"We need to find these people fast," Roy told his mother.
Maes stifled a yawn. It was barely dawn and the investigator knew Christmas and her team had been working through the night, too. He and Roy had only managed a few hours sleep. Riza and Breda were working leads with Alphonse and Armstrong. Al was trying to be strong but Maes knew the poor kid was terrified. Al understood what might be happening to his brother, more or less. Maes wasn't entirely sure Alphonse knew exactly how sex worked.
"I've already been working on it. Knowing that they've been using street vending helps," Christmas replied, the ash of her cigarette dangling precariously close to her coffee cup.
Someone knocked at the door and Chris called for them to come in. Maes didn't know this young woman. She was a pretty blonde, probably still in her teens. "Madam, I think we found one of the people you're looking for."
"Where?" Roy barked before Christmas could. "Who?"
"The woman. Someone matching her description caught the last train out to Tinkerswood up near Briggs," she replied.
Roy started to say something. Maes held up his hand, stopping him. "I'll call the base in Briggs and get someone to the train station."
Christmas pushed the phone toward him and Maes put in his call. The blonde darted back out and Roy paced the room, picking at the problem of where in the city these people could be, if they were even still in the city.
"They couldn't have taken them on the train," Roy said as Maes spoke to the base commander. "Do you think they could have split up?"
"You're the one who grew up with the Hograths," Christmas replied.
"For a year, twenty years ago," Roy protested, flopping into a chair. "Lauren is the brains. Nick was a moron then and I can't believe he's gotten any smarter. He's a bully but Lauren usually can control him."
"You have to consider the best case scenario, Roy Boy. If she's smart, she's going on ahead to set up the practice somewhere else. Also, if she's not traveling with their merchandise, the chances of her getting caught are slim. If you hadn't had us watching the train stations, we wouldn't have even the lead we do," Christmas said. "It's not easy for me to find any information on these people. Pedophiles talk to each other, share with each other but outside of the group, not so much so. I've had a few of your brothers looking around. They're not going to be confessing their predilections to a woman so I put some men on their trail."
"I know all about the sharing." Roy hunched on his chair.
Maes hung up the phone and went over, resting a hand on Roy's shoulder. "They'll be on the lookout."
"I did have a thought about the food vendors. Like you said, Roy, it's a good way to get a sleeping draught into a kid." Christmas snuffed out her cigarette and helped herself to her coffee before continuing her thought. "That means they really do have to have food and food service products. They have to keep the kids somewhere. Why not hidden away inside the bowels of a legitimate business or warehouse?"
"That's a very good thought," Maes said. "I had been thinking about that myself. The problem is just how very many warehouses there are."
"You could probably find records on which have nothing to do with food service," Christmas said. "I don't have a handy map with that sort of thing. It's not something I usually need."
"We can get it," Maes replied as Roy rolled to his feet. "Let me borrow the phone again. I'll call ahead and get them started."
She waved a hand to the phone then got up. Christmas caught Roy in a big hug.
"What was that for?"
"You need it. Don't you do anything foolish, Roy boy. You keep your head on straight," she warned.
"I'll keep him out of trouble," Maes said, turning back to his phone call. He just wished that he was entirely sure he could keep Roy in line when they found the ring.
Nausea hauled Ed out of a dead sleep. He swallowed hard, trying to calm his stomach. Cracking open one eye, Ed tried to figure out why his mattress was so hard. Military quarters were never that comfortable but this was truly dreadful. Nothing looked right. Forcing the fog from his mind, Ed, struggled to sit up. Overbalancing, he landed on his right side. Ed tried to push up but nothing happened. Shaking his head, nearly blinding himself with his braid, Ed realized his arm was gone. "What the fuck?"
Sniffling caught his attention, dragging it over to his left. Beside him, four other kids, his age or younger, were chained to the wall, with enough heavy rope to allow them to lie down or get to the bucket in the corner but not much more. Ed scrutinized where he was. Ropes ringed around his wrist and ankles, leading back to the same hefty tie-down rings on the walls. They were surrounded by boxes completely obscured the view of the room but also hide them at the same time. The only window was small and set up high near the unfinished ceiling. Warehouse? It couldn't be a barn in the city, right? Why the hell was he dressed in all white and what had happened to his arm?
What was left of his arm ached, especially when he tried to move. Wires stuck out of the ragged end, sparking erratically every so often. What the hell? Ed's breath hitched. Son of a bitch, Mustang had been right. It was still dangerous. He was never going to hear the end of this.
"Do you know where they are? The ones who brought us here?" Ed asked quietly.
"Just woke up," one of the boys said. Ed realized he was the only non-Ishbalan.
"They are usually in the office. We're never completely alone," one of the other boys said, his red eyes downcast. "Only me and Maen are what's left of the kids they were keeping here." He nodded his chin at the girl who looked alert. The other girl could barely focus her eyes and Ed knew how she felt. "I'm Rabi, not that it matters any more."
Ed took another deep swallow, trying to ignore the pain and nausea and his own rising anger. "It matters. I'm Ed and we're getting out of here."
Rabi snorted. "Think we haven't tried? Do you know what they're going to do to you?"
"I have a pretty good idea," Ed said at the same time the other boy said, "No."
"They were very happy about you," Rabi informed him. "They have a buyer who likes boys with missing limbs. They're going to sell you for a lot."
"Sell?" the other newly captured boy squeaked.
"Not if I can help it." Ed looked around again. His living arm was uninjured, bad move on the kidnappers' part. He just needed something to write with or in. The flooring around them was too well-used by the captives to be dusty. "What's in those boxes?"
"Stuff to make the stew, well the flour and spices," Maen said. "Why does it matter?"
"Can we open one? Could you help me?" Ed said, rolling up onto his knees.
"What do you plan on doing? Blinding them with the spice?" Rabi screwed up his face. "I guess they do have knives but could we get them and cut ourselves free before they stop choking on pepper?"
"No, I'm an alchemist," Ed said proudly then realized he had forgotten who he was talking to. The kids gave him an uncomfortable look. Too bad, he was going to save them with alchemy like it or not. "I just need something to draw in. Let's see if we can spread stuff on the floor. I can get the ropes off of us and get us out of here."
"You can really do that?" Rabi hissed, leaning in close.
"Yeah, I can. I might need help. I'm guessing all three of us were drugged last night." Ed gestured to the other two newcomers. "We might need help running and they took off my arm. I'll need help with the boxes."
Rabi nodded. "Let's help him."
Ed had the groggy boy try to awake up the newly captured girl more fully, while he helped Rabi and Maen with the boxes. Damn, why did Rabi have to be bigger than him? The kid better not be younger. They found a sack of garlic powder.
"That'll work. Spread it on the floor, deep. I need to be able to draw in it. It'll take me awhile. I'm not that good with this hand," Ed said, cursing the people who had done this to him. His watch was gone. That meant they knew what he was. That's probably why his arm was gone. Winry was going to murder him if he actually managed to escape. He wasn't sure what was worse, Winry or getting sold. Well, Winry wouldn't hurt him…much.
Ed sat down, trying to breathe through his mouth so he wouldn't sneeze all over his array and ruin it. His left hand shook a little as he drew in the pungent powder. He was so used to clapping and his left hand ached a little as if whoever had done this to him had tried something. It finally soaked into his drug-addled brain that his hand was bruised and swollen. They must have tried to break the bone and done a lazy job of it. Forcing himself to ignore the pain, Ed managed to get the array drawn. Awkwardly, he got his palm into the center but the ropes fell away.
"God, you did it," Rabi muttered. He moved to the edge of the boxes, peering around. "They're in the office. Now what? We can't go through the door."
"Spread so more powder. I'll make us a door," Ed said triumphantly. No one was selling him.
It took him even longer to draw the array to open a door in the wall. This bit of alchemy wasn't as quiet as the other. The door wasn't quite as big as Ed was used to creating them but it would do. "Hurry," he said, waving them through.
The Ishbalan children wasted no words. They slipped out the hole and down the alley, like ghosts. He was surprised to find them so silent then realized that they probably made a habit of quietly sneaking into town for food and other things they might need.
They hadn't even gotten to the mouth of the alley when they heard the alarm go up. Ed didn't even have to tell the Ishbalans to pick up the pace. He was worried more about his own abilities to keep up. The drugs were still sucking at his brain. Then something exploded into flames, which quickly died.
"What was that?" Rabi asked, stumbling to a stop.
"Someone coming to our rescue," Ed said, knowing only one man who could make such a splashy entrance.
Roy knew what the looks Riza and Maes were giving him meant. 'How exactly was this low key and sane?' To Roy, it was the right thing to do. The two men had come out a warped hole in the wall – Edward's handiwork no doubt. The brat was right, he could handle himself. Roy would never hear the end of it – and they had spotted Maes's men instantly. Rats tended to sense danger, after all. Alphonse studied Roy coolly, making no protest over Roy's little snap of his fingers.
"I just singed their hair," he assured everyone. Of course, he hadn't quite anticipated the barrels of old cooking oil that caught fire but he got those under control.
"Go put them in custody," Maes told a sergeant whose name Roy hadn't heard. Maes came over to Roy. "Anything else you'd like to set on fire?"
Roy glanced over to the two moaning men. "Hograth."
"Where's Edward?" Riza pointed to the wall.
"Could be long gone but we'd better look," Maes said, turning to Armstrong. "Handle things here. We're going to go look for the kids."
Roy didn't wait for a response. He headed down the alley, a natural escape route from where Ed had opened his door. He picked up the pace, Riza right at his heel, when he heard voices. Ed was challenging someone but there was something off about the young man's tone, a false bravado Roy wasn't used to. Ed was brash and overconfident but now he didn't sound it.
The alley canted off to the right. Roy followed, hearing Riza's gun cocking behind him. Would Maes already have out one of his knives? Probably but Roy didn't look back. He could hear Al's large frame following him. In front of him, Ed trying to shield a handful of children from a pale man with a gun. No wonder Ed had sounded off. He couldn't do the alchemy he relied on so heavily, not with his arm missing.
"Just march back to the warehouse like good brats or I'll provide Martin with another legless kid."
"Go to hell. You don't scare us," Ed barked back.
"You don't frighten any of us either," Roy said. "Your sick fun is over, Hograth. Why don't you just put the gun down or make me happy, point it at someone who isn't a helpless child."
Hograth spun around, his pale face infusing with blood, turning a splotchy red. "Mustang."
"You remember me. I should be flattered. It took a lot of research to bring your name back to mind," Roy replied, knowing Riza already had a bead on this fool.
"Al?" Ed broke in over them. "What are you doing here?"
"What does it look like, brother?"
"Should have known you'd come sniffing around." Hograth trained the gun on Roy, completely ignoring Alphone as the boy edged around the outside of the group, trying to get between the kids and the gunman. To Roy, that just proved how smart Al was and how dumb Nick still was. "You looking for the amputee shrimp? He's a freak like you. You training him up like Dad did you?" Hograth licked his lower lip.
"Mere boys don't interest me." Roy shrugged. "Besides, that one bites."
"DOES HE THINK YOU AND ME…" Ed lurched forward but one of the Ishbalan boys caught his shirt, hauling him back.
"Shall I shoot him, sir?" Riza asked.
"Only if necessary. I think I can handle him." Roy smirked at Hograth. Nick's face darkened further. Roy knew finally it was him frightening the bully instead of the other way around. "Put the gun down, idiot. You're not getting out of here."
"Maybe not but I can still have the fun of shooting you." Hograth glanced at Riza. "Not like I'm afraid of a woman."
"You should be." Roy snapped before the idiot could actually work up the brain power to pull the trigger. The gun went flying as Nick flailed around, shrieking. Roy concentrated to be sure the fool didn't fan the flames too hot. The Ishbalan children screamed. Damn, he had totally forgotten about them in his quest to get revenge on Hograth. He was an idiot. Roy doused the flames.
"You almost singed me, bastard!" Ed spat.
"Those flames were nowhere near you," Roy said as Riza swooped past him to help Maes handcuff Hograth.
"You could have melted my watch. The bastard has it!" Ed flailed his remaining arm around.
"It's okay," Al said to the Ishbalan children. "The colonel won't hurt you. He just wanted to stop the bad guy."
"He's supposed to be the bad guy," one of the boys said.
"He's not," Al replied.
"How do I know you're not a bad guy?" the kid asked.
"He's my brother," Ed said. "Who shouldn't be here!"
"Me? You're the one who got caught just like the colonel said you would. We've been up all night and day trying to find you," Al pushed Ed's shoulder. "Look at you, brother. Winry is going to kill you and mulch the garden with what's left of you."
"Al," Ed whined.
"I mean it, brother. You could have been killed or worse," Al pointed to Hograth. "He could have done all sorts of things to you…using stuff."
"Stuff? Bastard, what did you tell my little brother?" Ed roared.
Roy waved him off. "You really are a mess, Edward. I wouldn't want to be you when your lovely young mechanic sees this." Roy glanced down at Hograth, swallowing back an urge to kick him. He dug out Ed's watch from the man's damp pocket then shoved it into his own. "Did you wet yourself, Nick? Really?"
"Don't flatter yourself," Hograth glared, even though he had wet himself. "That's more your thing, you little fucker."
"Nice." Hughes hauled the man up and handed him off to some of the soldiers who had finally caught up with them. "Get him out of here."
"Edward, who are your friends?" Roy said, edging a little closer to the younger alchemist and the Ishbalans who huddled against the wall.
"Rabi, Maen, Hadya and Usman," Ed said, pointing them out. "Don't worry guys, he isn't going to bite you."
"We're going to help you all," Riza said.
"I'd like a doctor to have a look at you and we'll get you some food and clothing," Roy promised.
"And get you home." Hughes went over to the older of the Ishbalan boys who didn't quail. "Rabi, I've met your mother and sister. They'll be so happy to see you again."
Rabi looked between Hughes and Roy. "You two know my mom? You can get me home?"
Roy cautiously touched the boy's shoulder. "You have my word, you'll all get home."
Rabi let out a bubbling sob, grabbing onto Roy's jacket. He buried his face against Roy who rubbed the boy's back.
"I know…you had to be so frightened," Roy said lowly. "I know what these people can do but they will never hurt you again. I promise." Roy let the frightened boy cry. He looked over at Edward. "Seriously, Edward, we need to get you to a mechanic in town just to get the ragged edges of that thing dealt with."
"Al can transmute it. If Winry sees another mechanic's hand on this, she'll kill me," Ed protested.
"Should have thought of that before you disobeyed my orders." Roy shrugged, letting Rabi step back. "I told you this would happen but did you listen? What would have happened if Hughes and I hadn't found you this fast?"
"In case you missed it, I escaped on my own," Ed glared. "And saved the kids."
"And nearly got shot," Riza pointed out.
"And lost your arm," Hughes added.
"And you made me worry." Al gave an amazing impression of a murderous gaze. "All because you couldn't listen. Remember what Teacher always said? You're too impatient."
Ed's lower lip stuck out. "Still saved us."
"Yes, fine, don't worry Edward, a formal reprimand will be put in your file along with the fact you rescued the kids," Roy said. "Who knows, maybe you'll earn yourself a medal."
"Oh, shut up."
"Come on, let's get everyone checked out. Hughes needs to go and get started on interrogating these criminals and we need to see if they managed to capture Lauren, too." Roy tried not to let his disappointment in not getting to singe Lauren show. "I promise you guys, we will get you home as soon as we can."
"You can trust him," Ed said, turning to the Ishbalans. "Even if he is a jerk."
"Brother, be nice. The colonel saved you," Al said.
Roy let them fall into bickering. His mind was already on how to keep the Ishbalan kids safe from the military and how to get them back home like he promised. He was not about to break his word.
Maes convinced Roy to stay back a bit, even if he was dressed casually. Maram could recognize the alchemist and might cause troubles. Somehow Roy had managed to twist Knox's arm into checking out the kids and sheltering them for the day while he and Maes sorted things out. They were traumatized mentally but physically there shouldn't be any lasting damage. Together, with Christmas' help, they swept the kids along to meet Shanti and Maram in the park. Without Ed around, the kids steadily grew more nervous. Maes wanted to pass them off before someone did something foolish.
He wasn't surprised to see Shula with Maram and Shanti. At the sight of his family members, Rabi broke away from the back, running toward them shouting their names. Maes wasn't too surprised either to see Roy edging closer than he promised. "Shanti, as you can see, we found them, well, some of them."
"Hadya and Usman were only captured the night before last," Roy called.
Maes turned, glaring at him. He should have known Roy couldn't keep quiet. "Sadly the others were sold. We're still trying to track down any of those still alive."
Shanti looked at them, stunned. "You really did it. Maes, Roy…you really brought the children back."
"We said we would," Maes reminded her. "We're not done yet. Beckert and Mudica didn't buy all the ones the Hograths took. We're trying to find them."
Maram shook free of her son, leaving Shula surrounded by the passel of kids. She took Maes's hand. "You brought my son back. I can never repay you."
"You owe me nothing. I wish I could say we found him before they hurt him," Maes replied, his voice cracking.
Tears collected in the older woman's eyes. "Shanti told me the type of people you were dealing with. I understand…I don't want to but I do." She looked past Maes to Roy. "You, you're him, aren't you? Shanti said the flame alchemist might come with Mr. Hughes. But…you aren't at all what I was expecting."
Roy came over to Maes's side. "I'm Flame."
Maram looked him over. "Small…I thought you would be so much bigger. Why did you help my son?"
"Because it was the right thing to do," Roy said.
"He knew the guy," Rabi offered, staring at Roy. "At least, I think so."
"Once, when I was a child," Ro whispered.
"The ring leader's father was the same sort of man," Shanti said. "He was Mustang's stepfather."
"Until he murdered my mother," Roy said, squaring his shoulders. "I had no idea his children were doing this or that they were in Central. I don't even live here. I came to help Hughes."
"I'm glad you did." Maram stared at Roy harder. "You had a reputation, you and an alchemist who moved stone, for not hurting non-combatants. When we ran, we prayed if we had to cross an alchemist, it would be you two."
"I had no idea they thought that about you, Roy," Shanti said.
"I didn't either. I did try. I won't make apologies for the war. They'll all ring false," Roy said. "I can't take any of it back but I'm glad I was able to do something good this time."
Maram took his hand. "We won't forget what either of you just did for us."
"Thank you," Roy said and Maes heard the emotion choking him.
"Do you think you can get all these kids back with you safely? I'd offer an escort to the edge of town if you want it," Maes said.
"We'll manage. Thank you again," Maram said, turning back to the kids, herding them along.
"Maram, I need to talk to them for a moment. I'll catch up," Shanti said.
She eyed her foster brothers. "I might have been wrong about you, especially you Roy but…it's hard to forgive what you did in the war."
"Hell, Shanti, I haven't forgiven myself. I don't expect you to do differently," Roy replied, scrubbing a hand across his eyes.
"Are you all right?" Her fingers brushed his cheeks and Maes saw Roy flinch.
"He's a liar," Maes said. "He's been a mess since this started."
"But it's over and the last of the people who turned my life into a hell as a kid are never going to see the light of day again," Roy canted his eyes toward Maes. "And I might just be able to live with not killing them."
"You'd have felt guilty," Maes reminded him and Roy nodded. "We really are still looking for the kids they sold, Shanti."
"I believe you. Just let Christmas know if you do find them. She'll tell me," Shanti said. "I'd better catch up with Maram. Those kids will cause a stir. Roy, call Christmas more. She worries too much about you."
Roy smiled thinly. "I will. Take care of yourself, Shanti."
"I always do. Bye, Hughes. Congrats on being a dad," Shanti called, heading off.
"Thank you." Maes turned to Roy, patting his shoulder. "I think you need to go home Roy."
"Back East? That'll never be home," Roy protested. "But yes, I'm ready to go. Before that, I'd like to go visit the madam again, maybe make use of the upstairs apartment before I herd Edward off to see his mechanic. He's dragging his heels."
"Because he knows he's going to get yelled at." Maes chuckled. "And I'm sure Riza will like to hear you're going to make use of that apartment. Shall we go call her now?"
"Oh, hell yes. I need to relax after the last two days."
"Don't we all, Roy. Don't we all."
"Edward, I don't want to hear any more arguments," Roy said, shifting on Maes's couch, balancing a piece of Gracia's apple pie on a small plate on his knee. "Haven't you learned a lesson yet?"
"Sometimes he's slow. Besides, he doesn't want to face Winry," Alphonse said wryly.
"Then Ed's out of luck. Roy already called Pinako and told her Ed's arm has a mishap," Maes said, cradling Elicia in his arms.
"Why! Why would you do that?" Ed sat up straight in the chair, almost unbalancing himself.
"Because I promised that poor old woman I'd look out for you and she sort of frightens me." Roy's lips pursed around the fork as he took a bite of pie, a happy sound echoing around the tines.
"Some soldier you are, scared of an old bat," Ed grumbled.
"Edward, women are always more terrifying than anything else." Roy pointed to Riza with the fork. "Ask anyone back in my office who they're more afraid of me or Hawkeye."
"Don't make me shoot you in front of the baby, sir," Riza said sweetly and Roy beamed at her.
"Riza, I do admire your ability to make these men kow tow," Gracia said, nudging her husband's shoulder. "Sometimes they can so awful."
"Even me?" Maes pouted at her.
"You're the biggest instigator of all." Gracia tapped his chin.
Roy laughed. "She knows you too well, buddy." He turned his attention to the one-armed wonder. "Edward, don't make me escort you all the way to Resembool because I will."
"Why can't you just leave me alone? I know I have to go back. I do want my arm, you know." Ed scowled. "You didn't have to call and worry them."
"Edward, they worry anyhow," Gracia said. "They love you."
"You're just lucky I dissuaded Dr. Rockbell from coming out here though I think her granddaughter really wanted to," Roy mused.
"Oh, hell no," Ed groaned. "You can't let them come here. I'll never hear the end of it."
"He said he made them stay home, brother."
"It wasn't easy. I think maybe that sweet young lady wanted to come shopping. She did take a real liking to you, Riza." Roy grinned.
"The feeling is mutual," Riza replied.
"Winry doesn't like to shop unless it's for tools and automail," Ed sniffed.
"Edward, women are more than just their jobs. Hawkeye is an amazing marksman but she doesn't spend every waking hour thinking about bullets," Roy said. "Central has so much that we don't get back East. It's always fun to go poke around some place knew."
"Maybe you should call back and invite them, Roy. It'd be nice to meet Ed and Al's family." Maes grinned.
Ed flailed though Roy had to admit it lacked a certain something with only one arm. "Mrs. Hughes is right. You are an instigator!"
"Not a bad idea, Maes. I'll call her in the morning." Roy set his plate down.
"You are the most annoying man in the world. Do not make an old lady come out here," Ed fumed.
"Yes, sir, please let them kill Edward in the privacy of their own home." Al couldn't hide the mirth in his voice.
"Al," Ed whined.
"Don't tease the boys," Gracia said. "Ed's been through enough, so has Alphonse."
"If Edward listened to reason." Roy shrugged. "I'm just glad we got them all."
"What will happen with those horrible people now?" Gracia asked.
"Yeah, I want to know that, too. After what they put me through," Ed said.
"A trial," Maes replied. "I don't think they'll ever see the light of day again. The two who were killing the kids might find a similar fate in store for them."
"Good," Roy mumbled and Riza reached over, putting a hand on his ever so briefly. "I still regret not killing him. I don't think I would have felt guilty…and that's the part that actually scares me."
"That's because you alchemists have too much power at your disposal. I'm sure it is frightening to realize what you could do. Here, think on a little happiness." Maes got up and put Elicia in Roy's arms.
"Maes! I'm no good at this."
"Practice makes perfect. One day you'll have some of your own."
"Ugh, no, that can never happen." Ed shuddered. "One of him is enough. Don't encourage him to breed."
"What would you know about it? You can't even see the advantage of having young ladies visit you," Roy sniffed, shifting Elicia in his arms knowing Maes was going for the camera again.
"If Winry came here, it wouldn't be to be sweet to me," Ed said.
"I wonder why. Oh right, because you're clueless. You're barely old enough to know where all your parts are," Roy said.
"That's instigating again," Riza put in wearily, stroking Elicia's head.
"Can't help myself. I've been in a very bad mood and this makes me feel better," Roy replied. "The instigating, not the baby, though she really is sweet. Babies make me nervous. I'm always afraid I'll do something wrong."
"You're doing fine, Roy," Gracia assured him.
"Scared of old women and babies, yeah you're a real threat there, Flame." Ed sniffed then a grave expression passed over his face. "That guy, his whole family hurt you bad, didn't they? I could see why you'd want to hurt him back."
Roy glanced over at Hughes, startled. He saw the guilty expression on his best friend's face and realized at some point he had to have told Ed what had happened. Somehow, Roy wasn't angry about it. "Yes, they did Edward. They didn't just take my mom from me. They took things from me that I couldn't ever get back. It's why I wanted you to get to safety."
"I'm sorry, sir," Al mumbled.
"Yeah, I should have listened," Ed said and Roy knew it was as close to an apology as he was going to get.
"You need to learn to trust that I do occasionally know what I'm talking about, Edward. I don't normally make decisions arbitrarily. I made them a little too emotionally here, but they were still the right choices," Roy said.
Ed turned away. "I know."
"But it's over now," Maes said. "The good guys won. We might not have won fast enough to save everyone but those responsible will be punished. Now, Roy, Riza, look here."
"Are you going to blind me with a flash?" Roy whined.
Roy willingly put up with the taking of photos before passing Elicia off to Riza. He was secretly glad Riza looked as awkward as he did with the baby. He felt less alone in his domestic clumsiness. Madam Christmas had never made him deal with any of his sisters' babies and Roy had gone to live with Hawkeye at a young age. He just didn't know anything about babies.
Of course, compared to Edward, Roy looked like a genius. Then again, the boy only had one arm but Roy refused to let that reality color his joy at not being the only person who didn't know how to hold a baby. Al did better but quickly put Elicia back in his brother's lap.
"Why do you want a picture of me," Ed whined. "I can't even hold her right."
"It's fine, Edward. Smile and I'll give you a copy of the picture of Elicia vomiting on Roy," Maes said and Ed's smile probably frightened children three cities away it was so big.
"Great, Hughes. It'll look like you let your precious baby in the arms of a maniac." Roy gestured at Ed.
"Uh…something just got really warm and wet." Ed grimaced looking down in his lap. "Ewww. The diaper leaked."
"Oh dear. That happens." Gracia scooped her daughter up. "Come on, Edward. You can change your pants and I'll wash them for you. I have…well, Maes's pants will be too long for you."
"So will yours, Gracia," Roy whooped. "Maybe you should give him a skirt for the interim."
"Oh, shut up" Ed snarled.
"I'm sure we can work out something. Alphonse, would you like to come help me with Elicia. It'll be nice to have a helping hand from someone who doesn't gag through the whole process," Gracia said brightly.
"I only do that on poopy diapers. I can handle pee," Maes protested.
"Of course you can, dear." Gracia said, herding the brothers upstairs.
"Is it wrong that it just made my day that Elicia peed on Ed?" Roy asked.
"Yes." Riza stifled a laugh then kissed him. "But it's so very you."
"Yes, it is." Maes put a hand on Roy's shoulder. "How are you doing really, Roy? You still look…piqued."
"I'll be fine, Maes. This puts a complete end to the horrible things that happened to me and my sister. I have to call her yet and let her know." Roy sighed, leaning against Riza for a moment. "I still won't be able to hear rain without thinking of them but I'll be okay."
Maes glanced toward the stairs then leaned down to kiss Roy. "That's what I wanted to hear."
Roy smiled under Maes's lips then gently pushed him back before Ed or Al made a surprise reappearance. He went to the stairs and shouted up. "Hey, Edward."
Ed stomped to the top of the stairs, swamped by Maes's robe. "What?"
"You have one more day here in town. Go talk to Bishop and tell him you'll be back once your arm is repaired. Then we'll all ride back east together," Roy said.
"Why would I want to do that? Ride with you I mean."
"Because I said so. We're all going East and I'm going to make sure you go home."
"You just want to see if Winry will kill me." Ed wrinkled his nose.
"That's a bonus, yes." Roy grinned. Ed flashed him an obscene gesture then retreated back to where his brother and Gracia were wrestling with diapers.
Roy turned to his two lovers, wanting to just bury himself in their limbs. He went over and whispered to Riza, "I'm going back to the apartment tonight. Join me?"
A soft kiss was her answer.
He put a hand on Maes's arm. "I'll miss you."
"Don't worry. I'll call and I'll send you plenty of pictures." Maes grinned.
Roy pinched his brow. "I knew you would say that." He took a deep breath in. It was over. He still didn't truly know what to think about Nick and Lauren, didn't trust they would never bother him again but Roy knew he had to accept that his team had won. He could go back East, feeling good about that. He just wished he could stay in Central longer. He belonged here with Riza and Maes and his mother. Somehow, some day he would be back. Until then, Roy would content himself with his plans, annoying Ed, loving Riza and Maes, not to mention Gracia, when he could, maybe even playing with Elicia when he got the chance and always looking to the bright future they knew had to be waiting for them.