Series: Fullmetal Alchemist (Animeverse)
Words: 4342 (9008 total)
Warnings: Slash, swearing
Status: In Progress
Spoilers: Yes, up till the end of the series.
Summary: Ed and Roy find themselves in the hands of a madman with a vendetta, one with a very unique idea of what constitutes 'Equivalent Exchange.'
Previous Chapters:Prologue - Chapter 1
A loud ringing startled Jean from disjointed dreams and he shot upright, banging his knee on the table and staring around in bleary confusion. His back ached something fierce, and he decided that he was getting too damned old to go passing out at the kitchen table. A burnt out cigarette had singed a hole in the report he’d been reading before he had fallen asleep, and Jean shook his head at his own stupidity before shoving the scattered papers into a pile. Lucky he hadn’t burned the building down. Or his hair. That was an incident he didn’t care to repeat.
The doorbell rang a second time, reminding him of what had woken him up in the first place. A glance at the clock confirmed that it was indeed the middle of the goddamned night, and whoever was at his door wasn’t going to live much longer. Grumbling and rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he got to his feet and answered the door, fully intent on giving the interloper a good dressing down.
His ire evaporated and the words died on his lips. Standing on the threshold was Alphonse Elric, battered suitcase in hand. He seemed small and worn, the shadows around his eyes a good indication that the boy hadn’t been sleeping well, if at all. “Hey there,” Jean said gently, standing aside so the boy could enter.
Alphonse offered him a tiny smile as he moved past. “I’m sorry to trouble you, Lieutenant.”
“Jean,” he corrected automatically. “You don’t have to apologize. You know you’re always welcome here.” Ever since his brother and the general had disappeared, Al had been haunting Central like a ghost. He refused to go back home, refused to stay with anyone for more than a few nights at a time. He was worried about the kid; Al was taking it worse than the rest of them put together.
Jean glanced around the messy apartment, shrugged inwardly, and waved the boy into the kitchen. If he was more awake he might have made a token attempt to pick up, but as it was Alphonse, he was going to have to put up with his mess. Not that he thought the kid was in any state to care, really. He snuck a sideways glance at Al as he put the kettle on for tea, and decided he didn’t like what he saw. The more time that passed, the more the younger Elric seemed to shrink in on himself. Jean shook his head, swept a pile of old newspapers off of one of the chairs, and told Al to sit. It was a terrible thing to witness, and he didn’t have any idea how to make it better.
Well, that was a lie, Jean mused, tossing his cigarettes into a drawer so he wouldn’t be tempted to light up in front of Al. He knew exactly how to make it better, but finding his boss and the kid was easier said than done. He sat down across from Alphonse, watching as he reached out and took one of the reports from pile, expression darkening.
The report was an old one regarding the investigation of the premises after the disappearance. He’d been poring over the old reports before he’d conked out, hoping to find some clue that might have been overlooked. Alphonse sighed and set the report back on top of the stack. “If only I hadn’t gone to sleep.”
“Don’t start,” Jean warned, shaking his head sharply. “I’m not going to let you sit here and blame yourself for something that wasn’t your fault, you hear?” It wasn’t the fist time they’d gone round on the subject, but Al didn’t argue this time. He merely nodded.
They fell silent, and a moment later the whistle of the kettle cut through the quiet and startled them both. Jean got to his feet and pulled two mugs from the cabinet, grateful he’d gotten around to washing the dishes at least. Alphonse was probably starving; chances were if he wasn’t sleeping well, he wasn’t eating well either, so Jean opened the ice box, rummaging around for something edible. He stumbled across the sandwich he had made for lunch but hadn’t eaten, deemed it acceptable, and deposited both tea and sandwich in front of his guest.
Alphonse blinked at the offered fare a moment, before curling his fingers around the mug with a quiet ‘Thank you’. Jean decided it was a good sign; a month ago Alphonse would have insisted he wasn’t hungry.
“So,” he said, slumping back into his chair. “What brings you to my humble home so late?”
Brows dipping in a puzzled frown, Alphonse looked at the clock as though he hadn’t realized the hour. “I...was just in the area.”
Meaning he was wandering the streets in the middle of the night. Alone. Again. Jean snorted quietly. It wasn’t the first time they’d gone round on this particular subject either, but this time he let it go with a muttered, “You aren’t invincible, you know.”
Al accepted the reprimand with a bow of his head. Maybe that was a good sign too; the kid didn’t look any better, but he seemed more willing to listen to reason. “Have you found anything new?” Alphonse asked.
Bringing them right back to the subject at hand. “I haven’t,” Jean said, unable to shake the feeling that he was failing Al somehow by not finding anything new in reports that had been read and reread a thousand times. They might as well have flown away for all the evidence they had left behind. No signs of forced entry, no witnesses, no evidence of a struggle. Just two men missing, and one who’d slept right through it.
It didn’t help one damned bit that the military had made only a token effort at best to recover them. There were a few men in high places that wouldn’t be sorry to see Mustang go, and Jean suspected they’d had a hand in the half-assed operation. Hell, he suspected that one of them might have had a hand in the disappearance as well, and had been doing his best to quietly investigate those most likely to have an irritant ‘taken care of’. There were no leads on that front either, and Jean was ready to start tearing his hair out in sheer frustration.
The team had been reassigned a few weeks after the incident. They had been assured it was temporary until Mustang was found, but since they were conducting the investigation on their own time it made it nearly impossible to compare notes. Breda was the only one he saw with any sort of regularity since they worked in the same building. The others were scattered, working different places and different shifts. The final straw had been when they’d shunted Hawkeye out west two weeks ago. Jean had been ready to bust in to some idiot’s office and start blasting off kneecaps. Hawkeye, while she shared his sentiment, had assured him that this was likely not the best course of action.
It was hard not to get discouraged, but looking at Alphonse --who seemed so lost-- stirred up reserves of determination he’d thought depleted weeks ago. Reaching out, he placed his larger hand over Al’s and gave it a comforting squeeze. “We’ll find them,” he assured the boy, “If I have to tear this whole damned country apart building by building, we’ll find them.”
Marian sighed, taking a moment to rest against the side of a building. It was days like this she regretted her decision to move to the city. Just living was so tiring, and it made her yearn for blue sky and the wide-open spaces of her father’s farm, for lazy days by the river. She smiled ironically, watching the flood of people bustling this way and that. These city folks probably hadn’t had a lazy day in their lives. It didn’t seem possible to slow down in this place.
When she told her father that she’d wanted to go to school in the big city, he’d laughed. Not in a cruel way; he just didn’t believe she could handle the stresses of city life. Marian had been so determined to prove him wrong. She still was, but there were days when it was tempting to admit defeat and go back home with her tail between her legs.
She’d thought she was smart. Marian had more facts in her head than all of the other kids in their small community put together. She’d thought she would waltz into Central, take the university by storm. Instead, the place had taken her down a few pegs. More than a few if she wanted to be honest. It had quickly become clear that her backwater education hadn’t prepared her for the rigors of university life. At home, she was brilliant; here, she was average at best. It seemed as though she was running and running without rest just to keep from falling behind.
Worse, her savings were nearly depleted. She had rent to pay, books to buy, and eating once in a while would be nice too. She’d have to find a job, and soon, if she didn’t want to find herself out of the streets. The idea of adding a job to her already tremendous workload make her want to sit down and cry, but if she didn’t want to drop out, it was her only option.
Pushing herself away from the wall, she smoothed the front of her dress. She was about to step away when a fluttering movement caught her eye. It was a poster, one among many papering the wall, but the contents made her look twice.
Stepping closer so she could read it, Marian frowned when she realized what she was looking at. It must be someone else. Something held her back however, and she scanned the print again. The timeframe was just about right though, wasn’t it? Coincidence maybe? Then her eyes settled on the reward listed and her jaw dropped open. That would be enough to live on for a year! More, if she was careful. She studied the picture again, thoughtful. She was sure the young man on the poster wasn’t the one she was thinking of, but perhaps they’d offer a smaller reward for any information, even if it turned out to be false. Carefully tearing the poster from the wall, she folded it and slipped it into her purse.
It couldn’t hurt to try.
Chest constricting painfully, Roy bent over his knees and coughed, hard and chest-deep. The fit eventually passed and he laid his head on his knees, the pounding in his head intensified by the attack. He was fairly certain his illness was getting worse. Ignoring the pain in his head, he shifted, leaning back against the cold metal of the bars and put a hand to his cheek, trying to judge if the fever had worsened. His skin seemed hotter, but he couldn’t be sure. He certainly felt worse, and it was getting bad enough that even Edward was worried.
Worried enough to try and play nursemaid, and Roy couldn’t help but smile a bit at the irony. Ed was the one being tortured on a near daily basis, and he still insisted on fussing over what was probably just a flu.
Roy shifted, trying with little success to find a more comfortable position; an angle where steel bars didn’t dig into his back quite so badly. Not for the first time since their imprisonment, he envied Ed for his short stature. What he wouldn’t give to have enough room to lay out flat. Or to have a chance to get out of the cage and stretch his legs a little for that matter. It was remarkable how much one missed walking and standing after being prevented it for months on end.
Months. Had it been months? It was hard to tell without the benefit of the sun, and their captor’s irregular habits didn’t help any. Edward had a better grasp on the passage of time than he did; it had been two months now, he had said, maybe three. Roy tried not to think about the fact that with every day that passed without rescue, the chance of anyone finding them at all became less and less.
His eyes drifted to the plain wood of the laboratory door. Staring wouldn’t bring Edward back any faster, but he’d been in there for hours now. It was the longest he’d ever been kept, and it was difficult not to worry. Roy forced his gaze away and turned his attention instead to the wolf caged across the way. It was their captor’s newest acquisition, and the man had been borderline excited when they’d brought the animal in, a strange thing to see in the usually sober man. Roy couldn’t say what the bastard did with the animals --whenever they went into the lab they never came back out-- but it was undoubtedly unpleasant.
The wolf was always listless, never doing much more than laying quietly, and Roy thought they must be tranquilizing the creature. He couldn’t imagine him being so placid otherwise. He felt a brief surge of sympathy for the animal; chances were good it would vanish into the lab like the others before long.
Roy wondered if Ed would vanish this time, and forced the thought away. That kind of thinking wouldn’t do him a bit of good.
It was at least another hour before the door to the lab finally clicked open. The bastard emerged looking smug, followed by Bear cradling a half-conscious Edward in his arms. Roy’s heart sank on seeing him; it was worse than usual today if Ed couldn’t even muster the energy to sling tired insults at their captor. The cage was unlocked, and Bear gently passed Edward to Roy, the younger alchemist almost dead weight.
The cage was closed and locked, their captor crouching down to observe, but Roy paid him no mind. Edward was in a bad state. He never looked good when the bastard was finished with him, but this was worse than usual. His eyes drifted back and forth aimlessly, glazed and unfocused. His breathing was shallow, muscles twitched and spasmed, and there were several new puncture wounds standing out starkly against too-pale skin.
Flooded with worry, Roy retrieved the shirt he’d given Ed, the once white cloth filthy and grey. Careful not to jostle him too much, Roy leaned Edward against his shoulder, gently working his one arm into the sleeve before shifting him around so he could fasten the buttons. That done, he snatched up the blanket and wound it around Ed as best he could. His skin was cold to the touch and Roy settled Ed against his side, wrapping an arm around him in an effort to impart some warmth. His fever should be good for that at least.
The bastard merely watched through all of this, making thoughtful sounds, the noises grating on Roy’s already frayed nerves. His irritation got the best of his resolve to ignore the man and he snapped, “What!?”
Their captor blinked at him, then smiled enigmatically. “He’s ready,” he announced.
Roy watched him leave with a sinking feeling, holding Edward a little tighter as though he could protect him. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but it was doubtlessly a bad thing.
The light clicked off and silence settled over them. Silence wasn’t a good idea when Ed was like this; they’d learned early that whatever he was injected with made him prone to hallucinations. Talking seemed to give him something to focus on, something to ground him, and so Roy latched onto the last thing they had spoken of --Edward’s childhood-- and began to speak of his own. There wasn’t much of interest to say, but the words were more important than the topic, and so Roy kept talking.
Roy spoke of growing up in the east, of his parents, learning alchemy, and playing pranks on his sister. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been talking for when Ed suddenly rasped, “I didn’t know you had a sister.”
Roy started, looking down at the young man resting in the crook of his arm. He could just barely make out the shadowy outline of Edward’s head. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Like shit,” Ed said, “Keep talking. Keeps my mind off it.”
Roy nodded peaceably and backtracked his thoughts a little. “Her name is Samantha, and she’s twelve years older than I am. Last I heard, she was working as a veterinarian for the Central Zoo. We...well, we haven’t spoken since I was younger than you are.”
Edward shifted slightly. “Why not?”
Remembering their last big blowout was still uncomfortable, even after all these years. She’d been so angry with him. Angry enough to cut him out her life completely. “Sam had very strong opinions about the military. In spite of that, I enlisted as soon as I was old enough. She was furious, and once she realized she couldn’t talk me out of it, she left. We haven’t spoken since.”
“But she’s your sister.” Ed sounded totally bewildered that anyone would willfully cut off contact with a sibling.
Roy smiled inwardly and resisted the urge to give him a pat on the head. “I know, Ed. I think it’s probably just better to let it lie.”
Ed made a doubtful sound. “Do you even know how to find her?”
He’d gotten a phone call from his mother a few years ago begging him to reconcile with his sister. He’d promised to think about, but he never had. “My mother gave me her address a few years ago.”
“Hm.” They lapsed into silence.
“When we get out of here, you should look her up,” Ed said suddenly.
Roy marveled that Ed could still talk of escape as though it was inevitable. He shook his head. “It’s been seventeen years, Ed. She hasn’t tried to contact me once. I don’t think she wants to see me.”
Ed snorted. “Have you tried to contact her?”
He thought of his mother. “Well...no.”
“But that doesn’t mean you don’t want to see her, does it?” Ed didn’t wait for an answer. “The problem with letting something like that go so long is that the longer you wait to fix things, the easier it gets to just...not do it. Family is important, Mustang. In the end, they’re all you got, and you shouldn’t give up just because it’s too hard and too awkward to make the first move.”
Roy had to admit that Ed had a point. It wouldn’t hurt anything besides his pride to make the first gesture. If Sam still didn’t want anything to do with him, well, he could always say he’d tried. “Maybe. We’ll see.”
A heavy sigh informed Roy that Ed clearly thought he was an idiot, and he felt a warm rush of affection for the younger alchemist. “Get some sleep. You need it.” All he received was a grumble in reply, but Ed shifted closer, resting his head on Roy’s shoulder.
Alphonse lifted the lid of the pot, giving the sauce a stir before tasting it. Perfect. He replaced the lid and lowered the heat, wiping his hands on the towel tucked into his belt. A glance at the clock confirmed that dinner should be ready just after Jean got home. It wasn’t anything special; a pasta dish with garlic bread, but investigation of the other man’s icebox earlier had revealed that Jean apparently lived on a diet of take out and cigarettes. Al thought he might appreciate a home cooked meal, and really, it was the least he could do under the circumstances.
The lieutenant had left that morning only after extracting a promise that Al would be there upon his return. He sighed at the memory, shaking his head. He knew he was causing the others a great deal of worry even though that was not his intention, and he had agreed, but it had left him at something of loose ends. He couldn't help but feel a little useless, sitting in Jean’s apartment doing nothing productive.
So he’d cleaned. The lieutenant was a lousy housekeeper, and Alphonse thought he might like coming home to a clean house, and it kept him busy. What started as a bit of picking up turned into full-blown scrubbing. He’d cleaned the small apartment from top to bottom, done the laundry, washed the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, and when that was done he’d gone to market to fill out the bare pantry a bit.
In spite of the fact that he’d been so wrapped up in his personal misery the last couple of months, he appreciated that there were others trying to look out for him, even when he didn’t make it easy to do. While the idea of sitting around doing nothing made him want to scream, it was time to accept that the military had more resources than he did. Alphonse had already exhausted all avenues available to him, and he had nothing to show for it. He wanted desperately to find his brother, but wearing himself into the ground wasn’t going to help anyone, least of all Ed.
He heard the door open. “Hey--” Jean cut off suddenly, and Alphonse poked his head out of to kitchen to see the man staring around in amazement. Jean stepped back into the hallway, eyeing the number beside his door as though to verify he was in the right place. He came inside and closed the door. “You do all this?” he asked, though it couldn’t have been anyone else.
Alphonse had been so focused on keeping himself busy that he hadn’t stop to consider how incredibly presumptuous it was to go cleaning up someone else’s home. He ducked his head, feeling like an idiot. “I’m sorry, I was just trying--”
“Sorry?” Jean clapped him on the shoulder. “Are you kidding? I think this is the cleanest the place has been since I moved in.” His eyes roved the room once more and he grinned. “In fact, I think it might actually be cleaner than it was when I moved in. And,” he poked his head into the kitchen with an exaggerated sniff, “Is that food I smell?” He looked back at Al in delight and said, “You’re amazing. Can I keep you?”
Alphonse could feel himself turning a very unflattering shade of red and he ducked his head in embarrassment. “I just wanted to help out,” he mumbled, moving past Jean into the kitchen. The noodles were done and needed to be drained. The phone rang, sparing him from further embarrassment when the lieutenant vanished into the other room to answer it.
“What!?” Alphonse started at the unexpected screech, nearly dropping the pot of noodles on his foot. “You’re sure?” Havoc said, a slight edge of hysteria to his voice. “You’re sure?” A pause. “Well, fuck me. Hold on a second.”
Alphonse set the pot down just as Jean came skidding into the kitchen, snatching his wrist and dragging him into the living room. Al stared at him, completely baffled, and Jean pushed him towards his bedroom door. “Go pick up the phone in there,” he said, “You need to hear this.”
Alphonse complied, his stomach twisting in confused knots. He picked up the receiver, wondering if this had something to do with his brother. It had to, didn’t it? Why else would the lieutenant want him to listen? He could still see the other man in the living room and held his breath when Jean picked up the phone again. “I’m back. Repeat that again for me.”
A voice Alphonse recognized as belonging to Breda answered, “You deaf or what?” he snorted. “I said we’ve got what looks to be a solid tip on Edward’s location. We don’t know if the general is with him or not, the girl hadn’t seen him, but I’d say it’s a damned good chance.”
For a moment, Alphonse forgot to breathe. He caught Jean’s eye and the other man asked, “How do we know this is the real deal? We’ve gotten plenty of bogus tips so far.”
“That’s just it,” Breda replied, “The brass is taking this seriously. The girl fingered some guy named--” The rustle of paper could be heard. “--Markham. Daniel Markham. Guy lives in some nowheresville farming community up north, but that isn’t the interesting part. We’ve got a file on this guy.”
“Nah, personnel. This guy worked for the military until a few years ago, but that’s all I can tell you. Anything regarding this guy is beyond classified. This shit is so far above our heads I shouldn’t even know his name, but I’m the one who processed the girl’s tip. Now, I’ve never heard of the guy, from Mustang or otherwise, but the brass seems to think there’s a good chance Markham nabbed him, but they aren’t saying why. Ed was probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The wrong place at the wrong time. That had been the theory, that Mustang was the target and his brother was just collateral damage, but it was hard to hear it confirmed. Jean propped the phone between his shoulder and his ear and settled on the arm of the couch. “So what are they going to do?”
“They’re going to mount a rescue operation in four days. Two to prepare, and two for travel time. I managed to talk Keats into assigning you to lead the team since the investigation is, technically, still yours.”
Jean laughed, and the sound was a little unsteady. “I could kiss you right now.”
“Thanks for the sentiment, but I think I’ll pass. There’s a briefing tomorrow oh-eight hundred, make sure your ass is there.”
“I will. Thanks, man.”
“You can thank me by bringing them home safe.”