Series: Fullmetal Alchemist
Words: 5,324 (49,286 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: Looks like it'll be coming in at fifteen chapters. Almost there!
Previous Chapters: Prologue
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
The metal table was ice cold, and Edward arched away from it, hissing softly as Bear snapped metal restraints into place around his wrist and ankle, securing the leather one tightly over his middle. Ed tugged halfheartedly at the restraints, the resistance a token one at this point. He knew they were more than secure enough to hold him. Bear vanished from his line of sight to be replaced by the bastard himself, the man clutching a clipboard and making notations on who knew what. Ed drew a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves. He'd always hated needles, but since coming here he'd grown to loathe them.
The bastard vanished and returned a moment later, a needle in hand but not the small syringe Ed was used to. Pride was the only thing keeping the alarm off his face as Markham approached with a needle as long as his arm and thick as a finger. He couldn't mean to use it, could he? The thing was practically a sword! "You aren't using that for my injection, are you?" he asked, congratulating himself on sounding unconcerned. After seeing that monster, the usual needle suddenly seemed a lot nicer, hallucinogenic drugs or no.
Markham blinked at him over the top of his glasses. "This? No, no. Of course not." Edward relaxed marginally, but his relief was short lived. Markham advanced on him, the expression of bored indifference he wore mutating into one of hateful malice. "This is just to make you suffer."
Edward tried to to struggle, shout, but a strange paralysis washed over him, stilling his movement and stealing his words. Between one blink an the next, Alphonse was standing at his side, looking down at him with soulful eyes. He reached out, threading icy fingers through Ed's own and said, "Don't struggle, Brother. It'll only hurt more if you do."
Markham leaned over him, smiling in a way that was almost friendly. "Not that it matters, right? You only an animal after all." A twitch of the hand and he slammed the needle into Edward's eye, driving it deep, deeper, an anguished howl torn from his throat.
Edward came awake with a jerk, hair plastered to his neck with sweat and limbs trembling. He scrambled upright, disoriented, heart beating wildly in his chest.
The bed was empty.
He was alone.
The emptiness pressed in on him like a vise and he whined. It was just a nightmare, he tried to tell himself, but the truth did nothing to lessen his anxiety.
Footsteps, running, and Ed went tense all over, backing against the headboard and growling when the door slammed open. "Ed? Are you okay?"
Roy, he realized after a beat, and relaxed with weary relief. Roy walked over to the bed, and as soon as he was close enough Ed launched himself into the other man's arms, the need for comfort and contact far outweighing the need to maintain his battered pride. Roy's presence went a long way towards calming him, and after a few minutes Ed muttered, "So much for sleeping alone." Couldn't even take a nap by himself without having a god damned panic attack. He was recovered enough to be embarrassed and was glad the other man couldn't see his face. "How did you know?" he asked against Roy's shirt.
"You were howling," Roy replied, and Ed winced. Howling. Damn.
"You're only an animal, after all."
Ed snarled under his breath, pulling away from Roy and shaking his head hard. It was just a nightmare; something that'd been a fact of his existence for as long as he could remember. Hell, this wasn't even one of the worst. Not by a long shot. If only he could get a grip on this bizarre emotional up and down that caused him to overreact to everything.
Animal instinct and human personality had collided in a way that left him a complete wreck, and his attempts to find some sort of stable ground between those alien needs and stiff pride were failing rather spectacularly.
Sliding off the bed, Edward glanced sidelong at Roy. He should hate being so dependent on another person, but the best he could seem muster was a token bit of disgruntled annoyance. He was changing so much and so rapidly, Ed wondered how long it would be before he looked in the mirror and found a complete stranger staring back.
* * *
The room was spare; two chairs, one table, and a too-bright light were the only furnishings it boasted. The paint on the walls was faded and peeling, and the mirror that dominated one wall was starkly out of place in the otherwise the shabby, dingy room.
It was designed to be unsettling, she knew that. Stark, spare, and unfriendly. They'd dragged her here and left her alone for hours without a word of explanation, and that too was designed to unsettle her. They watched her from behind the mirror, gauging her discomfort, her guilt. They had no proof, of course. If they did then they wouldn't have bothered with this farce; she'd already be in a cell or on a table. So Kate refused to give them anything, staring resolutely ahead and keeping her hands clasped in her lap, waiting. If Keats thought he could crack the patience of a scientist, he was sorely mistaken.
It wasn't long before he evidently reached the same conclusion, and the door creaked open, permitting her a glimpse of armed guards beyond as the general entered with an manila folder tucked under his arm and a grim set to his lips. He sat down in the other chair and placed the folder on the table, leaning back and regarding her with a closed expression.
Right then. Time to raise the curtain on their little drama.
"General," she said, allowing a bit of frustration to creep into her tone. If she played this right, she might still get out with her skin intact. "What's going on?"
He didn't answer, but she hadn't expected him to. Instead, Keats flipped open the envelope and placed a fuzzy photograph in front of her. It was taken from the security camera at the entryway of the office building in which Mustang worked, from the day she'd slipped the note in his box. The photo quality was bad, but not so awful that she could deny the woman in the photograph was her. Damn. "This was taken from security footage outside the north office three weeks ago. You were inside for less than five minutes. What was your purpose there?"
Kate pretended to examine the photo. She had an excuse, but she doubted it would satisfy him. "I was there to ask a friend to lunch," she said. "But the secretary was too busy to call up for me, and civilians don't have clearance to go through security. So I left."
"I see," Keats said, and his tone implied he thought she was lying. No big surprise there, considering she was. "And the name of this...'friend'?"
"Corporal Lancaster." True in that she and Emily did have lunch together from time to time. It would hold up if he checked. "Sir, what's this all about?" Kate knew the answer, and Keats was probably aware of that, but she had to keep up appearances. Had to cast enough doubt.
Keats pulled out a stack of papers that she recognized as her notes on Edward. "I've been going through your notes, and you frequently expressed concern aboutElric's well-being. Why is that?"
"He was a vital asset to the project, why wouldn't I be concerned with his health?" Somehow, despite the fact that it had landed her in some decidedly hot water, Kate couldn't bring herself to regret helping Edward escape. "Sir, are you accusing me of somehow...aiding his escape?" It was hard to sound outraged instead of just plain tired, but Kate did her best.
"Am I wrong?"
"Of course!" She sighed and offered him a dry smile. "I generally try to avoid shooting myself in the foot, as it were."
"Indeed." Keats set down her noted and leaned forward slightly, resting his arms on the table. It creaked loudly under his weight. "Why didn't you fight back when they entered the observation room?"
It was such a ridiculous question that Kate could only stare at him for a moment. Even if she was innocent, she wouldn't have fought back. "How exactly could a scientist with no combat training hope to overcome two highly skilled alchemists, one of whom was also a trained soldier? I'm not suicidal."
Keats hummed to himself and nodded, as though she'd confirmed something. He gathered the photo and the notes, tucking them back into the folder as he stood. "This has been most enlightening, Dr. Arcourt." He gave her a curt nod and left, leaving her alone once more in the dismal little room.
Kate sighed and leaned back in her chair, staring up at the too bright light and wondering if there was any way she was getting out of this.
* * *
After his little episode, Ed hadn't been able to muster the urge to do much of anything. He also wasn't feeling compelled to seek out other company, which resulted in him curling up against Roy's leg while the man read, staring at the wall and trying to think about nothing in particular. Edward wiggled the fingers on his automail hand, focusing on the sharp discomfort the movement generated as a way to distract himself. He'd had his arm back for the better part of a week, but after being so long without, his nerves were lodging some serious protest. It wasn't as bad as when he'd first gotten the arm, but the dull pain was proving to be a constant irritant.
He considered retrieving one of the books on wolves that Sam had lent him, but laziness and general apathy won out. He was mostly done with them anyway, and while the books had certainly proven enlightening, the parallels Ed had drawn between what the books described and his own behavior were somewhat troubling.
For example, being around so many other people for the first time since his change was drawing all sorts of instincts to the fore and causing Edward no end of trouble. The most persistent of these troubles was the sense of hierarchy Ed could not shake, the firm notion that they all had their place in his screwed-up little pack, and the mounting frustration that he was the only who saw it, or cared. The irony was not lost on him that someone who had once taken perverse pleasure in flouting authority and disregarding chain of command was now mired in it. Edward smiled grimly at the wall. He didn't believe in a higher power, but if there was one, the bastard had a sick sense of humor.
Worse, because he was the only one who seemed to notice, those around him continued to defy his efforts to properly categorize them, something he found endlessly frustrating. At least Roy seemed to be holding firm to the position of Alpha, though there were times when it seemed like Al was challenging him for the role. That was something to be grateful for, at least. The more he learned, the more he realized that having a solid alpha presence was largely the only thing keeping him so grounded, although it did present some unique challenges. Like the stupid, maddening impulse to defer to Roy in everything.
If he wasn't paying attention, it was ridiculously easy to fall into the 'Alpha Knows Best' mentality, such a blatant left turn from his typical behavior that Ed found it deeply disturbing.
The time since his rescue had been a mixed bag. Ed was fairly certain he'd reached a sort of mental equilibrium; what he was now was likely what he'd be for the rest of his life. If only he could get used to it, instead of swinging wildly around the mood spectrum like a pregnant woman. It could be worse. It could be so much worse, but Ed couldn't help but feel he'd lost an integral piece of himself, the independence he'd once valued so highly all but gone, buried beneath the need for contact, touch. Hell, he couldn't even sleep without someone at his side anymore. It was humiliating and exhausting. Edward sighed heavily. Some days he couldn't figure out if he was lucky, or if he'd gotten the short end of the chimera stick. At least if he was a ravening monster, he wouldn't be aware of what had happened to him. Probably.
"Ed?" Roy's legs shifted slightly under his head, and Edward rolled onto his back, stretching his legs to dangle over the arm of the couch and looking up at Roy. The man was ignoring the book in his hand -one of the ones on wolves Samantha had lent him- in favor of giving Ed a mildly concerned stare. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Ed huffed, mostly lying but not caring. It was close enough. "Just bored." That was true at least. As much as he loved a good cuddle anymore, a fact he would die before admitting to anyone outside his own head, he was starting to get a little restless being cooped up inside all the time. He understood they couldn't risk him being seen, recognized, but it still chafed. He'd spent enough time locked away, dammit. He was forgetting what the sun looked like.
Roy set his book down on the end table, draping one arm over Edward's chest. Ed smiled faintly in spite of himself. If anything good had come from this, it was the easy familiarity he now shared with the man. A year ago he wouldn't have believed it possible, but so many things had changed since then. It seemed like another lifetime. "You and me both," Roy said. "It'll be better once we're out of the city. Won't be long now."
General Keats seemed to believe they had fled Central, and that belief was mirrored in the dwindling security on the streets of the city. The official story, of course, was some nonsense about an escaped convict. No sense in throwing the populace into a tizzy over over the possibility of a dangerous monster on the streets. Ed's smile faded. Oh no, a monster of the human variety was much less frightening. He sighed again and forced the thought away roughly. Fear was something he needed to get used to, because it wasn't going to go away. He was a predator now, down to his bones, and no matter what lengths he went to to smother the fact, it still shone through. The hunter in him touched something old and primal in humans, instincts buried deep in subconscious that recognized him for what he was, and wrenched out that fight or flight response, the base, fearful instinct of self preservation.
He looked up at Roy, who had returned to his book, and asked, "Why aren't you afraid of me?" Ed winced as soon as the words were out of his mouth, giving himself a good, hard mental kick for his idiocy. Sure, he wanted to know, but he hadn't actually meant to ask.
Roy looked at him, genuinely startled. "What?"
"Forget it," Ed muttered, pulling away. Roy caught him before he could escape however, tugging Ed back onto the couch.
"Why would you ask something like that?" he asked softly, book once more abandoned in favor of Ed. Grumbling inwardly, Ed cursed his big fat mouth and looked around. The room was empty. He could hear Al and Jean in the kitchen, their individual scents lost under the stronger aroma of garlic and cooking meat. Samantha was still at work. They were alone, and judging by the look he was getting from Roy, Ed wasn't going to wriggle his way out of this.
"Because everyone else is," he sighed, giving in. That wasn't quite true; Samantha wasn't, and Kate hadn't been either, but Edward suspected that had to do with a long familiarity with predators on the part of both women. Sam seemed to have a healthy respect for what he was capable of, but that wasn't fear. Just good sense.
Roy shook his head. "That's not true."
"It is," Ed insisted. He appreciated what Roy was trying to do, and maybe the man even believed it, but Ed's nose didn't lie. "Al and Havoc are, although less now than at first." It still hurt unbearably that he frightened Al, even on an instinctive level, but at least it was diminishing. "They know. People. They know what I am and it scares them," he sighed, trying to articulate his thoughts in a way that would make sense to Roy. "It's like walking through through the forest and suddenly stumbling over...a bear." He'd almost said wolf, but thought better of it. "Not a logical fear, but that gut feeling you get when you're facing something with big teeth and an appetite. Something that could kill you, not out of malice," Ed struggled to keep his voice even, to pretend he wasn't talking about himself. "but because it's simply in its nature to do so. It's like that. People recognize me as a predator, and it scares them even if they don't know why. I was just wondering why you weren't." He shrugged, trying to pretend it was nothing. "Just curious."
He could feel Roy's eyes on him, and when he dared look, the dark gaze was startlingly intense, if unreadable. "Do you really think of yourself that way?"
"It doesn't matter what I think, it's the truth," Edward said with a sigh, wishing he hadn't brought it up. "I don't know how to explain it to you, it's just..." -\thrillofthechaseandthetasteofblood-
"I don't know why I'm not afraid," the other man said at length. "It never occurred to me that I should be."
Ed nodded, accepting the answer. It was a stupid question anyway, not one he'd actually intended to ask. He was really just grateful for it. Roy's presence was a soothing balm, the single spot of calm in the maelstrom of his existence. Ed honestly couldn't imagine being able to function without him. "Thanks," he said quietly, staring down at his hands.
"For everything," Ed said, not looking up. He wasn't good at this emotional stuff on the best of days, but Roy deserved to hear it. He wasn't sure he'd said it before.
An arm looped around his shoulders, drawing him in for a rough, sideways hug. "You're welcome," Roy said against his hair, and Ed relaxed into him, not quite able to suppress a pleased rumble at the contact.
* * *
Teaching Jean to cook was, Alphonse was beginning to suspect, a lost cause. He followed instructions well enough, but somehow if Al looked away for more than a moment, Jean managed to create some sort of miniature disaster. Today was shaping up to be no different, and while Al lifted the lid on the pot roast to check on it, Jean let out a sharp string of curses to his right. Startled, Al glanced over, hastily slamming the lid back down when he realized Jean was clutching his hand, blood streaming everywhere.
Alarmed, Al darted over and pushed the older man towards the sink, grabbing one of the dish towels as he did so. "Are you okay?" he asked, running cold water over Jean's hands and watching the blood drain away in a pink swirl.
Jean smiled at him sheepishly, one hand still clutched over the wound. "Yeah, yeah. Just nicked myself with the knife," he said, and Al was doubtful. That was way too much blood for a nick.
"Let me see," he ordered, and Jean reluctantly complied, a fresh pulse of blood washing down the sink as he unclasped his hands. Al winced at the deep gash across one of the fingers. Just a nick. Right. He snorted softly, wrapping the cloth around the still bleeding finger and hauling Jean to the kitchen table. "Sit," he commanded, and went to get Sam's med kit from the hall closet. He thought he remembered seeing bandages in there.
Roy and Ed were on the couch in the living room, looking quite...cozy, and Al furiously shoved down the sharp stab of jealousy at the sight. His brother was entitled to cuddle with whomever he cared to, and if that someone was Roy more than it was him...well. It was stupid to get jealous over something so silly. At least, that's what Al kept telling himself, but it didn't seem to do much more than make him feel like a jerk. Certainly didn't stop him from being jealous. Wasn't he the one who was always trying to get his brother to open up to other people? Make friends?
"I smell blood," Edward said, sitting upright, brows furrowed in concern. "Everything okay?"
Something in Al tittered nervously. His brother could smell
the blood. "Jean just cut his finger," Al said, firmly shoving that
undeserved emotion into the mental dungeon with his jealousy where they both belonged. He was better than that.
His brother nodded and sank back to where he'd been resting against Roy, and Al sighed slightly and retrieved the bandage from Samantha's med kit, pointedly not-looking at his brother as he passed. Maybe Brother spent so much time around Roy because he was the only one who seemed to have no malfunction, Al thought a little bitterly. He loved his brother no matter what, but he was just so damned unnerving
sometimes. It was the little things that stood out sharpest. The way he'd sometimes go so still, tracking someone or something with an intense stare. The things he picked up by smell alone. The way he'd growl when frustrated. The sense that Ed was almost dangerous, something other,
a feeling Al couldn't seem to shake. Roy seemed to be the only one completely unaffected. Small wonder Ed preferred his company.
Suddenly quite disheartened, Al returned to the kitchen and patched up Jean's finger absently, the day's good humor evaporated. It wasn't his brother's fault that he was what he was, and it wasn't Ed's fault that Al was dealing with it so poorly, either.
"What's wrong, kiddo?" Jean asked, tapping the back of Al's hand to get his attention. "You're a million miles away."
"Ah," Alphonse shook his head, wrenching himself from the mire of his thoughts. "It's-" he hesitated, watching the other man across the table for a moment. What could it hurt? "I'm just being an idiot," he confessed miserably.
Jean raised his eyebrows in question, and when Alphonse didn't elaborate, he asked, "What do you mean?"
Al shook his head, not sure what to say. He glanced towards the living room with a frown, and when he looked back Jean nodded. "Ah. Jealous?"
"What? No!" Al squawked, then winced at his own reaction. "Maybe a little. Like I said, I'm being an idiot. I mean, I'm the one who's always trying to get him to make more friends, spend time with people that aren't me. It's good for him. So, I don't know why it bothers me. I mean, it's not like he's ignoring me or anything, it's just...I don't know. Different." Alphonse sighed, letting his head fall to the tabletop with a loud thump and a dull throb. He was babbling. "It's stupid."
Alphonse heard the rustle of packaging, and he looked up to see Jean tuck a cigarette between his lips, unlit. He was looking at nothing in particular, expression thoughtful. "You know," he said after a moment, "I've got an older brother too. And man, when we were kids we were inseparable. Far as I was concerned, my big bro was invincible, and I followed him around like a puppy." He chuckled and rested his chin on his hand, meeting Al's eyes. "Two peas in a pod, we were. Then all of a sudden, he's got no more time for his kid brother. I went from being his best buddy to an annoyance out of the blue. After a few weeks of this, I follow him one night, and caught him meeting with a girl.
" He said the word like it was something nasty, and Al smiled a little. "I couldn't believe it. I mean, didn't he know that girls have cooties?"
"Cooties?" Al repeated in amused disbelief.
Jean sat up straight and shrugged with a grin. "Yup. Cooties.
Anyway, I figured this girl was the source of all my problems. If I got rid of her, me and my brother could go back to being buds again. Sorry to say I terrorized the poor girl. Put frogs in her lunch box, pelted her with mud balls, that sort of thing."
"Oh, sure. I was a regular delinquent. Needless to say, when my brother found out what I was doing, he kicked the shit out of me." Jean shook his head slightly. "Guess what I'm trying to say is that you're not an idiot. A little sibling jealousy isn't all that unusual. Just gotta remember that he's not going anywhere. You two are closer than any two people I've ever met, and just because he's sweet on Mustang doesn't mean that's going to change."
Alphonse nodded. Jean was absolutely- wait, what? Sweet
on Mustang? "What?"
Jean blinked. "Uh. Well. Don't take it the wrong way, just seems that way to me, but I'm a lousy judge of these sorta things anyway." He scratched the back of his head and glanced away, looking acutely embarrassed.
Could that really be it? He'd never even considered the possibility that his brother's feelings for Roy were anything other than platonic, but what if Jean was right? Alphonse wasn't quite sure how he felt about the possibility. He'd always sort of expected that his brother would eventually get his head out of his ass and marry Winry. It had seemed inevitable, but now...well. Probably not. Al stared down at his hands and finally understood that nothing was going to be the same. He'd known, logically, that they couldn't go home. Too dangerous. Only, knowing wasn't the same as accepting, and he now realized with sickening clarity the enormity of the situation. Even if they managed to go safely back home, they could never go back to being what they were. That was gone forever, and Al hated Markham more than he could remember hating anyone for taking that away from them. "Do you really think so?" he asked after a while.
"Yeah," Jean said softly. "They've been through a lot together." He hesitated a moment, then added, "I didn't mean to upset you. I could be wrong."
"I'm not upset," Al said. At least, not about that. He wasn't sure if Jean was right, but Alphonse certainly wouldn't begrudge his brother something like love, if that's what it was. Personally, he'd always viewed Roy as a sort of father figure and had always assumed it was the same for Ed, in spite of the rather antagonistic relationship the two had always shared. Maybe he was wrong. "Just surprised."
* * *
Roy was hunched over a map of Central, several books at his elbow. He was fairly certain that there was some sort of old access road out of the city, but it wasn't on the map and he was trying to figure out where he'd seen it by sifting through old books.
The idea of running away didn't sit very well with Ed, although he knew very well that it was the smartest thing to do. They couldn't hide in Samantha's house forever, so running was really the only option. Still. It bothered him. Every time he closed his eyes he could almost see the victims of Keats' experiments. Humans and animals tortured for the sake of building some sort of super soldier. It was sickening.
"Aha!" Roy said quietly, making a mark near the old park on the south side of town. "It should be somewhere around here. Says they used it back during the construction of the city to move building materials in, but it fell into disuse after. If it's not on the map, Keats probably doesn't know about it."
"I can't do it," Ed said suddenly, the words coming unbidden, but true.
"Can't do what?" Roy asked, looking up at him with a frown. "You not up to moving yet?"
"It's not that," Ed said, shaking his head. "I can't run. What that bastard is doing is wrong
, and if we don't stop him, who will?"
Roy sighed and set down both pen and book, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "No one, probably," he said honestly. "What he's doing costs money, Ed. He's being funded from somewhere, and it's probably someone in the government, if not parliament."
"You really think parliament would fund chimera research like this?" Ed asked softly. If that was the case, they were no better than Bradley. It was a sobering thought. There was only one reason to build super soldiers after all, and if that's the direction Amestris was heading, it was even more important to put a stop to it.
"No," Roy said. "At least, not all of them. Although I wouldn't be surprised if a member or two was funneling funds to Keats under the table."
"There's got to be something we can do," Ed insisted. "I can't just walk away from this, Mustang. I can't. He's got to be stopped before he figures out out to do this," he made a vague gesture at himself, "to other people."
"I understand, but I just don't see how we can do anything. We're criminals as far as the military is concerned. The only people who would listen to us aren't important enough to do anything about it." For the first time, Ed noticed how tired Roy looked, and wondered how well he was sleeping. He'd been so focused on himself that it hadn't occurred to him the trouble he might be causing everyone else, he realized guiltily. "If you have any suggestions?"
Edward pushed away the guilt to be addressed later and focused on the problem at hand. "The only reason he's getting away with this is because it's a secret. No one would publicly
sanction this kind of research, right?"
Roy nodded and Ed continued, "So, if we expose what he's doing, they'll have to shut him down."
"It's not that easy, Ed," Roy said with a sigh, leaning back and staring up at the ceiling. "No one would believe us, and even if they did...Keats is very, very good at covering his tracks. That lab is officially a center for dealing with the results of illegal chimera research. On the surface, everything is what it's supposed to be. I'd be very surprised if an investigation turned up anything. What we need is proof, and we just don't have it."
"We don't, but I bet Kate does," Edward said, an idea beginning to formulate. If they had her on their side, they could bring it to the authorities. Much as Ed wanted to hunt down that bastard and tear him to shreds, he knew that it wouldn't change anything. Whoever was funding Keats would just find someone else to play the part, and nothing would change.
"Kate?" Roy stared at him blankly for a moment. "Oh, the scientist who helped us rescue you? Do you really think she'd take that risk?"
He couldn't be sure, but, "I think there's a good chance. What's going on there obviously doesn't sit well with her. If it did, she'd never have helped me."
Roy regarded him thoughtfully for a moment before nodding decisively. "Havoc!" he called, and the other man looked up from his game of cards with Al and Sam. "Feel like getting a little fresh air?"