I apologize for the lack of update, but finals week coupled with a sudden surge of guilt for not updating old stories sort of pulled my attention away. I also don't want to rush with this story; the more I think about it the more ideas I have. But anyway, thanks for all the reviews, alerts, favorites, and whatnot so far, it really means a lot! On with the fic!
Dobby's Polka-Dotted Sock
It was childish. Shameful, really, what he was doing. For the first time since he had left, Edward was glad Alphonse was not around to witness this. His brother being reduced to acting like a cowardly child.
But, he supposed that when what seemed all the reporters, photographers, and even radio hosts of Central City and beyond were all camped outside his apartment, it was the natural reaction to curl up on the couch and try and wait for them to go away. He could practically hear the landlady's shrieking, but Edward felt he did partially deserve it. It wasn't fair to inconvenience the grumpy woman along with every other occupant of the apartment complex in such a way. Yet he had hardly had a say in the matter. If only he'd known what Grumman was going to do.
"Only the best, those with the interests of the country as a whole, will be attending," the Führer's voice had crackled over the radio. "Among them are doctors, town leaders, former dutiful soldiers, pioneers in all sorts of fields. I can confirm that one of the attendants is none other than Central City's own Edward Elric, the famous People's Hero."
And that had sent the crowds in droves to the pavement outside his apartment. He should have known that his high profile would lead to something like this someday, that Relman's advice was quite accurate indeed. He wondered how the older woman and the rest were getting on. Per her request, and his own judgment, he hadn't been out of his home in days, and the spacious apartment was beginning to feel both empty and cramped at the same time. He was growing rather tired of the place, quite honestly, and was thinking of quitting it altogether. He was beginning to think of it more as his cage.
And then one of the bars was snapped in the form of a rapping at the window, the one in Alphonse's old room toward the back if he was hearing correctly. But that did not make any sense; the apartment was a good three or four stories high. Still, as the noise was not going away, Edward finally decided to just go and see if it was an overambitious journalist or a particularly stubborn bird.
It was neither. He opened the door and stood framed there, stunned, as Darrin Venter waved energetically at him from behind the window pane. A few seconds later Edward's supposedly brilliant brain caught up with his eyes and he walked over, unlocking and opening the window.
"It's a good thing you came, I was beginning to think you'd already flown the coop by yourself," Venter immediately said. No hello, no explanation of how he got there, or why. Just that.
"Uh, Mr. Venter," Edward cleared his throat awkwardly when the older blanched at the title. "How exactly did you get all the way up to this window?" Yet another reason to move out: serious security issues.
"Oh, I climbed," the man replied easily. "Just had to map it out, figure out all the footholds, it wasn't so bad. I'm standing on one right now, actually." The man grinned and Edward heard his foot stomp whatever brickwork was supporting him.
"Maybe you should- come in," he managed, standing back and allowing the other to pull himself through. He let Venter catch his breath after the effort, and then started on him.
"Why did you do this?"
"Ah, well I figured after Grumman's little bombshell about the "People's Hero" you'd be stuck he with nothing to do. Figured that'd get boring pretty fast, so I thought I'd spring you."
"Seriously?" It seemed odd to him that this practically stranger would go so out of his way to help him.
"That and, you're the only one I know that's from here, and I need someone to show me around, you know?" There was the catch. You help me, I help you. Of course. "Know any good places for a drink?"
"I'm eighteen," he reminded the other man.
"So?" Venter outright laughed. "If you've never had a beer, then I'm a five-star general. Let's go, Hero."
Shortly they were sequestered in a little corner booth in a pub Edward and Alphonse had used to visit. Any time Alphonse reached a milestone in the recovery process, they would each have a drink. Sitting now across from Venter was a little odd, but it had been the first place the young former alchemist had thought of, so he was stuck with it now.
Edward watched Venter down his glass in a few gulps while he himself prodded at the ice, still transfixed by the icy feeling transferring to his fingertips. Sometimes, when he had come here with Alphonse, the two had just sat, absorbing that they could simply feel the atmosphere and not even consuming their drinks. The little smile that passed over his face was dropped when Venter called to the barmaid for another glass.
It occurred to him then how odd it was sitting here with a practical stranger with a few beers. Come to think of it, Edward hardly knew anything about the other representatives, while they knew plenty about him.
"So, uh, if you don't mind me asking, how did you meet Grumman anyway? What do you do?"
"Ah, that's a boring story at best," the man laughed, waving a dismissive hand. "He an' my old man were old war-buddies, they kept in touch. Course I never really got to know the man till I got voted Mayor."
Edward was almost thankful he hadn't taken a drink, for he surely would have spit it back out. "You're a Mayor?" He repeated incredulously. He had to admit, the man's first impression had been deceiving; he hadn't been thinking very highly of Darrin Venter, but now he wasn't sure. Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to be making assumptions so soon.
"Yeah, it's not such a big deal, though. I run the biggest store in the town, have the steadiest income, most educated out of anybody there."
"Yep," Venter puffed himself up, raising his near-empty glass in almost a toast to himself. "Made it all the way through the local school. Graduated at eighteen and never sat scribbling at homework since. That might seem like nothing to a scientist like you, but where I'm from it's something to be proud of."
Edward couldn't help the snort that escaped him. "Are you kidding? I dropped out of elementary school. I was a prodigy, not a scholar."
Venter stared openly for a good minute, and then suddenly broke into a loud guffaw. "Another round!"
He ended up walking—guiding—Venter back to the rather fine hotel the representatives were staying at. Edward tried not to grimace, but the stench of alcohol the older man exuded with every breath was almost overwhelming. Fortunately he was met at the steps by a young man, the bellhop. Good, let someone who was actually getting paid do the work so he could retreat to his empty apartment in peace.
"Here, sir, I can handle it," the other man, probably his age really, said, winding one of the Mayor's arms over his shoulders.
"Be my guest," he replied, gladly shrugging out of the drunk man's grip.
"Hey—hey, Ed- Edoowerd," the other man mumbled, swaying a little at the change in position, and Edward reached out to help steady him. "I was- s'posed to tell ya somethin'. I think."
"I can't 'member it, though."
Edward shrugged helplessly at the bellhop. "Well, uh, goodnight then, Venter."
"Night, Hero," the other man said, staggering with the bellhop through the door. Edward shook his head, amused by the older man's actions, and then turned to head back to his apartment building. It was a long walk, and he was travelling mostly on autopilot, so it was hardly surprising that it took him a few blocks to realize a car was following beside him at a crawl.
In fact it took an exasperated sigh and a, "Edward," to catch his attention.
"Woah! Uh, Colonel? What—?" He stumbled backwards a few steps, fortunately not bumping into anyone on the vacant sidewalk.
"I couldn't help but notice the company you were keeping this evening. Darrin Venter, Mayor of Seaton City."
"Uh, yeah. I—"
"I take it he's one of these 'representatives' Grumman is talking about? You couldn't possibly know him otherwise." Mustang was giving him that cool stare, the one that said he could see everything just by reading your face. And Edward had been told by multiple people on separate occasions that he was an open book.
He sighed, defeated. "Yeah," he mumbled, more to the pavement than his former superior officer.
"Edward, I don't know what exactly is going to happen at this Conference, but I'm concerned. For you." That caused him to snap his head back up to see the darker haired man. "You're barely an adult, and an amateur in politics. I don't know what Grumman was thinking when he brought you into this—actually I do know. He needed a name to drop, to get people excited. But that won't save you. Politics is a vicious arena, Edward. People will use you or remove you in order to get their way. Understood?"
The words stung, and the tone was familiar, akin to the reprimands he used to receive after a particularly wild mission. But they were as true now as they were then. "Yeah, I know."
"I want to help you, you know," the older man leaned forward a little, just barely out the window. "If you'd like I—"
"Oh, good evening, Edward, Colonel Mustang."
He imagined that his and the Colonel's faces looked equally comically surprised.
"Doctor Marcoh?" He blurted upon turning recognizing the scarred and weathered flesh, grotesquely tragic. Still, a pleasant smile graced the man's features.
"Good evening, Doctor," Mustang replied, far more eloquent as per usual. "What brings you to Central?"
"Oh, business. I'm staying with an old friend, though, and I was on my way back. Edward, would you mind accompanying an old man? Sorry to borrow him, Colonel." The man smiled again, but the gaze he directed at Mustang almost had an undertone of…dismissal?
"Of course, Doctor. Good night, you two." Edward wasn't sure of the reason, though he suspected it had to do with Mustang's regained eyesight, but the Colonel had absolute respect for the elderly doctor. With that farewell, the dark haired man restarted his car and drove off into the night.
Marcoh took a deep breath in, and then said, "Well, it really is a nice evening, isn't it? They'll be coming to an end soon, I expect."
Edward shrugged noncommittally and fell into step with the old man. He wasn't a huge fan of small talk, especially of the weather variety. Marcoh contented himself with humming absently under his breath, but Edward thought he saw the man glance at him once or twice in his peripheral vision. Finally, the doctor sighed.
"I'm sorry to say I lied earlier, Edward. I'm not really here on business, not of the usual kind."
Edward raised an eyebrow at the unexpected statement. "Oh?"
"No. You see, I've been asked to be one of these representatives as well." There was almost a hint of discomfort or upset coloring the man's voice, but that was nothing compared to what Edward was feeling. Shock, curiosity, and overall a huge sense of relief.
"Great!" He breathed, and the doctor looked at him in surprise. "I thought I wasn't going to know anybody at this thing. Like, it'd just be me and a bunch of Grumman's old buddies or family friends. But hey, this is good—"
"Yes I think so as well, Edward, but don't get too carried away. While I think we share many of the same goals, I will let you know now that despite the fact I do not wish to be roped into this, I am here and I will campaign hard for what I believe in. We could very well end up on opposite sides of an issue, arguing over something. That's the horrid thing about politics, it's just you alone in there; no matter what alliances you form, all you have to trust is yourself."
He almost wished he was back in the pub with Venter. Even if he supposedly couldn't trust the man, he was far more jovial than either of his alleged friends were being at the moment.
"But I do trust you, Doctor Marcoh. With my life." Hell, he'd had to rely on that trust more than once.
"I thank you for your confidence, Edward," the old man said, calmer than his previous impassioned speech. "But you must learn to keep a tight rein on that trust. Everyone has an ulterior motive; even our friend the Colonel."
Edward couldn't help his jaw dropping at that. Sure, Mustang was crafty, but—
"He's a good guy! Hell, he wants a democracy just as much as any of us—"
"Ssh, Edward. Yes, I know. He also wants a democracy with him in charge. I am not saying that is a bad thing," he quickly added, raising a hand to quell Edward's response. "But you must understand that he would use you to achieve that end. You would be his informant, so that he could know what our Conference was achieving."
"I'm not a snitch, I already promised I wouldn't say anything," he pointed out, since Marcoh had not been there for that initial meeting.
"And you are a man of your word, Edward," the doctor rewarded him with a real smile, stretching the countless lines on his face. He hoped it wasn't causing the man any pain. "Do not think less of the Colonel, Edward. He is merely trying to do what he thinks is best for Amestris, as are we all."
"Then how do we know who's right?" Marcoh paused, and Edward worried that he had perhaps asked yet another of his famously naïve, childish questions.
"I suppose that is why we are gathering all together as representatives from across the country to write up this great compromise we shall call a Constitution," the man finally said, as they turned the corner onto Edward's street. "We cannot get it wrong."
"Right. Uh, this is my building," he spoke, jerking a thumb in its direction.
"Quite a walk from Capitol Hall, don't you think?"
"Yeah. I was thinking of moving to a smaller building or something. My apartment's too big anyway." At least the reporters and the like had cleared out.
"That might be best. You'd be less likely to be followed home. Well, goodnight Edward, I shall see you in the morning." Marcoh turned to cross the street.
"Huh?" Had he missed a memo or something?
"The first meeting," the man looked back at him quizzically. "It's at ten tomorrow. Did no one tell you?"
"Uh…no?" "I was- s'posed to tell ya somethin'." Oh.
The man cracked a grin. "Well I suppose it was extremely good luck that I met up with you this evening. Goodnight." This time he really did cross the street.
"Goodnight," Edward called after the doctor, and then turned to let himself into his building. He'd have a word with the landlady about moving out tomorrow afternoon. After the first meeting.
He wasn't so sure about all of this now.
Sooooooo sorry for the long wait. But I had a severe case of stopping-in-the-middle-of-the-chapter-because-I-felt-lazy. No excuse for it. Then I randomly wrote the last two/three pages in a couple hours. Why can't I work at a regular pace like everybody else? Anyway, thanks so much for all the reviews, I love hearing from you guys. The enthusiasm is so palpable, I really hope I'm living up to your standards! And yay, Marcoh! I know a lot of you suggested him as a representative and I really liked the idea. He snuck into this chapter though, I had planned to introduce him in the next one. But oh well, there will be plenty of character introductions next chapter anyway. So thanks so much for reading, and please review!