Best Kept Secret
Chapter 142: Safe House
Disclaimer: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist and gain no profit from this fanfiction other than much needed writing practice and enjoyment.
After being treated by Knox, Riza took the walk and looked around the neighborhood just as she intended. The man had treated more than her injury. He helped her organize a few of the thoughts running through her mind. She didn't know if that'd been his intention past the normal Knox way of comforting, but she was thankful nonetheless.
He could understand the past few events better than almost anyone could. He'd been there and had seen what she'd done during the execution. He understood her feelings towards Ishbal and her conflicts in her decisions. She knew he went through moral dilemmas on a daily basis as a doctor. He'd gone through one when Roy "killed" Maria Ross. She figured it wasn't easy for him to keep the fact it wasn't Ross a secret even though he knew reporting it wasn't the best course of action.
She turned and headed back to the house, satisfied that she hadn't spotted anyone hiding in the shadows or around buildings. There was no way she could be sure about someone being in the surrounding houses.
Dusk had set in and the temperature had cooled thanks to a gentle but frequent wind. She could smell a tincture of smoke in the air, but the wind was carrying most of it in the opposite direction. The sky appeared no darker than it normally did around this time in the evening, and the lampposts were lit at darker parts of the street.
She lifted her arm and cringed as she glanced down at her watch. Edmund would be at the house soon. He didn't give a direct time, but they'd agreed after darkness had set in.
She looked ahead of her, intending to go back to the house, and her brows furrowed as she spotted Roy approaching her at a casual pace. He seemed to be enjoying the night air just as she was, and showed no sign of being angry with her, or hurt by her actions of suddenly leaving. But she hadn't expected him to. Roy was always respectful of the times when she truly needed to be alone, and the way to see that had only come with years of knowing each other.
As he grew closer and closer to her, she realized he was walking without a coat because she had borrowed it. That meant…
"You don't have your gloves." She reached into his inner coat pocket and searched for them only to come up empty. He removed his hands from his pants pocket when he got to her and held up his hands. He was already wearing them.
"I started carrying them in my pants pocket."
His arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her against him. "Since, I don't have my queen around to remind me."
"You're acting very dramatic you know," she said. And if she were to tell the truth, it kind of turned her on when he did things like this. Of course, she'd never tell him that or he'd keep finding a way to outdo himself. "Breathe on me."
"I want to know if you and Knox tapped into his liquor storage."
"Perhaps, I just want to be charming?" he said, drawing out his last word.
"You're failing," she said and pushed down a smile threatening to come forth. He was always charming. Roy had this innate ability to be that way in almost any situation and she envied it. It was one of the many reasons people navigated to him.
He sighed dramatically. "You're my toughest audience."
She put her hand on the side of his face, stroked it once, feeling fresh stubble under her hand, and then gave him a brief kiss.
"Let's get back. We have a busy night ahead."
She was about to offer his coat back to him, but he put his arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. "Let's enjoy the walk at least."
That was fine with her.
It was an hour after dark had set in before Edmund came to Knox's place to get them. Knox had no porch lights and most of the neighbors didn't turn on theirs. The lampposts weren't spaced as closely together as they were in the cities, so there were wide patches of darkness on the streets. Because of this layout, it was easy to get out of Knox's place to the car and down the road under the cover of darkness.
But the darkness still made her uneasy. She would've felt Pride if he were around. Other than an occasional ache that lasted no more than a second or two, she hadn't been bothered or watched by him for a while. But the potential was there. That possibility was always lingering in her mind and keeping her body tense and on guard from something she wasn't sure she could fight even if the need came about.
Edmund didn't turn on his car lights until he got deeper into the city limits. He stuck to driving the longer ways instead of the more frequent shortcuts that other cars took. Much to her surprise, he spoke Aerugonian. He made sure to note that he wasn't fluent, but he had enough skills to get by conversationally. And that meant he knew enough to get through to the boy for the time being.
The boy visibly relaxed when Edmund told him that they meant no harm and he was safe. Edmund seemed to radiate calm and that made him appear trustworthy. A blessing for him, a curse for anyone that he disliked. After the incident with her father's documents, she had a difficult time dispelling her distrust of him.
So far, he'd proven that the incident was a one off thing. He'd been nothing but helpful with the entire Elena and Claudio incident. If not for him, she wasn't sure things would've gone as "smoothly" as they had so far. Roy trusted him as well despite not being fond of him.
Edmund pulled into his driveway and turned off the lights in the car. They all got out of the car and made their way into the house through the darkness. Roy had a grip on the boy, and she was paying attention to any sensation that might indicate she was being watched by a homunculus. There was nothing.
They entered the house and Edmund locked the door behind them. Breda greeted them in the hallway. He eyed the boy and then them.
"Is Elena upstairs?" Riza asked. The boy stiffened. He made a noise but it wasn't out of fear. She saw the way his lips formed a smile. He mouthed a word Riza didn't recognize. She wasn't sure if she should be wary of his happiness or not since she didn't know the true reason for it. It could be he had a mission to find her, all of this could've been a plan, but she doubted it. They hadn't been followed here. They'd made sure of that.
"No, she's in the living room," Breda said.
Riza gave a nod and they all went into the living room. Elena looked up from a book she was reading. Her eyes widened when she saw the boy with them. She jumped up from the chair and rushed toward him. "Nicolo!" She threw her arms around his neck and he tumbled to the ground.
"Hum… I think they might know each other," Roy said.
Riza couldn't help but smile. She remembered the times she'd greet Roy when he got back from his home. It'd only happened twice, but she still treasured the moments. After the holidays, she'd always watch for him down the road. Since her father was usually gone, the moment he came up the hill she would run out and jump on him. The only difference was that he wouldn't fall. He'd drop his luggage before her leap, and he'd spin her around before kissing her. Obviously, their relationship had already been established at the time.
The two teens in front of them got to their feet. "How did you get here? Are you okay? What happened?" she asked. Then, when she remembered he wasn't fluent in Amestrian, she spoke in their language.
He opened his mouth but his brows furrowed and he shut his lips. He pulled away from her grasp. She reached up and cupped the necklace she wore with her right hand. "Wh... Why don't you answer me? Did I do something terrible?" she asked in their native language.
His posture was less fearful now. It'd straightened up and he looked as if his health had returned a bit from just seeing the girl in front of him. He looked at Edmund and made a motion as if he was writing on a piece of paper. Edmund went over to a table and removed a notepad and pen. He took it over to Nicolo and handed it to him.
Nicolo scribbled quickly on the tablet and handed it to Elena. She gasped and dropped the paper. "No…. they… they…" She took a step back, hitting the couch behind her. "They cut it out because of me didn't they? Because you helped me."
When he looked puzzled, she spoke in Aerugonian.
Riza admired the way the young man didn't look away from her as he nodded. Elena gripped the back of the couch as if she was going to fall and tears brimmed in her eyes. Riza bent down and picked up the notebook.
"Elena and I are going to go outside for a bit," Riza said as she set the notebook on the table next to her. She knew Elena didn't want to cry in front of Nicolo, and that's why she was holding back her tears. She'd been in that situation numerous times with Roy. To cry in front of someone you loved only worried them. She checked Roy's coat for a handkerchief before leading Elena outside.
Riza led Elena over to a set of chairs and had her sit down before sitting across from her. She gripped the handkerchief in her pocket, ready to give it to Elena at the first sight of tears, but there was no need for it right now. She wasn't crying yet.
She leaned back and waited for the girl to speak. She knew firsthand the pain of seeing someone you cared about hurt. She'd been devastated over far lesser things when she was Elena's age.
"He..." Elena began but stopped. She took a few deep breaths, and Riza wondered if her lungs were burning from the cool air. Perhaps she should've taken her to a room in the house rather than outside, but her mind had been focused on getting the girl out of there.
She waited a few more minutes and then Elena spoke again. "Did you catch the terrorists? Did you find the prince?"
"No, we didn't."
"Then why do you have Nicolo?"
"There was another attack in the city. We caught him at the attack site," she said. He was injured and they left him there with things to use to…" She wasn't sure whether to continue, but she didn't have to.
"To kill himself with," Elena growled. "That's typical of them. I'm surprised they didn't shoot him themselves."
Tears started running down her face now, and Riza handed her the handkerchief. "You said that what happened to him was because of you."
"He was the reason I escaped at the border. When you found me it was because he just let me go," she said. "Well, partially because of him. I used my own plan too." Her crying grew harder. Riza knew it would be better for her to get out all her tears rather than keep them in. The longer she knew her the more she was finding commonalities with this young woman. And she hated that. No young girl should have anything in common with her. Well, maybe except one thing.
"You're in love with him?" she asked and Elena looked up at her, wide eyed. The tears stopped and she rubbed her face.
"Um—I…We—we were childhood friends, that's all." Her cheeks flushed and Riza almost laughed at her stammering. If Elena had been drinking she probably would've spit it out in a similar way Edward had when she'd mentioned his love for Winry. The girl looked at her and then sighed. "Yes… I've loved him since we were thirteen. He went missing a few months before Claudio and I were taken."
"Yeah, we think his dad sold him to the terrorists. Our village was poor, so parents did that kind of thing sometimes."
Riza cringed at how Elena spoke that so casually, but forced herself to remain in the current setting rather than contemplating what was going on in some villages.
"You said you knew him since he was thirteen? How old is he?" She thought the boy was younger than Edward was.
Her puzzlement must've came through in her voice because Elena blinked, then let a choked laugh escape her. "He's sixteen," she said. "He didn't look the way he does now when I knew him." Her brows furrowed. "They probably starved him."
"Yes, they did. He thought our friend's cooking was delicious, which is proof of it if we needed it." She'd had Doctor Knox's cooking, and it was only a step up from eating sand and mud water.
Elena sniffled. "I bet you think I'm so ridiculous for loving someone like him after what he did. You probably think I'm too young too."
Now she was starting to sound like a typical teenager. She was worried about judgment, which was understandable. The youthfulness in her voice was refreshing.
Riza shrugged. "I'm in no place to judge. I've been in love for a very long time."
"With Mister Mustang?"
"Yes, and I fell in love at your age too."
Her giggle lightened up the mood. "And you're still with him? That gives me so much hope but…Oh." She grabbed Riza's hand. "You aren't going to turn him in are you? I know that he wouldn't hurt anyone. He was forced into working with the terrorists."
Riza was glad she'd already made up her mind regarding that. There was no way she could break this girl's heart. "No, not unless he shows a danger to someone else," she said.
Elena shook her head. "He won't. I know he won't."
Riza didn't know if that was true belief or the hope of a teenager. The boy had shown no hostility since they captured him, and from his condition, she doubt he could even throw a punch. Unless he was bait of some kind, he was useless to the terrorist if one went by his physical state. "I probably should. I shouldn't determine his fate for his actions, but I know for a fact that he won't get a fair trial here. He deserves that. His story deserves to be told."
"We're going to need your help though. And his."
"We need the information he has on the terrorists' locations. Will you ask him that? Have him write it down and then translate it for us."
"Of course, I'll help. I'm sure he'll tell you everything he knows. He truly didn't want to be with them." She stood and wiped her eyes.
"We can wait a little while more if you want," Riza said. Though they needed to find the prince as soon as possible, if she could just make things slightly easier on the girl, she would.
"It's okay. The sooner we rescue my brother and stop the terrorists, the better. I want to go home."
"All right then, let's go back inside."
An: For some reason this chapter was really fun to write. Usually, I don't enjoy chapters like this as much as the action filled or more romantic but I've learned that I really enjoy writing a mother/sister-ish Riza.