The sun was already high up in the sky when the train halted on its final stop at Central Station. The conductors started moving all the passengers to all available exits to ease the traffic that accumulated at this time of day.
One fifteen-year-old blond girl in particular welcomed the chance at being able to stand and move her legs once again.
"Ugh, my back hurts," Winry grumbled under her breath. "Those guys sure do get on these trains a lot even when the conditions are like that..."
She shrugged her shoulders so that her backpack wouldn't be so uncomfortable on her back, and then she started walking again, passing by a tower of a man and a woman with long black hair tied in microbraids. She looked around to find an exit, but there was no such luck. There were just too many people around her.
"Just like always," she muttered indignantly with a huff. "And what the heck is the mountain I'm supposed to find? Damn you, Ed, and your cryptic directions."
She was still looking around when she noticed a familiarly tall and very muscular giant of a man, his whole aura seeming like it was sparkling. The people nearby did their best not to stare at his size and passed him by very quickly.
Realising at once what the "mountain"was, Winry shook her head mentally at Ed's - very correct, in this case -choice of words, and headed at Major Armstrong's direction to greet him.
"And today is Elysia's birthday! She'll be finally four! Isn't that the best news you've heard yet?"
Roy sighed and started tapping with gloved fingers on the surface of his desk. "Hughes, you realise that's not the reason I called, right?"
"Still, aren't you glad I told you?"
Damn it, Hughes!
"I wonder if there's a way to roast someone over the phone," Roy said softly, wanting to see if Maes would get the hint.
"Ooh, the Flame Alchemist is scaring me," Maes said, hardly daunted. "So, you want me to send pictures of her birthday party?"
"Okay, I take that as a 'yes'!" Maes declared happily; but at the next instant, his tone had become very serious. "Now... what seems to be the problem? I usually call you."
"I take it whoever was in the office with you has left?" Roy asked.
Maes hummed a small affirmative. "You can go ahead."
"Right. It has to do with a certain sergeant," Roy said, motioning to Riza to close the door so that no unfriendly ears overheard the conversation. The moment that Riza had complied and resumed working with Fuery, Falman and Breda, Roy continued on. "He left from here with Lieutenant Havoc to find the Elric Brothers just yesterday morning. Have they come to report?"
"No, not yet. But logically, they should have arrived by now. They must be at the dorms or something, resting."
"Good. When you do see them, talk to Havoc without letting Beregond know. Tell him that a man by the name of Ronald Syndow has been transferred to Central, and that he should keep his eyes open for anything unusual. Meanwhile, I want you to find out who could have ordered such a thing and why."
"Sure thing, but... what does that got to do with Beregond?"
Roy huffed. "I'm afraid it's too long astory to tell you over the phone; Havoc will give you a sketch of things. In the meantime, just know that Syndow knows about Beregond's... country of origin."
Maes didn't speak for some moments, clearly contemplating matters. "So what you're saying is that if someone wants that man here, he might learn something about Beregond, too."
"It's more of a hunch, really. Nevertheless, until I know the reason the professor has been escorted there, I have to be ready for anything. And I don't have to tell you that you should keep an eye on Fawcette. Connors might inform him about Syndow."
"You got it," said Maes. "By the way, there's something else. Scar has been spotted in Central."
Roy clenched his jaw momentarily. "That explains why we couldn't find him in East City," he commented wryly. "Any victims so far?"
"Not that we know of. Still, you should thank him at the first chance."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"Well, he killed some pretty important people already; high-ranking officers who called the shots in State Military."
"Really?" Roy said then, sitting up in his chair, very interested in what he was hearing now.
"Yup. It's also been circulating that acertain Colonel Roy Mustang is going to be transferred to Central - you know, taking up some of the duties that the deceased had."
"So it's back to Central," Roy mused. "That's not bad at all."
"Careful," Maes said. "Getting promotions at this rate and, more importantly, at this /age/, is going to earn you a lot of enemies."
"I know," Roy answered simply.
"Which means you should find at least one more person who can understand you and support you," Maes continued.
Roy frowned at this. Wait a minute...
He'd better not say what I think...
"So hurry up and get married!"
"DON'T BE RIDICULOUS!" Roy shouted, and he ended the telephone conversation by slamming the receiver on the handle.
"Colonel, please lower your voice while talking on the phone," Riza said calmly, barely batting an eyelash at the outburst.
At the sound of the beeping sound at the other end of the line, Maes could do nothing else but chuckle mildly and hang up, too. Roy would never change, but Maes didn't really mind. After all, this was one of the reasons that he befriended the man, and he cared for him as much as one could possibly care for a friend.
That was why he now felt uneasy for not telling Roy about what happened to Ed and Al. Even though Roy always said and acted otherwise, Roy never stopped looking after his youngest subordinate and his brother. It was also true that Roy didn't treat either boy as helpless, but that didn't mean that he wanted them in harm's way if it could be helped.
However, Ed getting tangled himself in what it seemed like a military conspiracy... well, being in harm's way hardly cut it. The boy almost got /killed/. And Maes was aware that, if Roy found out, he would do anything so that it never happened again - even if it meant risking his goal to become Führer in order to face the officers responsible for Lab 5 and the experiments done in there.
That, Maes decided, wouldn't do. Amestris needed a man like Roy, and Maes would make sure that the country had that man. But Maes didn't plan on leaving the Lab 5 matter to rest either. After all, whoever or whatever was behind it all must have been very influential to conduct such asecret project in the military's very backyard, and they was most probably collaborating with people within the military as well. If Maes managed to find them, then Roy's promotions were a certainty.
It was then that the door opened, cutting Maes off of his musings. Sitting up in his chair and making sure he looked as cheerful as possible, he looked to see who the newcomer was.
"Hello, Mr. Hughes!" a very young girl said, running in his direction.
"Alice!" Maes exclaimed, surprised."Where is your mother?"
"I'm right here, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes," said Sarah, stepping into the man's office too. She was smiling, and she was holding in her hands a small parcel. "I've finished work, so we can leave whenever you're ready."
Leave? Maes blinked a bit in confusion, but then he smiled knowingly. That's right. We're all headed in the same direction.
"I'm always ready!" Maes said cheerily, standing up and getting his coat. "I hope you don't mind if we pass by the hospital first though?"
Sarah's eyes widened slightly. "Yes, of course. Nothing's wrong, I hope?"
Whoops... She didn't know.
Well, it was of no use not telling her now.
"No, not really. It's just that Ed and Al are there and I wanted to check up on them."
"Did bad people hurt them? Like they hurt Beregond?"
It was Alice who said that, of course. And there was a very thoughtful expression settled on her features.
Maes couldn't lie. Not to a face like that. "Yeah, they did. But don't worry; they're okay now. In fact, we'll all go see them. Would you like that?"
Alice nodded slightly, something that made Maes smile; then he nodded at Sarah's direction.
It was settled. And, if nothing else, it would do the boys some good to see a familiar face.
Speaking of which, he would have to locate Beregond first thing tomorrow so to tell them of the boys' whereabouts.
And with that last thought and feeling that everything was under control now, he set off with both mother and daughter to the hospital.
That was the first thing that Winry said as soon as she walked in the hospital room Armstrong led her. Because the form that was covered from head to toe in bandages like some sort of mummy couldn't possibly be Ed!
"Way..." Ed answered, his voice muffled as it came out from layers upon layers of bandages covering his mouth.
"You mean...?" And then Winry got absolutely furious. "How could you get yourself hurt so badly?!"
"Actually, it was less than half this bad at first, but then... a certain major just got emotional and hugged me since I had him worried and all," Ed said, pointing at Armstrong's direction.
Winry's eyes widened, and then she glared at Major Armstrong. He didn't seem to think that there was anything wrong however. Indeed, he was still smiling, his aura sparkling as always. Sighing, she turned to talk to Ed again.
It was then that she caught sight of /Al's/state. And though the suit of armour bowed his head in shame, it wasn't enough to stop the young girl from shouting out loud:
"WHAT THE HELL DID YOU TWO GET YOURSELVES INTO?!"
Before either Ed or Al had the chance to answer that, everyone turned at the sound of a door opening. A lean, middle-aged man was at the threshold, leaning on a cane and looking quite austere at all the occupants in the room - especially at Winry.
"Young lady, this place is a hospital, so I would appreciate it if you kept your voice down for the sake of all the other patients in this floor. Just because your friend is a pipsqueak, it doesn't mean he can't hear you."
And with that, the door closed again. There was a moment of awkward silence; then Winry sighed exasperatingly and scowled at Ed and Al's direction.
"Now look what you've made me do!"
"Us?!" both brothers exclaimed indignantly at once.
But Winry didn't bother to reply that. She still kept talking, now more to herself, as she contemplated matters carefully and eyed both brothers thoroughly.
"That doctor still had a point. You're still recovering, Ed. And if I take under consideration the hug the Major gave you..." She clicked her tongue. "No, I need your body to regain some of its strength before I fix your arm. Rid those bandages by tomorrow and I'll be able to work."
Ed, of course, frowned at those words. "I'm not that badly injured."
"And the sooner you fix me, the sooner I'll get to fix Al..."
"Ed, I've already said no. One more day without automail won't kill you, and I will be able to work without worrying whether I accidentally hurt you or not."
"Damn it, Ed, can't you just do me afavour for once?"
Ed blinked in surprise. There was atone in Winry's voice that he had never heard before; at least, not in such intensity.
She almost sounded... guilty.
"What's wrong?" he asked gently, looking at her in a puzzled manner.
When Winry hesitated to answer, Ed got his second surprise of the day.
The third surprise came when Winry averted her eyes and said in a small voice: "I was wondering if... the automail broke down because I didn't fix it right..."
Now Edward was certain that his hearing did tricks on him. He looked first at his brother, then at Armstrong, and then to Ross and Bloch, who were standing quietly by the door - until his gaze settled back to Winry.
She was actually worried about that?
She can actually be so sweet?!
"No! It's not your fault, Winry!" Ed said at once, trying to comfort her.
"It's not?" the girl asked at once, looking up in surprise.
"Of course not! The automail broke because I used it carelessly!" Ed insisted. "You fixed it perfectly as always!You shouldn't worry about it!"
Then again, Ed wasn't aware that Winry had forgotten to put a screw in his automail. And Winry didn't think it would serve any purpose if she said anything about that. After all, why complicate matters, right?
"Of course it's not my fault!" Winry declared at once. "Now we'd better talk about the price for the trip you've put me through!"
Okay, Ed decided... Winry would never be sweet. Ever.
"Yes!" Armstrong said then. "Once his arm and injuries are fixed, the energetic Edward Elric should be up and about soon!" He placed a heavy hand on Ed's back, not realising that Ed winced. Such was his force, in fact, that the bandages on Ed's face fell off. "And to accomplish that, young Elric, you'll have to be well fed and rested."
"I know that..." Ed muttered under his breath. And get away from those killer arms of yours! He turned to Winry, hoping that she'd somehow help him in his predicament, only to see that she was staring at his tray of food; staring at a glass on it, in particular. Aglass filled with...
"Why didn't you drink your milk?"
Ed instantly clenched his teeth and looked away. "As if you don't know..."
Winry raised an eyebrow in incredulity.
"Don't tell me. Still?"
Ed didn't bother with an answer this time, but waited for the next inevitable words of lecture.
"YOU CAN'T HATE MILK FOREVER! IT'S GOOD FOR YOU!"
"SHUT UP! I'M NOT DRINKING ANYTHING SECRETED FROM A COW AND THAT'S FINAL!"
"THAT'S WHY YOU'RE ALWAYS A BEAN!"
Now that was the final straw!
"WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?!" Ed screeched, ready to throw his pillow at the insolent girl.
He never did. At that moment, a very soft voice echoed in the room.
"Lieutenant Ross, Sergeant Bloch... can you take me up to the terrace?"
It was Al who said that. And that made both fighting teens stop at once to look at him.
"Of course, Alphonse," answered Ross, without so much as missing a beat. If she seemed troubled by that strange request, she didn't show it as she picked one end of the armour and Bloch grabbed the other.
But Winry and Ed were. In fact, they were so surprised that all they could do was stare agape as Al, Ross and Bloch passed through the door and out of sight.
"I guess... we went a little too far,"Winry finally said, letting go of Ed's pyjama shirt.
"Yeah..." answered Ed, just as numbly.
Neither could bring themselves to speak again after that. Even Armstrong had grown pretty quiet, content with simply gazing out the window.
That lasted for about a minute, because then the door opened wide and someone very vocal came in, a broad grin plastered on his face.
"Hey, Ed! Wow, I didn't realise your girlfriend was here! Sorry!" said Maes.
Ed felt as though his wound would burst open again.
"She's just my automail mechanic!" he snapped at once. "Why do people have to see things that aren't there?"
"What are you talking about, Ed? I can see her right here!"
Ed was stuttering an angry response to that, when another voice echoed in the room.
"Should we take this as a bad time to walk in?" Sarah said, smiling as well and Alice at her side.
"Mrs Abbot!" Ed exclaimed at once, eyes widening in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"To see you, silly!" replied Alice, walking up to Edward and giving him a hug. "Aren't you happy to see us?"
Ed blinked in mild surprise; then smiled, returning the hug as well. "Of course I am, Alice, you know that."
That made the little girl beam, and she giggled heartily. She still sat at Edward's bedside as the young alchemist introduced her and her mother to Winry. And, when the cordial phrases of greeting were exchanged, Ed finally turned again to Maes.
"So what brings you here, Hughes? I thought you had said you were swamped in work."
"And I still am," Maes admitted, putting his hands in his pockets in a nonchalant manner. "But I managed to get myself an afternoon off for the day."
"Which can be translated as 'I've put Scieszka to do all the work for me today'," Sarah said with a smirk.
Ed shook his head and turned at Maes'direction. "You're evil, you know that?"
Maes only made a face that could only be described as pouting. "And here I am, thinking you would be happy to hear some news that would interest you." He shrugged his shoulders and started walking out. "But, never mind," he continued on, now his tease now more evident, "I can always tell you when I won't be busy - which will probably be some time close to my retirement day really..."
Ed sighed in defeat. "Okay, Hughes. You got me. What kind of news do you have?"
"Well," Maes answered at once, bringing himself back close to Edward and grinning, "it has to do with a certain arrival."
"Arrival," Ed echoed in disbelief.
Maes hummed his affirmative...
... but that was his only reply.
"Well?" Ed said again, raising an eyebrow.
Maes was certainly surprised. "What? Aren't you going to at least take a guess?"
Ed instantly turned red in the face. "Hughes...!"
"All right, calm down, I'll tell you,"Maes said at once, trying to appease the young alchemist. "Still, it's no fun this way," he added, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. "Beregond."
"Really? He's here in Central?"
Surprisingly enough, it wasn't Edward who said that, but Winry. Alice let out a small cry of joy, whereas Armstrong and Sarah smiled. They were all glad to hear this kind of news.
All, that is, except for Ed. He was now swallowing hard, looking at Maes with eyes widened.
"Where is he?"
"Well, my guess is he's resting at the dorms. From what I was told, he arrived quite late last night," Maes said, looking curiously at Edward. "What's wrong, Ed?"
Ed looked at each and everyone, thinking and contemplating matters as carefully as possible under the circumstances. On the one hand, the young alchemist had every reason to be worried. If that Envy creature or Scar were still around, they would have every chance to kill Beregond.
But, on the other hand... he didn't want to worry the others, too. Or frighten Alice, for that matter.
Beregond knows how to fend for himself. Ed had to start believing that, for all his natural mistrust in adults.
"Nothing," he finally said. "I just can't believe he actually got on a train!" And with that, Ed chuckled to give further emphasis to his tease.
Maes laughed as well. "Believe it or not, he did. Of course, Second Lieutenant Havoc had to accompany him, so as to make sure Beregond didn't face any problems on his way here."
Ed didn't notice Sarah blushing a bit at this. However, he realised that Maes used his words carefully to show Ed that Beregond was in safe hands and that he shouldn't worry.
"Good," he finally said, smiling at Hughes - also choosing his words carefully. "Al will definitely be happy."
"And I'll finally meet him!" Winry said, grinning broadly. "I guess it was a good thing I forgot that bolt!"
Ed snapped his head at her direction. "Come again?!"
"I, uh... said that... it was a good thing you broke that bolt," Winry said, trying to sound as innocent as possible. Ed tried to say something, but the girl never gave him the chance, because she immediately said next: "You know, it's getting late. I need to get going if I'm to find a place to sleep in tonight."
Ed frowned momentarily. "How about trying out the dorms? You could get in cheap if you use my name."
Winry winced. "Dorms? No way, it sounds too stiff. I'll just find myself an inn or something."
Sarah tried as discreetly as possibly to gesture to Winry not to say that last phrase, but it was too late.
"Why stay at an inn?" Maes said at once. "My wife will be more than happy to accommodate you for as long as you stay here."
To claim Winry was stunned would be quite the understatement.
"I wouldn't presume... I mean, I..."
"Don't worry, there's plenty of room. We had accommodated Sarah and Alice the first few days they were looking for lodgings."
Sarah nodded, signifying that that was very true.
"So it's settled!" Maes declared, grabbing the young girl by the wrist. "Let's go right away!"
And with that, he practically dragged Winry all the way out, laughing almost maniacally.
"Now that brings back some interesting memories," Sarah said, smiling embarrassedly. One could almost see the single drop of sweat near her temple.
"Let me guess... that's how he convinced /you/into staying at his house?" Ed asked, amused.
"Yes," both mother and daughter answered, the one quite stoically, the other giggling as though recalling some sort of fun game.
"Well, we ought to get going, too. Maes must have got a pretty good head-start by now," the woman said. She beckoned Alice to come at her side, something to which the latter complied to. "I hope you get better soon, Edward."
"And tell Al I said 'Hi'!" Alice said, smiling.
"I definitely will," Ed said, sporting a broad grin to Alice; then turned to Sarah's direction. "Thank you for your visit."
"No problem. See you soon."
And with that, she and her daughter were gone. Ed was still smiling, happy to have seen all those people; when, suddenly, he acknowledged Armstrong's presence.
The burly man was crying - again.
"Err... Why are you--?"
"You will be finally reunited with your friend!" Armstrong said happily, and got ready to hug Ed - again.
Ed thought fast.
"Don't you think somebody should tell the news to Al first?"
Armstrong immediately stopped in his tracks.
"Yes, quite right. I will go tell him personally."
Ed mentally sighed in relief. "Yeah, you go and do that. I'll be waiting right here."
Armstrong nodded. "And then I'll go find Sergeant Beregond and bring him here." New streams of tears sprang out of his eyes.
Uh oh. Not good.
"It will be such a beautiful reunion!"
Ed only managed to squeak out something that resembled "Help!" before he was enveloped by the bear-hug of death.
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