Series: Fullmetal Alchemist
Words: 4,713 (43,962 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.'
Notes: Better late than never? >.>
Previous Chapters: Prologue - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6 - Chapter 7 - Chapter 8 - Chapter 9
It was an ordinary door, a door like any other; white paint chipping near the bottom and brass knob a little worn. The ordinary door led into an ordinary house, not big and not small, the facade giving little clue as to the person that dwelt within. Roy shifted Edward in his arms and rapped loudly on the door, knowing full well that he was nothing more than a giant coward, and if it had been anything less than Edward's health he'd never have come within a mile of this place. A light came on within, and Roy's back went ramrod stiff when he heard footsteps approach a few minutes later. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all, but it was too late to back out now.
The door flew open and his sister bore down on him with all the fury of a hurricane; wrapped in a bathrobe, graying hair going every which way and not looking even slightly less intimidating for it. "This had better damn well be an emergency," she ranted, jabbing her finger in Roy's face. "If you came pounding on my door in the middle of the goddamn night just to tell me that Molly had her...pups..." Samantha trailed off, squinting at him, and something in Roy's head told him maybe he should speak up, but he just couldn't seem to get his lips moving. Sam frowned, pulling a pair of glasses from the pocket of her robe and planting them on her nose. She took a startled step back, and then leaned forward, peering at him as though she didn't believe her own eyes. "...Roy?"
"Hi Sam," he managed, and was secretly quite proud of himself for getting that much out.
She blinked and snorted. "All this time, and that's the best you can manage? What the hell are you-" she cut herself off, taking note of Edward and the men standing nervously at his shoulder. "Get inside," she said sharply, glancing up and down the deserted street. "And close the drapes."
Roy nodded and moved past her, taking Edward into the living room and laying him gently on the couch. In spite of their differences, he couldn't deny that Sam had always been good to have around in an emergency. Samantha hurried into the room with Alphonse on her heels, peering down at Edward in concern. Jean joined them a moment later, nodding at Roy to indicate the area was secure. They were safe, for the time being.
"What's going on?" Sam asked, frowning at him and looking somewhere between concerned and angry.
Where to even begin? Sorry about the seventeen years of bad blood, but my friend here needs your help? Roy sighed. "He's sick."
"I can see that," Sam said brusquely, tucking her hands into the pockets of her tatty old robe and slanting a look at Roy that brooked no bullshit. "He should be resting at home, in bed. Or in a hospital if it's that bad. What is he doing on my couch?"
"Considering how much trouble we just went to to break him out of a high security military facility, I thought taking him to a public hospital might be a bad idea," Roy muttered, quashing a rising tide of irritation. Sam had every right to demand answers. "You were all I could think of."
Samantha's eyebrows crawled up towards her hairline as she sat on the edge of the couch and put a gentle hand to Edward's forehead. "I'm a vet," she said, but the venom had gone from her words. "Not a doctor. Human physiology isn't exactly my forte."
Roy sat on the arm of the couch and rubbed his face wearily. "His physiology isn't exactly human."
Sam's head snapped up and she looked at him sharply. "When you get yourself in trouble, you never do it halfway. You," she said, pointing at Alphonse, "get me a bowl of cold water from the kitchen. You," she turned her attention to Jean, "get me a cloth from the linen closet in the hall. "You," her gaze returned to Roy. "Start talking. Now."
Roy did so, giving her the simplest version of events he could. Sam didn't need to know all the gruesome details, but she did need to know Edward's situation if she was going to help him. She was uncharacteristically silent as he spoke, accepting the bowl and cloth with quiet thanks and putting a cold compress on Edward's head. She checked his pulse, retrieved a stethoscope and listened to his heart and breathing, and if Roy didn't know better, he'd have thought she was ignoring him entirely. When he finished she sighed and looked at him sidelong. "Well, never let it be said that you don't have guts. What animal?"
"A wolf," Roy replied, relaxing slightly. Part of him had worried that she might not help them, but she wasn't the type to let personal concerns cloud her judgment.
"Yes, yes, but what kind?" she asked impatiently, prying open Ed's eyes and peering at them closely. Ed didn't so much as twitch.
"I have no idea," Roy said, shaking his head. She was the animal nut, not him. How was he supposed to tell the difference? As far a Roy was concerned, a wolf was a wolf. "He's got spots, if that means anything. On his back."
"Spots?" she frowned, "I need to see; help me turn him over." Roy did so, careful not to jostle Ed too much and Sam lifted up the thin white fabric, took one look a the tattoo-like spotting and sighed. "That's a Briggs all right. How long did you say he was locked up alone?"
Roy wondered if it made a difference. "Nearly two months."
Sam winced. "That's a hell of a stretch." She dropped his shirt and carefully moved Ed onto his back again. "From what you told me and what I've seen, another few days, maybe a week, and he'd have been dead. Briggs don't do well in captivity; sometimes they survive if you can manage to capture a pair, but more often than not they just lay down and die. Wolves are social animals to begin with, but a Briggs just can't handle the separation from its pack."
The woman that had helped him rescue Ed had said something similar, and the possibility that they had rescued him only to lose him anyway was not a notion that Roy was prepared to entertain. "Will he be okay?"
Sam sighed explosively. "Shit Roy, I don't know. If he was actually a Briggs, I'd say not bloody likely. They can't function alone for long. If he was a wolf, his best chance would be to get him back to his pack as quickly as possible. He's not a wolf, though. He's a chimera, and that's something else entirely." She paused and peered at Ed thoughtfully. "His family might help, if you can get him to them. Being around the people he loves might be enough to snap him out of this, but I can't say for sure." A sigh. "There are just too many variables."
Alphonse spoke up up from where he'd been hovering worriedly over her shoulder. "I'm his brother," he said.
"Then that'll have to do," Sam said, tucking a stray bit of hair behind her ear. She stood and muffled a yawn behind her hand. "Stay with him, talk to him, just...make your presence felt. Beyond that it's up to him."
Alphonse made a soft sound of distress, and Roy reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "Edward's a fighter, Al. He'll pull through." Roy believed that. He had to.
The younger Elric offered him a small, tight smile that didn't quite reach his eyes before grasping Edward's limp hand in his own. Sam watched the boys with an unreadable expression for a moment before saying, "There's nothing more we can do tonight, but at least I can give him a bed to sleep in."
Roy scooped up the unresponsive alchemist and took him to the guest room at Samantha's direction. The room was small and spare, with a distinctly disused air, and it hurt a bit to know that Ed's first night outside of a cage or a lab in so many months was going completely unnoticed. Slowly, carefully, Roy set Edward down on the bed and drew the blankets around him, hesitating a few moments before stepping away. He looked so...diminished, a pale shadow of the Ed he knew. The bed creaked loudly as Al crawled in beside his brother, resting his head against Edward's shoulder with a weary sigh.
It was a heartbreaking sight, and Roy turned off the light and stepped back out into the hallway with a small shake of his head. He'd done what he could, the rest was up to Edward; there was nothing left but to wait and hope. Damn, but some days he just felt so old.
Sam was waiting in the hallway, and she looked at the closed door for a thoughtful moment before turning her attention back to Roy. "I suppose we need to talk, but I don't have the energy to do it tonight," she said wearily, and Roy realized he wasn't the only one feeling his age. "There's extra blankets in the linen closet; you can fight with your friend over who gets the couch." She started off down the hall, but Roy stopped her with a hand on her arm.
"Thanks Sam." She smiled a little at that, but didn't reply, vanishing through the door at the end of the hall.
Worried, weary, and feeling decidedly useless, Roy went back downstairs.
Jean fell asleep quickly, curled up in the armchair, and Roy lay awake on the too-short couch, legs dangling over the arm and staring at the shadowed ceiling. He wanted to sleep, but his mind kept turning round and over in worried knots and refused to let him rest. Ed was safe for the time being. When he woke up -because Roy refused to believe he wouldn't- they were going to have to find some way to get him safely out of the city, because Central was a minefield of danger right now. The military had eyes everywhere, and they were going to have to be very, very careful.
He wasn't sure how long he lay there trying to find sleep, but when light began peeking through the drapes and he heard soft footfalls on the stairs, Roy decided it was time to give up the fight. He sat up, rubbing his hands wearily over his face before getting up and padding into the kitchen. Sam must've been the one he heard on the stairs, because he was there now, staring at a cup of tea like it held all the answers. "Morning," he said, and she started, blinking up at him.
Looking at her now, with the urgency of the night before behind them, she seemed older than he'd expected. There was more gray than black in her hair anymore, and lines in her face he didn't remember. It seemed wrong until he realized that a lot could change in a couple of decades, and she must be on the far side of forty by now. He was hardly the sixteen year-old kid she probably remembered, and the weight of the years settled heavily on his shoulders at the thought. Their fight seemed such a trivial thing, now.
"You're up early," she observed, something in her voice even and carefully neutral; something that wasn't like her at all.
"Couldn't sleep," Roy replied, sinking down into one of the kitchen chairs and distantly thankful his exhaustion was keeping him from feeling too awkward.
"You look like shit," she commented, and Roy smiled faintly. That did sound like her.
"You should have seen me two months ago," he quipped, and her lips tightened in a frown.
"That was all over the papers," she said, pausing to take a sip of her tea.
Roy was surprised; not that his abduction had made the news, but that she'd noticed and he said as much. Sam scowled. "Dammit Roy, just because we haven't said a civil word to each other in a couple decades doesn't mean I don't care. What do you take me for?"
Startled by her vehemence, Roy blinked a few times before saying slowly, "I didn't mean it like that." Except that he had, actually, and now he felt like a bit of an ass.
She snorted softly. "Right. So, what do you plan on doing with your young alchemist if he snaps out of it?"
Neatly changing the subject. "I'm not sure," Roy said honestly. He'd entertained the notion of holing up somewhere north, but he just hadn't had time to give it any serious consideration. "But we'll have to drop completely out of sight. We can't go anywhere they'll think to look."
"I don't want you to think I'm kicking you out," Sam said, tapping a finger slowly against the side of her mug. "I'm always good for sticking one to the military, but you must realize they're going to be pounding on my door any time now?"
This was one point where their long estrangement was going to work in his favor. "You aren't in my file."
Brows dipping in a slight frown, she asked, "How did you manage that? I thought they keep records on all immediate family."
"Typically, yes. But I was, ah, still upset with you when I enlisted. So when I was filling out the paperwork I may have neglected to mention any siblings." Who would have imagined something he'd done out of childish spite would turn out to be a boon all these years later?
Samantha chuckled and shook her head. "Well, that's one less thing to worry about." She picked up her now empty mug and took it to the stove where the kettle rested, glancing back at Roy over her shoulder. "Tea?"
* * *
The scent was familiar, but one Ed couldn't quite place. It was human, but male, so it couldn't be Dr. Arcourt. Overlapping the individual scent was that of soap and a faint hint of stale cigarettes. Havoc? No, it sort of smelled like Havoc, but it wasn't. So who?
The curious puzzle wrestled Edward from his lethargy, and he realized that the constant buzz of fluorescent lights was conspicuously absent, along with the antiseptic smell that he'd grown so accustomed to. Cracking his eyes open, he squinted against dim light and stared in bleary confusion at an unfamiliar ceiling. Had they moved him out of quarantine? No, that made no sense. He continued to stare at the ceiling while his thoughts swam in sluggish circles until he became aware of the slow, even breathing at his side. Feeling strangely disconnected, he looked over to find Alphonse curled awkwardly into his side, the top of his brother's head resting against his ribs.
He stared. That couldn't really be him, could it? Another dream perhaps, but something felt too sharp, real, and he didn't remember ever feeling so god-fucking-awful in the dreams. "Al?" he croaked.
Alphonse started upright, staring at Edward with impossibly wide eyes. "Brother?" They stared at each other for a beat and then Al was clinging to him and crying, babbling nonsense through his tears and now Ed knew why he should have recognized the scent.
Edward snatched Al's shirt, halfway terrified he'd finally lost his mind, and mumbled into his little brother's hair, "Are you real?"
Alphonse laughed unsteadily, the sound a little sickly. "I'm real."
The last thing he remembered was his room in the research facility; fleeting impressions of misery and a worried doctor and a haze of dreams as he sunk further and further from himself. He wanted so, so badly for this to be real and not another comforting lie conjured by a failing mind. Edward buried his face in Al's hair and just focused on breathing, on the sound and feel and smell of him. His body ached, his muscles weak and he was starving and thirsty as all hell but he didn't want to move. Afraid that if he did Al would be gone, and it would break him to lose his little brother again.
He couldn't bear to be alone again.
How much time passed he wasn't sure, but Alphonse was the first to break the desperate grip, moving back enough so they could look each other in the eye. Ed resisted the urge to squirm, to avert his gaze. His eyes still bothered him; they were something inhuman, and he didn't want Alphonse to see that. Ed realized that if they were together again then that meant Al knew and he couldn't look at him anymore, dropping his eyes and staring resolutely at the blanket. Al sighed heavily, and there was an odd note in his voice when he spoke. "I bet you're hungry. Let's go see if we can get something to eat. Jean and Roy will want to know you're awake, too. Last night we weren't...well, we weren't too sure you were going to wake up at all."
All Edward heard was Roy. His head shot up, eyes wide and he needed to go. "Roy's here?" There was a note of desperation in his voice that made Ed wince. God, he sounded pathetic.
Al's expression softened a little. "Yeah, he's downstairs. Probably still asleep." Alphonse seemed to realize that Edward needed to see the older man without words, and he said, "C'mon, I don't think he'll mind if we wake him up."
Edward swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood, stumbling when his legs didn't quite want to support his weight. Al reached out to steady him, and Ed growled savagely, suddenly furious at his own weakness. Al's hand vanished, and Ed looked up to see Al staring at him wide-eyed, a tiny thread of fear weaving through his scent. Distraught, Ed shook head, hard. Not his brother, he couldn't bear it if Al was afraid of him. "I wasn't-- not at you. I'm just...frustrated. Nothing seems to work right. Fuck," he sighed. "I don't blame you for being afraid of me, but I'd never hurt you Al. Never you."
"Brother," Alphonse said, scooting closer and nudging shoulders. "I'm not afraid of you, how could you think that?"
Ed smiled bitterly at the lie. It was still there, a tendril of nervousness, uncertainty. "I can smell it."
"Fear, nerves, whatever. It changes your scent." Edward tried not to think about how that sounded.
"You can...smell me?" The fear was dwindling, and Ed relaxed a little. He really couldn't blame Al for being a little nervous after hearing his brother snarling like an angry dog.
"Yeah. It's kinda hard to explain, but ever since...uh," he couldn't bring himself to say it. "My sense of smell has been through the roof. I can distinguish people by their individual scent, and I can tell you what they had for lunch, or--" he broke off, derailed by something he'd noticed earlier. "Why do you smell like Havoc?"
Alphonse turned a very peculiar shade of red. "What?" he asked faintly.
"You smell like Havoc, a little." It was probably scent transfer; he'd noticed the phenomenon with Dr. Arcourt. Every time he saw her, Ed could tell what who --or what-- she'd been in contact with before she'd come to see him. He'd also been able to tell when she was on her monthly or if she'd recently had sex, which was extremely disconcerting. There were some things he just didn't need to know about a person.
"Oh...uh, I've been staying with him the last few months. Maybe that's why?"
"Probably," Ed agreed, pleased to have solved that little mystery. He tried standing again, and this time his legs were a touch more cooperative. After a quick detour to the bathroom, in which Ed marveled at the novelty of taking a piss in privacy, they went downstairs. Alphonse hovered over his shoulder anxiously, but Ed's legs were finally getting the hang of this walking thing, and he made it down the stairs without incident. He glanced into the living room where Havoc slept in an armchair, but then he caught Roy's scent, followed a moment later by the sound of his voice and Ed followed them into the kitchen.
Roy's back was to him as he entered, but he must have made some noise because the older man twisted in his chair, looking at first startled, and then pleased. The tatters of Edward's pride dissolved entirely upon seeing that face, and he threw himself into Roy's arms, clinging to the man and burying his face in Roy's neck, heedless of the stares of his brother and the unfamiliar female. "I waited," he whispered fiercely, tangling his fingers in newly-shortened hair. "I knew you'd come, I knew it, it was the only thing that kept me sane, and I waited for as long as I could." Ed was babbling, he knew it, but he didn't care much at the moment.
Arms tightening around him, Roy said, "I'm sorry I left you there for so long."
Edward shook his head minutely. "You came," he said simply. That was all that mattered. Roy hadn't let him down, and the anxiety that had been Ed's constant companion for so long finally, finally began to dissipate.
Someone cleared their throat, and Edward realized how awkward they must look. He reluctantly disentangled himself from Roy, settling into the nearest chair and staring mistrustfully at the female. He didn't recognize her, or the house, which meant that it was likely hers, and he wasn't quite sure what to make of her. The idea of being in a stranger's territory was unsettling.
Roy caught his stare, and said, "Ed, this is my sister, Samantha. I told you about her, remember?"
He did remember, and she cocked a questioning eyebrow at Roy that was almost the mirror of the man's own expression. He saw the resemblance now that he looked. "I thought you weren't talking?" he asked, curious.
"We weren't," Samantha replied with a wry smile, "Until he turned up on my doorstep last night with you. How do you feel?"
"Like shit," Ed replied honestly. He felt a bit like he'd been hit with a bus and then run over twice more for good measure. "Hungry."
"So you have an appetite, that's a good sign." She stood and moved towards the icebox. "I'll get you--" she paused, cutting herself off and looking back at Ed. "What do you eat?"
Her question echoed the one Dr. Arcourt had asked him months ago, but this time he knew how to answer. "I can eat anything." He wasn't about to tell them he'd developed a taste for raw meat. They might know what he was now, but he wasn't comfortable displaying anything that drew attention to it, not if he could avoid it. Samantha nodded and pulled some eggs from the icebox, busying herself at the stove.
Alphonse sat in the chair she'd vacated, and Roy said, "You're speaking much better now."
That was one thing, at least, he was grateful to the lady doctor for. Fuck if he wanted to spend the rest of his life grunting like a goddamn caveman. "The change warped my vocal cords," he said. Among other things. "When she realized that was the problem, she put me through speech therapy." Ed grimaced. That had been embarrassing, even if the end result was more than worth the effort. His voice still had that too-deep, raspy quality, but that would never go away.
"I'm glad that's all it was," Roy said softly. "You scared the shit out of me at first."
"You were scared?" Ed snorted, although he felt warmed anyhow. "I could barely put two thoughts together."
"But you're okay now?" Al asked anxiously, and Ed frowned slightly. He was alive, and with his mind more or less intact, which was more than he could have expected. Ed wasn't sure he'd call himself 'okay' though. He only felt so calm because he was surrounded by pack; by Roy and Al. Ed doubted he'd ever be functional alone again.
"Sort of," he muttered, and was saved Al's response by a plate of scrambled eggs deposited in front of his face. His stomach rumbled impatiently and Ed barely managed to squeeze out a thanks before snatching up his fork-- and stopping. He couldn't eat. There was the most bizarre sensation that it wasn't his turn yet, and Ed frowned. This was new. He looked at Roy helplessly, wondering what the fuck his malfunction was. He was hungry, dammit, but he just couldn't bring himself to eat.
Samantha was watching him, gaze darting back and forth between himself and Roy thoughtfully. "Take a bite, Roy."
Roy blinked at her, forehead creasing in confusion. "What?"
"Humor me," she said. "I think I know why he won't eat."
Shrugging, Roy took Ed's fork and stabbed at a bit of fluffy egg, taking a bite and returning the fork to Ed. Just like that, the peculiar barrier was gone, and Edward dug in with gusto, devouring the eggs far too quickly. He felt dissatisfied when he was finished, but he knew that he hadn't eaten much of anything in a week or better, and he'd probably just make himself sick if he ate as much as he wanted to.
"What was that all about?" Roy asked when he was finished.
"Dunno," Edward shrugged. "It's never happened before." He'd never had trouble eating before, although he'd lost his appetite towards the end. This was different, though.
Roy turned his attention to Samantha, who was smiling slightly. "You know though, don't you?"
She chuckled. "It was just a guess, but the alpha always eats first. He couldn't eat because his alpha," she inclined her head at Roy, "was present, but hadn't eaten yet himself."
Ed dipped his head, the part of his brain that actually understood all the bizarre shit happening to him affirming that was precisely the reason. Eating before his alpha was disrespectful at best, and could be construed as a challenge at worst. And he certainly had no desire to challenge Roy for the position. "Oh hell," he muttered. The fact that he hadn't consciously realized it before now made no difference. Roy was his alpha, and maybe that explained why he felt so acutely anxious when he wasn't around.
Roy however, hadn't quite caught on. "In words I'll understand?"
"The alpha is the leader of a wolf pack," Samantha explained. "It's not surprising that he'd cast you in that role. After all, you're bigger than he is," Ed bristled slightly at that but said nothing. Couldn't argue with the truth. "Older than he is, you were his CO for years, and you're used to being the boss. A pretty ideal candidate for an alpha, if you look at it from a human perspective."
Edward shifted awkwardly. She was right, not that it had been any sort of logical choice on his part, but the discussion was uncomfortable. Right or not, she was shining a bright, glaring light on the fact that he wasn't exactly human anymore. A fact that he was going to have to learn to live with, sooner rather than later. Ed cast a glance at Roy, wondering if the man realized just how much Ed had been screwed up between the ears. Probably not. They'd probably chalk his behavior up to a few wolfish idiosyncrasies, but it ran far deeper than that. The person he used to be was gone, dead, and he wasn't ever coming back. Ed stared down at the floor, unseeing. He wasn't okay. He was so far from okay he wasn't even sure that he remembered what okay looked like.
Giving up though, that wasn't an option. Ed had already gone down the lay down and die road, and it wasn't something he'd let happen again. He had Al, and he had Roy, and whoever or whatever he was now, well, he could learn to deal with it. He wasn't okay, but maybe, in time, he would be.