Author's Note: I just had to start this one, the idea's been in my head for weeks!
Ed stood on the platform of the tiny train station and yawned, tired and ready for a nap. His brother, Alphonse, stood beside him, gazing down the tracks and wishing the train would come soon.
"Why is it these trains are always so late out in the country?" Ed muttered. "It seems like they're never on time."
"Maybe there was a problem?" Al suggested.
"Maybe," Ed conceded. "I just know that as soon as it comes, I'm having something to eat and then I'm getting some sleep. This last town nearly killed me."
Al laughed. "Especially that old lady?"
Ed groaned. "How many times did she hit me with her purse? All I was trying to do was help her up after she fell, and how many times did she wallop me?"
"I think six or seven," Al chuckled, thinking back on the town they had just been in. There had been a rumor of a strange stone that did wonderful things with alchemy, so they had come to investigate. All it had been was gross exaggeration and one very dishonest businessman/alchemist who had quite a few alchemists in his back pocket. Edward had fought, battled, and used every bit of his wits just to survive the final battle with the guy. Fortunately, the authorities had come to do the mopping up, which meant that he and Al could head back to HQ.
The train came, and Ed and Al thankfully took their seats, glad to be on their way at last. Ed had something to eat off the train's food trolley and then he stretched himself across his seat for a nap, pulling his coat over himself for a blanket. Al settled himself down to wait. They had only been going a few hours when the train screeched to a halt, toppling Ed out of his improvised bed. He hit the floor with a thud and sat up with a groan.
"What's going on?" he asked, blinking sleep out of his eyes. "Why'd we stop?"
"I don't know," Al said, looking out the window. "We're in the middle of nowhere, there's another train outside, and someone's getting on our train."
"How can there be another train?" Ed asked, getting up to see for himself.
"There's another set of tracks," Al pointed out. "See?"
At that point, the door to their car opened and they saw that people in the familiar blue uniforms of the military were coming in. One man snapped to attention and started speaking in a loud voice.
"We apologize for the unscheduled stop, but we are trying to locate Major Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, and his brother Alphonse. Are either of those individuals here?"
"Who's askin'?" Edward demanded, stepping out into the aisle. He was in a bad mood from having his nap interrupted.
The man stood up even straighter and saluted. "Sir! Second Lieutenant Holman, sir! We are here to escort you directly to Colonel Mustang!"
Ed returned the salute, still scowling. "Why's Colonel Mustang want me back so soon? He can't miss me!"
"I do not know, sir!" the second lieutenant said. "He only said we were to come find you and bring you quickly back to Central, sir!"
Ed blinked. "All right, Al, let's go," he said, grabbing his suitcase and following the soldiers as they filed out. As he and Al clumped out of the car, he could hear people whispering about "Edward Elric." There were times when it seemed he was nothing more than a famous name.
They were led across to the other train, which was a faster model than the train they had just been on. Apparently, it was an express, and no expense was being spared in getting them to Central. When they reached the inside of the car, Ed couldn't help staring. It was set up like a luxurious living room, and the only difference from it and a real living room was the legs of the furniture being bolted to the floor to keep them from moving. Ed plopped onto a couch and motioned for the young man (a second lieutenant) to have a seat while the rest of his group absented themselves. Ed also noticed something else: he was a member of the special forces. Why on earth would Roy Mustang (who by rights should have nothing to do with special forces beyond being a superior officer) send special forces to retrieve him and Al? None of it made sense. He decided to find out the answers.
"So why is a second lieutenant from the special forces been sent to find me?" he asked after waving aside offers of food and drink.
Ed grimaced, hating the paranoid fools at Central who felt that everything had to be kept a secret all the time. "Classified?"
"Well, sir, I wasn't really told that much. It has to do with Paxia."
Ed stared. "With what?"
"Oh, that's right, I keep forgetting that you're in the field a lot. Of course you wouldn't have heard!" he said, flopping back in his chair. "Well, there's been a huge commotion lately. Apparently, there's a country on the other side of Drachma that would like to open trade and diplomatic relations with Amestris."
"So this Paxia is on the other side of Drachma, and it wants to open up some diplomatic channels with us, big deal!" Ed muttered. "What's that got to do with me?"
"Well, sir, apparently someone very high up from Diplomatic Relations gave Mustang a call, and it has to do with you," Holman said, giving a shrug. "That's all I really know."
"So why special forces?" Ed asked after a moment of silence.
"Apparently, it has to do with your ability to get into trouble," Holman said, grinning. "According to Colonel Mustang, your ability to find trouble and cause problems is like water flowing downhill: you can't help it. He asked us to find you and keep you from getting into trouble."
Ed scowled, ready to string Mustang up by his ankles in the courtyard of Central.
"Well, don't take it the wrong way, sir," Holman said, sounding a little thoughtful. "I think it's also to protect you. He said that it's as much to keep you from trouble as to keep trouble from finding you. He said he doesn't like what's going on, and he doesn't like the fact that you'll be mixed up in it. He said the whole thing stinks."
Ed was not in a good mood for the rest of the journey to Central. If he was going to have to do something that got Mustang's hackles up, then it was either going to be dangerous or boring or difficult. No problem, he'd been in danger and boredom and difficulty before, but what really ticked him off was not knowing what was going on. He'd have to wait until he got to Central.
They got to Central around ten o'clock that evening, and as they could see from the train window, there were cars waiting. Ed and Al were escorted off the train and to the cars, where they saw Colonel Mustang, Lieutenant Hawkeye, and Major Armstrong.
"Welcome back, Fullmetal," Mustang said as Ed saluted. "Have a good trip?"
"Naturally," Ed said, fighting the urge to tap his foot. "So, why all the hurry to get me back here? Did you miss me or something?"
Al fought down a giggle as he saw Roy grind his teeth. He hated it when Ed joked while things were serious. To judge from the amount of teeth-grinding he saw, things were serious. Very serious.
Once the special forces people were dismissed, everyone got into cars, with Roy telling Ed he would explain everything once they got to Central. Once they were at Central, everyone rushed the two brothers inside and upstairs so quickly that Al thought there was something wrong. Once they got to Roy's office, the feeling deepened. Riza drew the blinds and locked the door, and the brothers were given chairs.
"What's wrong?" Al asked. "There has to be something wrong."
"Not really wrong, just unsettling," Roy admitted, perching on the edge of his desk, facing the two boys. "Ed, Holman told you something about Paxia, am I right?"
"Yeah. It's on the other side of Drachma and it wants to open up trade and diplomatic relations with us. That's all he was able to tell me."
"That's the basic gist of it, but the rest of the story is extremely strange," Roy said, at last coming to the point. "These people from Paxia know about you, Ed, and they want you to come to Paxia as their guest and liaison with us."
Ed blinked. "Okay, now I'm lost. How do they know about me and why do they want me?"
"We don't know," Hawkeye put in, sighing. "That's just the trouble. Agents there reported that you've attained celebrity status there, Ed, even more so than here. They know all about your being a State Alchemist and your history before becoming one. Investigations has been checking the country out, and it seems like a normal, prosperous place, except for one thing."
"And that is?" Al prompted.
"Their religion," Mustang said. "We don't know why, but their whole culture and religion is founded on the idea of the child. Children are venerated above all else in Paxia. No child is ever abused or neglected, and each child is seen as wholly precious. We think that the reason why they are so interested in you, Ed, is because you're still so young. You are an official who is still, in their eyes, a child."
Al thankfully noted the 'in their eyes, a child," statement. Ed was still officially a child by State standards, but he didn't like to think of himself as a child. Even worse, he hated to be referred to as a child by anyone he knew. Worse still, to be called 'small.' 'Child' he could handle, even though it rankled, but 'small' was intolerable. At least there had been no reference to 'small.'
"That still doesn't answer how they know about me," Ed pointed out. "I mean, people in Lior had never even heard of me, and that place is still in Amestris! Drachma doesn't even realize that the Fullmetal Alchemist is only fifteen. How is it this Paxia knows all about me?"
"We're still trying to find that out," Major Armstrong said, speaking at last. "Diplomatic Relations is adamant in your going, however. Apparently, Paxia is going to mean a great deal of economic advantages that the whole country can benefit from, but these advantages can only happen if you go, Edward. The Paxian officials who have come here have made it quite clear that they will accept no one else in your place."
"I'm no diplomat," Ed protested. "I don't know how to make concessions or economic plans or whatever it is! In case no one in Diplomatic Relations has noticed, I'm a State Alchemist, not a State-trained diplomat!"
"No, but you will have a diplomatic coach for the journey there," Major Armstrong told him. "I have done diplomatic work, and I have already told DR that you will not be going anywhere without me."
Ed stopped and glared at him. "Who says I need a babysitter?"
Colonel Mustang got to his feet. "I do," he said sternly. "I don't like this situation, Fullmetal, and I'm not going to risk you or possibly your life by sending you alone. DR has already approved the Major's going with you, and Al, of course, will go too if he wishes."
"Of course I'm going wherever Brother goes," Al said, shrugging, making his armor rumble the slightest bit. "But I don't see how it could be dangerous or risky. We're just going to talk to people, right?"
"That's what it is on the surface, but it's more complex than that," Riza said, looking concerned. "What bothers us is their insistence on Ed. Couldn't one of the diplomats' children work just as well if they wanted a child to come and negotiate? But no, they want Ed, and that's what's worrying us. We don't know why. We could say that it's just because he's wonderful Ed, but that would be simplifying the matter."
Mustang decided to show a spark of his normal self. "Maybe they're just into cute and adorable?" he suggested, smirking while Ed bristled. "Oh, come on, Fullmetal, you have to admit that every military wife you've met so far finds you positively irresistible. Maybe it's because you're so--"
Ed cut him off. "You say 'small' and I won't be responsible for what happens!" he snapped.
"That's enough, you two. Can we hold one discussion without you two getting ready to kill each other?" Riza broke in.
Ed's glare and Mustang's smirk told everyone that the chances of that happening were slim. Very slim indeed.
"So when do we leave?" Al asked, defusing the tension a bit.
"In the morning," Mustang said, returning to business. "You'll receive a file on Paxia when you go, as well as a trunk of the appropriate clothes."
"Appropriate clothes?" Ed said, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, this being a diplomatic matter, there will be official functions you'll have to attend, and that will mean dressing up," Mustang explained. "Besides being a diplomat, Ed, you'll also have to be a representative of Amestris' military. We can't have you go looking like a ragbag."
"Who says I'm a ragbag?" Ed demanded, glaring at Mustang again.
"There they go again," Al muttered. "Brother, we all know that you prefer the clothes you have, but this is different, all right? Colonel Mustang just meant that you can't appear in the same outfit every day, or people would start talking about it."
Ed muttered and leaned back in his chair, but he quit snapping at people.
"All, right, then," Mustang said, sighing. "Drachma has promised that you'll have safe passage through it, and then you'll head straight to Paxia. Ed, Major Armstrong and Al will go with you in the morning, and please try to be careful. If anything happens, and I mean anything, you're to get out of there as quickly as you can. No trying to be a detective or solve problems. Paxia and its people are unknown factors, and we can't predict anything they'll do. It's safter just to go."
"Gotcha," Ed said, saluting. "Let's go hit the hay, Al. Long journey tomorrow."
The two boys said good night, and together they headed to their accustomed room in the dorms. Ed was just pulling off his coat when someone knocked. Al opened the door, and both boys received the shock of their lives when they saw two men standing there. They were clearly foreign, and they bowed low in greeting.
"We have come to wish the Masters Elric good night," said the man in front, whose outfit was much richer. Apparently, he was boss. "And we come to say that we are honored the Masters Elric are journeying to our humble Paxia to bestow their presence upon our people."
Not knowing quite what to do, Ed and Al both bowed, and stated that it was nothing, a trifle. They'd learned from Colonel Mustang that the safest way to accept a compliment was to belittle it or say that it was a service they were glad to perform. Most times, it worked, but both men straightened up, obviously shocked.
"Not at all, Masters Elric!" the 'boss' protested. "It is the greatest thing to happen in our history! We look forward to knowing you are in Paxia." With that, they bowed again and left.
"Well, that was weird," Ed commented once Al had shut the door. "The greatest thing to happen in their history? What on earth did that mean?"
"I don't know, brother," Al said, sitting down to wait out the night. "I don't know at all."
Neither brother could think of what it meant.