Spoilers/Warnings: As far as I know, the spoilers are minimal. This diverges from both the manga and the anime, and I wouldn't be surprised if I get some facts wrong anyway (like the ages they were when each major even occurred). Also, this is YAOI. Don't like it, don't read it. Period.
Disclaimer: I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist. I make no monetary profit from the writing and posting of this, or any, fanfiction.
Notes: I have recently switched from using MS Word to using Open Office. If there are any weird formatting issues, chalk it up to using a new program. Also, I recently spent a week or so watching all of Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden, so I've got Naruto and Gaara on the mind. Hopefully that won't effect the characterization of people in this fic too bad, despite all the GaaNaru plot bunnies running around in my head.
Also, it appears I was a little vague last chapter. Edward cannot speak Xerxian flawlessly. He's spent enough time reading the language, plus a few hours of study in the Xerxian marketplace, and that allows him to communicate with the people. However, his accent is bad and he fumbles his words – he is not an expert.
This has NOT been beta'd. I figure I've kept y'all waiting so long that y'all will be all right with that. I did edit it an extra time, though, to make up for it.
Chapter Six: In Which There is Questionable Progress
Why was it so fucking hot? It felt like he was on fire; like no amount of ice would ever quench the heat spreading rapidly over his skin. It was dark, and it was nothingness, and yet it was still so damn hot. He didn't understand it. There was no reason for him to be in this predicament. He moaned, fingers clenched in the fabric of his toga, pulling at the silk in an effort to yank the constricting cloth away. He had moved on to his boxers when a hand clamped around his wrist.
He whined, the touch like a breath of cool air on his skin, and curled closer to the source of cold, trying to absorb more of that blissful chill. Why...? What was wrong with him...? He'd never... The coldness tried to withdraw and he was shocked to realize that the mewling sound he'd just heard had come from his lips.
Something about that sounded familiar. Metal... What did he know about metal...? Well, wasn't it usually rather cold? Unless it'd been out in the sun all day. Thoughts of the sun caressed his mind gently, prodding his sluggish thoughts like a scientist prodded a reluctant lab rat.
That was an odd word to intrude in his torture. It wasn't a particularly frightening word, after all. The whole point of torture was to use fear and pain and psychological bullshit to... Oh. Maybe this was a psychological thing, then...?
Ed snapped awake, bolting upright and jerking sideways. He had a vague impression of a pale hand trying to catch his arm before his world tipped and he went sprawling on the floor, half-tangled in linen sheets. He drew in several harsh, shaky breaths, vaguely aware of sweat-soaked bangs plastered to his forehead. Dark hair and a concerned face hove into his view.
"Edward, are you all right?"
It took Ed longer than he would have liked to realize that his name was Edward. The brunette – his brain scrabbled for several minutes before coming up with 'Mustang' – was watching him with an expression of mild confusion that was rapidly morphing into poorly-veiled concern. After several moments of heavy, sluggish thinking, Ed managed to nod. "M'fine. S'just hot, y'know?" His words were more slurred than he would have liked, particularly because now Mustang was looking downright alarmed.
"Here, let me help you..." Mustang said, reaching down and closing a large hand over Ed's bare wrist. As soon as his fingers glided along Ed's bare skin, the blonde jerked his wrist away, gold eyes widening at his superior in shock as he cradled his wrist. Mustang raised an eyebrow at him and held up his hands in the universal sign of 'never mind, then' and folded his arms instead. "No need to be testy, Fullmetal," he stated, and the concern was gone, replaced by something Ed couldn't identify. He ignored it in favor of working the sheets away from his bare stomach until he could wriggle out of the confining cocoon altogether.
"Sorry," the blonde muttered as he got slowly to his feet, rotating his automail arm at the shoulder idly. Now that he was awake, he realized that the room, contrary to the relentless heat of earlier, was actually quite cold.
His puzzlement must have shown because Roy paused in the act of retrieving the tangled sheets, quirking an eyebrow at him. "Bad dreams or something?" At Ed's adamant silence, Roy shook his head and dumped his burden on the bed, then settled on the thin mattress with a sigh. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, Fullmetal. You've seen things most people can't even dream of. Hell, you've done things that would frighten the majority of the world's people." The unspoken including me weighed heavily in the following silence.
Ed rubbed his flesh arm self-consciously, though there was no warmth to be shared from his automail hand. "It's not that," he remarked, squatting next to the hearth to poke up the fire. Nighttime in the desert was cold. He hadn't noticed it last night because he'd been wrapped up in a cloak with Mustang, but sleeping without the toga had perhaps not been his best idea ever. "I was...hot." He ignored Mustang's smothered, amused cough. "Like I was burning up. Like I was on fire, but I wasn't actually burning." Ed padded quietly back over to the bed and sat beside his superior. Having shared a bed with him all night – Ed wasn't about to make Roy sleep on the floor, Bastard General or not – now was hardly the time to be self-conscious. Besides, the bed was at least six feet wide, thanks to the considerable amount of gold Ed had paid for the room. Even if some people were freakishly tall, there was plenty of room for the both of them.
"That sounds...odd," Roy mused, fingers rubbing together. Ed could tell from the absent way Roy did it that it was a subconscious gesture, rather like clicking a pen while thinking. "And that prompted your rather...violent awakening?" he questioned, raising an eyebrow at Ed.
The blonde shook his head. "No, it was something else. You tried to shake me awake, didn't you?" Both eyebrows raised now, Roy nodded. "It was really cold where you touched me. Like, not uncomfortably cold, but cold in a way that made the heat go away." He hesitated. "It did it again when you tried to help me up a little bit ago." Ed sighed, his gaze dropping to his hands, brows furrowed in puzzlement. "It was...strange."
"Has it happened before?" asked Roy, and Ed could tell from the man's tone that he was entering 'Brigadier General' mode. Despite how much Ed usually hated being lectured or worried over, he also knew that Mustang was a very capable alchemist whose mind was more brilliant than most people gave him credit for. To add gravity to the situation at hand, he and Mustang were stranded in some long-ago time with no one else to trust. It would benefit Edward greatly to tell his superior the truth.
With that in mind, Ed responded with a reluctant, "No, it hasn't. Not that I can remember, anyway." A beat. "And I don't feel hot anymore. If anything, it's cold as fuck now." The goosebumps rising along his flesh proved his point adequately enough. He ignored the way Roy was eyeing him contemplatively, moving to shift under the linen sheets once more. "It doesn't matter," he grumbled gruffly, scowling when Mustang opened his mouth to protest. "It doesn't," he snapped, meeting those lacquer-black eyes fiercely. Just because it was more beneficial to tell Roy the truth didn't mean Ed had to deal with the man's coddling."Whatever it was, it's gone now. It's stupid to postulate without any data, and right now all I have is a single occurrence. For all I know, it was just part of the dream." The older man still looked skeptical, but Ed turned on his side, away from that penetrating stare. "Just go back to bed and quit worrying over nothing, Mustang," he muttered. "We still have to find that library."
For a moment there was silence and Ed's shoulders tensed, waiting for Mustang to keep trying to pry. Finally, with a sigh and the rustle of stiff sheets, his superior laid down, obviously preparing to go back to sleep. Ed had just relaxed marginally when Roy's voice cut the night air like a knife.
"When you feel like trusting me with what you really think, I'll be here to talk."
Edward was hiding something from him. The blonde had always been a terrible liar, and the stress of the situation wasn't doing him any favors now. Almost every night since their arrival in Ancient Xerxes, Edward had awoken in the middle of the night and rarely was he able to go back to sleep. Despite Roy's disapproving scowls and pointed looks, however, the blonde refused to say anything about the occurrences. If not for the fact that Roy knew Ed was likely formulating a theory on his own, he might be angered by his subordinate's adamant refusal to share information. Roy crossed his arms over his cloak and leaned silently against the stucco facade of a pottery maker's shop, sharp eyes on Edward's golden ponytail. The younger man was engaged in idle conversation with a jeweler just across the stone-paved street but, despite the relaxed posture Edward sported, Roy could feel the underlying tension radiating from the younger alchemist.
They had been in Xerxes for a little over two weeks now and Edward, with that infamous intellect of his, had managed to pick up more of the language in that short time frame than most could hope to learn in a lifetime. Roy's Xerxian was admittedly less polished, even with all of Ed's grudging tutoring, but for the sake of appearances he acted like he didn't understand anything anyone said. It wasn't that difficult, considering most of the conversations tended to go over his head, but he could at least tell when someone was talking directly to him – or about him.
For the moment, nothing interesting was happening around him and Ed was still engrossed in his conversation with the jeweler, so Roy allowed himself to examine the young blonde without fear of reproach. Initially he'd thought that Ed fit right in with the ancient Xerxians, appearance-wise, but gradually he noticed the subtle differences that were his mother's legacy: his diminutive height, slender build, and tapered fingers, to name a few. The amber eyes and straight nose were pure Xerxian, but his golden skin was considerably lighter and his hair bore just a hint of gilding from the sun as opposed to the all-over gold of the natives. The differences were subtle but noticeable with enough scrutiny. Roy wondered if any of the Xerxians had stared at Edward enough to see them.
Back home, the Elric brothers' fair hair and bronzed skin was enough to turn heads. Here, Roy found that the one garnering the most stares for foreign coloring was him. He wasn't sure he enjoyed the experience, and he subconsciously checked to be sure his hood was still covering his hair. The cloak made the heat almost unbearable, but it was better than being stared at.
"What's up with you?" The soft murmur broke into his thoughts and, somewhat startled, Roy blinked and found Edward standing in front of him. The effectiveness of his usually acidic glare was dulled significantly by the subtle signs of too many sleepless nights on his younger features. It almost made Roy wince in pity every day the smudges around his subordinate's eyes grew darker.
Despite Roy's concern, however, Edward was pricklier than a desert cactus to deal with, so he shoved the worry aside and shrugged casually. "Just thinking," he replied carelessly. "Find out anything useful?" The abrupt change in subject was nowhere near his usual finesse but, for the moment, Roy didn't care. Now was not the time to be antagonizing his short companion. They needed to get back to their own time before the higher-ups started asking questions that his staff could not answer.
The snort he received in reply indicated that Edward had not been fooled by his less-than-tactical change in subject but, surprisingly, the blonde let it go. "Not much yet," he replied, stretching his arms over his head with a faint sigh. His gloved left hand rose to rub his eyes and Roy found himself wishing he could find a way to force Ed to sleep. Ed was always reckless with his health, but spending so much time around him as the blonde continuously neglected his body's needs was different than occasionally seeing Ed in his office after a particularly grueling mission. "I have to let the subject of the library come up in a way that seems natural, and I can't do it often, or else people will get even more suspicious of us. So far, all I know is that the library hasn't ever actually been seen by anyone but the king."
"So we don't even know if this library even exists?" Roy frowned. Great.
"Oh, I think it does. I didn't get any direct info from the jeweler, but I did get something interesting," Ed replied, making a subtle gesture for Roy to follow him. Intrigued, and a little suspicious, Roy followed the blonde as he wound his way through the market, faintly amused by the greetings several people called to Ed. The young alchemist might deny it, often, but Ed was the type of person who drew people like honey drew bees, despite his brusque personality and sharp words. His sharp intellect and inability to abide fools was tempered significantly by his huge heart and inherent desire to help others.
Ed led him to a gap between two buildings and slipped through. It wasn't quite like the alleys of Central, Roy decided as he followed, but it was close. Furthermore, it was private, which Roy gathered was the point. Though they were obviously alone, Ed still checked to make sure they weren't overheard. It didn't seem to matter to him that they spoke Amestrian; after all, Ed had picked up basic Xerxian rather quickly. Granted, he'd had prior knowledge to draw on, but there was no need to be careless.
"They don't have photographs here, so they paint portraits of important people," Ed explained quietly, slipping a hand to the leather pouch he'd taken to wearing on his sash. He withdrew two small oval-shaped pendants. "Apparently the king's birthday is coming up." He held up one pendant for Roy to see. The portrait showed a man in his prime with long blonde hair and dark gold eyes. His face was lined lightly, indicating that he might have just hit forty. Roy raised an eyebrow at the portrait. He didn't say anything, presuming that this had a point. Ed rolled his eyes. "This was painted about thirty years ago. I picked it up from a painter a few days ago," he explained. "It's customary to paint a new portrait of the ruler every year on their birthday. I got this one from a different shop." He raised the second portrait to Roy's scrutiny. At first, Roy didn't understand what Ed was getting at. Then he grabbed the palm-sized oval and brought it closer to his face. His mouth dropped open.
"This is the portrait for this year?" he asked, eyes flicking to his subordinate, who nodded. Roy stared at the picture. "He doesn't look like he's aged a day," he whispered, lightly tracing the faint wrinkles. This man, too, looked around forty.
Ed was quiet for several long moments, the silence between them broken only by the still audible sounds of the market. "From what I've gathered, the people are confused and scared because he doesn't look any older, but there's a rumor going around that this king is the physical manifestation of the head god of their pantheon," Ed said sourly, plucking idly at one of his gloves. "It sounds like a load of bullshit and propaganda, but that's people for you. Give 'em a bit of false information and watch their minds fill in the blanks." He grumbled something Roy didn't quite catch but, knowing Edward, it probably wasn't something flattering. Ed despised religion and hero-worship in all forms.
"In any case, this suggests that either the painter is trying to flatter the king, or the king found the Fountain." Roy ran a hand through his hair and offered the portrait back to Ed, who tucked them both back into his pouch. Ed crossed his arms and stared at Roy, clearly waiting for the older man's verdict. Roy frowned thoughtfully. "The easiest method would be simply ask the king, but I somehow doubt that will go well."
"You think?" Ed snapped, fingers tightening on his arms. "I can just see how well that will go. 'Hey, Your Majesty, we're from the future! Mind if we borrow some of your magic water to go home?' Either he'll think we're nuts, or he'll believe us. And considering what could happen, I'm not sure which would be worse. The last thing we need is some power-crazy monarch trying to conquer all of time and space or something equally stupid."
Roy raised both eyebrows this time, unable to keep the faint smile from quirking his lips. Ed's dry comments could be pretty funny, so long as they weren't directed at him. He cleared his throat to ensure his amusement wouldn't tint his voice; no need for Ed to think he was being laughed at. "In that case, we could try infiltration," he mused. "If the king found the Fountain, I would assume that he has to actually go to it sometime to maintain his youth and, presumably, immortality."
"The only problem with that is there's no telling how often he has to visit the Fountain," Ed said, sighing irritably. "For all we knew, it's a once-in-a-decade thing. Since none of my, er, friends," he pointedly ignored Roy's smirk, "have seen it, I can only guess we'd have to watch the palace and follow them wherever they went, and we definitely don't have the manpower for that..."
They fell into a heavy, brooding silence. Roy noticed that Ed, unsurprisingly, was scowling, but the expression seemed darker than usual. He kept an eye on the younger man discretely, looking him over. It was several minutes before he came to a conclusion that made sense, though it startled and perhaps even scared him a little: Ed was tired. For as long as Roy had known Ed, he'd never seen his young Major so exhausted. It was more than just a lack of sleep; even his posture drooped, and Ed usually stood as straight as he could to offset his neglected height. Roy tipped his head back, letting his gaze shift upward to catch the occasional wispy cloud drifting across the sky.
Presumably, Edward was exhausted from being in this time period and his separation from Alphonse. That made sense in a completely logical way – if Ed was upset in any way, it usually had something to do with his younger brother. Furthermore, Ed was a very straightforward young man. Brilliant, but straightforward. Sneaking around and gathering information wasn't exactly his forte; so he was tired and frustrated. Roy supposed that could account for Ed's appearance right now, but something told him there was more to this story.
"We don't have time to sit around," Roy said when it seemed Ed had come no closer to a solution. He held up a hand to keep the blonde's protest unvoiced. "I'm not insulting you this time, Fullmetal. Like it or not, you're a prominent military figure. I wouldn't be surprised if the upper chain of command kept just as many tabs on you as they do on me. It's going to be hard enough to explain this to General Rush, much less to the other Generals." Even Fuhrer Grumman, who liked Ed and Roy, would be unable to shield them from the potential ramifications.
Ed scowled up at him, eyes flashing, and Roy had the sudden, utterly inappropriate thought that the blonde was really quite stunning when he was angry. "If you've got any ideas, I'm listening," said angry blonde snapped at him. "It seems to me that all you do lately is criticize my plans, but I don't see you coming up with anything on your own. I've been trying to come up with something! What do you think I do every night–"
Roy's body moved before his mind caught up with what he was doing, and by then he'd already twisted to loom over the shorter man, a hand slamming into the wall by Ed's head. The blonde immediately shut up and pressed further against the wall, tired eyes widening in surprise and a bit of alarm.
Ed had never seen Roy truly lose his temper, but if the way the Brigadier General's eyes were glittering down at him right now was any indication, he might have succeeded in doing just that. In spite of that, Ed was baffled enough by Roy's uncharacteristic display of anger that he didn't immediately shove the brunette away. They were both silent for several long moments before Roy chose to speak.
"I suppose it would be too much to hope that you might sleep at night. If you think I haven't noticed that it gets worse with each night, you're sorely lacking in observational skills, Fullmetal." His tone was calm – deceptively so, Ed thought. Roy was the type of person that, the angrier he got, the softer he spoke. The half-whisper now was not promising, nor was his usage of Ed's codename. Still, at least Ed knew why his superior was upset, even if it was a stupid reason.
He crossed his arms somewhat defensively and huffed, looking away from that too-intense stare. "It's not like I do it to intentionally piss you off," he muttered irritably. "I have more important things to do with my time than play with you, unless you'd rather just stay here?" Striving for nonchalance, he shrugged. "Besides, maybe I'm just not tired. It's not like I sleep much at home."
"I'm not an idiot, Fullmetal," was Roy's growled reply. To Ed's surprise, Roy's free hand came up to lightly brush a gloved thumb over his face, sliding over his cheek to trace the dark smudges. "I'm not blind, either. I can see very clearly that you're tired. Try giving me the truth."
Anger sparked in Ed, crawling languidly down his spine to coil heatedly in his stomach. He raised a hand and curled it in the front of Roy's cloak, baring his teeth up at the older man. "I already told you what it is. It's none of your business how much I sleep anyway," he added, somewhat petulantly. Hurt flashed through Roy's gaze and Ed suppressed the guilt he could feel building. To his surprise, though, Roy didn't back off like he usually would. The look in the older man's eyes this time was completely unreadable.
Ed jumped as gloved fingers trailed down his cheek to grip his chin, tilting his face up. "None of my business, you say?" Roy asked quietly, his hand sliding up the wall so he could lean down a little, forearm resting flush against the stucco. "I don't think you understand how much it killed me to see you come back from those missions looking like you'd been run ragged. Of course, I didn't want you to know. It's one thing to deal with this in my office – it's completely different to watch you do this to yourself." Ed's breath caught and froze in his throat at that, particularly because Roy's slow shifting of his stance brought their faces closer together with each word.
"You–" Ed began, trying to sound angry, but he stopped when Roy merely gave him a look. Suddenly his throat was very dry; much too dry to form the rest of the sentence.
"Maybe I just need to find some way of tiring you out so much that your only choice would be to sleep," Roy mused, and they were close enough now that Ed could feel the man's breath ghosting over his lips. Ed stared up at Roy, for once unable to come up with any sort of tart comment. He wanted to lick his lips, but Roy's were so close and Ed wasn't sure he was ready to act on his feelings. Aside from the fact that now was not exactly the ideal time, he wasn't sure he wanted to be another notch on the brunette's bedpost.
Swallowing, Ed flattened his palm on Roy's chest and gave him a gentle, but insistent push. Roy resisted for only a moment before he released Ed and backed off. Ed turned away, knowing he was blushing now and hating it. "You could have just said something before," he muttered uncomfortably. "Anyway, let's just go. Doubt I can get anything else out of the merchants today without looking suspicious.
He didn't look back as he emerged from between the buildings, blinking as bright sunlight assaulted his eyes once more. He knew Roy was following, mostly because he could feel the other man's eyes on him the whole time; it was like having an itch between his shoulder blades that he couldn't scratch, and he had to resist the impulse to turn and snap at the man to quit staring at him. Given what had just transpired, he was scared to even look at the older man.
The walk back to their inn was familiar enough that Ed was able to turn his body over to auto-pilot so that he could try to make some sense of the thoughts tumbling around in his head. Ed had seen people being intimate before, of course. Couples kissed on the street, at the train station, in restaurants; all over the place, really. Having Roy suddenly shift gears on him like that shouldn't have shaken him so badly – and yet it had. Ed was unaccustomed to anyone invading his personal space in such a manner. Though he desperately wanted to be angry about it, Ed couldn't quite bring himself to actually punch the older man.
If anything, he almost regretted pushing Roy away. After all, he'd only had a crush on the man for a while now... Ed didn't have the sort of reputation that Roy did, mostly because he hadn't ever been with anyone. Before, he was too focused on Alphonse to look ay anyone like that, and by the time he'd really started to think about relationships, he'd already learned that he wanted Roy. Knowing that, he'd never been able to bring himself to accept dinner invitations from anyone else.
It wasn't to say that he wished he had, but the last thing he wanted to do was kiss Roy Mustang and then be mocked for his inexperience, because then he really would punch the man. Probably with his right arm if it came to that.
He raised a hand in a lazy greeting to the innkeeper as they entered the building, though for once the man didn't acknowledge it. Ed slowed his footsteps, turning his attention to this anomaly. Ed wasn't a fool. The innkeeper wasn't precisely a friend, but Ed had spent enough money here that the man rarely ignored him. That he would, now, was troubling. A quick glance at his silent companion confirmed that Roy, too, had noticed. They said nothing, instead continuing across the room and into the hallway. Only when they were out of sight did Roy speak up.
"Something's not quite right," he murmured, tugging absently on his right glove; the ignition cloth rasped quietly with his movement. His posture, Ed noted approvingly, was relaxed, but his eyes were bright and wary. Ed knelt silently outside of their room, far enough from the door that he wouldn't cast a shadow through the space between floor and door. He glanced through the keyhole, searching for signs of movement in the room. There were none, but that meant nothing. He got to his feet, fishing the key from his pocket. If they couldn't see anyone, the best they could hope for was that at least they weren't being caught by surprise. He stuffed the key into the lock and twisted it; the tumblers dropped noisily into place. Not wanting any would-be assailants to think he was on to them, he immediately pushed the door open like he would have any other day.
A quick sweep of his eyes confirmed that the room was completely empty. While the room was not exactly small, it was square; there were no awkward corners to hide behind. Closets seemed nonexistent in this time period, the hearth was too small for anyone to hide in – though Ed still stuck his head inside to glance up the chimney – and a glance at Roy showed his superior checking under the bed. Roy shook his head in response to Ed's unvoiced question; there was no one in this room.
Ed got to his feet, dusting soot from his cloak and frowning. His instincts were shouting at him, and they had rarely ever been wrong. He held up a hand when Roy opened his mouth. The older man looked affronted that Ed would silence him but kept quiet all the same, obviously recognizing the calculating look on the blonde's face. Slowly, he scanned the room once more. The second look confirmed what the first had already indicated: there were no places in this room to hide. It frustrated him, but Ed was ready to admit that, for once, he might have been wrong.
Movement caught his attention. The shutters were open to allow light to spill into the room – glass was far more expensive in Xerxes – and Ed immediately dashed across the room, braced a hand on the sill, and propelled himself out of the window. "Wait!" he shouted in Xerxian, landing gracefully and taking off after the retreating figure. He was vaguely aware of the fact that Roy had followed him out the window with a muttered curse and was barely keeping up with Ed's punishing pace. Despite the gravity of the situation, Ed couldn't help the smug realization that he was in better running shape than Roy; the man had been riding a desk for too long.
Ed was fast, Roy realized as he forced more energy into his strides to keep up with the younger man. Much faster than he'd been all those years ago when they'd had their battle assessment. Though the blonde was considerably shorter than Roy, right now it seemed as though Fullmetal was all legs from the way he ran. Roy found himself wishing he spent more time on the track; it was something of a hit to his ego to know the shorter man ran faster than him. If they ever got back to their own time – and provided he wasn't court-marshaled for dereliction of duty for vanishing without a trace – he was going to spend more time at the gym.
Thoughts of vanity aside, Roy wasn't entirely certain who they were chasing, or even if that person deserved to be chased. He watched incredulously as Edward leapt over a silk-draped palanquin borne by four slaves without so much as a by-your-leave; the nobleman inside poked his head out and began yelling but, thankfully, did nothing else. Where in the world did Ed get so much energy? Roy twisted around a merchant leading a string of horses, breathing harder than he would have liked and trying to keep his errant subordinate in sight.
Eventually they exited the marketplace, which made the chase simultaneously easier and harder. Easier, because there were considerably less people to dodge, but harder because their quarry seemed to know the area better than Ed or Roy – a fact that became immediately apparent when Edward skid to a halt a few minutes later, scowling, and glared around the area. Roy came to a stop a little more sedately, trying to be discrete about just how out of breath he was. Part of the reason was a desire to maintain his image in front of Edward, but the bigger part came from a feeling that they were being watched.
"Lost him," Ed grumbled quietly. The blonde was panting rather hard, too, but he didn't seem to notice his tiredness in light of having lost his quarry.
"Not surprising, given how little we know about this area," Roy replied just as softly. He spoke in Amestrian, taking his cue from Edward, but there was no need to advertise just how foreign they were. As it was, Roy's hood had long since fallen from his head, exposing his dark hair and pale skin to the world. He drew in a deep, steadying breath, noting that his heart rate was finally calming. "Any idea who he was?"
Ed glanced at him, apparently understanding what Roy was really asking. "No idea, but he was lingering outside our room, and he ran when I saw him. Only the guilty run like that." He blew out a long sigh, turning to observe their surroundings again. "Of course, I have no idea where we are now. Might be a while before we get–" The blonde leaped sharply to his left, just missing being run through by a well-thrown thrown javelin. The weapon landed point-first in the packed dirt, hard enough that the staff quivered long after impact.
"Only the guilty, hm?" Roy mused, looking around. Where they had been seemingly alone only moments ago, they were now surrounded by at least fifteen muscled, well-armed men clad in rough togas. Additionally, each man bore leather bracers and skirts for armor. Ed glanced at him, confused by his statement, and Roy smiled grimly. "Seems we ran right into a trap," he clarified.
From the expression on Ed's face, he didn't seem overly impressed by their apparent opposition. "You think we can't take 'em?" he asked incredulously, already shifting his weight. Roy recognized the stance; Ed was ready to defend, but he could shift to attacking any moment now. Immediately Roy reached out, clamping his hand tightly on the younger man's shoulder. Ed started and looked at him again, a question in his bright eyes.
"Wait a moment, Fullmetal," he ordered, allowing military authority to bolster his tone. Ed's eyes narrowed, as they often did when Roy gave him an order, and the way his muscles tensed indicated that Ed was considering disregarded this order. Roy tightened his grip. "You don't know what they want." Ed's gaze flicked meaningfully to the javelin buried in the dirt, but Roy shook his head. "Aside from that, they haven't attacked. I know a warning shot when I see it."
Although the men held their javelins such that it was obvious that they were not going to let Ed and Roy just walk away, they had also made no move to actually attack. Ed cast a dark glare at them but, slowly, Roy felt the blonde relax. He waited a moment to be sure Ed wasn't about to launch into a surprise attack before letting the younger alchemist go.
"For a slave, you seem to hold much sway over your master," commented a cultured voice from somewhere to their left. It took Roy a moment to puzzle out what the man – for male the voice was – had said, given that it had been in Xerxian, but he was at least familiar with most of the words. He turned to see the speaker, noting the Ed had grabbed the javelin and pulled it out of the dirt. The circle of guards around them stiffened, grips tightening on their own weapons, but Ed did little more than spin the hardened stake lazily in his right hand, a mocking gleam in his golden eyes as he sized up the speaker.
"Only an idiot ignores sound advice," Ed replied, also in Xerxian. Roy noted that, though he still stumbled over some of the words, Ed's Xerxian had improved tremendously. Despite that, it was painfully obvious that it was not his native language, something that the talkative guard seemed to notice immediately.
Looking at him now, Roy could see that this particular guard's uniform seemed to be made of linen rather than the rougher-woven cotton of the others. His javelin was tipped with copper, unlike the fire-hardened point of the one Ed currently held. A closer look showed that he was wearing some sort of gold pendant on a leather thong around his neck, and he also wore a beaten copper helm. Some sort of military leader, Roy gathered.
Seeming to notice Roy's scrutiny, the man smiled, inclining his head very slightly. He raised a hand to his men, who relaxed their postures. "It's not often we see newcomers to our city," the man commented lightly. "I am Seti. Pardon the rude manner of our meeting, but His Majesty is very interested in meeting you two." He paused, noting the glare on Ed's face, and his smile widened. "As his honorable guests, you understand." The addition did nothing to assuage Ed's expression; if anything, his scowl deepened.
Roy kept his expression a mask of polite confusion, as though he could not understand Seti, even as he worked to translate the man's words. It was slow going. Roy had never been very adept at other languages, particularly dead languages, and he'd only been working at this one for two weeks. Ed spoke up then, saying something that Roy didn't quite catch, and then those gold eyes were on him again.
"Should we go with them? I don't like how this invitation was extended, but..." he commented, deliberately raising his voice a little to highlight the fact that he was speaking Amestrian. Roy let a faintly approving smile curve his lips and noted with interest that Ed blushed faintly. He filed that knowledge away for later; perhaps their situation wasn't as hopeless as he'd first thought. As it was, now was not the time to be considering how to go forward with his increasingly serious flirtations.
"Our options are to either allow them to escort us to the king where we can try to decide whether he has stopped aging for ourselves, and perhaps have a look around the place, or we can fight off this group here, become wanted criminals, and still attempt to sneak into the palace later. As it is, I doubt they know what we are capable of, so if things go south, we shouldn't have to worry about whether we can escape or not." He noted the irritation that crept into Ed's expression and the faint tic that developed at the corner of his left eye and did his best to suppress a smirk at the younger man's expense. It really was too easy, even after all this time, to rile Edward up.
Ed clenched his fist, obviously wanting nothing more than to punch Roy. He restrained himself with visible difficulty. "All right, jackass, I get it. No need to be a bastard about it." The blonde crossed his arms, clearly still annoyed, and glared at Seti, swapping back to Xerxian. Roy only caught a handful of words this time, but he understood enough of them to know that Ed had agreed to accompany the man to his king. Ed and Roy fell into step just behind Seti and, to Roy's faint amusement and Ed's obvious distrust, the guards slid into formation around them. None of the armed men looked at either him or Ed, but Roy could tell that they weren't as relaxed as their expressions might have suggested. Roy found himself impressed, never mind that it felt more like they were prisoners than guests.
All in all, Roy thought as they were escorted along, things could be worse. Attempting to break into the palace and remain undetected long enough to find any information pertinent to the Fountain was a risky venture at best. While Ed could easily blend here – so long as he didn't have to display his shaky grip on Xerxian – Roy could not, and he had not been happy with the thought that Ed would be infiltrating the palace alone. At least this way they would be in the palace together, although the circumstances surrounding the invitation had yet to be revealed.
He glanced once more at Ed. The young man was frowning, as usual, and Roy found himself wishing he could do something about it. Given their circumstances, he could offer no words that would be reassuring. In the end he settled for resting a hand gently on his companion's left shoulder. Ed blinked, apparently startled out of his thoughts, and glanced first at the hand and then at Roy. His eyebrow quirked questioningly, but Roy merely smiled in what he hoped the blonde would realize was simply a reminder that he wasn't alone.
For a long time Ed merely stared at him, something like shock in his level amber eyes. After several tense moments the younger alchemist relaxed under his grip and gave Roy a tiny smile of his own. Roy squeezed his shoulder gently and let the blonde go, turning forward again in time to catch Seti's curious expression. Roy returned the stare with a blank one of his own until Seti shrugged and faced forward again.
Roy suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. Despite the fact that they were hundreds of years in the past, it seemed that people here could be just as easily manipulated as those of his own time period. The language barrier would be a challenge, but Roy had always enjoyed a good challenge, and he rather suspected that Ed would have no qualms about it, either.
Word Count: 7200
Hello, everyone! Welcome back, and I hope you enjoyed this latest installment of Rain! I know it was a long time coming (three-and-a-half months) but I hope it was worth the wait. A lot has been going on lately, and finding the time to sit down and write has been...troublesome. For those that care to know all about what's going on in real life to delay me, continue!
First, though, I want to thank everyone for their kind words and amazing reviews. Reading those reviews is what helps push me to continue writing. As it is, I think that Rain is my longest story so far, and also the one with the most hits and reviews. When I first started writing this story, I had intended on answering all the reviews personally, but as time went on I realized that I just can't always do that. That being said, I want you all to know that I read every single review you leave me, and ninety-nine point nine percent of my reviews make me blush and squeal like a schoolgirl. I adore each and every one of you for taking the time to read this, and I especially am grateful to those of you who leave me feedback!
Now, the reasons (coughexcusescough).
I mentioned a chapter or two back that I was packing and getting ready to move. Happily enough, I've finished with that, so there's the first distraction out of the way. Currently I'm in Wisconsin with my in-laws, who were kind enough to offer me a place to stay while I go to school. My husband was supposed to go on deployment from mid-summer to just before Christmas, and I was going to stay here during that time and go to school and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, things have changed, and long story short, my husband is separating from the Navy. As you might guess, this puts a lot of strain on my time, as I now have to juggle school, my daughter, our finances (the economy still sucks) and trying to find a place to live, as we have decided to settle here in Wisconsin. So that's a big issue.
Another big issue is just how difficult a time I had writing this chapter. I've never really had writer's block before; usually I'm just being lazy, or I'm busy with other things. For this chapter, however, I honestly could not get anything to flow. Even when I was finally able to write, I fear this chapter is sub-par, and for that I apologize. I kept trying, though, and I hope this humble offering will help assuage the thoughts that this story is abandoned – far from it.
Lastly, for whatever reason, my computer causes issues with my in-laws network. Whenever it connects to the internet, none of their computers or other devices can. Since it's my computer causing the problem (and I'm not comfortable typing these stories on their computer, given their highly Christian ways), I have to connect my computer to my phone to stream my phone's internet to my computer, and it isn't always reliable.
All that aside, I know almost four months is a long time. It doesn't help in the slightest that I've found my OTP (One True Pairing; if you don't mind wasting a significant portion of your life, go to tvtropes . org and click around. It's as dangerous as Wikipedia, perhaps more so, and it tells all about OTPs), and unfortunately it is not Roy/Ed – though I still love this pairing very, very much. It was my very first yaoi pairing, after all. No, my OTP is Gaara/Naruto, and since I've spent a long time watching Naruto, I've sort of had them on the mind. Still, I refuse to leave any other stories abandoned, and I still plan on continuing with my plans for other FMA stories. I will just be adding Naruto stories to the mix, as well.
So, with all that explained, I hope that everyone will still support me as I tell this tale. One of my reviewers asked a question that I think others will be curious about, so I will answer it here: I had commented that I thought this story would only be about ten chapters. I don't know how true that still is. I can't see it going much farther than ten, but I don't know if it will be ten exactly. Rest assured that I will definitely do my best to resolve all the plot points.
Kisses and hugs to you all!