Genre: Family Saga
Beta'd by: meredavey
Summary: "He won't find anything. There is nothing to find. I won't have you—or him—stirring up trouble—for nothing."
Notes: AU movie, part of the "Waiting" thread and the "Mother Arc". This chapter has a number of false starts and stutters and just a sort of . . . altogether awkward genesis. Hopefully the next one won't have quite so many growing pains, but I can't promise anything.
Yu stared in disbelief at the attendant who had met her in Mei's rooms. "‹If she's not here, then where is she?›" she repeated.
"‹The princess does not share her thoughts with us,›" the woman muttered, her expression pinched. "‹She left in a fit of anger.›"
Yu deliberately unclenched her jaw and willed herself to have patience. "‹And what made her angry?›"
The attendant muttered that she didn't know, but her eyes shifted to a pair of figures in the courtyard.
The older woman narrowed her eyes as she regarded the two. One was a servant and the other was a low-level alkestry practitioner. She knew them both by sight, but couldn't put a name to either one. They'd kept themselves in the background, rarely speaking to anyone in the princess' circle. That Mei had noticed them now couldn't be a coincidence.
Sighing in exasperation, she marched out and fixed them with a stare. "‹Now then. Something one or both of you did set the princess off. I want to know what, and where she's gone.›"
The servant looked at her with practiced innocence while the other refused to meet her eye. "‹I said nothing to Princess Mei.›"
"‹I don't have time to play around with weasel-words and bullshit!›" Yu snapped. "‹I need to find Mei and I need to find her now.›"
The two exchanged glances, then looked away. The servant was still stone-faced, but the other looked uncomfortable. Yu focused on this one.
"‹In that case, shall I guess?›" she said with feigned sweetness. "‹It shouldn't be too hard. Mei is quick-tempered but not rash in her actions. She wouldn't have run off unless it was important. That most likely means the Stone. Oh, don't pretend to be shocked! I know word has spread. Now then, if she left in anger that means something has not gone to plan, or gotten in her way, or someone has—ah, yes, there we are.›" She smiled thinly at the practitioner's growing discomfort. "‹She fears someone might get there before her. Some sibling rivalry, perhaps? I was wondering why Ling had gone silent after trying to stir things up.›"
Now the servant was the one to look uncomfortable, just for a brief moment.
"‹Now why would she have run off so quickly unless she thought he was close to their goal.›" Yu continued. "‹Or . . . he was about to get beyond her reach. That's it, isn't it. So. Just where is it he would be heading?›"
As soon as she was satisfied she'd gotten everything she could out of the uncooperative pair Yu hurried out of the embassy. She would have to find a taxi to take her to the train station; Mei had too much of a lead to waste time walking.
She was so focused on estimating the distance to the station and the cenz she had with her that she almost brushed right by her niece. It took the younger woman grabbing her arm to make her pause.
"‹What is it?›" she snapped. "‹Mei has gone and I don't have time—›"
"‹I know,›" Li Xue cut her off. She jerked her head at the two soldiers Yu just now noticed by the curb. "‹They need to find her, too.›"
The young woman looked less than pleased about something as she pulled her aunt toward the military car parked at the curb. "‹Carter came here this morning and found Mei was gone—I'll let them explain while they drive.›"
Lieutenant Breda looked apologetic as he opened the rear door for them. "Sorry, Ma'am, there's a bit of a legal snafu the princess might be running into. If we could find her before then . . .?"
"The train station." Yu didn't bother to soften the clipped words as she climbed into the car. "And just what sort of problem is this?"
"Uh. . . ." Carter hesitated, but after a look from Breda that she couldn't read he went on. "No one from the embassy is supposed to leave the city without an escort. It was a paperwork error!" he insisted, turning to the back seat with an apologetic cringe. "The Brigadier-General sent in the correction but it hasn't cleared Central yet. It wasn't—we didn't think it would take this long, and Mei—the princess hadn't mentioned traveling—"
"Easy, Carter, I think she gets it," Breda interrupted.
"I do," Yu said, her words measured and controlled. "I suppose this was explained when we arrived?"
"I wouldn't know," Breda hedged. "It's probably not a big deal. Lieutenant-Colonel Philips just wants to play it safe until we can get it straightened out."
Yu barely waited for the car to stop before shoving the door open. She wanted to be done with the entire, ridiculous situation: the royal family's squabbles, the Stone, Amestris' military—all of it.
Commotion on one side of the platform stopped her before she'd gone three steps. As she watched a man reeled back and another dropped to the ground. Yu grit her teeth; she couldn't see the culprit amidst the small crowd that had gathered, but she hardly needed to.
"Out of my way!" Mei's shrill shout rang out clearly above the din of the station. "You have no authority over a daughter of the emperor! I go where I will!"
Yu ran over and pushed her way through the crowd. "Mei!" she shouted. "‹For heaven's sake, don't make things worse.›"
"‹I'm doing nothing!›" Mei snapped, pointing an accusatory finger at the station security. "‹But if they don't let me on a train soon I swear I'll—›"
"‹Mei! Enough!›" She gestured to the man who was picking himself up from the ground. "‹You're out of line already.›"
"‹How dare you—›"
"Ladies!" Breda had come through behind her and he stepped up to the princess now, his hands raised in placating gesture. "Okay. It's just a misunderstanding. Why don't we step over to the station office and so we can straighten this out—"
"I will not!" Mei cut in. "I have lost too much time already. That train leaves in two minutes and I will be on it or—"
"That's enough!" The station master blocked her path and reached out to stop her. "I don't care if you're the Queen of Creta, you're not going to cause problems in my station—"
Mei grabbed his hand before he could touch her shoulder. With a simple twist and a well-placed pinch the station master dropped to his knees with a cry. "I'm done talking!"
Yu's appalled cry of "Mei!" got lost as station security shoved in front of her. She stumbled back, and then stumbled again from a pull on her arm. "Hey!"
"‹Auntie, no, let Mei fall on her own.›"
She yanked her arm out of her niece's grip. "‹It's not Mei I'm worried about!›" The soldiers would have trouble using their firearms in this crowd but Mei wasn't so restricted. In her present frame of mind no one was safe. "‹At this rate—›"
The train whistle cut her off; Yu whipped around in time to see Mei plow through several people to break free of the small crowd, but just at that moment a curtain of fire erupted between them and the departing train.
Yu shrieked and twisted away, cringing behind her arms. Li Xue grabbed at her and pulled her away. She stumbled after her for a few steps before steeling herself enough to raise her head, her heart pounding in her ears.
The station was calm. The train was picking up speed, all but free of the platform now, but on the platform itself time had momentarily frozen. Mei stood near the edge, a short way off from the knot of station attendants, fists clenched and nearly vibrating with rage. Three meters away in a space now cleared by the wary crowd, Roy stood, one gloved hand slightly extended. No one else dared to move, seeming to wait for a cue from one of them.
Roy met the princess's ire levelly, holding her eye for a long moment before lowering his arm.
"My apologies." His voice carried easily in the sudden quiet. "But I'm afraid we must discuss a few things before I can let you take that train."
Mei braced herself, preparing to launch at the first opportunity. "You—how dare you—"
"He won't find anything." Roy's steps were carefully measured, his voice cold. One hand was on his hip. The fingers of the other rubbed against each other, slow and ominous. "There is nothing to find. I won't have you—or him—stirring up trouble—for nothing."
Yu shuddered, reaching back for her niece. Li Xue squeezed her hand, shaking her head. If she was trying to convey something, it was a lost cause, because Yu couldn't tear eyes from the man squaring off with the princess.
This man—this man with a cold face and a ruthless look in his eye—she didn't know him. This wasn't her son.
The princess was pissed. Beyond pissed, and by now the whole station knew it. Mustang had moved them to the stationmaster's office to explain the situation but Mei's screaming rant had rendered walls and doors moot. Breda sorely wanted to plug his ears but didn't want to risk adding insult to injury. Especially once the girl realized none of her yelling would do her any good; if there was one thing Mustang was used to dealing with, it was tiny alchemists with explosive tempers.
"Did he really shoot flames?" Ed was standing on tiptoe to peek into the office. "I can't believe I missed it! What happened? Did anyone get scorched, or—"
"Down, Ed." Breda shoved the young man back from the door. "There's a bit more at stake here."
"I know that." Ed shot him a withering look but obligingly took a few steps back. "Shit; all we'd need is those two making an outright contest of it."
"You know what's going on?" He continued to herd him away from the others. "What set this off?"
"Kinda. Ling's gone off toward Liore—"
"Another of the emperor's kids. They're all fighting with each other. He's heading to Liore, and if Mei thought Ling might get an advantage—okay, what?" Ed finally dug in his heels and refused to go any farther.
"What do you think?" Breda said in an undertone. "Mustang comes into the office at noon looking ready to burn the shorthairs of anyone who sneezes wrong and you think I'm not going to ask you? What the hell happened last night?"
Ed's mouth tightened, and his eyes cut over to two women sitting on a nearby bench. Breda followed his gaze with a frown.
"Family problems?" he ventured.
"It's . . . I don't know the details," Ed finally admitted. "but I know something happened between them. And Roy. . . ."
"Didn't take it well?"
The young man shoved a hand through his hair, his jaw tense and a certain look in his eyes that set off alarm bells. Breda took a deep breath, bracing himself. "Ed. . . ."
"I'm not gonna do anything!" He snapped. "Shit. What could I do? I'd just—" He let out a sigh that was mostly growl, and said through his teeth, "I'd probably—just—make it—worse. Don't look at me like that, I know when I need to lay off. Okay, so I sometimes go ahead anyway, but I'm not an idiot."
"Wow. You really have grown up."
Ed rolled his eyes. "Yeah, thanks. Look, I'm not here 'cause of that. I'm here to keep an eye on Mei."
"I don't think stirring that pot is going to end well, either."
"I'm not looking to start anything. I'm not! I'm gonna keep her out of trouble."
"Your way of not causing trouble usually ends in property damage."
Ed glared, but swallowed his retort when the door to the stationmaster's office flew open, hard enough that it slammed against the wall and reverberated back. Mei stormed out with a scowl that promised death to anyone in her way. Bystanders scrambled to give her a clear path out of the station.
"Ah. Guess that's my cue."
"Try not to exacerbate things."
"Yeah, yeah." Ed started after Mei, then paused. "But really, be honest." He looked back with a momentary grin. "It was cool, wasn't it."
Breda shook his head but smiled anyway. "Yeah, it was cool. It was like having our old Mustang back."
With one final brief grin Ed trotted off after the irate Xingian princess, and Breda glanced into the room she'd just left. Mustang was talking with the stationmaster, who looked more than a little rattled by the day's events. Mustang looked—shuttered. Closed off. A casual observer might mistake it for coldness, but Breda knew his former commander better than that.
Now wasn't the time or place to show concern. Breda stepped back—and bumped into Major Carter.
"Should—someone—go with them?" He flicked a nervous hand toward where Mei had just noticed Ed shadowing her. "Her?"
Breda shrugged as they watched the princess turn her anger to this new target. He'd feel sorry for Ed, but—this was Ed. Maybe he should be feeling sorry for Mei. No, scratch that; he felt sorry for the immediate area. "Philips does want us to make sure there's no trouble. Go ahead."
He resisted a grin as he clapped the young man on the back. "You are the senior officer here, Major. And the alchemist. Don't worry, I'm sure Ed's more than a match for her. Just try not to get caught between them."
That probably wasn't very kind to the poor kid, but they did need to keep tabs on Mei.
Most people at the station had gone back to minding their own business, though with more than a few wary glances. The station security seemed to be picking themselves up all right; thankfully Mei had been too focused on the train to do much more than bruise, though they were no doubt humiliated. Breda exchanged a few words with them before moving to his main target.
"Ladies." He nodded to the two women. "Sorry about the excitement. Need a lift back?"
"We do," the older woman said as she stood. "The sooner the better."
The younger woman—Breda was sure he'd heard her name somewhere along the line, but he had a hell of a time with the Xingian pronunciations—said something to her aunt, who shook her head, her lips tight and her eyes fixed ahead.
"I'm sure this'll get straightened out soon," he assured them.
"It seems like an awful lot of . . . fuss . . . over a technicality."
"Bureaucracy's like that."
Yu's gaze shifted to the office door. "Is it bureaucracy that dictates such tactics? No; don't bother answering that." She abruptly turned away and headed out of the station, her face holding the same closed-off expression he'd seen a moment ago.
Breda glanced back, and found Mustang paused in the doorway. For a second he considered how that display earlier would have looked to someone who wasn't used to being around the Flame Alchemist, and thought he could maybe appreciate some of Yu's reaction; but all he could see was a man who was far too stressed.
"Sorry, Ma'am," he said again as he hurried to catch up before she reached the car. "I think the brigadier-general's a little short-tempered today."
Pain and fear flashed across her face before her expression shut down completely, shuttering off tight against the outside world. "Is that so," was all she said before she sat down in the car and refused to look at anyone.
Breda thought better of probing further.
Roy switched off the overhead light, then knelt on the bed next to his lover's prone form. It had been a long, trying day, but it was finally over. For a few hours, at least, Roy could pretend his life wasn't poised to once again come crumbling down around him, and focus on something a little more intimate. He caressed the back of Ed's thigh for a moment before digging in to knead the flesh more firmly.
"I heard you redecorated the industrial sector," he remarked.
"It needed to be cleaned up anyway—owfuck right there fuck—besides, I put everything back how it was."
Roy smiled as dug his knuckles into the knot of muscle. "You did. And from what I hear, it was a pretty entertaining show. Major Carter was quite impressed."
"Mei probably wasn't. But it—owowfuck—it kept her busy."
"Yes, and I'm grateful." He rubbed some of the pungent analgesic salve into the sore area. "This is worse than usual. You might want to get your leg checked."
"It's just stress. Always makes it act up."
"Besides, that's helping."
Roy continued to dig into the tight muscles. It was nice to be able to make a positive difference for a loved one, for once.
"Anyway," Ed smiled at him over his shoulder, "I hear you used your flames today."
His lover's obvious jubilation was infectious, despite his own low mood. "Mm. For better or worse, I did."
"What d'you mea—OWshit!"
He pinned Ed's leg and leaned on the knot. "I mean there could be backlash. From Mei and the embassy, certainly. But some in the military might not like to be reminded of my flames."
"You're the fucking Flame Alchemist, you've been using flames since you joined the military," he pointed out through gritted teeth.
"And most of my superiors have been frightened by it." He eased up, caressing the back of Ed's leg. "They want a weapon, but not one that thinks for itself. Not one who might turn."
Ed twisted around, brushing his fingers against Roy's knee. "You think it'll be a problem?"
Roy sighed. He hadn't shared the details of his hearings from the year before, so Ed wouldn't know that some in the Brass had argued that he was too dangerous and unpredictable to reinstate, too much of a loose cannon. The uncertainty of the events preceding his court martial had been all that had kept that argument from winning. "Perhaps not. This would have happened sooner or later, one way or another."
He sighed again, turning away from his lover to put the salve away. To say the timing was poor would be an understatement, but what was done was done. How he was going to deal with military politics on top of an infuriated foreign princess wasn't something he wanted to think about right now.
The possible fallout within his own family was something he didn't want to think about at all.
The hand on his back made him twitch. Ed rubbed his shoulders, coaxing the tension away. "You okay?"
Ed tugged him around, studying him with obvious concern. "No you're not."
He grimaced. In some ways, he was still getting used to this more mature Edward who had returned from beyond the Gate. That keen awareness, the seeds of which had always been present but overshadowed by a brash, adolescent temper, could still take him by surprise.
"I'll have to be," he pointed out.
Ed leaned past him to turn off the bedside lamp. "Not until tomorrow."
Once under the covers in the darkened room, it was impossible to keep the full weight of the last two days from falling on him. Once one support peg crumpled, everything he'd been trying to keep at bay toppled, one after another, until he felt he would suffocate under the weight. He didn't try to fight it; falling apart was much less frightening when Ed's arms were there to keep him together. Roy clung to him, face buried in his neck, holding his breath to keep from sobbing, hating himself for the need. Ed stroked his hair and rubbed his back. He didn't offer any reassurances or platitudes, but what was left unsaid was enough.
After a long moment Roy took a shaky breath, then another, until his breathing was steady. Only then was he able to shift back, just enough so he could pick out the other man's features in the dark. Ed's automail was tucked against the edge of the pillow, and he rested his cheek on the smooth plate of the upper arm. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but it was comforting.
"Back then, when you were searching," he started, unsure how to put his thoughts into words. "Did you ever . . . just . . . want to stop? Give up?"
"Yeah." Ed's ready answer surprised him. The young man smiled, a flash of white teeth in the shadows, and stroked back his hair. "Of course I did. More times than I like to think about. But I was afraid that if I ever let myself stop, I'd never get moving again. So I kept taking one more step forward." His hand slid down and cupped his jaw, stroking his cheek with his thumb. "But I wasn't alone. Me and Al . . . we leaned on each other. A lot."
Roy touched his wrist. "What about over in . . . that other place."
"Germany. Yeah. That was harder. That's why I wrote those stupid letters."
Roy cherished those "stupid letters." After that night in the outpost Ed had never mentioned them again, but Roy had found the battered notebook left on the table one day after Ed and Al had gone to visit Liore. It now rested in his writing desk, under a small stack of photographs. "Glad I could help. Even if it was by proxy."
"Don't let it go to your head, but . . . you've always been helping. Ever since I met you."
As the impact of that declaration was sinking in, Ed leaned in and kissed him, softly, and tugged him back against his chest. "Go to sleep. There's nothing that can't wait until morning."
Roy breathed in Ed's scent, sweat and grease and metal overlaid with the sharp bite of the analgesic, and a faint but unmistakable hint of ozone. He smiled, realizing that he wasn't the only one who'd had a return to form today. Feeling that the world was, if not put to right, at least a little bit more right than it had been, he finally let himself relax.
Note: The letters Ed's talking about were mentioned way back in A Change in Routine.