Title: Life After Truth Chapter 8
Summary: To late to turn back now..
Author's Note: This is not exactly much of an update, but I'd like to try and get my writing back on track, so I thought I'd post what I had and go from there. To everyone who still reads, I appreciate you. Thanks for all your patience.
Previous Chapters found on The Master List
Ed saw him before he saw Ed. He was milling around, going up a step and down a step, arms folded and well frankly, for Ling, looking worried. That didn't sit well. He called out to him when he came to the top of the steps and started down and was surprised the prince hurried up the steps to meet him.
"Are you that much in a rush to get to lunch?" Ed said, hoping that was all it was but knowing it wasn't.
The prince seemed momentarily taken aback, but then he nodded.
"I wondered if it was you or fine amestrian cuisine I missed more," he said, reaching Ed, looking into his face. "After all, we have a lot of catching up to do." And Ling smiled in a way that didn't reach his eyes and Ed nodded.
"You have no idea," Ed said.
Havoc stood before the general's desk watching him go slowly, page by page, through a file. The general looked up at him as he reached the end.
"This is all we have?" the general questioned. "This seems very slip shod for our department. He's a foreign national after all. I would think we'd be more thorough."
"Um, yes sir," Havoc said, not sure what to say about his boss' new mood. "But he was serving in a diplomatic situation and he's friends with Ed...?" Havoc trailed off a bit when the general's eyebrows moved downward to form a 'v' between his eyes.
"That is no excuse for this obvious oversight," the general all but snarled and Havoc made his spine as stiff as he could get it. "I want this corrected Lt. Colonel, or we'll see how long you keep that title and that paycheck, am I clear?"
"Crystal," Havoc said quietly, then he took the file from the desk, turned on his heel and marched out of the office, pulling the door shut behind him. He continued down the hall for a few feet before coming to a stop and looking over his shoulder back toward the offices of the general. What the hell was that? What the hell just happened and what could the xingian prince have done to make the general want information on him so desperately?
It didn't feel right, the orders didn't sound right. The general never threatened any of them with his position, he never insinuated he would punish by withholding. The general would never look at him like that, either. But he had; it had just happened.
Either way, if this information was putting the general that much off his game, then it was probably very important. So he put his raw feelings aside and hurried off to do the man's bidding.
Alphonse was tugging gently at the back of his wife's uniform jacket. She glanced over her shoulder at him, finishing up her hair clip, then turned to move into his arms. She rested her hands on his shoulders and caught his eye.
"What is it?" she asked.
He dropped his eyes, but he looked resolute.
"I want you to be careful," he said simply. "I know it's not something I feel I should say to you; after all you are the epitome of careful observation. But we all have weak spots," and he raised his eyes to hers again. "I don't pretend for a moment that you could simply set aside feels for other men once you married me, so, I am asking you...be careful with him."
"Tell me everything you know," she said. "Everything you've discussed with your brother. Something has happened to make you come to me with this warning; and coming from you it's not to be taken lightly. So I'd like to be as well informed as I can be."
Al nodded, he stepped back, pulling her with him so they could sit on the edge of the bed.
"Something has changed in the General," he said. "It's a fundamental change, not something brought on by circumstances of the moment. When I look at him it's almost like he's fractured. His eyes are holding some agenda that they haven't before. It's very unsettling, even...even his speech pattern is different."
"Go on," Riza urged.
"When I met with him he looked at me in a way to perhaps calculate how I might be of use to him," Al said slowly. "I've seen him look at others this way; I've seen him size people up before he takes them down. I'm not use to being on the receiving end of this side of the General. Although I know he's capable and he's had to be ruthless in the past; I think I just perferred not to think about it."
She knew what it meant to be close to the man. To have his regard, his friendship, his love and his praise. She could hear the pain in Alphonse's voice. She laced her fingers with his, she squeezed his hand. Alphonse's relationship with Roy was ever bit as deep as that of his brothers. Roy, as he was for herself, had been an important prop and reassurance in Alphonse's youth. Alphonse was shaken by this admission and she could understand why.
Roy would never treat Alphonse this way; so Edward's fears had not been unfounded.
"What do you think we are dealing with?" Riza said softly.
Alphonse turned to look at her, he shook his head slowly.
"I'm not sure, there is something there, masquerading as the General. I don't have to even guess how this entity came to be, it was put there...," Alphonse reached up slowly, touched himself below his left eye.
"I guess the matter really becomes; how do we get it out?"
The prince was sitting across the table from him. They were in the back, next to the large glass doors that opened onto the patio for outdoor seating. They both had menus, and they both had the menus open in a pretense of choosing something for lunch. The prince paged through the menu, looking up at him between turns and seemed to be waiting for something. Ed had his menu open to the pasta entrees, but really he didn't even need to look at the menu. The epicurean rut he'd established with this restaurant was half a continent wide. If he were to order something different, there was no telling how that might shake the very foundations of the cook.
Funny how in the mist of all this nightmare, some things still held true.
Ling slapped his menu shut and sat back in his seat, craning his head around to look at the decorations.
"I don't know how to start," Ed said.
"That's obvious," Ling answered, reaching up to rub the side of his nose. "Your letter was provocative and inspiring, but not in the directions I'd hoped it would be. It also didn't mention anything about spiritual booby traps and murderous auras. Your home life must be fun. For this you gave me the heave ho."
Ed leaned hard over the table, and the prince leaned further back in his chair.
"It would be a real shame if you came all this way just for me to shove my automail through your face," Ed hissed. "Don't even think about starting that bullshit with me. Now, are you going to help me and tell me what the hell you mean by all that or am I going to feed you and then stuff you in a crate and ship you back to Xing?"
Ling held his hands up in placation. He made a motion to pat the air, then folded his arms and looked at Ed frankly, tilting his head to the side.
"You don't seem like a man who believes in things he can't see," the prince said.
"I'm willing to go out on a limb here," Ed returned. "But you're wrong. I am seeing. I look at him and I see General Roy Mustang. I see the man I've known most of my life. And then? I see something else, something that wasn't there before. I see plenty, Ling. I just don't know what I'm seeing."
The prince nodded, then rubbed the side of his nose again before speaking.
"You, me, this place, the world all share a common thread. We call it chi and it directs the flow of energy. It's generated by life. It connects all living things on a very base level. It is the blood of the dragon, which in essence is our world. That is a belief held by my people. Since we are children of the dragon, then by association we can read chi." The prince rubbed the tips of his fingers over his bottom lip, looking past Ed for a moment, before continuing. "Chi is a pure and simple feeling. When something beyond the pure flow is introduced into it's essence it can be detected. This would be things like very strong emotions, good or negative. Or corrupt energies, usually associated with demons. Don't look at me like that. Demons and divinity go hand in hand, you cannot have on without the other and hope to achieve balance."
"So where is all this leading, are you going to tell me the General is a demon?" Ed said, trying desperately to pull his shield of science about him as a way to justify rejecting this speculation even as he felt the tendrils of belief take hold.
"No, I'm not saying the General himself is a demon, because the General's chi is strong and pure," the prince said. "I'm saying that there is second spirit in the General's body and it's chi is very out of balance with his own." The prince held up his hands. "Demons," he raised one hand a bit higher than the other, "and divinity," and he raised the other hand so they were both level. "It's residing there because it's bringing a balance and I don't think the General can throw it off on his own. I'm no kind of expert in this you see," the prince folded his arms again, sliding his hands up into his sleeves. "But I know some, monks are usually handy for this sort of thing."
Ed put his fingers to his temples, pressed and rubbed in slow circles.
"You're telling me the General is possessed," he moaned. "That is the part I knew and didn't want to know; but now I have confirmation." Ed put his forehead on the table, right on top of the menu. "I feel very out of my league and I shouldn't. This should be a cake walk for me, after all I've dealt in souls before."
"I didn't mean to be the bearer of bad news," the prince said quietly. "If it's any help, it's like he's split down the middle, a ying and yang. To the right is his light and to the left is his dark. Ying and yang is a reference to the male and the female, and the puzzling thing is, if I were to give demon spirits a gender, I would say the General is host to a woman."
Ed's head snapped up and he looked at the prince. He gave a half laugh and reached up to cover his left eye with one gloved hand.
"And here I thought I was happy he lost his eyepatch," Ed said and Ling lifted an eyebrow.
"The consulate was surprised to hear that the Prince was in Amestris," Havoc said quietly. He didn't like this, the more it went on, he really didn't like this. Sure the prince had been a pain the ass for lack of a better term, but he wasn't a threat. At least he didn't appear to be a threat and he was good friends with Ed; but not with the general it seemed. It was if the general harbored some grudge he didn't want to mention and the way he took the news seemed to give him a smug aura that simply radiated from his pores.
"Then we need to bring him in for questioning. If I'd known I would have detained him when he showed up here. He'll be with Edward, no doubt, and Edward is easy to track," the general said.
"Yessir," Havoc said, wondering if he should say something; finding he couldn't. The general was so different lately and he wasn't sure how to put a finger on it. He wasn't sure how to articulate it, either, without sounding insane. He could talk to Ed, but maybe Ed was to close to the source. But there were others who knew the man as well as Havoc thought he had that he could speak to.
There was a group of soldiers on the steps to the academy, but that was a normal enough sight. Fathers or elder brothers here to pick boys up after after-school activities was common enough. Ed was so immune to a blue uniform he barely gave them notice. It was when the group turned toward them as a whole that Ed noticed something was up. One of the group detached itself and started down the steps toward them and that is when Ed recognized it was Havoc. Since that in itself was unusual, Ed trotted up a few steps to intercept him.
"Lieutenant Colonel?" Ed asked as he approached, "What's going on?" He shifted for whatever reason to stand more in front of Ling who was now lingering at the bottom of the steps.
"Edward," Havoc said, trying to look past him to the Xingian prince, "I'm afraid we have to ask the Prince to come with us."
"What?" Ed half turned to look back at Ling, then around to look at Havoc again, "Why? I've been watching him all afternoon, whatever it is, he didn't do it," Ed tried to joke
"It seems he might be here illegally, his embassy doesn't even know he's in town," Havoc said. "The General wants him brought in," he then gave Ed a half smile and little shrug. "Don't look at me, you know if he says jump I have to say how high. It's in the soldier hand book."
"He's onto me," Ling said, from behind and below them, causing Ed to turn and look at him again. "Or she, rather; she kept looking at me the entire time we were taking tea with the General," the prince and gave Ed a shrug and helpless grin. "So, I think the appropriate thing I should do now, because I really don't think she and I would be good friends; is to flee." He templed his hands and bowed over them, then he turn and ran. Ed's mouth hung open a moment; but so did Havoc's. But Havoc was a man who was use to having to react and he shook it off quickly.
"After him!" Havoc yelled to the men behind them and they all began running down the steps, sounding like a steel toed stampede and Havoc made to join them as they rushed past.
"Wait!" Ed cried, trying to grab Havoc's sleeve, "What the fuck, Jean? It's Ling!"
"You think I don't know that?" Havoc said, wheeling on Ed. "You know, I think something has been going on and either you're not seeing it or you're not telling anybody."
Ed was taken aback momentarily, he wet his lips, opened his mouth to try and give some explanation even he could believe, but Havoc waved him off.
"Save it! I have to catch the Prince, I don't have a choice," he started down the steps, but turned back against as he got to the bottom. "You need to find a way to fill us in," he said with a look, then he, too, turned and ran in the direction of Ling and the soldiers.
Ed stared after him; not believing he wasn't as alone in this as he thought he was. Then suddenly grateful he really wasn't and not really knowing what to do. Havoc catching Ling was about as possible as Havoc giving up cigarettes and beer, so he wasn't really worried about Ling's impending incarnation.
But that Roy wanted him incarcerated? That was a big worry.
The General was standing with the phone receiver pressed to his ear when Ed came storming into his office. He cut a look at Ed that demanded silence and half turned away from Ed, head bent to listen to the voice on the other end of the phone line. Ed rushed the desk and slammed his hands on it, leaning toward Roy. Roy remained with his back half turned.
"Yes," Roy said into the receiver, "order out as many as you need from those here on the base. I'll let you know when to call it off," then Roy turned a bit back to Ed and narrowed his eyes at him. "He's right here, I'll have a few words with him. Report back in half an hour with progress." Then Roy lowered the receiver and rested it back in it's cradle on the phone, pushing it down slowly.
"What the hell is going on?" Ed said, struggling to contain his voice and volume. "Members of your squad just chased Ling through the parking lot of the academy."
"That's interesting," Roy said, looking down at the phone, his hand still resting on the receiver, "why do you suppose he's running?"
He's onto me; or rather she, she kept looking at me the entire time we were taking tea with the General
"I don't know?" Ed said, and he had to do his damnest to sound convincing. "Did you find out something that I don't know about?"
I'm not selling you out Ling, I'm not
The General narrowed his eyes a moment, then his looked smoothed out a little.
"It seems he may be here illegally, so, you'll help us find him...won't you? He's bound to come to you for help. We are, of course, not looking to prosecute him as such, merely want to inquire on why he felt the need to enter Amestris covertly," Roy moved to sit in his chair and looked at Ed expectantly.
"He'd be stupid to come to me," Ed said, shifting uncomfortably, "and he's far from stupid. I mean, there is you and me and you are the man out to get him. I mean he knows that now, Havoc was leading the squad. I don't understand how you could be sitting in a cafe with him one day and wanting to run him down the next. If you had any suspicions why didn't you address them when you had him right there?"
"I trust you," Roy said, meeting and holding Edward's startled look. "He is your friend and by association I trust him. It wasn't until I returned to the office and made a casual inquiry did I find out the truth. Did... you know he was here without proper authorization?"
"No," Edward could say truthfully. "I didn't think about it; didn't even know to think about it. He won't come to me, he's smarter than that."
"We'll see," the general said.
Ed left the general's office and headed straight downtown toward the business district. Things were starting to come to close to home; as if bluffs were being called. He had to have an intermediary and hopefully Ling would have the same thought. But even as he had the thought, he had another more disturbing thought. What if he were being followed? Well it wouldn't matter, it would look like what it looked like; he was going to see his brother. But as his mind drew up the chess board, with Roy very firmly at the advantage, he couldn't help but wonder where to move his pieces.
Say he went to Al, and he and Al concocted a plan to communicate with Ling. If Roy decided he didn't really believe that Ed didn't know Ling's ulterior motives, then it would behoove Roy to have Ed watched and in turn have Al watched. This of course being played off for their own safety should this rouge prince try to compromise them. Ed could very easily hear Roy saying these words. That of course meant they needed a trust worthy go between far outside their circle. Ed strode into the building where Al worked, heading straight for the elevator going over in his head who they could possibly even ask to do something that could, in the long run, be very dangerous. And then of course how do they even get word to Ling to use this hence unknown to him person to trade information?
Think, think, think. It was what he'd done all his life and with so much hanging in the balance now he couldn't afford to let it fail him now. He glanced up as the elevator dinged, stepped into the empty car and leaned against the wall before stabbing the button. Who else in the city would Ling even trust now? He got out at the appropriate floor and nodded to Al's secretary distractedly. She ushered him in, closing the door behind him as Al stood from behind his desk to greet him.
"Things are happening," Ed said. "Not good things."
He proceeded to tell Al what had transpired, but before he went further he glanced around the room. Roy hadn't know of Ling's visit until today, so it was very unlikely he'd had time to eavesdrop on Al's office in some manner, even if he suspected Al might know that Ling was coming to Amestris.
Both he and Al slouched on Al's sofa and pondered how to go about things covertly when they were the least covert people they knew.
"Everyone would look suspect, and of course Riza can't touch this with a ten foot pole," Al said. "I can't ask anyone here, you can't ask anyone from work, they're all students..."
Ed chewed his lip. He ran back in time over all his past with Ling and all they'd done together while Ling was still an ambassador to Amestris... then he sat bolt upright and snapped his fingers.
"Otto Dunbar," Ed grinned.
"Otto?" Al said, incredulous.
"He and Ling had this thing, I'm not sure what it was but it was this thing and anyways, Ling use to visit him a lot after he and I... yeah well nevermind. And Otto is ex-military so he should have some idea how to be stealthy or whatever it is you do when you want to be sneaky. But who goes to him? I can't, that would be to much, you can't, you're public enemy number two as far as Roy would be concerned. OHOH he has a niece in the steno pool! But I never talk to the steno pool and again, you can't talk to the steno pool. We need a girl to go talk to a girl, or at least carry a note," Ed threw himself against the back of the couch again in aggravation.
Al was looking at the door to his office.
"I know a secretary," Al said slowly.
The general attended a debriefing outlining the fact that two operatives were now known to be missing. It hadn't been apparent at first as one or both of them were usually deployed in a 'need to know' manner. Colonel Hawkeye was present, because she'd worked with one of the men in question. She kept glancing at the general throughout the meeting.
This might have to be dealt with.
Colonel Hawkeye approached him after the meeting, walking along behind his right shoulder as they made their way down the hall. She didn't seem willing to bring up the matter, and he offered no openings. As they neared his office she finally spoke.
"There was another disappearance, too," she said. "But he was a corporal and it's being treated as desertion."
"Is that so?" the general said, stopping and turning to look at her.
"I thought you'd want to know," she said evenly, not giving an inch. "You usually take internal matters very seriously for obvious reasons."
"It's a habit we've never broken, isn't it?"the general said.
"Yessir," she agreed.
"You are invaluable, as always," the general said. "Was there anything else?"
There was nothing else. Nothing she could fathom to say. All she could do was play this charade with a person she would never be false with. All she could feel was anger and betrayal and she couldn't even direct it properly for she couldn't even imagine duplicity of this level from him. Not for him. Not from the pillar they all drew strength from; and if it was this unbalancing to her, how must it be for Ed?
"Nothing else," she said aloud, feeling as if it was a base lie.