The Lives we Choose
Part One: The Fire Gem of the North
Chapter Three: Falling
Summary: In a world not ready for them, are they ready for each other?
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for the end of Brotherhood, though only in some of the small details, as this tends to borrow from both series. This story will contain angst, graphic violence, sex, and death.
You have been warned.
AN: This chapter is a wee bit shorter than the last two because I had to chop it in half. It was originally GIGANTIC before I finally decided to make it into two chapters instead.
Fire swam through Ed's veins as his flesh was explored by rough and greedy lips. He lifted his hips to press himself closer to the man above him, who responded by moaning as he sank his teeth into the tender lower part of Ed's neck. The younger man gasped as pleasure shot through his body, reaching his hands up to card his fingers through short shaggy black hair. Tugging at the hair in his hands, he dragged Roy up so he could capture his lips with his own.
"Ed! Wake up, you've been asleep all morning and we're pulling into the station." He grumbled incoherently in answer and threw his hand out to attack the offending voice. Roy managed to duck just in time, lowering his body so he was able to whisper in his ear. "I hate to wake you when you look like you were having such a pleasant dream."
Roy's low, dulcet voice did nothing to help Ed come out of his slumber. In fact, he shifted lower in his seat, leaning his head against Roy's chest.
"Mmm… but it's gonna be cold out there. I don't like the cold." His words were barely distinguishable through the mumbling, and the man above was fighting the urge to wrap his arms around him and kiss his sleepy blond head when someone behind him took a step backwards and jostled Mustang.
He stood up quickly, adjusting his jacket, "Come on Fullmetal, we've got work to do. He smacked the back of his head with a light flick of the wrist. This earned him a mumbled string of curses as a groggy Ed attempted to get to his feet.
While Mustang laughed behind him, a now mostly awake Edward attempted to get his bearings. The inside of the car was alive with people chattering and moving about, everyone anxious and excited. When he looked out of the window he saw the large platform also packed full of people. The crowd outside was much more subdued however, waiting patiently as the train came to a stop, relaxed smiles on almost everyone's faces. There was something wrong though, somewhere amongst the crowd was a flash of sorrow, but as soon as Ed would catch a glimpse of it, it would disappear just as fast.
The odd feeling was quickly forgotten when he turned back to Roy, who had changed from his uniform to a dark charcoal suit that he looked far too good in, and was too busy eyeing Ed to notice anything out of the ordinary. Ed's automail port and his right knee were sore and cramped from the position he'd been in for several hours coupled with the cold. When he tried to move he tripped with a string of curses. Roy reached out and caught him around the waist, the sudden warmth of his closeness throwing Ed back into his dream.
Legs entwined, bodies pressed together, Roy's mouth was making trails along his collar and neck. "Please…"
Ed shook his head in his best efforts to remove the imagery and put on a brief pout when the older man moved away far too quickly.
"Come on, everyone's getting off."
They followed their fellow passengers in silence through to the exit of the train car. Once they were finally on the platform, the two men stepped to the side in an attempt to be mostly out of the way while still able to take in their surroundings. Ed and Roy watched the flow of people move about the platform in front of them, each man noticing the small details, studying their new environment.
Standing just at the entrance to the train, an elderly woman with a slight hunch and bright white hair that blended in with the starkness of the snow in the background was thanking each person as they passed, shaking hands and smiling warmly.
"If I had known everyone here was going to be dressed so finely, I would have worn my red coat! I thought it was going to make me stand out too much."
"We're here trying to be discrete about our investigation, not letting those that don't need to worry about anything out of the ordinary, which is why I'm out of uniform. Its a good thing you didn't wear your coat, people recognize you almost instantly in that ostentatious thing."
His last statement was answered with a huff.
Roy was first to notice the small child darting in and out of the new arrivals. She couldn't have been much older than ten or eleven, and carried with her a basket full of large, bright red roses.
"How do they grow those up here?" Ed wondered aloud when he spotted her as well. Her long brown hair was braided with an array of small flowers intertwined. As she came closer to them, they were able to finally tell what she was doing with the basket.
Attached to each rose was a bright blue ribbon with a small tag and a key at the other end.
"Talk about service, they don't even have to check in! And look at those passenger vans over there." He nodded to the road beyond the platform. "They're more luxurious than anything I've seen in quite a while." Roy paused and tapped his chin, "Maybe I should ask them who their supplier is for when I'm in control and need new transport."
"Oh get over yourself General." Ed elbowed him in the arm, trying to find where the little girl had gone.
Something cold and empty brushed by Ed's arm and he was suddenly plunged into darkness.
He clutched at his chest, unable to breathe or call out. There was absolute nothingness all about him, no air, no people, no anything.
The complete emptiness of the feeling passed after only a few seconds, and just as quickly as he had entered the crushing void, he was standing on the platform once again.
Roy turned to him when he made a sudden gasp for air. Ignoring his superior's concerned questions he turned towards the train in an attempt to find who had set off the strange reaction. A woman who had just stepped onto the train paused briefly, looked back at Ed with an empty, expressionless face, before disappearing into the car. He started to go after her when the little girl with the roses appeared just in front of him seemingly out of nowhere.
"Name?" The small child looked up at him, eyes wide, patiently waiting for his answer. He considered ignoring her for a moment and going after the woman on the train.
"Elric." He finally answered, curt and still distracted, though he knew the train was almost ready to take off again, and he really didn't want to chance being on it when it did.
The little brunette furrowed her brow and pursed her lips, turning to Roy, who was watching Ed closely. "What about you?" it took him a moment to take his eyes off Edward, crossing his fingers he wasn't going to have to stop him from going back in the damned car. His demeanor softened when he finally answered.
"I'm General Roy Mustang, it's a pleasure to meet you young lady."
Her expression remained firmly in place, "You aren't on the list."
Roy knelt onto one knee so he was eye level with the little girl. "Are you sure? You didn't even check your basket of pretty flowers." He was really laying on the charm.
She wasn't falling for it though. "I know you're not on the list because I have the list memorized." She rolled her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. "You'll need to talk to Emma. Follow me."
Roy stood, frowning, his ire worsening when he heard the man beside him chuckle. "Precocious little kid isn't she?"
This drew a full bodied laugh in return, "Precocious? Ed, I don't use that word to describe anyone after knowing you as a kid. It just doesn't fit anymore." Ed rolled his eyes in much the same fashion the girl had, causing Roy to just laugh harder as they followed the child through the crowd.
She brought them to a young woman standing near the steps down to the vehicles. Both men stopped their mumbling and laughter when they saw her. There weren't many red heads in Amestris, and they were staring right at a pristine example of one. Her full, curly hair was such a deep shade of red, her pale face and bright green eyes were in stark contrast. She was speaking to a couple at the top of the steps, directing them to the vans below.
"Emma! They aren't on the list!" Much to the little girl's dismay, she was ignored until the couple began descending the stairs. She started tapping her foot rather impatiently. When the redhead answered, it was with a look of disappointment on her face.
"Danni, you have better manners than that! What is wrong with you?"
Roy stepped forward with much more of the usual swagger he approached beautiful women with than Ed could stand to watch. "That would be us. We are apparently not on the list. I apologize for putting her out of sorts."
"Oh," Emma seemed slightly flustered, "Well then." She smiled and turned to Danni. "Go on and get those last few keys to our guests, the trucks are getting ready to leave." Patting the grumbling child's head before she left, she addressed Roy again. "I'm very sorry as well gentlemen, but you're a tad late. Our singles retreat was last month!"
"Singles retreat? Roy, where the hell have you brought me!" Ed leaned towards Roy, his voice low and with more than a hint of danger in it.
He was shrugged off when Roy answered the woman, "We are not here for the single's retreat." There was no hint of anything but business in his voice, so they were both completely unprepared for the reaction they received.
"Oh…." She seemed confused for a split second, then suddenly drew her own snap conclusions. "Oooh!" Her eyes narrowed and her lips turned up in an excited grin. "That's so amazing! We never get couples like you up here! But you're more than welcome!" She paused, then faltered, "Well, if we had any rooms that is." Roy swore she was bouncing slightly.
With a gentle shake of his head and a kind smile, Roy tried to correct her. He had opened his mouth to speak when he was interrupted.
"No no no no no no no no nooooo…" Ed was waving his hands and shaking his head furiously. When he finally stopped flailing about, Roy saw that the color had completely left his face. For a brief moment, he allowed the severe pain in his chest to reflect in his expression.
But he was currently in military mode, and made sure replace the hurt to look as if he hadn't even noticed Ed's reaction. "We are with the military actually. I'm General Roy Mustang, and this is Major Edward Elric. We're here on an official investigation."
Her bright green eyes lost some of their sparkle as she deflated, "Oh, sorry. It's just… well, never mind." The train behind them had started to move once again and Emma glanced at it as it pulled away before turning to the vehicles behind her. "Well I guess we have to find you a place somewhere. We have spare rooms at our home, I'm sure we could put you up in there." She laughed nervously, "There's not even any room in the vans today, so I'll tell you what, you two can ride back with me. I'll just have Danni sit with Leilian in the luggage truck so you can use her horse. Wait here!"
They didn't even have time to answer before she had disappeared down the steps. For a moment they stood in silence, watching Emma, Danni, and the older woman they both assumed to be Leilian, talking by the trucks below.
"What the hell are we doing here Mustang?" Ed wasn't looking at him, but was staring out at the snow-covered horizon. Roy saw the way his hands were curled into a fist, shaking just enough to give away his anger.
For a millisecond Roy considered admitting the truth; that central was too busy, too many reminders of what they shouldn't be. That he wanted desperately to damn the consequences and give them a shot and that this remote investigation would be the perfect chance. He'd already admitted to wanting more; why not find a place to see if it would really work?
Too bad Roy was really far too good at being an ass. "Seeing if you're still able to keep up Fullmetal. You've been on too many research and reconnaissance missions lately, you may have gone soft."
"Soft! Ha! You're one to talk General Desk Job." Somehow, Roy chiding him seemed to cool him off and he visibly relaxed, still staring off into the distance. "You should have seen that Yang Su guy after he tried to attack Ling and I last month! A skilled remote alchemist against two guys with nothing but muscle. I used to think it was my alchemy that gave me the upper hand, but I guess I'm really just that good." The smug look on his face could have rivaled Roy's best one.
Roy shook his head, smiling. "I'm sure Lan Fan had a thing or two to do with your victory."
This made Ed sigh, finally removing his gaze from the horizon to look at his feet. "I didn't tell you this the other day because it didn't concern my actual mission, but she wasn't there. Her family sent her away after they were caught… well, they were caught, together." He looked up then, catching Roy's eye.
They both felt the pain in Ed's voice. "Ling can't become king if he's with a servant of his clan. It isn't allowed."
This caught him off guard. The anger in Roy's voice wasn't lost on the younger man, "That's not right Ed. If he's going to be their ruler and do all the great things he wants to do with his country, he can't…"
Ed cut him off. "It's the way that it is, and we all just have to deal with it. Maybe he can change the laws and then slowly change the way people think when he finally takes the throne, but he's got to make it there first." The way he spoke reminded Roy of himself, years before, when he had to explain how the harsh realities of the world and military really worked to a young hard headed alchemist. "She put up one hell of a fight over it, but in the end, Lan Fan willingly left so the man she loves could become what he needs to be. We all knowingly choose to make those sacrifices."
Roy was certain he was no longer speaking of Xing.
The self proclaimed Soul alchemist looked up from where she stood, watching the two strange men talk on the platform.
They were different and dangerous. There was a fire and a connection between them that she couldn't quite put her finger on, but she knew that it was exactly what she had been missing.
Not only that, but they had been touched by something with immense power. She could feel it when she passed by them.
They would be perfect.
Ed had always hated horses.
They were big and smelly and most of the ones he'd known were horribly ill tempered. And these were huge horses. Of course, it didn't help that he had never actually tried to ride one before. Roy, who was right at home atop the beast, had originally told Ed to ride with him. That was, until he could barely keep himself up from laughing at how the younger man was reacting.
Now they were heading down a path, bordered in several feet of snow. Ed sat behind Emma constantly grabbing on and letting go in an incredibly awkward state. One moment he was holding her waist, then as soon as his face had become a shade of red to match the woman's hair, he would let go. Shortly after he let go, he would start to lose his balance once again and throw his arms back around her. At one point he nearly fell off after finding a pair of firm breasts in his hands.
Neither Roy nor Emma had been able to hide their laughter at that moment.
"Just hold onto my shoulders if it's making you so uncomfortable Mr. Elric." She finally managed to speak once her laughter had died down.
"I can't seem to keep my balance! I'm always quick to adapt with this stupid leg, but for some reason I just can't adjust. It's the way this stupid horse walks. And please, don't call me mister. Just call me Ed." He grumbled, but managed to place his hands on her shoulders to steady himself, and seemed to be finally calming down.
She let out one last amused chuckle. "Alright, Ed it is then." Looking thoughtful for a moment, she turned to Roy, excited curiosity in her voice. "You mentioned that you were here on an investigation. Is it top secret or something, or could you tell me about it?"
Roy shook his head. "No big secrets, everything we're looking into has been publicly reported at one time or another. Do you pay a lot of attention to what goes on around here?"
"Oh, you could say that. My family, about a dozen of our staff, and maybe twenty or so shopkeepers are the only ones who are always here, throughout the entire year. We notice everything." She winked. "Ask me anything."
"Do you know anything about several unsolved disappearances that are connected with this place?"
"I'm sorry, but we've had everyone accounted for here for years. Well, since Maggie anyway." Roy watched how she spoke, looking straight at him, not even thinking twice about her words or what she was going to say.
He was fairly certain she was speaking truthfully, so far anyway.
"Guests who check in always check out! That's what Danni and Leilian were doing at the train. We don't have a front desk, so Danni memorizes the incoming list and passes out keys, and Leilian retrieves them as they leave."
"What about unexpected guests. What do they do?" Ed had finally seemed to be relaxed enough to think of anything beyond staying upright.
"Oh. Well that doesn't really happen. We book up almost six months in advance."
Roy whistled, impressed, while Ed responded in disbelief. "No way! In a frozen wasteland like this? Who the hell would want to come here?"
Emma laughed again, "Ed, do you even know what 'here' is?" At his silence she continued, "Snow Petal is situated right on top of a vast natural hot spring."
As she spoke, they came to the crest of the hill they had been climbing. Ed and Roy found themselves looking down into a small valley at a tiny village covered in brightly colored flowers. There was a definite center to the town, with a square lined in buildings. Spread out from there however were dozens of tiny cottages, each with their own walled in garden and large spring.
"Where the hell is all the snow?"
She glanced over her shoulder to answer Ed. "I told you, hot spring. It snows just as much as up here on the mountain, but the ground is far too hot for it to ever stick, even in the strongest storm. That means the air temperature stays just high enough so that the flowers don't freeze. Though it does get really miserably humid in the summer."
"If the water in the spring is that hot, wouldn't it boil you alive if you tried to get in it?" Ed looked down at all the little gardens, concern covering his face.
Roy laughed, "I'm sure they aren't directly connected."
"Oh. Oh yeah. My grandparents built this place. They used alchemy to create the individual pools so that the spring only flowed around them. That way they're hot without being dangerous. It did take a few burned toes to figure out the exact thickness of the rock though."
They travelled along the rocky path, the snow on either side of them thinning out as they went. As they descended towards the little village, she told the men more about the history of the resort, and how it had become so popular, filled them in on some of the local shop owners and artisans, and only when prompted, told them about Maggie.
"You mentioned that no one has disappeared that you know of since Maggie. Was that Maggie Barley: her husband, Dennis Barley reported her missing a few years ago, but when it was looked into they just determined that she had left?" Roy didn't have to wait long for her response.
"That's a load of shit!" Behind her, Ed jerked, digging his fingers into her shoulders to keep his balance. "Sorry." She took a deep breath while they both stared at her, waiting for her explanation.
"Maggie didn't leave her family. Danni was only eight when it happened, and she and Dennis had been together since they were kids. The men investigating didn't even pay attention to the fact that none of her personal items were missing."
"Clothes and worldly possessions can be replaced though." Ed spoke from experience, softly behind her, feeling the slight tremor in her shoulders.
Even though she couldn't turn completely around, he didn't miss the glare she threw back at him. "She didn't leave. The train only comes through here once a week, and for one, Leilian and I are on that platform every single time it's here, and two, the snow we had that week meant there was no way she was wandering about in the mountains. She could barely find her way around out there on a bright spring day, let alone in a snowstorm." Emma fell silent, suddenly looking down at the ground.
She was quiet for a moment, a sadness settling in around her.
Roy saw it first. There was a flash of white pass over the dark gravel of the road, coming from one snow bank and disappearing into the other. The horses stopped, but didn't react harshly, both Emma and Roy able to hold their reins tight.
Immediately after the small creature had disappeared back into the snow however, something much bigger followed it. A fierce looking wolf darted across their path, growling and barking as it passed. While Roy balanced himself on his frightened animal, he heard a shout beside him.
"NO! Ed don't let go!" Still holding on to his own reins as tightly as possible he turned just in time to see Ed falling from a bucking horse, the fabric of Emma's shirt slipping through his fingers. Roy's stomach churned and his heart stopped when he heard the unmistakable sound of cracking bone as Ed's head hit the ground.