Series: Fullmetal Alchemist
Words: 3,476 (33,909 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 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6 - Chapter 7
Roy snarled into the phone as he was transferred yet again and slammed the receiver down. This was getting him absolutely nowhere. He had seen Keats briefly during the debriefing, but afterwards the man had vanished like so much smoke before Roy could get him alone for a word. Now, every time he went to Keats’ office, the general was conveniently ‘out’ or ‘in a meeting’, and it seemed no matter who he called, he wound up getting shuffled around from secretary to secretary until he gave up.
He had managed to gather that Ed was being kept in a research facility somewhere, and that whatever they were doing with him was so classified that Keats was evidently the only one who knew anything about it. Roy had been chasing after the man for a week now, and so far it seemed to be doing him not one whit of good. The other general was avoiding him on purpose, that much was clear, and it was frustrating Roy to no end.
"No luck I take it?" Alphonse asked, appearing at his elbow with a steaming cup of tea in hand.
"No," Roy sighed, accepting the cup and the pill that went with it. He’d been diagnosed with pneumonia, and after hearing seventeen different times that he was damned lucky it wasn’t worse than it was, he’d been sent on his way with antibiotics, tea, and an admonition to get as much rest as possible. Alphonse had taken to playing nursemaid --Roy suspected this was at Jean’s behest-- and he found himself unable to refuse the gentle, but persistent boy. He took a sip of the tea, grimacing as the foul concoction hit his tongue. The doctor claimed it would help the cough, and while that was certainly true, Roy was beginning to think the cough was the lesser of two evils. Despite Roy’s attempts to evade it, Alphonse appeared with a cup of tea in hand every two hours like clockwork, and hovered long enough to make sure Roy drank it. Al was equally firm over any attempts to exert himself, and Roy just didn’t have the heart to fight him about it.
Al sighed, sitting in the chair opposite. They were in Jean’s apartment --though Havoc himself was gone-- having turned the place into a sort of headquarters. Roy had tried to go home and had been met with very stern refusal from both sides, Jean insisting that he stay until he was better, otherwise he’d wear himself to death. Roy had privately thought that was a bit of an exaggeration, but had consented to stay until he was healthy again regardless.
Roy had been put on extended leave until his health improved, and so far all he had done with the time was chase Keats in circles and come no closer to finding Ed. He looked over at Al and took another sip of the god awful tea. "I’ll camp outside his office and ambush him, if I have to. I’m going to get Ed back."
Alphonse smiled at him, the expression small but genuine. "I know. I’m glad that," Al hesitated, looking down at his hands, "that Brother had you instead of being alone."
Coming from Alphonse, the words meant a great deal. He reached out and took one of Al’s hands in his own, giving it a squeeze. Anything he could say to that would come out sounding trite, and so he said nothing at all, keeping the hand in his own for a moment before releasing it. Alphonse seemed to understand the peculiar bond that he and Ed shared now, but why wouldn’t he? If anyone would understand how shared trauma could tie two people together, it was Al.
The rattle of keys outside heralded Jean’s return, and a moment later the tall man stepped through the door, a bag of groceries in one hand and a manila folder in the other. The groceries were dumped on the floor without ceremony as he kicked the door shut and bounded over to the table, dropping into the chair beside Alphonse and slapping the folder down on the table with an air of victory. "Breda says you owe him dinner for a month." He slid the innocuous looking folder across the table towards Roy.
The name printed in neat hand on the tab was not Edward’s, but it was the next best thing. Opening the file labeled ‘Markham, Daniel’, Roy glanced through several pages of highly classified documents before looking up at Jean. "How?" he asked. None of his team had the clearance to get their hands on this file. Hell, he didn’t have the clearance to get his hands on this file.
Jean snorted, pulling a cigarette from his pack and putting it between his lips, leaving it unlit. Having Alphonse for a temporary roommate had apparently done wonders for making him cut back on his habit. "Honestly? I have no fucking clue. I don’t think I want to know, really."
Roy flipped back to the first page, going over the documents carefully. The more he read, the more he began to realize that getting Edward back would be no small task. It might even be impossible. Markham was head of the human chimera research project at Lab Five. The focus was on creating super soldiers with increased strength, speed and endurance. Most of the research had been lost with the destruction of the building, and now with Markham dead Edward was the last living remnant of that research. "We aren’t going to be able to get him out through official channels," Roy said at length, shoving the file away.
"Why?" Alphonse asked, taking the file and flipping slowly through it.
"Keats is trying to reinstate the human chimera project, I’m sure of it, and Ed is his one link. They’re probably going to try and... reverse engineer him, or something." The very idea of Ed undergoing even more experimentation made his stomach turn. Hadn’t he suffered enough without enduring torture at the hands of the people who were supposed to be the good guys? Of course, Ed wasn’t naive enough to believe there was such a thing, and neither was Roy.
Alphonse made a quiet sound under his breath, looking unsettled. "Martel," he said. "This was the man who made Martel."
"The head of a team, at any rate. According to this, they had a great deal of success." Roy sighed heavily, feeling the onset of a headache. "If this file is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt it, that means that we’re going to have to find Edward on our own, and that we’re going to have to break him out. Keats is never going to let him go; not when he’s the only remnant of Markham’s research."
Roy stared at the innocent looking manila folder. The information it contained meant that he would have to throw away the career he had worked so long and so hard to build for Edward. Once upon a time, he might have been able to let the young man rot in whatever hole they kept him in, but Roy wasn’t that man anymore. If it was a choice between his career and Edward, it was really no choice at all.
He couldn’t really bring himself to regret it.
Kate frowned through the observation window, watching Edward as he slept. The young man slept a great deal, something that was hardly unusual in a chimera still adjusting to the change, but something in his behavior was deeply troubling. With every week that passed, Edward was drawing further into himself, growing less and less responsive to outside stimuli. It had gotten to the point where Kate had begun to actively provoke him just to elicit some sort of response, even if it was a negative one.
Chewing thoughtfully on the end of her pen, Kate leaned back in her chair and glanced at the pile of reports she’d accumulated on her most recent project. Edward was not the first human chimera in this facility, but he was the only one Kate had ever encountered who retained his human intelligence on anything more than a rudimentary level. She’d given the young man the same simple logic games that were used to evaluate the mental capacity of the others and he had solved them quickly and easily, making his disdain for the simple puzzles clear. She’d moved on to harder and harder tests, and he solved all of them quickly and easily, some of the more advanced ones faster than she herself could have.
Kate was being forced to admit that Edward had lost little, if any, of his higher reasoning skills, and that was really what troubled her. The others were broken, simple-minded creatures, mere shadows of their former selves. It was easy to justify keeping them here. But Edward... She sighed, stacking the scattered reports in an effort to keep her hands busy. Edward was as intact as a chimera could hope to be, and Kate was feeling increasingly uneasy about keeping him under lock and key.
She’d begun working with him to improve his ability to talk after she had discovered his trouble was not mental, but a result of warped vocal cords. Edward had progressed through the therapy quickly before he’d fallen into this lethargy, and faced with a reasoning creature who could finally articulate his thoughts, Kate had decided that he didn’t belong in this facility, regardless of what they seemed to think. Unfortunately, when she’d brought the subject up on one of General Keats’ frequent visits, the man had immediately shot her down, stating that Edward was far too valuable to their research to simply be let free. He’d then alluded to having her removed from the project, and that was the end of the matter.
The general wanted the experiments to begin in earnest, impatient with all of her careful study and fact collecting. Kate wasn’t sure she could do it. Something was very wrong with Edward, but no matter how she pressed, he refused to speak on the matter. Even if she set the moral dilemma aside, she wasn’t sure that Edward would be able to endure much experimentation in the state he was in. His appetite was diminished; he was sleeping more frequently and becoming less responsive when awake. The boy was wasting away, and Kate couldn’t figure out why. This slow, miserable slide seemed so far outside the personality profile in his file and what she herself had witnessed that she didn’t know what to make of it.
Kate knew she’d have to figure it out soon. The general wasn’t going to let her delay the project much longer.
With a sigh, she pulled one of the wildlife books she had collected out of her desk and turned to the marked page, flipping through pages of glossy photos and facts. She hadn’t yet discovered what breed of wolf Edward had been combined with, but she hadn’t had much time to look. It was irrelevant to the project; they wanted to know how he was made. The what was less significant. Still, the spotting on his back was so out of the ordinary that Kate wanted to know, even if only to satisfy her own curiosity.
She almost missed it, too absorbed in her thoughts to pay much attention to what she was looking at. Spotting? She flipped back a page, and there it was. A big gray wolf staring out of the page with Edward’s eyes, the spotted pattern on his back less dramatic on fur than on flesh, but immediately recognizable. The Briggs Mountain Wolf, or Spotted Wolf, is native to the Briggs Mountain region. There is some speculation that they might range farther north-- Kate scanned the page, looking for any relevant information. Habitat and diet, physical characteristics, social behavior. Here she stopped, the problem with Edward printed in plain black and white.
The Briggs Mountain Wolf rarely survives long in captivity, although there has been some noted success with mated pairs.
Kate looked up through the observation window at the still bundle beneath the blankets. Rarely survives long in captivity. Could it really be so simple? Had Edward merely been unfortunate enough to find himself merged with an animal that was unable to handle captivity? She tapped the page thoughtfully. They knew so little, really, about how chimera functioned that it was entirely possible. Kate sighed heavily, marking the page and closing the book. If that was the problem, there was very little she could do to fix it. She could hardly set him free; Keats would have her court-martialed in a heartbeat.
Unless she had nothing to do with it. Flipping open Edward’s file a second time, Kate noted down the relevant information and tucked it into her pocket. She might be unable to do anything for Edward directly, but there might be a way to see to it that the young man received aid from a different quarter.
Roy stared down at the note in his hands, turning it this way and that as if looking at it from another angle might somehow unravel the mystery.
If you want to help him, meet me at Arlo’s at 1900 hours.
That was it. No name, no other information. The secretary hadn’t seen anyone drop a note in his box, and so Roy was left with this minor mystery. The ‘him’ referred to in the note must be Edward, and after a bit of checking around, he discovered that Arlo’s was a hole-in-the-wall dive downtown. It could be some sort of setup, but after three weeks Roy was getting desperate enough to take the risk. The note was vague enough that he could plead ignorance if things went bad. He didn’t tell Alphonse or Havoc, not wanting to get their hopes up if it turned out to be nothing. And so he had slipped out, making some excuse, and nineteen hundred hours found him standing outside of Arlo’s.
The tiny bar was packed, and after a moment Roy took a seat at the bar, ordered some scotch, and hoped the one who left the note would find him.
It wasn’t a long wait. As soon as the stool beside him was vacated, a woman Roy didn’t recognize took it. "You’re very prompt, General."
"When it’s important," he replied. "Want to tell me what I’m doing here?"
She glanced around, fingers tapping nervously on her knee. "Let’s take a booth," she suggested. Roy followed her to one of the corner booths, and as soon as they sat, she said, "You need to get him out."
Roy frowned. "Don’t you think I’ve been trying?"
The woman shook her head. "No, you don’t understand. They’ll never release him willingly, and he’s...he’s just wasting away. Being locked up like this is killing him. I can’t-- if someone let him free, they’d know it was me. But if someone broke him out..." she trailed off, staring at her hands. "I can tell you where to find him. The rest is up to you."
"Why are you doing this?" Roy asked, scarcely able to believe his luck. It could be a trick, a way of Keats to get him out of the way for good, but that was a risk Roy was more than willing to take.
The woman sighed. "He doesn’t belong there. The others...they’re simple. Broken. Childlike, most of them. Not him though, hell, he’s smarter than I am. If he survives the testing they want to put him through I’d be amazed. If he survives long enough to get to that point, I’d be amazed. I’ve done some research and the," she paused, glancing around before she continued in a low voice. "The breed he was merged with never survives long in captivity, particularly alone. They become lethargic, refuse to eat, and sleep a great deal until the body just...gives up. I’m seeing the same symptoms with Edw- with him, and frankly I’m concerned. I wouldn’t be here otherwise."
Roy swore quietly, passing a hand wearily over his face. He’d known on some level that Ed wasn’t going to be doing well, but to hear it confirmed strengthened his resolve. His own investigation had hit dead end after dead end, and he was getting desperate. It was a risk, a dangerous one. This woman obviously worked for Keats, and there was every chance that he had put her up to this so that he could catch Roy red-handed and get him out of the way for good. "Tell me."
His dreams had become increasingly vivid. Vibrant color and emotion behind his eyes, a tide of memory and fantasy melding into each other so seamlessly that it was hard to tell which was which.
Bright blue sky stretching on forever, not a single cloud to mar the perfect expanse. Ed closed his eyes and took a deep breath, the scent of fresh-cut grass, of hay and cows so wonderfully familiar. The breeze tugged at a few hairs that had come loose from his braid, and Ed opened his eyes to find Roy sitting beside him. Ed made to speak, a question on his lips, one he’d been meaning to ask for ages now...but then Alphonse was calling them in for lunch. He got to his feet, wiping the dust from his pants and offered a hand to the other man. His question could wait a little longer.
Dragged from the comforting oblivion of sleep, he glanced around the room. The washed out nothing of the waking world, a woman’s voice, a plate of food he did not want. This place was the stark reminder that he was alone, and Edward closed his eyes against it. The dreams were not always good, but at least there, he still felt alive.
Snow beneath his paws and wind in his fur. The pounding of his heart and the thrill of the chase, the hunt, the kill. The exultation of running, flying though the trees in a flurry of snow. This was what it was to be alive. His packmates around him, the fearful bleating of their prey as she tired. A moment more and they were upon her, tearing flesh, and the prey fell quickly under their combined might.
The red of the blood was so stark against the white snow.
He was dying. Part of him accepted the inevitability, and part of him railed against it. A little longer! it insisted. Just hang on for a few days more, and Roy would come. He would never, never leave him here alone. He would come.
Unless he couldn’t.
The heat of the flames was intense, but Edward didn’t back away. He couldn’t, as he watched the fire lick at the wood, turning their home to ashes.
Day by day, the protesting voice grew weaker.
After so, so much hardship, Al was Al again. Ed could see his smile, ruffle his hair. Alphonse could feel, cry, touch and taste again. It didn’t matter to Ed that he’d have his automail for the rest of his life; it was the penance for his mistakes. As long as his little brother was no longer paying the price, it was okay. Ed quit the military, moved back to Risembool and opened their little shop. He and Al had the opportunity for a normal life now, and that’s all he’d ever wanted.
Except things didn’t quite work out that way.
It was nice, for a while. Then Edward began to grow restless. There was no challenge, no obstacles, and Ed found himself missing the old days. With that feeling came guilt. What kind of bastard would miss the period in his brother’s life where he suffered so much? Still, he had difficulty taking much of an interest in anything. He knew he should move on, wanted to move on. Ed knew he should find himself a girl and settle down, have a couple of kids and get a dog. That’s what normal people did, and wasn’t that what he’d always wanted? To go back to being normal?
Despite his grumbling, he began looking forward to their visits to Central. Seeing their old friends injected a spark of life into him that he couldn’t seem to find in Risembool. He refused to tell Al; his brother was happy, and Edward would not do anything to jeopardize that. But he had to wonder what was wrong with him--why he couldn’t accept the rest he’d fought so hard to earn.
It wouldn’t be long now. A week, a few days, less.
A gentle touch and a comforting voice in the darkness.
He just hoped that when the time came, the dream would be a good one.