Title: Mother Arc: Chapter 18
Genre: Family Saga
Beta’d by: meredavey
Summary: That wasn't the full story.
Notes: AU movie, part of the "Waiting" thread and the "Mother Arc".
The crowds on the train were thinning out the closer they got to the desert, but somehow Ling still managed to vanish. Al paced the length of the train yet again, his frustration growing with each car. The next stop was the last major station on this line. After that there were only a couple small cargo stops before anyone hoping to get to Liore would have to disembark and go the rest of the way by foot or—if they were lucky—by truck. That meant Al had three chances left to bring them back to East City with a minimum of fuss. As far as he could tell the foreign prince's goal was to help his country and Al wanted to be sympathetic, but his focus on immortality and the events in Liore was making sympathy difficult.
He stopped with a sigh, just keeping himself from banging his head against the end doors in the last car. Al had a pretty good idea where Ling and his bodyguard were hiding, but he'd been hoping to avoid climbing all over the outside of the train like a hoodlum—he thought he'd left behind the need for such things years ago.
But whining about it wouldn't get them back to East City any faster. Bracing himself, Al turned the latch and started to work the door open, fighting against the worn track.
"Ack!" Al jumped and spun, dropping into a defensive crouch in reflex. Ling was perched on the back of a bench, smiling cheerfully and looking as if he'd been there the whole time. "Just where have you been?" Al admonished. "Riding outside of the train car is illegal!"
"Is it?" the prince mused. "I am not familiar with all of your laws."
Al huffed. "It's also stupid. Now are you coming, or are you going to make things difficult?"
"In a moment. I am having some trouble with your language."
"It's not that hard to understand—"
Ling wave a hand. "Oh, no, no, you've been very clear. But—what does it mean to say 'poser'?"
The young man blinked, startled out of his crouch. "What?"
"To call someone 'poser.' It did not sound very nice."
"It's—uh—well, it's not." Al rubbed the back of his neck as he tried to come up with a simple explanation. "It means you think someone is . . . uh . . . not fit for their position. That they're fooling people. Something like that. Why?"
Ling gestured toward the front of the train. "Someone in the first car spoke of your friend the general in that way."
"Or I think it was about your general. He said . . . um, what was it . . . 'We need to hurry and get that poser out of East.' He said some other words, too, that sounded even less nice."
"What?" Al's hands clenched into fists as he turned to stalk toward the front of the train. "Who said that?"
"Oh, woah, hold on—" Ling jumped down and grabbed the back of his shirt. "You can't go up there now—"
Al shrugged out of his grip. "Oh yes I can—"
He grabbed his arm this time. "And do what? Do you think if you face this one person it will stop the problem?"
Al grit his teeth and reluctantly stopped.
"This sort of thing—if this is what I think," the prince continued, "is never one or two people. If you don't get to the root it will just grow back."
The young man exhaled slowly, before jerking his arm free and whipping around. "What do you care about it? All you want is immortality."
"I want the path to immortality!" he said with an exasperated sigh. "But it doesn't serve me to have someone else in charge at East City, and all the commotion of one power overthrowing another would be a huge delay."
Al rolled his eyes. "Well, I'm sorry we're not meeting your schedule."
"This is not some whim of politics." Ling's voice had gone quietly serious. "This is the future of my country. But—" he held up a hand to forestall any protests, "I don't want this at the expense of your country, either. I think I was not clear on that before."
Al eyed him warily. "When did you get all magnanimous?"
The foreigner shrugged. "Trade between Xing and Amestris is a significant part of our economy. I would rather foster that than see it go back to how it was under your last leader."
Al pinched the bridge of his nose. "All right. Fine. I'll just accept for the moment that you have an interest in keeping Brigadier General Mustang in his position. What are you suggesting we do? I can't just ignore this."
"Oh, no. Not at all." Ling rocked back on his heels with a devious, slightly dangerous smile. "But if you let it play out long enough you can stop them when it will hurt the most—and maybe find who is behind it."
"Let me guess: they're headed for Liore?"
"Unless there is another major desert town in this direction."
"You better not have planned this."
"How could I have planned it? I haven't gotten into your politics."
Al shook his head. "Fine. But don't think this gets you off the hook. Liore has been through enough hell already."
Ling held up his hands. "Yes, fine! I told you: I only want the path."
"Yeah, you did," Al growled. "And I told you: 'the path' is bad enough."
The sound of the phone jolted Roy out of a restless sleep. He stared at the bedside table as jumbled images from dreams jostled against memories of the previous evening, his head too thick and aching to sort it out. The phone should have rung a second time by now and he frowned at it, willing it to give him something concrete to focus on, something that made more sense than the position of the hands on the clock beside it. The alarm should have gone off hours ago.
A soft mrrp made him look down. Magpie was curled up next to his pillow, a few inches away from his nose. The cat regarded him through slitted eyes, no doubt complaining that the bedding had shifted. He couldn't figure out why Ed hadn't shut the cat out of the room like he normally did at night. Magpie usually spent the night with Al.
Reality finally seeped through the fog of the hangover and Roy groaned, rubbing a hand over his face. He should have known better than to drink that much when he had work the next day . . . no, he had known better. Of course he had.
He shut that line of thought down as threw the covers back and sat up. Magpie squawked and scrambled off the bed, and he watched the feline shake himself out and then stalk out of the room, tail stiff and twitching. It made for a good excuse to wait until the room stopped spinning.
Ed's voice became clearer as he made his way down the stairs. He'd stretched the phone cord into the kitchen and seemed to be trying to cook breakfast and argue at the same time. The smell of food made Roy's stomach roil and he stopped well back in the living room.
". . . What are you talking about? I haven't published any . . . That thing? Fuck, I put that out on a whim years ago . . . It is? Why . . . Look, it's not that I don't want to help, but we're in the middle of—" Ed waved a spatula, no doubt flinging bits of food around the kitchen, "—of a bunch of shit right now so unless that thing is about to geyser . . . I know that. I was there, remember? So is it about to blow or can it wait a few weeks? . . . That's what I thought." He tucked the phone against his shoulder and turned to the skillet on the stove. "Now I really need to—what? . . . What, no, I barely had time to, you know that. What does that have to do with . . . It does? Why didn't you tell me that sooner?" Roy rubbed at his temples and gave up trying to follow Ed's side of the conversation. ". . . Fine, yeah. Does it—shit, I can't get into that right now, I really can't. Can you bring it here? . . . No, I told you. If it's not dire it's going to have to wait, I can't go running off right now . . . I don't know! . . . Fine, fine. Yeah, that's fine." He caught sight of Roy and his expression flicked from irritation to concern. "Look, I have to go. Yes, right this second. Get out here with that when you can and I'll see what I can do. Yeah. Yeah—'bye."
Ed leaned out of the kitchen and tossed the receiver onto the base. "Hey. You, um, up for breakfast?"
Roy grimaced, and thought he should put off answering. Instead, he said, "It's after nine."
"Yeah. I thought you could use the sleep. Don't worry, no one's expecting you until after lunch. I called you in."
He tried to force the full significance of that past the pounding in his head. "You called me in."
"Yeah. I said you ate something that disagreed with you."
Torn between gratitude and feeling appalled—the ramifications of missing half a day of work in his already shaky position wasn't something he wanted to think about—Roy closed his eye and rubbed a hand over his face. Finally he nodded and turned to head for the bathroom, deciding that he could deal with this after he felt more human.
Once he was showered, shaved, and at least outwardly presentable, he returned to the kitchen. Ed greeted him by thunking a glass of water down on the table as he sat down.
Roy stared at the glass, one more thing that was off in a whole morning of off. "I would prefer coffee."
"You don't like my coffee."
"You make bad coffee."
"My coffee is fine and drink that." Ed jabbed a finger at the water before turning back to the counter. "It'll help the headache."
Roy sighed and picked up the glass as ordered. He couldn't muster up the energy to be annoyed. It was far easier to just go along—go through the motions and get through the day, day after day . . . it had worked before.
Buttered toast was set before him and he obediently ate it, finding his stomach didn't object too much. As soon as the toast was gone, eggs were set down in its place and he ate those as well, mechanically repeating fork-to-mouth. He was almost startled when the plate was taken away empty.
"Here." Ed set down another half-full glass of water and a couple of tablets. "And you've still got plenty of time to make the coffee the way you like it."
It wasn't until he was reaching for the percolator and the coffee grounds that Roy thought to ask, "Who was on the phone?"
"Russell. I guess he's been in Central for a couple weeks and he ran into Winry. He needs a way to contain that Red Water spring more permanently and he thought. . . ." He drifted off, his expression pensive as he watched the other man fill the percolator. "Never mind. It's nothing that can't wait. Put enough in there for both of us."
Roy did as he was told without giving it a thought.
As they were waiting on the coffee Ed's hand brushed against his arm, shyly hooking around his elbow. The sudden display of affection threw him and he briefly froze, looking over just as a blond head pressed against his shoulder with a quiet mumble of, "I like your coffee better anyway."
The corner of Roy's mouth twitched as Ed ground his forehead into his shoulder. He almost couldn't swallow the sudden lump in his throat. He pressed Ed's hand to his side and buried his nose in his hair, letting himself soak in his lover's presence for a moment, hoping that maybe he could draw in just a little of that indomitable spirit, that strength to keep moving forward in spite of everything.
"Maybe someday you'll learn to make coffee properly," he murmured.
Ed butted his shoulder again. "Not likely. Not so long as I have you here to make it for me."
Somehow, the rest of the morning was a just a bit less bleak.
Ed stopped him as he was heading out, slipping between him and the door. "Hey." His hands were resting lightly on Roy's hips, just enough contact to keep him focused as he held his gaze. "We'll get through this. Yeah?"
Roy let out a sigh, and managed a ghost of a smile. "As long as we keep moving forward, right?"
There was something achingly sincere and relieved in the young man's grin. "Never said it'd be easy. But it beats standing still."
He had barely nodded before he was caught up in one of Ed's bone-crushing hugs, the kind that nearly lifted him off his feet.
It was mid-morning on a weekday, and the park held mostly small children and their parents. Yu watched as one young family took advantage of the mild weather to feed the ducks. The older child, a girl of maybe three or four, threw chunks of bread and squealed as the birds descended in noisy mobs, while the younger child followed on unsteady legs, half fascinated and half afraid, never more than a few steps away from the mother trailing behind them. The mundanity of the scene made Yu smile in spite of herself, as she remembered similar outings when her son had been small. What she remembered most was him constantly looking up at her to ask why. Why were the girl ducks brown and not the boy ducks. Why did the grass grow here and not over there. Why were these plants not okay to eat. Ever the scientist. She had known back then that he would follow her into alchemy; his fascination and concentration whenever he watched her transmute something had delighted her. Of course she had worried as any mother would when he had joined the army but he had so much of his father in him that she had foreseen that, too. But now—
Yes, I'm a murderer.
Yu pressed a hand to her mouth, the pond blurring in her vision.
It had been an unspoken assumption that he had killed under orders, he'd been in a war. But there was a difference—despite what he'd said there was a difference. Another person's orders, kill or be killed—that was not the same as—
I went to the Fuhrer's mansion that night with the express purpose of killing him.
She choked, squeezing her eyes shut.
Her only child, her baby—what had happened to him? What had she missed that had turned her sweet boy into—this?
That's what the military trained me for, after all.
That couldn't be the full story.
Yu sucked in a breath as she grabbed onto that thought, wrestled it down, and looked at it.
That wasn't the full story. Roy was leaving pieces out—large pieces. Why had he done it? What had been the impetus to drive him to do something so horrible?
She rubbed her eyes and shook her head. Never mind the morality of it—what had driven him to do something so risky? Because the Roy she knew, the boy she had raised, had been nothing but a meticulous planner. A politician even before he could talk. She had no trouble believing that he would risk his life, but not without a damn good reason. Only if the benefits outweighed the risk. What was it? What had he left out?
And how, in the name of all that was rational, had he gotten away with it? How could he have left no evidence—not even a body?
Or did you want to hear about how I killed him—and killed him, and killed him and killed him and killed him until he finally stayed dead.
Yu stared over her hands at the rippling water.
Killed him and killed him and killed him and killed him until he finally stayed dead.
Why hadn't the strangeness of that struck her before?
"‹There you are!›"
Yu quickly wiped her eyes and looked up as her niece sat down beside her on the bench.
"‹I've been looking for you all morning,›" the younger woman continued. "‹So has the princess. What's wrong? Did something happen?›"
Yu looked down at her folded hands. "‹No. Yes. I . . . I don't know. I needed to think.›"
Li Xue regarded her with a frown. "‹Did Roy say something to upset you?›"
"‹It . . . you could say that.›" she hedged. "‹Never mind that now. You wanted to speak with me?›"
Her niece studied her for a moment more, but relented with a shake of hear head. "‹I spoke with Edward yesterday evening. He'd been researching the Sage of the West and I offered to tell him what I know of the legends.›"
Yu blinked, startled into looking up. "‹Is that what he'd gone off to research? Whatever for?›"
"‹He wouldn't say. Not directly. But the way he was speaking. . . .›" Li Xue frowned and glanced away, one hand fiddling with the buttons on her blouse. "‹I wish I was more confident in Amestrian. Several things about our conversation are bothering me, but I can't be certain I was hearing him right.›"
"‹What did he say?›"
"‹That's just it, it wasn't the words he said, it was the meaning he seemed to put behind them.›" She sighed. "‹All right. The first oddity was that he had a very . . . familiar way of talking about the Sage of the West.›"
"‹As if he knew the stories?›"
"‹As if he knew the person. I know it sounds crazy and maybe it's just one of Edward's quirks but that was the sense I got. He kept calling the Sage› 'old man' ‹and› 'old bastard' ‹and even› 'that moron' ‹at one point. It might be nothing.›"
"'That moron'? ‹I know Edward isn't big on propriety but that seems a little much even for him.›"
"‹I thought so, too. But that isn't the only thing bothering me. He wanted to know details: when the Sage came to Xing and when he left, where the Sage traveled, who he met, and if he left any materials behind. Especially writings. Oh, and if anyone else had been with him. He specifically asked if the Sage had had a female companion.›"
"‹Someone from Xing, or a foreigner?›"
"‹A foreigner. A woman who would have come to Xing with the Sage, I think.›"
"‹I wonder why? I was never certain the Sage was a real person, or at least not a single person.›"
"‹Neither was I. I reminded him that legends often get exaggerated or outright fabricated but he brushed that off. He wouldn't see the Sage as anything but a flesh-and-blood person.›"
"‹What made him so certain?›"
The younger woman could only shrug. "‹I wish I knew. But that wasn't our whole conversation. We also spoke about the princess and the way Alphonse lost his temper yesterday morning.›"
Yu grimaced, her mind going back to what her son had said on that the night before.
"‹I'm certain he know's what she's looking for. Both of them do.›"
"‹Did Edward put a name to it?›"
"‹No. He refused to. But he said enough. Auntie—does Mei know what she is chasing?›"
"‹How could she have come here if she didn't?›"
Li Xue waved that off. "‹You and I both know that the emperor's children will grasp at anything that might hint at an advantage. She would have come to chase smoke if she thought it would help her. But does she know what it is?›"
She narrowed her eyes, regarding her niece with a tight frown.
"‹You said before that the symbol Edward and Alphonse wear reminded you of a legend, a legend Mei might be chasing—Auntie?›"
Yu stood abruptly and paced along the edge of the pond, her arms folded tightly across her chest. She shook her head, though whether it was in response to her niece or her own thoughts she wasn't sure. "‹It . . . Roy . . . spoke of that 'legend' last night as well. But only to say it was horrible. He didn't . . . wouldn't . . . say anything more, not on that.›"
"‹Auntie. . . .›"
She shook her head again. She wasn't ready yet to speak of the rest of that conversation.
Li Xue stood and put a hand on her arm, stopping the older woman's pacing. "‹Auntie. Edward made it clear that if Mei continues along that path she will make him an enemy. And . . . I don't think he'd be the only one.›" Yu started to speak but her niece cut her off with a shake of her head. "‹And they know what the stakes are. Intimately. I'm certain of that much.›"
"‹Did Edward say—›"
"‹No. But the fact that he wouldn't say was telling.›" She paused, considering her words. "‹I would not want to make an enemy of those boys. Or of my cousin.›"
Yu pressed a hand to her mouth.
That's what the military trained me for, after all. To kill.
"‹No,›" she said through her fingers. "‹No, that would be . . . very bad.›"
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