With a light touch, Ed transmuted the chair Ducky was sitting in around him, effectively pinning him down and covering his mouth with an impenetrable strap of leather. After about five minutes of l...
Balance of Power
April 29, 2006 - 7:52pm
Getting caught on Mrs. Butterworth's radar was never good. At least, most of the time. Hughes had actually gotten good at dodging her over the past couple of years. Had turned it into a fine art, in fact.
Unfortunately, his mind was elsewhere when he came off break and so he'd let himself get blindsided...
For once, it proved to be fortuitous. Or maybe disastrous.
As usual, she had tried to convince him he needed a woman in his life. And she even had the perfect one picked out for him. She was convinced that Hughes would be the one man who could stop this poor woman from falling forever into a pit of sin and degradation, but he was going to have to move fast, since she was already corrupting boys that were far too young for her; like that nice-looking one who was with her today. Well, he needed a haircut, but otherwise he was quite handsome. Edward was his name. Had some sort of German last name, too. Elric, she thought.
Hughes had been trying to tune her out. He'd been making the appropriate noises at the appropriate places, all the while thinking he finally understood why Roy had gotten so annoyed with him; but all thought came to a screeching halt when she mentioned the name.
"Excuse me?" he said. "What did you say his name was?"
"Edward Elric, I believe," Mrs. Butterworth said.
Coincidence, Hughes thought. /It has to be. /He didn't dare think otherwise.
"He wasn't about so tall, with long blonde hair, was he?" he asked, holding his hand out just a tad over the old woman's height. He was surprised it wasn't shaking.
"Why yes," she said. "Do you know the boy?"
Thoughts whirled. He didn't want to believe it possible. He didn't want to find out, because if it wasn't Ed, the disappointment would be crushing. At the same time, he had to know. Because if it was...
In an instant, a plan formed. It was insane, but it was a sure-fire way to find out for certain. "Yes actually, I believe I do," he said. "And that boy is trouble, with a capital 'T'."
That got the right response from Mrs. Buttinski; a healthy dose of shock and concern, which for her meant poking her nose in, and that was exactly what Hughes was hoping for. "Oh, this is terrible!" she gasped.
"You're right, Mrs. Butterworth," he said with a shark's grin. "And I think maybe I should pay Ms. Reilly a visit. Do you know where she lives?"
"Of course I do!" she said, as she pulled out an enormous black book from her enormous purse.
/Dear God/, he thought. /She keeps a list?! /He cleared his throat to cover the snicker he felt coming up. But he got the address.
Too bad that a minor emergency came up, and he had to run to Tulsa to cover another manager who'd come down sick. It gave him time to have second thoughts about this crazy scheme.
And third, fourth, fifth... He'd lost count of the number of times he'd mentally argued with himself over the next few hours. Back and forth. Go? No? He'd finally convinced himself that he had to have been dreaming by the time he finally shut down the studio for the night. There was no way he could've seen whom he thought he had. It was just a cruel coincidence; the name isn't that uncommon, after all.
At least, that's what Maes Hughes kept telling himself as he drove the 45 minutes back from Tulsa and straight to the address he'd acquired for one Mary Reilly, cable company worker. And the possible protector for one Edward Elric, alchemist.
God, if he was right...
Putting the thought out of his head, Maes turned his wheel and pulled into Reilly's driveway, turning off the engine. Well, at least Ed's laying low/, he thought as he looked around. /Mostly isolated; probably a good thing.
Clearing his throat and rearranging his hair, Maes got out of the car and stepped up to the door, taking one last breath before knocking on the door.
Edward Elric was now officially bored out of his fucking mind.
It had been five days. Five days of being stranded in this strange world with its mechanics and strange food and "pixies" or whatever the hell Reilly called the colors on her computer and TV boxes.
And he was bored.
The adventures at Wal-Mart and the mall earlier today was the most excitement he'd had since landing in this miserable and confusing place; which was a sad testament about this society in his opinion.
He had at least hoped to get some sort of lively debate going with Reilly after they made it back to her place relatively unscathed. He knew she didn't believe in some myth cum religion like the majority of the people around here seemed to. But all he got out of her on that was, "Not all Christians are like the soul-eater, Ed." Then she tossed him a thick book. The title of which was "The Holy Bible".
He set it aside, completely disinterested. What need did he have for that kind of myth, anyway?
"Being an atheist means you don't believe in God. That doesn't mean you can't show a little understanding for those who do."
He just grumbled and scowled.
He would still prefer an alchemy book. Or some sort of book besides the paranormal research crap, archeology, and religious texts Reilly had scattered around her home. He wanted science.
Even pseudo-science, for that matter; but Tom wasn't here yet with the 'static strap' he said he was bringing. Supposedly this thing would allow Ed to use the computers without killing them. Which meant he could access Reilly's notes and research. He certainly hoped that it was a damn sight better than the crap she had laying around, at least.
He was starting to get stir-crazy without having something worth reading. Something he could settle down and believe in, not something he'd consider reading to Al to get a laugh out of him.
And there was the real reason he was feeling restive, he realized. He wanted to find Al. All this waiting, and searching on the internet, and waiting, and hearing that Ducky hadn't made any headway, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting... It was driving him crazy. Ed was a /doer/, not a waiter.
It didn't help his mood any that the woman supposedly helping him had just finished thoroughly trouncing him in some board game and had proceeded to rub it in as she put the board and pieces away. It just blackened his mood all the more, and made him stew in his own head.
Which was probably the reason why someone knocking on the front door didn't set off any alarms right off.
Reilly blinked, looked at Ed for a moment, then back at the door. "Yo, Ed."
"Shut the fuck up and go hide in the other room."
"Why the hell should I?"
"I'm going to see who's at the door. Nobody knocks at my place, remember?"
The sudden reminder of that little fact shut Ed up, and he nodded once before getting out of the viewing area of the door. He hid in the hall where he could listen in. Just in case, he thought. He still wasn't sure of the rules or the dangers of this place, after all.
Reilly yelled, "Coming!" at the door, then he heard it open.
"Are you Mary Reilly?" The man's voice was a warm baritone, friendly with a hint of hope hidden deep beneath the words, formed as a question. And Ed's breath stopped short as he recognized it. /...oh HELL no/.
Reilly sounded cautious. "Yes, that's me. Can I help you somehow?"
The man in front of her didn't get a chance to reply when Ed charged out of hiding and yelled, "STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM HER YOU SICK BASTARD!!"
"Ed?! What the hell?!" Reilly said as he shoved her back out of the way and aimed an automail fist at the man at the door...
A man who looked so much like a dead friend it was painful.
Struggling to pin the man he'd just punched, Ed glared back at her, golden eyes blazing with hatred for the man beneath him. "Get out of here, Reilly! He's a homunculus! GET OUT."
Ed struggled to keep the man pinned as he heard her scramble away.
"Get your automail ass off me, Ed! I'm not Envy, you idiot!"
There was a sharp clap, and Ed transformed his metal arm into a lethal-looking sword, holding it at the man's throat. "Yeah, right! Like I'd believe that!"
"I'd show you evidence if you'd get off me. God, you weigh a ton!"
Ed heard Reilly return and the audible click of a hammer being pulled back. "Let him up, Ed. He moves wrong, I'll shoot him," she said over his shoulder.
"Idiot! If he's Envy, something like that won't kill him!"
"Will you just let me show you?!?!"
Hesitantly Ed got up, sword trained on the man's throat. "Let's see it... /Envy/."
Very slowly, the man got up, taking a moment to adjust his jaw a bit. The red on his jawline looked like it was going to bruise nicely Ed noticed with a slight smirk of satisfaction. Still showing his hands, he reached for his pocket and withdrew a picture of himself, a woman, and a small girl. A picture very well-loved, the corners dog-eared and tattered as though the bearer had gone through hell to keep it safe.
Ed felt the blood drain from his face. "Oh shit." A soft clap and his arm was back to normal. Rushing the man and nearly knocking him back down on the ground, he tore wildly at his shirt.
"Hey! I'd strip if you'd asked!"
Ed felt like he was suffocating as his entire world narrowed down to the one image in front of him.
He felt Reilly come close and look over his shoulder at what had made him suddenly very weak. It was an old bullet-wound, ugly and prominent, in the man's right side. It was Hughes. Against all odds and logic, it was Maes Hughes. A man Ed was certain was dead.
Ed's voice got even quieter. "/ohshit/."
Gold eyes rolled back, and Edward Elric was dead to the world.
Reilly was leaning on the wall next to the entrance of the hall when Hughes quietly exited Ed's room. Her arm hung loosely at her side, with the gun still in it. The look she gave him was a combination of wary curiosity and tightly suppressed fear.
He sighed and came down the hall. He didn't miss the almost imperceptible tightening of her grip on the gun, nor did he blame her. He stopped right in front of her and gave her a sad smile. "I guess an explanation is in order."
"That would be a good start, yes."
She led him into the living room and gestured to the sofa. "Thirsty?" she asked. He nodded as he sat down, and she asked, "Water? Pop? Coffee?"
He looked up at her and grinned sheepishly. "Uh, you don't by chance have anything stronger, do you?"
She smirked and left the room. When she returned a moment later, she had two high-ball glasses half full of an amber liquid. She held one out to him and said, "Single malt. Sorry it's only 12 years old, though."
"That's fine, actually. Thank you."
She took the chair across from him and laid the gun in her lap. She said nothing, just waited patiently.
"So," Hughes said after he took a sip of the drink. "What has Ed told you?"
Reilly pointed to a photograph hanging on the wall over his head and he turned to look. It was a man, tall, broad-shouldered, proud. Dressed in a police officer's uniform, and accepting an award.
"That's my father," she said. "Was a cop in one form or fashion since he enlisted in the Air Force at seventeen. 21 years service for the US, two tours through 'Nam, working intelligence. When he retired, he became a beat officer. It was his life."
When Hughes faced her, she crossed her arms and settled back in the seat. "The man was also the consummate poker player. Managed to support himself on winnings while overseas, since all his actual pay was going to pay mom's medical bills. He taught me how to play, too. And he taught me to never reveal my hand until the end."
Hughes had to smile. "TouchÃ©."
"Let's start with this; what in the hell is a 'homunculus'? And what the hell did Ed do with his arm?" she asked.
Hughes gasped and his brows shot up. "You don't know?"
"I wouldn't ask if I already knew the answers," Reilly said. Her voice and her expression were flat, neutral. Revealing nothing.
Hughes stared for a long moment, trying to find the best way to explain things without revealing more than necessary. Reilly waited silent and calm; although Hughes wouldn't say patient anymore. Her fingers absently stroked the barrel of the gun in her lap, but there was a slight shaking in the tips.
He took a deep breath and held it as he pinched the bridge of his nose. When he finally exhaled, it came out in a blustery, "Oh boy." He met her eyes and felt a surge of sympathy for her over what he was about to inflict on her.
Most people in this world would either deny the reality of what they'd just seen, or they'd go into a panic. Reilly had done neither. Hughes had a strong gut feeling that this woman was made of much sterner stuff than average.
"I guess I need to start by answering the second question, first," Hughes said.
"Stop dancing around it like it's excrement Hughes, and just spill it."
He hesitated, stunned. Then he relaxed a little a smiled. /Much sterner stuff/. He nodded. "Ed's an alchemist."
The look Reilly gave him clearly said she thought he was full of bullshit. "Alchemist? Combine-mysticism-and-chemistry-to-turn-lead-into-gold... alchemist?"
"Yes and no," Hughes said. Her fingers tensed over the gun, and Hughes raised a hand. "Let me explain."
He took a deep breath and plunged in; describing alchemy in his world and explaining what a homunculus was, why Ed thought he was Envy; which led to the story of his 'death' and his own reasons for being on this side of the gate. With the exception of the homunculi, he carefully skirted around human alchemy and its consequences. What little he did tell her was enough to make most people in this world declare him delusional and have him locked up. Reilly however, kept her face very neutral. He had to admit he was impressed.
"So you got caught in some kind of alchemic rebound that sent you and this assassin of the top brass through a gate and you ended up here?" she asked.
He nodded, and Reilly went thoughtful.
"Ed mentioned that he and his brother were disarming-"
Hughes felt a thrill of fear settle in the pit of his stomach and he snapped without meaning to. "Brother?! You mean Al is over here, too?"
The wary look returned and she nodded slowly. "We think so. We've been trying to track him down."
He rubbed at his face and thought he might be sick. Al, on this side of the gate? The consequences... A low moan escaped him.
"Mr. Hughes? Is there something wrong?"
He swallowed and looked at her. "Dear God," he whispered. "They're going to send him to a lab and take him apart."
"Why," she said slowly.
"Al-Alphonse Elric is a soul attached to a suit of armor," he whispered. "Without a body."
"I'm not following you here."
"It means just what he said, Reilly," Ed said softly from the entrance of the hall. He looked at Hughes; stricken, near tears. "Except that's not the case anymore. Al has his body back."
Now it was Hughes's turn to be near tears. "You made the--?" he choked, unable to finish the thought.
Ed shook his head and sat down on the sofa next to him. He silently looked down at his hands resting in his lap; shaking so hard Hughes could hear the automail rattle, and he watched as Ed clasped them and clenched them between his knees. He glanced up and saw Reilly calmly put the safety back on her gun, set it on the side table, get up, and leave the room. In the dragging silence, she returned with the bottle of scotch and an extra glass. She set the glass in front of Edward and poured two fingers worth for him. "Normally I wouldn't be one to contribute to the delinquency of a minor, but you look like you need it."
Ed hesitantly reached for the glass, and took a sip. He grimaced, then set it back down on the table.
"I guess I should start at the beginning," he said to Reilly.
He stared at his right hand for a long moment, wiggling the fingers. Finally he looked up at Reilly and pulled off his shirt. By the look on her face, Hughes gathered this was the first time she saw the whole arm.
"This is what happens when you try to play God, Reilly," he said softly. He looked back down at his hand, and told her the story; of two very young boys who'd lost their mother; how they tried to bring her back and damn near lost everything in the process. How he'd attached his brother's soul to a suit of armor in order to save him; the hunt for the Philosopher's Stone, the horrifying discovery that it was made from human souls...
He left nothing out this time, filling in both Reilly and Hughes at once.
Maes Hughes wiped at his eyes. It was all so overwhelming, and so damned hard to believe was true. He was beginning to wonder if he was dreaming again; and to make sure it was real...
...Well, not just that...
...He leaned over, and wrapped Ed in a tight bear hug.
Ed squirmed and wriggled and broke himself free of Hughes's grip. "Alright! Alright! You're glad to see me, I get that. Now. Let. Go!"
Okay, Hughes thought. It's real.
He glanced over at Reilly and saw her staring at them. Her face was etched in stone, but he could see her throat working, swallowing. "Mary?"
"I-" she cleared her throat, but her voice remained thick. "It's Reilly, please. I'm no virgin." Then she got to her feet and headed down the hall. Ed and Hughes just looked at each other. A moment later, when she didn't reemerge, Hughes got up and followed her.
When he found her, she was rifling through a drawer, tossing lingerie over her shoulder with both hands. "Ha!" she declared and slapped a pack of cigarettes on top of the dresser. Then she dove back into the drawer and threw more lingerie over her shoulder.
Try as he might, Maes Hughes couldn't resist taking a glance at some of the items that landed on the bed, the floor, and everywhere else. Some of the articles of clothing made him wonder what she did in her spare time... when she wasn't caring for lost alchemists, that is.
She apparently found what she was looking for and snagged a cigarette from the pack. Hughes caught the sound of a flint wheel turn then saw the warm glow of a flame. She blew out a lungful of smoke as she turned around, and then screamed and nearly jumped up onto the dresser. "Damnit!"
"Sorry," he said. "Ed was a little worried."
When Reilly got her breathing under control, she looked down at the smoldering tobacco between her fingers. "You know, I quit these things about a year ago." She looked back up at him and gave him a trembling smile. "It seemed like a good time to start back up."
"I'm sorry, Reilly. I know this has to be very overwhelming."
She laughed once, harsh and bitter. "Overwhelming is waking up on your birthday to discover your mother died in the night, Mr. Hughes. This is something else."
Hughes waited in silence while she smoked the cigarette and tried to wrap her brain around the information that had been hurled at her this evening. He could see her mentally arguing with herself as the expressions on her face shifted from one emotion to the next. By the time she'd stubbed the cigarette out, she looked like she'd made a decision. She looked at him finally and said, "First thing we have to do is find Al."
He smiled and nodded, and they returned to the living room together...
...to find Ed in his old clothes, jacket over his arm and ready to leave.
"Just where do you think you're going?" Reilly asked.
His look was embarrassed, apologetic, as he said, "I'm going with Hughes, Reilly. You don't need to be involved in this anymore." He looked down. "Thank you. For taking care of me."
She crossed her arms. "That's not how it works, Ed."
She remained serious as she took the two steps necessary to invade Ed's personal bubble, causing him to lean away from her. She looked him over appraisingly, then said, "See, you just told me everything... You did tell me everything, right?"
Hughes watched with intense interest. Something was just a little... /off/. In her tone; in her eyes. He couldn't shake the feeling that there should be a punchline in this exchange eventually.
"Yeah," Ed drawled out, watching her sideways; suspicion sparking in his gold eyes.
She nodded, and rested a finger thoughtfully on her lips. "Right. See, the way this scenario plays out now is you have two choices. You either have to let me continue to help. Along with Tom and Ducky of course. Or..." Her eyes met his; intense, determined. "...you have to kill me."
/And there it is/, Hughes thought, choking back a laugh.
"What?! No!" Ed protested; not believing what he was hearing. "Jeeze woman, are you nuts? I'm not going to kill you!"
"Them's the rules, kid," she said. "One or the other. Which is it going to be?"
"Neither!" Ed snapped. "You don't need to get involved any more, Reilly. It's danger-Ow!"
Reilly cuffed him upside the back of his head with enough force to send him staggering a few steps.
"Damnit! What'd you do that for?" he asked as he rubbed the back of his head.
She balled her fists into her hips, and leaned toward him; the smirk tugging at the corner of her lips was mild. "You moron! We're already involved! We've been involved from the moment we fished your ass out of that mud puddle the other night."
Hughes leaned weakly against the entry to the hall and covered his face in an attempt to hide his laughter. He knew what she was getting at and also knew that simple logic would have worked just as well. But he couldn't miss the spark of amusement that flashed briefly when she cuffed Edward. Sometimes his sense of right got in the way of logic and Reilly had figured out her own way of sending it careening off into the distance.
Her look softened. A hand snuck around and clasped the back of Ed's neck, pulling him closer. She rested her forehead on his and said softly, "Did you really think I was going to let you waltz out of here and act like you never existed, Ed? Did you really think I wouldn't worry about you? After telling me all that?"
The boy visibly relaxed. When the moment seemed to stretch into awkward, he gently pulled back and gave her a befuddled look. "You're not getting all maternal on me, are you?"
Reilly scowled. "Don't insult me, you little asshole."
Ed smirked. "Good. You had me worried for a minute, there."
I'm sorry to bug you again, but this was just so cute I had to send it on. Check out what my little girl decided to make today!
Tom took one look at the picture and sighed in annoyance. "Damn, Amber, can't you ever e-mail me with information and not pictures?" he wondered out loud, pulling out a small notebook and flipping to the Bs. "Ergh, maybe a call will help."
Several dialed digits and a few rings later, Tom breathed a sigh of relief as someone picked up... only to stifle a groan at who picked up the phone. "Hello, Lucy."
"Oh! Hi, Mr. Grumpy-Man!"
Tom tried to muffle the frustrated sigh he released at the name. "Can I talk to your mom please, Lucy?"
"Okays, but you gotta wait a minute. Mommy and Daddy are doing the face-thingy again."
This time, Tom did groan, slumping down into the chair in his kitchen. "Just get your mother please, Lu. Can you do that?"
He had the feeling the talkative three-year-old was going to answer again when he heard some muffled movement and a "you go play with your father, okay?" before someone came on the line again. "Sorry about that. May I ask who this is?"
"Why does your daughter call me 'Mr. Grumpy-Man', Amber?"
The woman on the other end giggled. "Oh. Sorry about that, Tom."
Tom sighed. "Never mind. I was calling to see if you had any information for me, about what I asked you for? Since you didn't answer the question in your e-mail."
"Oh, right. That." There were some squeals in the background as Amber continued, some thumping sounds coming through the phone. "Well, if this interests you any, my protÃ©gÃ© keeps calling me. Something about some strange goings-on in Kansas somewhere."
Tom made a note of it, smiling at the bit of luck. "Did he specify where?"
"Are you kidding? I'm lucky if he specifies the gender of his suspects. But he did tell me there was something going on that had to do with a car accident. Something about the roads being really screwed up, and the victim isn't talking." Amber laughed on the other end of the line. "Or the victim has amnesia. Wouldn't surprise me any."
Tom made a few more notes, feeling much better. "Surprisingly enough, that helps, Amber. Thanks."
"No problem. Did you like the pic of Lucy I sent?" Tom rolled his eyes at the subject change. "I swear I should start having her read textbooks. Such a brilliant little kid."
"Yeah, it was really cute. Thanks anyway, Amber. Call me if anything else comes up."
"Will do. Now my husband's molesting me while I'm on the phone, so I'll talk to you later."
Tom rolled his eyes so far, he was surprised they remained in his head. "Go. Snog your husband. I'll just gag over here. Goodbye."
Tom sighed as the phone clicked off, but looked back at his notebook and smiled. He had some new parameters for Ducky.
That evening, Hughes couldn't help but grin like an idiot, despite the impressive and growing bruise decorating his chin. He was reunited with an old friend, and it looked like the boy had fallen in with a good group; albeit a bit strange.
Ducky and Tom had arrived soon after Reilly and Ed had settled things, and she filled them in; carefully leaving out some of the more bizarre aspects. Hughes was pleasantly surprised at how well they took it all in and accepted it. The older man seemed to be the toughest skeptic of the group, and Hughes wasn't sure the man had changed his mind much even after Ed gave a little demonstration; but at least he didn't run screaming. This made Hughes question the mindset of the few social contacts he'd allowed since he'd arrived on this side of the gate. It wasn't that they were ignorant; they were just not quite as open about strangeness as these three seemed to be.
The demonstration was entertaining, as well. After Reilly had filled the two men in, the younger one had bugged Ed into showing off what he could do... to the point of driving the boy to distraction. With a frustrated growl, Ed stormed off into the kitchen, and Hughes thought that was the end of it. Then he reemerged a moment later with a piece of chalk and drew a quick array on the arm of the chair Ducky was sitting in.
An array? Hughes thought with no small amount of shock. He didn't use one when he transmuted his arm. He made a mental note to ask Ed about that at a later time. When they were alone.
With a light touch, Ed transmuted the chair Ducky was sitting in around him, effectively pinning him down and covering his mouth with an impenetrable strap of leather. After about five minutes of leaving him that way, Reilly calmly advised him that he'd gotten his revenge, and to let Ducky go.
There's some sort of friction between those two, Hughes thought with a snicker.
What that friction was, became clear as soon as Ducky could speak. "No wonder Reilly hasn't sent you to the shed yet. You're kinkier than her other toy-boys."
"I AM NOT A TOY BOY, DAMNIT!"
Ducky just laughed as he skittered off to the kitchen to join Reilly with cooking dinner.
Hughes rubbed at his jaw absently, the grin only widening. "Remind me to never piss you off again, Ed. This kinda hurts."
Ed shrugged, flopping down on the couch. "Well, what would you have done if someone you thought was dead suddenly showed up? Especially in a parallel universe?"
Hughes thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Probably the same thing. I feel bad for anyone you punch full-out, though."
Ed grinned evilly, flexing the metal hand. "Be glad I didn't punch you in the nose."
"Believe me, I am." Hughes gingerly probed the bruise, wincing good-naturedly. "It's going to be interesting explaining the bruise at work tomorrow, though." Letting his hand drop from his face, Hughes looked at Ed appraisingly. "By the way, you look like you've gotten taller."
Ed gave him a narrow-eyed glare, and raised his metal fist. "Keep it up and I'll give you another bruise to match that one, Hughes."
He poked at Ed's metal arm. "You know, you need to learn how to hide that thing. Not everyone's going to be gullible enough to think it's an experimental prosthetic."
From the kitchen came an indignant shout of "I AM NOT GULLIBLE" from Ducky.
Ignoring the shout, Ed pouted and sat up again so he could study his automail. "Why not?"
"The technology here is advanced, but they haven't figured out how to make kinetically-capable prosthetics yet." Hughes sighed. "No one's even close."
"Then what do you suggest, O Master of Disguise?" The sarcasm dripped off Ed's voice, frustration evident.
Ignoring the frustrated tone, Hughes frowned, resting his bruised chin on his hand and studying Ed for a bit. "A latex covering might work. It'd take some trying, but it'd be closest to actually mimicking flesh."
Ed blinked in confusion. "What's latex?"
"You know the qualities of rubber, right? Latex is rather similar, but it's a lot more durable and can more closely resemble flesh if done right." Hughes grinned slightly. "Fetishists really like it; it's got a very fleshy-feel to it."
Studying Hughes' face, Ed shook his head. "Stop right there, I don't wanna know."
Hughes laughed, reaching over and ruffling the boy's hair, making him squawk indignantly. "Don't worry; it's also used in the movies here for special-effects. It looks real enough, if you try hard. I'll show you." Hughes looked around for a moment. "Hey, Reilly! You got a remote here?"
"The couch probably ate it; look in there," she called from the kitchen.
"Thanks, I think." Hughes jerked a thumb at Ed. "You. Off the couch. Time for remote-scavenging."
He couldn't sleep.
Despite the painkillers the nurses had been supplying him with on a regular basis, Al just couldn't sleep. His head still ached, and his raw stomach refused to calm. Sitting upright in his darkened room, he curled up as much as his injuries would let him, sighing as he thought of his brother.
In the dark room was where it truly hit Al that he was alone; Ed wasn't anywhere to be found, and neither was the Colonel. He'd have given his right arm just to have Noah with him at the moment. Someone he knew, that he could talk to, and not feel utterly alone in this strange place with its TVs and intravenous drips and members of the government who threatened to kill those around him.
Though he was surprisingly used to the last one. /Damn homunculi/.
Al wrapped his arms around his knees, ignoring the complaints of his muscles as he did so. He had always been the one of the two brothers to sit properly, but he felt so small and sick and useless and alone at the moment that he couldn't help but adopt Ed's habit of curling up on himself.
What do I do now, Brother? How do I find you?
A woman had come to see him after lunch, when Ray had gone back to his duties. She'd introduced herself as a Ms. Goodson, and had said she was with a group called Social Services. Since he didn't have parents, she'd explained, he'd be taken into the custody of the state once he was better, until they could either find his real parents, or someone who could be a foster parent for him.
Her casual behavior toward the whole thing scared him nearly as much as Bond had. If they succeeded in getting him into a foster home, he could say goodbye to ever finding Ed again.
He'd had another vomiting fit after that. The doctor had him on liquids through the IV afterwards, in addition to a fluids diet. But that wasn't what worried him. The thought of never seeing his brother again did, more than all of Bond's threats put together.
Al sighed quietly and tried to calm his raw stomach. But thoughts of his brother and being put in a foster home conspired against him, and he quickly heaved up what little he'd taken at supper into the ever-present bedpan. His eyes grew wide in alarm at the bright red tinge in the pan.
So much blood. Blood from Teacher. Blood from Brother. Blood from Mother. Blood from Alphonse.
Blood from me.
The pan fell from nerveless fingers to the bedspread as the teen sobbed, memories that were his own and not flooding his brain, causing him to cough more, bring up more blood. A never ending cycle, so much like life and death.
After a particularly harsh coughing fit, Al gasped for breath, then rested his head on his knees, trying to soothe the hotness of his forehead with the cool sheets blanketing him. A soft melody drifted from the window, and he smiled half-consciously, his pain-fogged mind identifying the instrument after a moment.
A reed flute...
The raw nerves in his stomach and mind settled down as he listened to the soothing melody, and he calmed enough to relax on the bed, absently pressing the small white button for a call-nurse as he drifted into soothing, dreamless sleep.
When Heather came to check on him a few minutes later, she found Al sound asleep, a bedpan with blood in it... and a reed flute, clutched protectively in Al's arms.
There had been no question about whether Hughes was going to join them for dinner. Reilly had made it clear he was staying, and there was no arguing with her. The food was good and plentiful; even with Ed's appetite, which apparently hadn't changed much since he saw him last. The company was even better.
It wasn't just reuniting with Ed, which made Hughes feel as giddy as a schoolgirl; but the people who'd allowed the boy into their lives were warm and easy to be around. Hughes wondered just how much of it had to do with the fact that here he didn't have to hide who he was; and how much of it was just the general atmosphere that surrounded these three people who have obviously been close friends for a very long time. He also didn't care to question it too much. He was just happy he was welcomed into the group and could be a part of it. It was a relief not to have to be careful and hide behind a made-up persona.
How odd/, he thought, as he leaned over Ed's shoulder, walking him through some of the more basic functions of Reilly's computer. /In this world, Ed and I would be considered strange... even something to be feared. But these three just embrace the strangeness as a matter of course.
Then again, it seems that strangeness surrounds them, he realized when he considered that Ed showed up on Reilly's property through a gate that she was aware of, and had been studying for years.
Ed's frustrated growl brought him back to reality, and he had to smile at the younger man jerking his right arm against the Velcro strap that was clipped to the chassis of the computer tower near his feet. "I feel like a damn dog on a leash, here."
"Which is nothing at all like working for Roy, right?"
Ed blinked up at him in shock, then a slow smile crept across his face, and he softened with a gentle laugh. "At least the leash that Colonel Useless kept me on was a lot less..." He gave the strap another tug to demonstrate. "...obvious."
"Good point." Hughes reached over and gave Ed's hair a good mussing, and grinned. "Tell me when you want to cruise the Information Superhighway. I want to see your reaction to it."
Ed glared at the mussing, then sighed and went back to the screen. "Yeah, whatever." He paused for a slight moment, then gave Hughes an actual grin. "It's good to have you back, Hughes."
The smile on Hughes' face could have eclipsed the sun. "Same to you, Ed. Same to you."