learning. Learning what he liked about the kill pattern and what he wanted improved. Ed would bet that this death lasted longer than the previous, was more excruciating and probably quieter.
Ed was not fond of criminals who learned.
As the workers came in to make the final move on the body, Ed backed off to give them some room. He scanned the front room that on the surface seemed so different from a warehouse, but was just as barren and empty. Then, at the edge of his vision, he caught sight of something small and metal, tucked against the wall and the floorboards, something that could have easily been overlooked by the first sweep.
"Hey. I've got something over here." He waved to one of the uniforms still collecting evidence and motioned to the find. She bagged the item appropriately and then handed it over to Ed. In his hand, the small metal button hardly weighed anything, but there was writing on the back and maybe they'd be able to match it to something. If it came from their killer, they might be a step closer.
"If you want to check out the body, you need to do it now. We have to get it to the morgue and see if we can identify it."
Ed pocketed the button and walked over to the body. "I'm sorry," he said quietly as he approached the remains. It was almost a sin to subject the body to more alchemy after what it had been through, but Ed had to know and when had something like a sin stopped him from trying anything? He addressed the men around the gurney. "I need you to back up." He didn't want anything interfering with the array.
"What are you going to—"
Ed clapped and pressed his hands to the gurney, blocking out Jensen's voice to focus instead on what was in front of him.
Water, 35 Liters; Carbon, 20 kgs; Ammonia, 4 liters; Lime, 1.5kg; Phosphorus, 800g; Salt, 250g; Saltpeter, 100g; Sulfur 80g; Fluorine, 7.5g; Iron, 5g; Silicon, 3g and trace deposits of fifteen other elements.
And something left over: curarine. "Thank you." Ed flooded a burst of power into the array for the finishing touch. When he was done, the body on the gurney looked more like a man than a pile of bones. "You should have an easier time identifying him now."
"What the hell did you do? Was that human transmutation?"
Ed laughed. "That was just undoing what had been done. Human transmutation is illegal. Didn't you know that?" He looked around noting the uniforms now kept their distance. "I need a phone."
Jensen's condescending looks had disappeared with Ed's alchemy and he became almost too willing to please. Ed had a secure line and in moments he had his brother on the phone.
"Al, say I wanted to poison someone. What would curarine do for me?"
Ed could hear Al's slow, cautious breath. "Brother?"
"Hypothetically. Hypothetically poison someone."
"Oh, well, in that case, it's the alkaloid for curare. We use it in small doses during surgery to relax a patient's muscles; it's actually been very helpful."
"That's great, Al. What about the poison part?"
"Well, that's the interesting thing about curare. It's not exactly what you would think of as your typical poison. It doesn't harm the person, exactly. In high doses it can lead to complete paralysis; the lungs stop working and the person suffocates. It's kind of terrifying, actually—there have been a couple of medical cases where it's been improperly administered. The patients were aware of what was happening, but because of the nature of the drug, they were unable to call out for help or stop what was happening."
Ed drew in a halting breath. "And the nervous system. Can they still feel pain?"
"Yes, the patient is aware and can feel everything as normal. We have to be vigilant with the anesthesia because once curare is administered, they can't tell us if the anesthesia is working. What's this all about, brother?"
Ed shook his head, almost forgetting that Al couldn't see him. He didn't have time to answer Al's questions just now. "Who would have access to it? Who would know about it?"
"Most any physician, doctor, anyone in the medical field. But it's pretty well known among local healers because it's derived directly from the root of a plant. As long as you have the plant, you can get the drug."
"Listen, I can't really talk about this right now," Ed said to forestall the questions h knew Al was dying to ask. "Is there an antidote?"
"One of the best things about curare is that it's only dangerous in large amounts without supervision. You just let the drug work its way out of the patient's system, the way you would with anesthesia. As long as the lungs are working, it won't actively kill someone. Artificial respiration might be required, but it's not exactly toxic."
"All right. I have to go. I need to make some more calls. You're being careful?"
Al's laugh was warm and affectionate and hardly irritated at all. "Yes, of course. It's a dangerous business running a clinic, but I try to keep the fatalities down."
"I'm sure your patients appreciate that. Just, the next couple days, be safe."
"Don't worry about me, worry about whatever it is that's on your mind and keeping those people safe. We're good here."
That was one of the many reasons why he loved his brother. No questions, no accusations, no demands for what couldn't be given. He missed the days when they roamed the country together, following leads and working as a team, but he was more pleased with the thought that Al had a steady, sedate life, that he had found his peace in helping heal people and that he would never, never have to see these kinds of things again.
"Sir, I think we may have something." Jensen poked his head in the room, looking uncertain as to whether he should be interrupting.
"I have to go. I'll talk to you soon." He turned to Jensen. "What've you got?"
Jensen led the way through the crowd as he spoke. "One of the local residents, Helena Settler. She normally works nights and wasn't supposed to be home last night, but there was a problem with the water at her factory and they had to shut the place down for repairs. She thinks she may have seen something important."
Ed entered a small, makeshift interview room that was really little more than a glorified tent. Inside, he found a middle aged woman, years of hard work and worry etched on her face. Her eyes were bright and curious, though, and when she looked at him, Ed could feel her determination.
"You're the Fullmetal Alchemist," she said as he approached.
Ed flexed the fingers of his right hand. "I am. Do you know me?"
She smiled and shook her head. "Not personally, but my sister lives in Isina. You saved her life and so many others when you stopped the water from flooding her village." She eyed him up and down. "It's funny, but she said you were taller."
Ed froze, his mind locked in a battle between wanting to be pissed at being called short and pleased that he was remembered taller. In the end, he settled for a smile as he took a seat across from her. "I heard that you may have seen something that can help us."
Helena leaned forward in her chair, bringing the two of them into a private circle, as though she were willing to speak for him alone. "I was supposed to work last night, I guess they told you. But with the water problems, night is the best time to fix something like that. They lose less work that way, since all that's there at night is the cleaning and security crews. So I stayed home, thought I'd get caught up on some of my chores, letter writing, that kind of thing. Then I see this light coming down the road, which is awfully strange see, as no one comes down this road that don't live here. And everyone as lives here works at night." She took a moment to sip at the cup of coffee in front of her, her eyes sliding around the room and it was all Ed could do not to rush her. "I don't know why, I just thought I should turn off the lights, so no one would think I was home. Then I saw him." She took another swallow of her coffee and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she looked at Ed a little desperately. "You have to understand, Doc Raleigh's been real good to us here. He's been coming through for years, helping what little he can. Always been a bit odd, but nothing, nothing harmful in him."
"He's a doctor?" Excitement swept over Ed in a rush. He wanted to jump up and shout that they had their man, he wanted to run to the phone and put out a release on him, but he needed more. They needed to be sure.
"No, not a proper doctor. Proper doctors don't come down here, it's just what we call him. Used to be a pharmacist, but he started traveling when his wife died couple years back helping folk like us. Bringing us medicines, looking after the little ones."
"And you saw him here last night? Did you see anything else?" She hesitated and Ed reached across the table, laying his flesh hand against hers. "Please, anything you can remember can help us save lives."
"I don't think he'd do nothing to hurt folk."
Ed knew that mindset. Fyrlon might not be a small town, but neighborhoods like this tended to inspire small town loyalties. "We don't think he's done anything, but he may have seen something, he may know something about what happened." If Ed could convince her that all they needed was Raleigh's help, that he might know something to help them catch the real killer, she might be willing to give up her information.
"I thought I saw him carrying something into the house." She looked away, and wouldn't meet his eyes again. "It was dark, though and I couldn't say for sure what it was."
Ed nodded, not willing to push her any further, though from her tone and demeanor, it was clear she knew exactly what he'd carried inside the house. "Do you know his full name; could you give us a description of him?"
"Arthur Raleigh is his name. Yeah, yeah, I can tell you what he looks like." Ed stood and had to resist slapping the table in victory. Instead, he rounded the table and patted Helena's shoulder.
"Thank you. I'll send someone in who can help with a drawing. Excuse me, please." Two minutes later he was on the phone with Hughes. "Get all of your men working on finding any information you can on a man named Arthur Raleigh. He's a pharmacist who's made a living the last couple years traveling the country helping people who couldn't afford a regular doctor. I'll be back in Central as soon as I can with a sketch of him. Do you think we can make the morning papers?"
Hughes—Ed loved that the man was never fazed by anything—gave a thoughtful hum. "If we miss the deadline, I'll have them run a special edition. You think this is the guy?"
"I've got a witness that put him at the scene and his background fits what we're looking for. At the moment, I just want to talk to him, but I'll be damn surprised if this is not our guy."
"Then get your ass back here with the sketch. Good work, Ed."
"Save it for when this is over."
Hughes met him at the train station and they drove through the relatively quiet streets of late night Central to offer up Helena's sketch for the morning paper. At this point, all Ed really wanted was to go home. He sort of felt like the majority of work had been done and now all the needed was for Raleigh to be delivered to them, gift wrapped and ready for trial. He knew it wasn't that simple, but it felt like it should be. Or maybe he was just tired.
"What were you able to find out about Raleigh?"
"Enough to be troubling. He was a pharmacist for almost twenty years in a small town just outside Eastern command. He had a wife, two grown kids and a good practice." Hughes maneuvered the car smoothly through a small block in traffic. "Then, three years ago, his wife died. He'd been on business in the west when it happened. She was part of that horrible poisoning at the community picnic—you remember, the one where someone dumped strychnine into the punch."
"I didn't think that many people died."
"No, not many. Emergency services made it to the scene pretty quickly and the dose was low enough that most everyone was all right. Raleigh's wife died as a result of an accident, though, and here's where it gets interesting. Part of the treatment was to flush the stomachs of the victims with charcoal to help absorb the poison; Mary Raleigh's dose was administered incorrectly. The charcoal went to her lungs and she suffocated."
Ed swore. The pieces of the puzzle couldn't fit better if he'd planned them. "That's when he started traveling."
"From what we've been able to gather, he was devastated by the death of his wife. He closed his shop and started traveling across the country, following the train lines from east to west and back again. It seems at first, he dedicated himself to helping people. He sought out those in need, those who couldn't afford treatment. By all accounts, he saved countless lives."
Ed snorted. "Yeah, until he started killing people."
"Allegedly killing people. Everything we have so far is circumstantial. We'll need to find him first." Hughes pulled into the lot in front of Central's newspaper. "They held the morning printing for us. My contact said they might need to run some filler articles, but the sketch and the request for information will make the front page."
It was almost midnight by the time Ed passed through his own front door. He'd seen the lights from the street, attesting to the fact that Roy was still awake, leaving Ed feeling inordinately pleased. Only a handful of days had passed since he'd left home, but it felt like he'd been gone months. And having Roy sitting quietly at the table, surrounded by papers and books left Ed feeling warm.
"You've been busy," Roy said as he stood and came to meet Ed at the door, taking his travel bag and greeting him with an open, hungry kiss.
Ed pulled back after a moment, resting his forehead against Roy's collarbone and breathing in the scent of their home and Roy. "I think I need a vacation."
"You wouldn't know what to do with yourself on a vacation. Two days of nothing to do on a weekend and you're ready to start tearing the house apart. It's not even our house." Roy's arms stayed wrapped loosely around Ed and he could feel the vibration of Roy's voice echoing through his chest.
"Whose fault is that? I said we should get a house, you said military housing was just fine. Look what that gets us: weird neighbors, stupid house and lawn maintenance rules and every time I walk out the door I get this itchy feeling between my shoulder blades." Ed wondered idly if bitching good naturedly about old arguments relaxed anyone else.
"We can move if you want, but I am not packing or lifting a single box of your books." There was a smile in Roy's voice and Ed looked up to kiss the corner of his mouth.
"Are you hungry?" Roy finally stepped back, but only far enough to let Ed have his personal space back. Barely more than a lifted hand's worth of space separated them.
Ed shook his head. "Mostly just tired."
"Good, because there's nothing to eat."
"You know," Ed patted Roy's stomach. "They make takeout for one person just as easily as for two."
Roy shrugged, and then moved off to straighten his papers and lock down the lower half of the house. "I know. It's not as much fun to eat by myself, though. Cereal is fine."
Ed would never, never imagine himself as a gourmet cook. Too many years spent eating bad inn food, or nothing at all left him with sort of a 'as long as it's not alive, it should be fine' mentality. Half the time the best meals they had were when they spent the evening with the Hughes', but Roy's insistence on eating cereal made Ed irrationally insane. That was probably why Roy insisted on doing it.
"You're going to get fucking scurvy."
Roy laughed and tugged him up the stairs. "Come on. You can scold me in the morning."
"Over fucking cereal, no doubt." Ed tugged off his clothes, debating for a moment if he wanted a shower before bed, but with the covers pulled down and the sheets so soft, Ed couldn't help himself. He threw himself face first into the bed and let Roy settle himself around him.
Once it was dark and Roy's hand started stroking a soothing line down his back, Roy seemed to think it was all right to ask the serious questions. "Did you find what you needed?"
"We think so. I think so. We still have to catch the guy, but we know him now and his picture is going to be all over the papers in the morning, so—" He shrugged. As the images of the case and the dead men tried to gain hold on his thoughts, Ed refined his focus to the sound of Roy's breathing and his touch.
"Hughes said it was a hard case. He couldn't give me details, but everyone in his office has a sort of sick look about them these days."
"Yeah, well, it's not quite done. I don't want to talk about it just yet. It's all I've been thinking about the last couple days and all I want is to be here with you and pretend the world isn't quite as horrible as it really is. Can you do that for me?"
Roy kissed his bare shoulder. "Of course." He was silent for a moment, then began a long, rambling story of his office's latest conspiracy theory that somehow involved Havoc, Breda, a coffee mug, an irate secretary, one of the motor pool cars and ended with Roy having to sit through a three hour dinner with one of the other Generals to help smooth things over. Ed fell asleep without hearing the end of the story, but Roy's soothing voice kept his darker thoughts at bay.
Roy was grinning at him over a bowl of cereal when Ed came down the stairs in the morning. "Good morning, love. Beautiful day, don't you think?"
Ed poured himself some coffee and slumped across the table from Roy. "What's your fucking problem?"
"Oh, you know, just enjoying the beauty of the morning, reading the morning paper. It's so very informative."
The sun had not been up long enough for Roy to be this smug for no reason. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Roy made an irritating show of straightening the paper and smoothing the crease before sliding it across the table. "Take a look. I think you'll find it interesting."
"You're such a child," Ed said, rolling his eyes as he grabbed the paper. The day's headline, hell the entire front page, made Ed's stomach drop.
Edward Elric, famed Fullmetal Alchemist and Alchemist of the People, works tirelessly to bring killer to justice.
The article went on to talk about Ed's involvement with the military at a young age, the feats he'd performed to help save lives, the great work he'd done for the country. Near the bottom of the page, there was a side article on his involvement with Roy that made him flush with embarrassment. His brother was going to see this. The whole fucking city was going to see this. Only as his long list of achievements, rumors and innuendo thinned did Ed find the first reference to a call for the whereabouts of Arthur Raleigh, along with the sketch Ed had provided the previous night to Hughes.
Ed slammed the paper to the table and stalked to the phone. Hughes, wisely or unwisely, answered after only two rings. "What the fuck is this?"
"Edward. I wondered if you had seen the paper this morning. It's all very explainable. See, I asked the paper to hold the printing until you arrived, but they had to fill the space with something. It looks like they got a little carried away." Hughes laughed into the phone and Ed could almost see him holding his hands up in supplication.
"A little carried away? It's practically a fucking biography. Raleigh is a side note."
"They're doing us a favor, and really did hold the paper longer than they should have. Why don't you come in and we'll discuss some of the information that's already coming in."
He was being placated, he knew it, but it still worked. "We're getting information already?"
"Of course. Sometimes, a little celebrity isn't a bad thing."
"I'll be there in twenty and there'd better be some actual leads." He hung up before Hughes could say anything else. "And you," he spun on Roy.
Roy was looking back at him innocently over a bowl of cereal.
"You shut up most of all."
"I didn't say they'd be good leads."
Ed ran a hand over his face, flinging yet another paper with transcribed 'witness accounts' onto the floor. "People are really fucking strange."
"I think some of them were hoping they'd get to speak with you directly." Hughes winced at the paper, just one of many that littered his floor. "I have a trash can."
"I like your floor better." It was petty but Ed didn't care. Sometimes he was petty.
Someone knocked at the door and they both looked up as Havoc stuck his head in. "Hey, boss. What's up with the General today?"
"How the hell should I know? He was in a fine mood when I left." Only after the words were out of his mouth did Ed think about the connotation.
Havoc grinned around his toothpick. "That's not really any of my business. But really, I'm not talking about his mood. I mean about him being late. Hawkeye's going to shoot him as soon as he walks in the door if he doesn't call in with a good excuse soon."
Ed looked at the clock on the wall. It was nearly eleven and Roy wasn't in? "I left before him this morning." He set his feet on the floor with a thump, a chill, sick feeling sweeping through him. "Send the closest patrol to the house, check to see if he's there." Havoc rushed off, all playfulness gone from his demeanor.
"I'm sure he's fine, Ed. He doesn't fit the profile, and you know Roy. He's probably napping." Hughes drummed his fingers on his desk. "Doesn't hurt to check, though." He picked up his phone and Ed heard him asking if there were any disturbances in the neighborhood this morning. "No, I'll wait," he said while the information was collected.
Ed got up to pace the length of the room, tightness growing in his chest to the point where he wondered if this was what it was like to have a heart attack. Did people his age have heart attacks?
"I see, thank you." Hughes hung up the phone and stood. "Come on, we have to go. There was a fire on your street this morning, no one was involved and it looked like it had something to do with a car, but—"
"Roy." Ed could feel himself shutting down, locking down his emotions until all that was left was his ability to see and think and hear without feeling. If Raleigh had Roy—If that motherfucker had Roy, it was because Ed's face had been plastered all over the papers. It was because of the article that associated Roy with Ed.
"We'll find him." Hughes had the same hollow quality in his voice that Ed was feeling. What he didn't say was that they had no guarantee of finding Roy alive.
They arrived at the scene and Ed never, ever wanted to think of his home as a scene again. Just like Fyrlon, military vehicles and personnel were already on site, though no press was visible, for which Ed was grateful. He didn't have it in him to answer their questions politely.
Somehow, Al had been called—probably by Hawkeye—and arrived not long after Ed. He shadowed Ed, staying at his shoulder as Ed paced the sidewalk in front of his house looking for any clues that would help. Raleigh had taken Roy—he'd had Roy for more than two hours, now. He could be anywhere in the city and their only hope was to find something here.
Hughes approached with an evidence bag. "One of the investigators found this." He handed it over and Ed examined the thin dart through the bag. The tip was dark with blood—Roy's blood—and only Al's hand on his shoulder kept him upright.
He opened the bag and set the dart on the sidewalk, clapped and broke it down to its chemical compounds. At the moment, he could give a fuck about keeping evidence pristine. They needed to find Roy. "Gelsemium?" he asked of Al when he'd sorted through the results.
"Poison. Good choice, too. In small doses, it would make the victim look ill, in need of assistance."
"So, Raleigh shot him with the dart, the walked up to offer his help." Except Roy must have known something was wrong, must have been listening to Ed all along because Roy had fought. Hard. The grass and tree in the front yard were scorched to bare earth, the sidewalk was black and the car looked like it had been bombed. Bits of cloth and metal littered the ground, but Roy must have succumbed eventually to the gelsemium and Raleigh had taken him.
But where did he go? Where would he feel safe enough? Had he even intended to stop in Central for another victim? Ed didn't know. All his knowledge, everything he'd learned and he had no idea where Raleigh would have gone.
"Brother, are you all right?" Al put a hand on his shoulder and kept his voice pitched low enough that only Ed would hear him.
"Don't. I can't," he blew out a breath. "The only way I can deal with this is to not think about it. I mean, I'm thinking about it, obviously, but—"
Al held up a hand. "I understand. Come on. Hughes is talking with your neighbors. Let's go see if they saw anything."
Roy woke struggling, feeling awful and pissed.
He was bound, hand and foot, and gagged for good measure. His gloves were gone and whatever he'd been injected with left him feeling nauseous and dizzy. No one else was in the room with him, though there was evidence of the presence of another all around, from the worn coat to the neat row of charcoal lined up in the center of the room to the clutter of cups and food wrappers.
The room itself was dark, though light streamed through the cracks around the edges of the curtains hanging over the windows. From what Roy could see, it looked like he was in an old storefront—counters lined one of the walls and the cracked glass of display cases had fallen to the floor in some places leaving stardust trails. Roy could think of a dozen places in Central where commercial storefronts had run to ruin, sometimes whole districts of them. No one could possibly know where he was. If he was still in Central at all.
For a few mindless minutes, Roy struggled against his bonds, but his limbs were weak and didn't respond well to his commands. Ultimately, he ended up lightheaded, exhausted and bleeding. Ed was going to fucking kill him if his absent kidnapper didn't get to it first.
He'd been in such a good mood that morning when he left the house. He was even early enough to actually be on time. Maybe it was a little sick, but there were few things more stunning than the sight of an enraged Edward Elric. He practically glowed with anger, he came alive when he was furious and who was Roy not to nudge him in the direction when the opportunity arose. As long as Ed wasn't furious at him, Roy could thoroughly enjoy the show.
He hadn't even noticed anything was strange at first. The tiny twinge at his neck didn't mean much; Roy thought it was an insect since their neighborhood was rife with them. But a moment later, his vision began to swim and he felt so nauseous he had to stop, hunched over in the street, not sure if he was going to lose his breakfast. Then there was someone at his side, muttering something about assistance and did he need help.
Years of military training and general paranoia set Roy off even through his pain. The man at his side was not right. He did not mean Roy well. He thanked the man for his concern and tried to distance himself, but the hand at his elbow was surprisingly strong and Roy couldn't shake him. So he did the only thing he could. He lit the world on fire. Only his aim was off, the world was spinning and in moments, Roy found himself shoved into a car.
Which was how he found himself here. And here pretty well sucked.
Roy pressed his head against the rough surface of the floor, the cold concrete helping him to concentrate. As his eyes fell on his bleeding wrists, an idea formed and he slowly, carefully began drawing out an array in his blood. Two or three times a month, Roy had to hear from Ed about how Roy's alchemy was falling by the wayside. How, if it weren't for his gloves, he wouldn't be an alchemist at all. Not everyone could be a genius, but Roy held his own and he just needed a couple more lines to have a fully functional array at his command.
His heart pounded in his throat as he finished the array. The lines were a little uneven, and the whole effect was mildly grotesque, but it was complete. Roy pressed his fingers to the edges and leaned back as a blinding shaft of fire erupted from the array and burst through the roof like a beacon. With any luck, they would be looking for him, searching for any sign and a signal fire would be too flashy for anyone to ignore.
Across the room, the door slammed open and the man who'd come to his aid on the street ran to his side. He looked milder, older and sadder than Roy expected in a killer. The man, Raleigh he presumed, pushed him away from the array.
"We'll have none of that." He stepped out of Roy's line of sight only to return a moment later and slammed a metal rod across Roy's hands. He cried out at the unexpected violence as he heard bones break and the pain stole his breath and vision. "Clever alchemist. They'll be looking for us now." He tossed the pipe aside where it clattered in the corner of the room.
Roy curled around his wounded hands, pressing them to his chest, even thought the action made the pain worse. Around him, he could hear Raleigh moving, muttering to himself, and the dry scratch as he began sketching the charcoal onto the floor, but it was all secondary as Roy tried to just breathe. In, out, don't pass out. He had to stay aware; he had to fight to the very end. If this bastard was going to kill him, he was going to have to work for it. He owed Ed that much, at least.
His greatest hope was that Ed knew he was missing, and that they were looking for him. That his beacon had been enough to bring his location to their attention. Or maybe there was someone in the area who thought to call the disturbance in to the authorities. There was a killer on the loose, it was all over the papers, the people would be hyper vigilant. Roy had to believe that they were coming for him. He just had to stay alive until they got here.
Time was a difficult and fluid concept. Roy measured its passing in breaths, in the ebb and flow of pain. Three breaths and his hands hurt so badly he thought he would die from it. The next inhalation brought a lessening of pain and the return of his resolve to continue. He was so focused on his own existence, that it was something of a surprise when Raleigh knelt next to him, his hands and face smudged in dark charcoal.
"I'm ready for you now."
Roy jerked back at the strangely gentle touch on his head. He tried to struggle, to shout, but his movements were hampered by the bonds and his words muffled by the gag.
"Hush now. They all fight in the beginning." Raleigh withdrew a needle and small glass bottle from his pocket. He filled the syringe, tapped it twice to settle the liquid and slid the needle into Roy's arm before Roy could even flinch from his movements. "You'll be calmer now."
Before Roy had time to wonder what Raleigh had given him, a strange, fluid sensation swept through him. All of his muscles, even those he'd had tensed in pain, relaxed and try as he would, he could not make them move again. Raleigh stroked his hair and smiled at him. "That's right. You'll be fine now. In a moment, it will all be over."
As Roy struggled to make any of his limbs obey his commands, as he found it more and more difficult to move his eyes and even breathe, Raleigh continued to stoke his hair and mutter quiet condolences to him. Roy could feel where the charcoal rubbed off on his skin, and when Raleigh bent to pick him up, the pain of his hands flashed through him. He couldn't move, but he could still feel everything.
Raleigh walked him a few paces away and set him carefully on a new section of the floor. He took care to undo Roy's bonds, remove his gag and arrange Roy's limbs in straight, perpendicular lines. Finally, he took a moment to slide his fingers over Roy's eyes, closing the lids and blocking out Roy's sight. With his vision gone, Roy concentrated on listening to Raleigh move around him. He could feel the pain radiating from his hands and feel the roiling in his gut and the labor of each breath. He couldn't even call out in a last attempt to gain someone's, anyone's, attention.
A moment later, power flooded through him and began to rip him apart. He couldn't move, he couldn't scream, he couldn't breathe. It was a mercy when the world went dark.
This had to be it. It had to; they didn't have time for it to be a false lead. But who the hell else in all of Amestris would be flashy enough to shine a pillar of fire across the sky to get their attention? It had to be Roy.
They stood huddled across the street from an abandoned shop while Hughes dictated the terms of entry. "The six of you will enter and clear the area. Only when they've given the all clear," he paused and glared at Ed. "will we follow."
"We've been over this ten times already in the car, can we just move? What the fuck, Hughes, do you want to find—" A crackle of energy that Ed would know in his sleep as alchemy filled the air and all thoughts of following an entry plan scattered before Ed as he ran for the door. He could not, would not allow Raleigh to finish powering the array.
He transmuted his automail in mid-step and crashed through the front door, sending wood and glass arcing out from him. Raleigh was so intent on his alchemy, he barely acknowledged Ed's entrance which gave him the perfect opportunity to bowl into the man and send him crashing to the ground. He crouched, poised over the man, his blade at Raleigh's throat and murder in every breath Ed took as the alchemic energy died around him. His entire body trembled with the need to shove the blade through Raleigh's throat, to see the blood erupt from his veins for daring to touch what was Ed's.
"Ed. Ed!" Hughes' voice broke Ed's paralysis. He looked over his shoulder at Hughes, who was standing next to Roy. From this distance, he looked dead. "We need you here. You have to tell us what to do, what you know about the poison. He's not breathing."
On shaking legs, Ed backed off Raleigh, leaving him under the heavy guard of a handful of soldiers. At the center of Raleigh's array, Roy had been arranged with his arms spread wide and his legs straight, as though he were waiting to embrace the sky. Blood oozed from dozens of gashes on his exposed skin and darkened his clothes. Ed collapsed at Roy's side, a thick coating of charcoal covering his hands and clothes and he felt for a pulse through the blood slicking Roy's skin.
He gasped out a choked breath as he felt the jump of Roy's pulse under his fingers. If Roy's heart was beating, everything else could be dealt with. "It's the curare." Steadying his shaking hands, Ed tilted Roy's head back, made sure his mouth was clear and began to breathe for Roy. For everything that Roy had done for him and with him through the years, for all the peace Roy had been able to bring to him, it was hardly any burden at all to breathe for him until he could do it for himself.
Ed jerked awake at the sound of Al's soft voice next to his ear. "What's wrong?"
Al patted his shoulder. "Nothing's wrong. You should go home; it's going to be hours before he wakes up."
Ed slowly straightened in his chair, stretching out sore and cramped muscles from hours spent in the same uncomfortable position. "I'm not leaving." He reached out and ran his fingers along the flesh of Roy's arm not covered in a cast or taped up with IV lines. The litany of injuries ran through Ed's mind, almost as a talisman against death. If Roy was injured, he wasn't dead. If he was hurting, it meant he was alive.
Al grabbed a chair of his own and took a seat next to Ed. "I talked to his doctors. They're very good, by the way."
"If I had to take care of you both, I'd need to shut down my practice. You two are turning out to be more than a full time job."
Ed wanted to protest that it wasn't his fault, but in this case, it was. Raleigh, once caught, had admitted to everything. In fact, he seemed to take some kind of pleasure in letting them know every detail. He's divulged the fact that he had a favorite cousin who'd been an alchemist and had taught him some basics and who had later been killed by one of his own arrays gone wrong. Raleigh had determined his victims based on their resemblance to his cousin.
And if there had been any question of the validity of his confession, if some person wanted to discount his knowledge of the crime scenes, his ability to recreate the array on paper, his presence in the storefront with Roy, bleeding to death on the floor, there was always the button found at the Fyrlon scene. When Raleigh was arrested, he was wearing an old, worn coat, given to him by his long dead wife and sporting five out of six identical buttons.
When asked why he'd targeting Roy, Raleigh credited the newspaper articles. Raleigh didn't want to be caught, but when he felt the eyes of the State on him, he knew he would have time for just one more kill. Roy had been chosen because of his association with Ed. Raleigh felt it a fitting gift for him to take the person who obviously meant so much to the man who was responsible for tracking him down. It had been an attack on Ed as much as Roy and in those terms, it was hard not to think of Roy's injuries as his fault.
Ed had spent hours trying to reconcile his desire to see the man executed for his crimes and his own belief that the State shouldn't go around killing people. They made mistakes and sometimes did terrible things to the people after their deaths, like Barry the Chopper and the others from Lab 5. It didn't keep him from wanting to see the man dead and beyond any ability to hurt more people Ed loved.
"It's been almost two days, now. Don't you think he should be awake by now?" As though Ed had been aware of the passage of time. As if Al and Hughes hadn't been keeping Ed up to date on the whirlwind activity of the captured serial killer along with updates on time of day and when he should be eating. Ed had barely left this room at all since Roy had been settled in, and he was beginning to think time stood still within its walls.
"It's better for him to sleep right now. He's going to be in a lot of pain when he wakes up and it's best for him to be out through the initial recovery. He'll wake when he's ready." All of which Al had told him before, all of which Ed knew, but he still felt like he couldn't really relax, couldn't really think that it was over until Roy opened his eyes. Even if he was pissed at Ed for getting him involved in the whole mess, it would be so much better if he could just see Roy's eyes.
"I brought you the paper, if you want."
Ed shook his head. He'd tried over the past two days to read while he sat at Roy's side, but his mind kept wandering back to Roy. Every blink was filled with images of Roy lying still as death on the floor of the storefront and it only took a small step of imagination to spin out what his life would be like at this very moment if Roy had actually died. Even though he knew the consequences and knew it wouldn't work, Ed wondered if he would be strong enough not to try to bring Roy back. He liked to think that he'd learned his lesson and learned it well, but at the same time, he couldn't imagine his life without Roy.
"General Hughes has been talking with the press and he's managing to spin it in Roy's favor. All the articles have Roy looking less like a victim and more like an integral part of the investigation. He'll be a hero before this is over." Al set the paper aside and offered Ed his next gift. "You should eat something."
Al made a frustrated sound. "It's been hours since you ate. You have to take care of yourself. Roy's going to need your help when he's released and you're not going to be able to do it if you keep forgetting to eat and keep sleeping in that chair."
"I'll be fine. And the chair isn't so bad. I've slept in worse places." More uncomfortable places, at least. The pervasive smell of medicine and disinfectant permeated Ed's dreams so that even when he was asleep, he imagined himself in a hospital. Sometimes Roy was gone, sometimes it was Al in the bed, sometimes himself but he rarely dreamed of anything else. Which, now that he thought of it, was odd. "Can I ask you something?"
"Of course." Al's tone clearly said he was an idiot for even thinking he had to ask.
"Have you," he drew a slow breath. "Have you had any more dreams about the Gate?"
Al shook his head. "Not since we caught Raleigh. I have a theory about it, if you want to hear it?"
"Am I going to like it?"
"Probably not. I had a chance to look at some of the photos of the array that Raleigh was using. It's strange, and I don't just mean the charcoal. The way it looks, the thought behind the alchemy is strange. The end result was to kill his victims, right? But the way he built it wasn't just to kill them. He was breaking them down to their original components."
Ed swallowed hard against the description, his hand tightening reflexively on Roy's arm. Beyond the poison, beyond the broken bones, the array had begun to pull Roy apart. He lost so much blood that Ed doubted there was much of his original blood running through his veins. Stitches crossed huge swaths of Roy's body and bandages covered the rest, holding him together until he could heal. "Yeah, and?"
"Well, if you think about it, his alchemy is sort of the reverse of trying to create a human life and I think Raleigh was disturbing the Gate. I think that with every refinement of his array, he was getting closer to seeing the Gate and can you imagine the destruction he could have caused if he'd seen the secrets?"
"So, what, the dreams were like an alarm system for the Gate? The fucking Gate is using us as a way to keep people out? Like we're supposed to be some kind of guardians?" The insanity, the gall, of the Gate to ask that of them when there had been no one to stop them from pounding on the door. "Where the fuck were our guardians? How do we get called to stop a middle aged serial killer when there was no one to protect nine and ten year old boys?"
Al held up his hands. "It's just a theory, brother. But think about the difference. When you were filled with the knowledge of the Gate, you used what you learned to help people. Mostly we were trying to get our bodies back, but you never could pass up helping people in need. If Raleigh had that information, he was already so twisted he probably couldn't help killing on a larger scale."
"That's a shit plan if I've ever heard one." Ed did not intend to spend the rest of his life tracking down assholes with more talent than sense. Not if no one had bothered to do it for him. "And how the hell did you get dragged into it? It's not like you remember."
Al reached out and ran light fingers on Ed's automail. "I only forgot the first time. The second time I went in willingly."
Ed shook off his touch. "Whatever. Tell me about what the papers are saying." Not that Ed really cared, but he didn't want to talk about the second time with Al. Not ever. The memory of waking, whole and alive and yet missing Al kept him awake some nights, even years later. He wanted to pummel his brother for doing something so stupid, so completely fucking stupid. Ed didn't want to die, but he certainly didn't want to live at the expense of Al.
For a moment, it looked like Al would try and pursue their line of discussion, but in the end, his brother either knew him too well or decided to take pity on him. He filled the silence with easy discussion, telling Ed all about the articles, interviews and bits of conversation he'd overheard. When Al ran to the end of that topic, he jumped to his practice and the patients he'd seen the past two days. While Al was careful to never tell Ed the names of the people he saw, he took great joy in describing embarrassing situations, strange patients and odd observations—anything to provoke a laugh out of Ed.
"How's a man supposed to get any rest with all this noise?" Roy said softly and Ed was out of his chair like he'd been stung, leaning over Roy. He cupped Roy's face with one hand and brushed at his soft hair with the other.
"That'd be a more impressive statement if you didn't sound like such shit." He stroked Roy's face as Al moved around them, checking whatever it was that doctors checked when patients woke up after two days.
"You were worried?" Roy kept his eyes locked on Ed and Ed knew it was his subtle way of asking if he was going to be all right.
Ed soothed his worry with a gentle kiss, mindful of the pain Roy would still be in. "A bit. Less worried now."
Roy nodded and seemed to relax. "Knew you would find me."
"Yeah, well, a giant pillar of flame is a little hard to miss. Good job with that." He spared a glance at Al, who seemed untroubled with his findings before turning back to Roy. Even though he'd been awake such a short time, his eyes flickered. "Go back to sleep. We can talk more later."
A frown tugged at the corners of Roy's mouth. "I blew up the car."
"Shhh. I know. We'll get another one."
"And the tree in the front yard. Didn't I?"
Ed stroked the side of his face, willing him to relax, to not think about what had happened just yet. "It's all right. I never liked that tree, anyway. Go to sleep." He stayed hovering over Roy for a while longer until he was certain Roy was asleep before collapsing back into his chair. The amount of relief he felt was wildly out of proportion to the length of their conversation.
"Now will you go home?"
Ed shook his head. "I want to sit here a little longer. I'll go in a bit." It was a complete lie, they both knew it, but Al let it go.
"I'll come by later with more food, all right?"
Ed muttered an acknowledgement, hardly even aware of Al moving out of the room. Giddy exhaustion left him trembling and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed beside Roy. Only the knowledge of the pain it would cause Roy kept Ed in his uncomfortable chair. He tipped his head back in the chair, the base of his skull resting against the hard wood. God, it felt like he could breathe for the first time in days. Relief this profound should be a controlled substance. Just a minute of conversation and Ed felt that, while everything was not right with the world, it was getting there.
Ed twitched at the very sound of Roy's voice. Maybe if he ignored him, Roy would be quiet.
"Ed! I'm so thirsty; could you bring me some water?"
Ed spread his hands wide on the table and drew a deep, careful breath. Roy was recovering, Roy needed him. He found he needed to remind himself of the fact several times a day.
"Ed! Are you still here?"
Roy was a fucking child who was driving Ed out of his fucking mind. "Shut up! I'm coming." He shoved himself out of his chair—he didn't know why he was even trying to work—and went to fetch water for the bastard. Never mind that the man already had three glasses of water supplied to him in the last hour alone. God forbid the liquid sit in a glass for more than ten minutes or it 'tasted funny'. Never mind that he could get up and walk to get his own water. His doctors were actively encouraging him to get up and move, but he still insisted on interrupting Ed every ten minutes with some ridiculous need.
Part of it, Ed supposed, was his fault. He'd been so worried about Roy when he was first released from the hospital that he'd hovered a little. He wanted to make sure Roy was as comfortable as he could be, he made sure Roy took his medication at the proper times and was getting enough to eat and drink as supplied in the doctor's orders. Roy was in genuine pain and Ed would have done anything, anything to make it better.
Now, though, Roy was in mild discomfort and milking it for every last drop of Ed's patience. Hughes had left a small silver bell for Roy to call for assistance when he first came home from the hospital so he wouldn't have to strain his voice. Ed had thrown it through the window two days ago.
Instead of being pleased to see Roy alive and breathing in their home, he was wondering if he could ship him back to the hospital until he was less of a pain in the ass. Upstairs, Roy was laying in their bed, surrounded by so many books, newspapers and various other amusements, Ed had taken to sleeping in the guest room just so he didn't have to move Roy's mountain of crap. It also preempted conversations that included Roy whining about how he didn't sleep well because Ed jostled him every time he fucking breathed.
"Here's your fucking water. Do you want anything else?" Because if he didn't ask, if he assumed Roy would make all his needs known at the same time, it meant he would get halfway down the stairs or just settled at the table or three lines into whatever he was reading before Roy was shouting through the house again.
"Well," he paused and then shook his head. "No, I'm okay."
Ed felt like beating his head against the nearest wall. Instead, he drew a deep breath. "I'm not playing your fucking game today. Either you want something and tell me so I can get it, or I'm not coming back up here until it's time for dinner."
"I don't want to bother you." Roy had truly perfected pathetic, dressed in his pajamas and still covered in bandages.
"Right. I'm just going to go kill myself. What do you want?"
"Will you sit with me? I'm just so bored up here by myself." Like there wasn't a continuous line of people tromping through the house just to see how Roy was doing. There had been enough of them this morning that Ed felt like the curator of a museum with a particularly expensive exhibition.
But Roy was healing and not dead and it had been all Ed's fault. "Why don't you come downstairs? I can work in the sitting room and you can irritate the hell out of me from three feet away."
Roy's eyes slid away from his and focused on the far wall. "It's still hard for me to take the stairs."
"Cause I'd make you take them yourself. Come on, it'll be good for you to get out of bed." Ed got to work excavating Roy from his pile of amusements. What was a minute trip for any normal person turned into a twenty minute ordeal to get Roy out of the bed, down the stairs and secure on the couch in the sitting room.
Ed grabbed his book from the dining room table and Roy's glass of water before returning to settle next to him where Roy could lean against Ed. With Roy drowsing at his side after his exertion, it was easier for Ed to be patient with him. He could stroke his hand through Roy's hair with his free hand, rest his fingers at Roy's pulse and feel his chest expand and contract with each breath.
And when he set his book aside and joined Roy in an afternoon nap, his dreams were his own.