Series: Fullmetal Alchemist
Words: 5,430 (39,249 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 - Chapter 8
Roy looked at two sets of eyes over Jean’s kitchen table and took a deep breath. “I know where Edward is.”
The resulting clamor was expected, Alphonse leaping out of his chair as if he expected to go rushing off immediately, the two of them talking over each other and making not one damn bit of sense. Roy held up a hand for silence, and after a moment the two of them complied, sinking back down into their respective chairs. “What are we waiting for?” Al asked, shifting this way and that, burning with nervous energy.
“There’s every chance that this is a setup.” Roy told them. “The information came from someone working on the project, and it’s possible that Keats is just trying to nail me so he won’t have to deal with me. If I’m out of the way, he’ll have free reign to do whatever he wants to Ed with no one important asking questions.” Roy had come prepared, pulling out a map of the city. The facility in question wasn’t on base, but rather in a converted warehouse in the east end of the city. “This is where he’s being kept,” Roy said, circling the area with a pen. “According to my informant, the facility is well protected. Anything important is down in the basement levels, and I'll have to get in and make it down to the third level without being caught.”
Alphonse frowned, catching his meaning and not liking it in the slightest. “You mean we.”
“I mean I,” Roy said firmly. He didn’t have any illusions that he would be able to keep Alphonse out of this, but he had to try. Edward wouldn’t appreciate Roy risking his little brother, and one man was less likely to draw unwanted attention than two. “There’s a very good chance that following through on this is going to land me straight in a prison cell. I can’t risk you too.”
“With all due respect boss, I’d like to see you try and stop us,” Jean said, leaning forward on his elbows. “If you think we’re letting you do this alone, you’re more of an idiot than I took you for."
Roy pinched his nose to stave off the growing headache. They were ganging up on him; he should have expected it. “Even if we’re successful Jean, you can kiss your career goodbye. I’m not going to let you throw it away.” His people had always been willing to risk it all for him, and that meant a lot to Roy; but it didn't mean he was going to let one of his men chuck his career in the garbage just because Roy was.
“What career?” he said, scowling. “Keats is having me court-martialed over Markham’s death. Disobeying a direct order, destruction of military property, so on and so forth. I've got nothing to lose, and if you think I’m going to sit back here safe and sound while you go jumping into the fire, you don’t know me very well.”
Roy frowned at this news. "This is the first I've heard of it." Where did Keats get off, disciplining Roy's men? Of course, right now Jean wasn't his man as far as the military was concerned; he was Keats' and that meant that Havoc was under the other general's jurisdiction. Damn it all.
Jean shrugged with a nonchalance that had to be feigned. No one could face the loss of a lifetime of work so easily. "I only got word a few days ago myself, but I can't say I'm surprised. I don't regret what I did for a second, and I'm coming whether you like it or not."
Roy sighed, tapping his pen on the tabletop thoughtfully. Sometimes loyalty was a goddamn pain in the ass, but he couldn’t help but feel a bit warmed by it regardless. “If you had a half a thought in that smoke-shrivelled brain of yours you’d stay put, but I suppose that’s too much to ask for.”
“Yes sir,” Jean said, leaning back in his chair.
Alphonse merely said, “I’m going,” and Roy nodded. He didn’t have the right to deny him, not really, and the talented alchemist would be a huge asset to this insane jailbreak scheme. And it was insane. It was more than likely going to blow up in his face, but Roy had to take the chance, small though it may be. He owed it to Ed. “We go tomorrow. There’s no point in delay, and there will be less staff on the weekend.”
“Why hasn’t the project gone forward?” Keats asked, frowning through the observation window at the bundle beneath the blankets.
“He’s ill, sir,” Kate half-lied, knowing any pleading on behalf of Edward’s mental health would go ignored. He wasn't well, but she suspected it was due more to distress than any true physical illness. “If we were to proceed with experimentation, it is very likely he will not survive.” That part at least was true, she didn’t think Ed had the will to put up with something like that, not now. She hoped, not for the first time, that she had done the right thing in going to General Mustang. “I was given to believe he was too valuable to be risked.”
Keats sighed heavily through his mustache. “Quite right,” he grumbled, “quite right. This illness of his isn’t serious, is it?”
“No sir,” she lied again. “It’s simply a bad flu, he probably caught it from one of the guards.” Something that was entirely feasible; soldiers just didn’t understand the importance of of cleanliness where chimera were concerned. Their immune systems were often weak, and they were prone to catching any little bug.
Another grumble. “I suppose this would be a good time for you to bring me up to speed on his abilities. I’ve been so busy running Mustang in circles that I haven’t had time to go over your reports.” He pulled out a chair and sat. “Goddamn bleeding heart; he wouldn’t give a damn if it were anyone else, but our only link to Markham’s research just had to be his pet alchemist.”
Kate refrained from comment, retrieving Edward’s thick file from the cabinet. She’d let the young man get to her, and in doing so had violated the first rule of her work -- don’t get attached. Kate believed in the research they did here, she really did, but chimera, particularly human varieties, often died suddenly and unexpectedly. If she let herself get attached to every one that came through her lab she’d have died of heartbreak by now.
Edward however had slipped through her defenses by virtue of his sheer differentness; too smart, too aware, too human.
Kate set the file on the table and took a seat, flipping through the pages of notes until she found what she was looking for. Facts and statistics, words on a page, and it was easier to pretend she wasn’t talking about someone mourning his life away in the other room. “Unlike most chimera, his outward appearance is still almost entirely human, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. The changes he did experience seem to be minute and mostly cosmetic; spotting along the shoulders and back, a slight darkening to the pigment of his eyes, teeth more reminiscent of a carnivore. Unlike most chimera, he doesn’t seem to experience any undue muscle or joint pain.”
She turned to the next page, rattling off what she had learned in her weeks with Edward. “Changes seem to be primarily internal. He has a much greater preference for meat; uncooked if at all possible, much the same as a typical carnivore. He has,” Kate was proud she managed to keep her voice from quavering, “managed to retain his human intellect as far as I’ve been able to determine, although warping of the vocal cords make speech difficult. Physically, he appears to be both faster and stronger than the human norm, even accounting for increased strength due to automail.”
“Excellent,” Keats said, looking satisfied. “He’s almost precisely what we’ve been trying to create for years. Now we just have to figure out how Markham did it.”
“About that, sir,” Kate said, flipping through the file for her copy of Dr. Markham’s notes. Where was...ah! “He makes several references to some sort of drug treatment. It seems Edward was being injected with this substance almost daily. See, here,” she pointed, moving the paper around so he could see, “He mentions that Edward was reacting well to the treatment, and there’s a few places where he talks of ‘building resistance’, although to what exactly I can’t say.” Kate frowned at the notes. Edward had corroborated the notes, stating that he was being regularly injected with some sort of drug that had mild hallucinatory effects and often left him physically weak and ill, but Kate hadn’t been able to find any drug with those side effects that might effect the outcome of a chimera transmutation. It was certainly puzzling. “Did your men find anything like that?”
Keats frowned slightly, reading over the notes. “My men found a great deal that might be what he’s discussing here. For all that he was a meticulous note taker, he didn’t seem to much care for labeling. I’ll have anything that might be this drug sent to the lab for testing.” He looked up at her. “If this is some new substance and not a pre-existing drug, do you think your team could replicate it?”
“My team?” She shook her head. It never ceased to amaze her that soldiers always thought the term ‘scientist’ was an umbrella one. She knew very little about most drugs beyond the usage of certain sedatives. “No sir. You’d need a specialist for something like that.”
Keats hummed under his breath. “Whatever it is, I think it might be the key to reproducing the results. I’ll make it a priority.” He stood, smoothing the front of his jacket. “Thank you for your time, Dr. Arcourt. Make sure our guest recovers quickly; this project is too important to be delayed longer.”
Keats was gone, and Kate slumped down into her chair with a sigh. She slowly shuffled the papers back into order and replaced the file in her cabinet. Kate had a lot of work to do; Ed might be the priority, but the lab had a dozen different experiments going at any given time. If she couldn’t move forward with Ed, she should focus her attention elsewhere.
Pushing open the outer door to Edward's room, she locked it behind her before opening the inner door. Ed didn’t stir, and she shook her head. Just another sign of his decline. Before, he’d wake from a dead sleep if she entered the room, but no longer. “Edward,” she called, coming to stand beside his bed. He was so young, only a year older than her own son. Maybe that was why she was having such difficulty with him, because he reminded her a bit of Alec.
Edward didn’t react, and so she sat on the edge of the bed, placing a hand on soft blond hair and leaning forward slightly. “I told him,” she said. “Mustang. He’ll get you out of here, you just have to hang on.”
That provoked a reaction. Edward stirred, cracking amber eyes and peering around in confusion. “Roy?” he rasped.
“Not yet,” she said. “But soon. So hang in there, okay?”
Edward hummed in what she hoped was an affirmative before lapsing back into that unnatural sleep that gripped him at all hours anymore. Kate sighed, stroking his hair for a moment before she stood. This was just too painful.
She left, snatching her clipboard from the desk and moving briskly down the hall toward the elevators. Mira wasn’t due for another visit just yet, but Kate could do with a bit of cheering up, and Mira never failed to make her smile. Mira was in a less secure level of the facility; tame and far more easily managed than some of the more dangerous chimera that called the facility home. Kate opened the door and was greeted by the sight of a colorful room with toys scattered about. “Mira?” she called.
“Katiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee!” came the squealed reply, Mira darting out of the bedroom with her awkward, four-legged gait. Kate smiled, crouching down and hugging the chimera who barrelled into her.
“Hello sweetheart, how have you been?”
“Goodgood,” Mira sang, butting her head against Kate’s chin in a catlike manner. Mira was one of their saddest cases, come from a rogue alchemist group that was using an orphanage as a front, of all things. A good way to keep a ready supply of subjects with no one to care if they vanished, but heartbreaking regardless. Mira was one of only two survivors, the melding of a ten year old girl and a house cat having rendered her perpetually childlike. “Donnie present! Markers, seesee?”
Mira hobbled over to the low table made especially for her, snatching up a scribbled drawing in one malformed hand and presenting it to Kate proudly. “Katie present! You like?”
“It’s beautiful, Mira, thank you,” she said, tucking the childish drawing under the notes on her clipboard.
Mira wrinkled her nose, plunking down on the floor and peering at Kate in that peculiar way she had. “Katie sad why?”
The girl could be so childlike one moment, and remarkably perceptive the next. She smiled slightly. “I’m sad because someone else is sad.”
“Bring play!” Mira said decisively. “No more sad.”
Kate put a hand on her head, earning a happy purr from the child. She really wished it as simple as that. In some ways, despite the extensiveness of Mira’s malformation, she was the luckier o the two. She did not understand what had been done to her, and so she did not know to be unhappy about it. Mira was aware that she was different from her caretakers, but it was a fact that did not trouble her overmuch. Ed on the other hand...Ed knew only too well what he was, and Kate couldn’t even imagine what it must be like, coming to terms with the loss of one’s humanity. She didn’t think she could bear it.
“He’s in quarantine, so he can’t come play.” Mira screwed her face up in distaste. She’d gone through quarantine when she first arrived, and hadn’t liked it one bit.
“Is no good,” she sighed, moving over to the shelf and pulling down one of her books. She brought it back and thrust it into Kate’s hand.
“You want me to read you a story?” She asked. Mira couldn’t read much at all beyond her own name a few simple words, but she loved being read to.
“Nono,” Mira said, putting a hand on the cover. “For him, so no more sad. See?” She tapped the smiling turtle on the cover, “Happy.”
Kate clutched the book to her chest, touched on Edward’s behalf. “I’m sure he’ll love it.”
The faint sound of voices alerted him to the return of the patrol. Swearing inwardly, Roy darted towards Al and snatched his wrist, dragging the startled boy into the shadow of an old shed. It wasn't an ideal hiding place and one of the guards would only have to turn his head to find them. Pressing back against the cold metal of the shed and shielding Alphonse with his own body should the worst come to pass, Roy raised a gloved hand and prepared for a fight. A few months ago he'd have been more than certain he could beat an enlisted man on the draw, so to speak, but he was woefully out of practice and he didn't want to take any chances.
"Man, these night shifts are garbage," grumbled one of the men as they drew close. Roy tensed, and he felt Alphonse's hand on his back.
The other patrolman sighed in agreement. "I can't wait till we get cycled back to days. Talk about murder on the social life."
"Ha! A girl wouldn't go near you with a ten foot pole!"
"Look who's talking, horse-face."
The men came into view and their banter bled into the background as Roy waited for any indication that they'd been spotted. His nerves thrummed on a knife's edge, every sense hyper-aware and one thought overrunning all others. We can't get caught, Ed's counting on us. Each second seemed to stretch out for an eternity, the few moments as the men drew level with them some of the longest of Roy's life. Just as it seemed the patrolmen would pass without incident, the one on the left glanced in their direction.
His eyes met the guardsman's, and Roy snapped before the man could cry out the alarm.
The fire was small but focused, designed to kill as quickly as possible. The man who had seen Roy managed a small, strangled cry. The other collapsed without a sound. The flames died as quickly as they'd begun, and Roy sighed and stepped out from the shadow of the shed, breathing shallowly against the stink of charred human flesh. No matter how many times he'd killed in this fashion, he never did manage to get used to the smell. "Keep looking, I'll take care of the bodies," he said gruffly. Alphonse didn't move, and Roy looked back at him to find the the boy staring at him, wide-eyed. Alphonse had seen a lot in his life, but he'd never seen Roy kill, and the last thing he needed right now was the boy freezing up on him because of it. "Al," he said as gently as he could manage, and Alphonse started. "I don't know how often those guards report in, but they're going to realize something is wrong sooner rather than later. If we don't do this, and fast, we're never getting Ed out of there."
His words seemed to bring Alphonse back to the task at hand, and the boy nodded, casting an uncertain glance at the two charred corpses before resuming his search. Roy returned his attention to the bodies, offering the men a silent apology as he began scratching a familiar array into the dirt around them. Killing them had not been the kindest route, but it had been the most efficient. Taking prisoners would have slowed them down, and attempting to incapacitate them would have given them ample time to sound the alarm. He'd made the right choice, but somehow Roy suspected that Alphonse wouldn't see it that way, even if they managed to save Edward in the end. With a sigh, Roy activated the array he'd had to use a thousand times during the war, watching as the charred bodies dissolved to ash. Insult to injury, perhaps, and if he'd had more time he would have at least left the bodies so that they might be returned to their families, but there was nowhere to hide them and once security started searching, they'd have pointed right to the site of the breach.
"Found it," Alphonse called quietly, and Roy scattered the remains and the lines of the array with his boot before hurrying over to Alphonse. The boy refused to look at him, peering instead into the grate. "It'll be a tight fit," he said, sticking his head inside. "And dusty. I should fit, but I'm not sure if you will." Alphonse was tall, but not terribly broad. However, his captivity had whittled Roy down considerably so there was a good chance that if Alphonse could fit, he'd be able to squeeze in as well.
"You go first," Roy said, glancing around warily. The area was quiet, and it didn't seem that they had been alerted to anything amiss. Yet. "I'll follow if I can. If not, follow the vent for about fifty feet; there should be an opening into an old storage room. From there, you'll have to go down three levels to the chimera quarantine facility; Edward's cell should be the last on the third row."
Al pulled his head out of the vent and looked up at Roy, nodding. With that, he stuck his head back inside and after a bit of wriggling, vanished inside. Roy waited a moment, not wanting to get a face-full of Al's feet and followed, wincing as his shoulder scraped a bolt. Tight squeeze was a bit of an understatement, but he'd manage. His stomach twisted uneasily at being crammed into such a small space, and Roy wondered if his captivity had given him a touch of claustrophobia. He smiled wryly at the thought, and then pushed such frivolous musings out of his head and focused instead on the mission at hand and on not breathing too much of the dust Alphonse kicked up in passing.
A few minutes passed and he heard Al stop, a rustle of movement and the scrape of a grate. Then Alphonse was gone, the thud of his landing from somewhere below. Roy pulled himself forward once again, feeling around for the lip of the vent. He crawled over it so he wouldn't have to go out head first, and after a bit of difficult maneuvering in the tight space he managed to drop down into the dark storeroom himself. He heard Alphonse moving around somewhere to his right and grunt in frustration. "I found the door, but it's locked. You have a flashlight?"
Roy did, and he pulled it from his pocket and switched it on, training it in Al's direction. The boy looked like a ghost in the white light, and he blinked once before turning back to the door and quickly scribbling an array on the steel surface with the chalk he never seemed to be without. A moment later and it was done, and he pressed his ear against the door, presumably listening for people outside. Once he was satisfied, he activated the array, and it flashed brightly for a moment before it died. Al turned the knob and the door swung open easily, light from the deserted hallway spilling into the storage room. Roy cocked an eyebrow at Alphonse, curious.
"Just melted the locking mechanism," he said by way of explanation, poking his head out into the hallway. "Comes in handy sometimes."
"I never knew you moonlighted as a burglar," Roy said, and the comment earned him a small smile.
"Brother would have just blown the door off its hinges," Al said, and his smile vanished. "We have to hurry."
Roy nodded and they stepped cautiously out into the hallway, Al closing the storage room door behind them. Roy looked around and tried to get his bearings based on the mental map the woman had provided him. The elevators required keycard access to operate, as did the door to the stairwell, but Al had proven that locked doors were no concern and the stairwell was more likely to be empty. So...left, towards the back of the building. He turned, walking at a brisk pace and Alphonse fell into step beside him. According to the woman, this wing was used entirely for storage, and as such was usually empty. True to her word, they encountered no one, researcher, guard, or otherwise and reached the stairwell unmolested.
Alphonse unlocked this door as easily as the last, and Roy took the stairs two at a time, passing a door labeled B1 - Research and Development. It sounded so innocuous, just like any other science facility, and the thought of what they were doing here, to Edward and to others who shared his unlucky fate made him ill. Halfway down the next flight of stairs an alarm blared to life, stopping the two of them in their tracks. They shared a look as the voice boomed over hidden speakers, "There has been a possible security breach. I repeat, possible security breach. All non-security personnel are to remain where they are and report any suspicious persons or activity immediately."
It appeared their grace period was over. Without a word, Roy and Alphonse resumed their downward dash, past the door labeled B2 - Minimum Security Chimera Confinement to the one marked B3 - Maximum Security Chimera Confinement and Quarantine. Roy slammed through the door, stealth abandoned in favor of speed. A man in a white lab coat gaped as they ran past, and Roy payed him no mind. Scientists weren't the threat here, and it was only a matter of time before they were discovered, witness or not. The first two rows were confinement cells, and the third is where new or particularly sensitive chimera were kept under strict quarantine. Here they turned, and Roy heard shouting from behind them, one a thin, reedy wail, the other a barking snap that Roy recognized as orders even though he couldn't hear the words.
Alphonse skidded to a stop as they turned the corner, swiftly drawing an array on the white tiled floor. A flash of energy and the walls fused together, preventing further entry. "It won't hold them for long," Al said, getting to his feet. "We have to find Brother, fast."
There was shouting and pounding from behind the newly formed wall, and Roy nodded sharply. Edward was being held in the last cell on the row, so that's where they were going. A massive thud drew his attention to the first cell, where a creature all teeth and claws threw itself mindlessly against the observation window. This chimera wasn't the only one that appeared upset by the commotion; a cacophony of warped animal sounds and almost-human cries grew to the point where it was nearly deafening. Alphonse looked ill, and Roy took his arm, giving him a hard shake and drawing the boy along after him towards the door at the end of the hall.
Bursting through, Roy was startled to find himself face to face with his informant, who looked almost as surprised to see him. A moments hesitation and he drew his gun, the act only half-charade. It protected both of them; himself if she couldn't really be trusted, and her, when they undoubtedly reviewed the security footage. Her eyes widened in understanding and she threw her hands up, not moving from her seat at the desk. There was a large observation window, but all Roy could see was an indistinct shape beneath the blankets. "There?" He asked, jerking his head towards the window.
The woman nodded. "His arm is in that cabinet there," she said. "I imagine he'll want it back."
"Thank you," Alphonse said, voice strained but grateful, and went to retrieve it. Roy glanced over and frowned when Al pulled the gleaming metal appendage from the cabinet. It was odd, and no little morbid, seeing that arm without the body it was normally attached to.
They had no time to waste, and while part of him was wary at leaving her unrestrained, he supposed at this point it made little difference. Either they would escape, or they wouldn't. Through the double set of heavily reinforced doors and into the room, Roy was at the bedside in a instant, heart twisting at the sight that greeted him. Ed looked awful; not the unwashed and underfed awful he'd looked during their captivity, but something less tangible, something that made his stomach twist in sick fear that they'd come too late. "Ed," he called, shaking the boy. There was response, not a twitch, nothing. "Ed!" he bellowed, and he could nearly have cried in relief when his eyelids fluttered and opened, amber eyes peering at him, glazed and unseeing. "You shouldn't do that," Edward muttered, voice hoarse but working, and for a moment Roy was startled to hear a complete sentence out of his mouth. "Al will get mad."
Alphonse dashed to his side. "I'm not mad, Brother," he said, voice choked with emotion. Edward muttered something unintelligible in reply, and his eyes slid closed once more. Edward would definitely not be going anywhere under his own power, and Roy holstered his gun and scooped him up, the young alchemist looking so unnaturally frail in his white hospital pajamas.
"We're on the east side of the building," Alphonse interrupted, tearing his worried gaze away from Edward long enough to survey the room. There was a crash and the sound of booted feet stomping down the hall. There wasn't much time. Al stared at the walls for a moment before going to one and hastily drawing an array. He activated it without preamble, and the whole building lurched, the earth shuddering and rearranging itself, and when the dust settled Roy was suddenly very glad he'd brought Al along.
A perfectly circular hole had been cut away from the wall, a tunnel rising at a steady incline and vanishing out of sight. Roy stepped inside, shifting Edward in his arms so that he wouldn't scrape the boy against the rough walls, and Al followed, closing a thick section of tunnel behind them and drenching them in darkness. A moment passed, and he felt Al fumbling about at his waist, looking for the flashlight. After accidentally groping him --a fact which Roy tactfully ignored-- he found what he was looking for. Light flooded the tunnel once again, and they continued their climb. The tunnel exited not twenty feet from where Jean waited with the car, and Roy silently applauded Al's accuracy. The nearby facility was remarkably quiet; a stark contrast to the wailing of alarms inside.
To his credit, Jean didn't look the least surprised, merely dropped the cigarette he held and got in the drivers seat as Roy dove into the back with Ed. Al scurried in beside him, and within moments they were pulling away from the warehouse. Alphonse hovered over Edward worriedly, one hand resting against his face. "He's sick," he said, distraught. "His skin is burning."
The plan had originally been to get out of Central and go as far as they could as quickly as they could, but Roy hadn't counted on Edward being physically ill. He needed a doctor, but there wasn't one Roy was willing to entrust Edward's safety to. So his only options were to continue with the original plan and hope whatever Edward had wasn't serious, or risk taking Edward to a doctor despite the dangers. He shifted Edward's weight into a more comfortable position, and paused, a thought striking. Maybe there was a third option. It was a long shot, and there was no guarantee she'd be able to help, but it was the only option he had. After all they'd gone through, he refused to lose Ed like this; chimera were notoriously prone to illness, and something mild in a human could be fatal in a chimera. It wasn't worth the risk. "Jean," he said, meeting the man's eyes in the mirror. "Change of plans. I know someone who can help us." He gave Havoc directions to a house on the south side of Central.
Alphonse glanced up, looking starkly terrified. "You're sure he can be trusted.?"
Roy considered the question. It was touchy territory, but if he knew one thing, it was that no matter her feelings on the matter she would never sell them out to the military. He rested a hand briefly on Edward's hair before looking Alphonse in the eyes. "I'm sure."