mirabella: (FMA Roy/Ed)
mirabella ([personal profile] mirabella) wrote in [community profile] mirabellafic2010-10-31 12:16 pm
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I got a request to post the Big Long FMA Fic in an accessible spot, so here it is. Fair warning: this fic isn't finished and I don't know what odds to place on it being finished at any point, despite the fact that it still resides in the "I am not done with this yet" box in my brain.

Fandom: FMA, R. Various pairings, both slash and het, largely wretchedly unrequited.
Summary: Love is stronger than death. This is not a promise; it's a warning.
Warning: character death


Somewhere in the back of her mind, Riza was surprised at the number of people in attendance. She counted them absently, wondered how many of them would have come if it had been raining, mentally lowered her count by thirty percent. If they had still been stationed at Eastern it would have been different; but in Central there were too many enemies, too many timid fence-sitters, too many secrets. Too many people who had come not out of love, but out of expedience. Riza found herself counting the bullets in her handguns, prioritizing targets with a sniper's cold calculation of gain and risk, and made herself stop.

The Elric brothers were standing across from her, hands clasped as if they were small children again, their black suits painfully stiff and formal. Ed looked…

I'm just going out for coffee, Lieutenant,
he'd told her, smiling, shrugging into his black overcoat as she'd seen him do every day for years. I'll be back in a few minutes.

Yes, sir, she'd said, and what galled her now was that she hadn't known. There had been no flash of sudden foreknowledge, not even a suspicion. It would have been easy to go back and invent one now, to tell herself that she'd been uneasy, that she'd wanted to stop him, that she'd somehow realized that she was living out the last fifteen minutes of the life of the man she had loved for so very long.

But she hadn't. Not until the percussive force of the bomb had shattered the windows and blood was streaming down her face and all she could think was I should have known, I should have known, I should have known.

Then she'd known. When it had already happened. When it was too late to stop him, too late to take it back, she'd known with a gut-hollowing certainty that he'd been caught in the blast.

Ed looked like death. Al's arm was around him, supporting him in more ways than one, and every so often he leaned over to whisper into Ed's ear, the wind blowing their hair together in a tangle. Havoc hovered behind them, cigarette nowhere in sight for once, shielding them with his body from something intangible.

"Fire," Riza said, and the roar of the guns was deafening.

"Fire," she said. Ed flinched. Al buried his face in his brother's neck.

"Fire," she whispered, third time the charm, driving the last coffin nail into the reality of Roy Mustang's death as ruthlessly as she had murdered insurgents in Ishbal.

When the echo of the gunfire died an elderly woman with coal-dark eyes stepped forward, chin held high and eyes glimmering, to cast the first handful of earth into the grave. Then she turned, making her way with untouchable dignity out of the crowd, and others moved forward to take her place like jackals slinking to the watering hole after the lioness was gone.

The handsful of earth fell onto the coffin, hollow and skittering, catching like grit in dully gleaming brass handles. Riza stared straight ahead, into long, cold years.


There was a group photograph on the desk. Riza wrapped it without looking at it and placed it carefully into a cardboard box on top of a set of old files and a scattering of pens.

Outside the office, the others were packing files as well, clearing out the office suite for its next occupant. Havoc and Falman were being transferred to Intelligence, Fuery to Western, Breda to the Quartermaster's corps. Riza herself was being transferred to the Fuhrer's staff. The Elrics…

"Can I help?" Ed asked from the doorway, muted and tentative, standing with his hands in his pockets and one foot on top of the other. He wasn't looking at her. Ed hadn't looked her in the eye for months.

"You can start on that filing cabinet over there," she told him after a moment. Wordlessly, he picked up a box and went over to open the top drawer.

She wasn't angry with Ed. He was a seventeen-year-old boy, a hotwired bundle of emotion and hormones and more energy than he could find constructive outlets for, and Roy was… had been a very handsome, compelling man. She just wished that she hadn't been there to see it the first time Ed realized just how handsome and compelling Roy was. It had caught him badly off-guard, that realization, slapping him visibly in the face in the middle of a rant and making him stammer to a halt, looking away and blushing so painfully that Riza nearly winced. She'd seen that look on the faces of more women than she cared to count, though usually it was the first time they met Roy and not the first time they really noticed what he looked like with the sunlight in his hair and that secretive, amused smile on his face.

He'd lifted his eyes to hers, Ed had, agonized and determined, full of the recognition of a valuable treaty broken with a single gunshot. I'm sorry. I like you. But I want him, oh God how I want him.

Riza had held his gaze for a minute, then lowered her own to her paperwork as if he'd never looked at her at all. It was the last time he'd looked her in the eye.

"Where's all this stuff going?" Ed asked.

"Into storage, most of it," Riza answered. "The rest of it will go into the incinerator."

What was that all about? Roy had asked when Ed was gone.

Riza had blinked innocently at him. Sir?

Roy had raised an eyebrow, the look on his face telling her that prevarication was going to be useless. You and Ed. That look. You didn't think I'd miss it, did you?

Riza, sitting at the small round table in Roy's office, had sighed and closed the folder that had been open in front of her. I believe he wanted my permission to take you to bed. Sir.

The pen had fallen out of Roy's hand and hit the desk with a clatter.

"We're almost done out here," Havoc told her, leaning in the doorway. The smoke from his cigarette drifted into the office, turned silver by the shafts of sunlight.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Riza said, not looking up as she ran her hand into the middle drawer of Roy's desk to make sure she hadn't missed anything.

"Riza," Havoc said.

"Please have Breda check the requisition sheet the suite's next occupant put in," she said, opening another drawer. "We might as well –"

"Riza, someone else will take care of that," Havoc said. When she didn't answer, he sighed, blowing smoke out through his nose. "All right, we'll take care of it. Come out and sit down for a few minutes. Al brought us lunch."

Involuntarily, Riza shot a look at Ed. He'd been motionless, facing the filing cabinet as he listened, but at the mention of his brother he disappeared in a flash into the other room. She wasn't hungry, but soldiers learned quickly to eat whether they were hungry or not, and lightheadedness wouldn't help her get this office boxed up. Nodding stiffly to Havoc, she came out from around the desk and followed him out.

Fuery and Breda were picking at their food, trying gamely to hold a conversation. Ed and Al were huddled together at the end of the table, where Al was doing an amazingly effective job of fussing at Ed to eat without actually saying anything. For an unnerving moment Riza felt bitter resentment surge up into her throat, and caught herself thinking Who is he to

He was seventeen and had just lost someone very important to him, even if he'd only recently come to realize just how important. Riza pulled out a chair and sat down, not looking at anyone, flicking a napkin into her lap with mechanical efficiency. Havoc sat down across from her.

She'd never felt more alone in her entire life. She wanted to go home, pillow her head on Black Hayate's fur, and cry until her ribs hurt like knives. Instead she picked up a spoon and pulled the top off one of the small containers of soup.

Lunch was strained and quiet, and when it was over Riza found herself boxing up one of the few remaining unpacked filing cabinets in the main room. She'd let Edward finish boxing up the office. It wasn't as if there was anything left in it for either of them.

"Hand me the paper, would you, Breda?" Havoc asked. Riza glanced up to see him wrapping some of the more well-worn books that had taken up residence on tables and shelves; books seemed to follow alchemists wherever they went, materializing behind them as if summoned from thin air. Riza had found books in Roy's coat pockets, stuffed down between couch cushions, stuck mysteriously into filing cabinets, balanced precariously on the coatrack, and on one memorable occasion inside Breda's overshoes in the closet. Roy always seemed to know exactly where they were, though, with the exception of the one in Breda's shoes. Riza wondered dully if everything would remind her of him, every minute, for the rest of her life.

The sound that sheared through her haze of memories was raw and awful, as full of pain as a dying animal's, and it took her a shocked, bewildered moment to realize that Havoc had made it.

"Jean?" Breda asked in alarm. "Holy shit, what –"

Havoc swept out an arm and sent boxes and books crashing to the floor, his lit cigarette rolling with them. Shaking, he spread out a sheet of newspaper on the table. "Fuery, did you get this paper this morning?" he snapped.

Fuery fluttered his hands in confusion and distress. "I – it should be this morning's, what's the date on it?"

"Today's, but is it the morning edition?" Havoc pressed. "What time would this have come out?"

"I don't know, what –"

"Come look at this picture," Havoc said. "All of you."

Riza set down the files she was sorting and came to look over Havoc's shoulder. The date on the paper was today's – four days since the funeral, four days and counting, something in the back of her head reminded her, and she quelled it sharply. The picture Havoc was pointing to was under a headline about a village burning in the North; it was grainy and unclear, typical newspaper quality. The charred skeletons of houses clustered together in the foreground, with the villagers huddled together in the background, grim-faced, children weeping into their mothers' skirts. Behind them, blurry and just visible in the shadow of a still-smouldering wall, was a lean, black-clad shape, hands tucked carelessly into his pockets, narrowing his eyes against the shaft of light that illuminated his face.

Everything around Riza was still and crystalline, frozen like lake ice in winter.

"No," Ed said. "No."

"Brother?" Al said in a tiny, lost voice.

"That – it's just, just someone who looks like him," Fuery croaked. "Just… it's a bad picture. He probably doesn't look that much like the General at all."

"Breda, get a magnifying glass," Riza said tonelessly.

Breda grabbed a box and upended it over the table, scrabbling in the contents until he found a magnifying glass. The acrid smell of burning paper was starting to fill the room from where Havoc's cigarette had fallen. Riza, ignoring it, took the magnifying glass from Breda and bent over the picture.

It was Roy, or something that wore Roy's body. The picture wasn't clear enough for her to have identified, say, Lieutenant Ross from it, but she knew in her gut that it was him, in the way that she'd always been able to identify him from the briefest glimpse of dark hair in a crowd.

"Says here the village burned two days ago," Breda said.

"Has there been time?" Al asked Ed.

"Four days since the funeral," Ed answered. "Six since the bomb went off. A day and a half at the outside to do prep work, a day or two to get him on his feet. If someone knew what they were doing and had access to the materials they needed, there'd be plenty of time."

"But who would have?"

"Dunno," Ed said, his mouth twisting in a ghastly mimicry of a smile. "Look for the guy who's started sporting automail in the last few days."

Riza looked sharply up at him. "Be quiet," she said, and let her eyes say the rest: Roy isn't here to protect you anymore.

Ed looked away, coloring; out of embarrassment or anger, she didn't know, though everything seemed to lead back to anger in the end with Ed anyway.

"Where's Falman?" Havoc asked. "Doesn't Armstrong owe him a favor?"

"There isn't time to call in favors or gather information," Ed said. "Mustang's… he'd make a damn good homonculus."

Riza agreed. Roy had been brilliant, manipulative, thoroughly effective at everything he did; a creature with all Roy's talents and none of his morals – if they didn't catch him now, while he was newborn and still unsure of himself, he'd do untold damage before he could be stopped.

And it wasn't fair. This monster, wearing Roy's body, claiming everything that had been Roy's like the parasite it was while Roy was still dead and could never come back to reclaim any of it… How fucking dare he. How dare he.


Riza looked up to see Havoc peering uncertainly at her. She straightened, smoothing out her expression, banishing whatever had been in her face.

"We still don't know," Fuery said.

"Only one way to find out," Ed said. "Let's go home and pack, Al."

"You're not going, Fullmetal," Riza said. Ed stopped in his tracks and turned back to look at her, incredulous and challenging.

"And how are you gonna stop us?"

"Brother," Al said nervously.

Riza didn't bother to answer his question. There were a dozen ways she could have stopped them, starting with a bullet to the kneecap and working her way up, and they both knew it. "If there's enough of Roy left in this monster for him to be as dangerous as we think, there will be things that can be used against him as well. Behavior patterns. Habits. Weaknesses. Preferences."

Ed's eyes narrowed as if she'd slapped him. Fair enough. She hadn't been talking about sexual preferences, but there was that as well. If the gun worked, use it.

"I was serving with Roy Mustang in the Ishbal rebellion when you and your brother wore short pants and spent your days chasing butterflies through fields and had no idea that the world is a terrible place," she told him quietly. "You've dropped in to the command post to shout at him once a month for the past five years. Edward, you're quick and observant but you have a habit of letting your biases get the better of you, and while you might have had any number of opinions about Brigadier General Mustang, you did not know Roy."

Ed had gone white. There was a long silence while he searched for something to say.

Not giving him time to find it, Riza reached out and folded up the newspaper page. "Lieutenant Havoc, put out that cigarette on the floor," she ordered. "I've already put in for two weeks' leave before I join the Fuhrer's staff. It isn't much, but it'll do for a start. Have Falman call in his favor from Lieutenant Armstrong; the three of you find out everything you can about this village fire and get word to me."

"Where?" Havoc asked.

Riza turned and surveyed the map on the wall. "I'm going to avoid North City. The village is almost up to the Drachma border – it looks like the closest large town is Briggs Pass. Wire me there, in code. And take care of Black Hayate while I'm gone, will you?"

"Done," Havoc said. "Drop him off at my place tonight before you go. You're leaving after dark, right?"

"On the last train."

"Risky. If something happens to it there won't be another one until morning."

"That's why I'm going today."

"Wait!" Ed burst out. "Let me go with you."

Riza closed her eyes and gave a moment's wistful thought to tossing Ed right out the window. Unfortunately, he was stronger than she was, and heavier with the automail.

"Look, I'm good in a tight spot," he said. "And you might know Roy, but I know homonculi. I… I know things about them you might not," he said, sounding suddenly tentative and miserable. Al slipped his hand into Ed's and squeezed.

"Such as?" Havoc asked, not challenging, only wanting to know.

"Such as… as you can't go tonight, 'cause there are things you're going to have to do first that you can't do in broad daylight. Things I'm gonna have to do, I mean, not you." Ed was on the verge of tears. "But it has to be done before you go."

Havoc sighed and lit up another cigarette, then sat half on the table. "Ed," he said kindly. "Come on. Tell us what you're talking about."

"It's something Greed told me," Ed said miserably. "You can't just kill homonculi. You have to make them weak first. And the only thing that weakens them is the remains of the person they were made from. Bones or something."

For a moment, Riza really thought she was going to have to sit down and put her head between her knees – or that she'd vomit before she even could.

"Oh my god," Fuery said faintly.

"Ed," Al said. "I'll do it."

Ed gave a strangled, humorless laugh. "I fucking dug up Mom, Al. I can do this too."

"Mom had been dead for a long time," Al said. "General Mustang hasn't."

"I can –"

"That casket was sealed for a reason, Ed," Havoc said gently.

And it was, Riza thought, closing her eyes against sudden sick dizziness. It was a bomb that killed him, after all, not a lethal injection. The bloodstain had been forty feet across.

"Was it metal?" Al asked. "The casket. I… didn't look too closely."

"No," Riza said hollowly. "It was pine."

"Then I don't think we have to open it," Al said. "I think I know what we can do. I mean, I don't know how to do it, but I know who does."

"Who?" Ed demanded.

"Fletcher," Al said.

"Al, Fletcher's in –"

"No, he's not. I saw him the other day at the market. He and Russell are back in Central. I was going to tell you, but then…"

But then Roy had died, Riza thought, and the world had divided cleanly into before and after, and there was no going back for anything that you'd left undone.

"If it's necessary, do it," she said.

Ed's chin lifted a little. "And I can come with you?"

Riza hesitated.

"That's the bargain," he told her. "I help you get what you need and you take me with you. Equivalent exchange."

She studied him for an uncomfortably long time before nodding reluctantly.

"You won't be sorry," he told her. "Let's go, Al."

Al followed obediently; the door closed behind them, and there was silence in the office for a long time.

Finally, Riza shook herself, picked up an empty box, and went back into the office to pack away Roy's things. Suddenly it didn't seem like such a bad thing, comparatively, to be alone in that office, surrounded by sunlight and memories and Roy's fading ghost.


"This is going to be complicated," Russel said, crouching down by the lantern, fingers sifting the loose earth of Roy's grave as if it were planting soil.

Beside him, Fletcher was busy unpotting a strange-looking plant. Al had offered to help, but a rather stern look from Fletcher had effectively nixed interference of any sort. Ed just stood back, hands in his pockets, watching the three of them as they knelt by the grave. It was damn cold; his flesh fingers were freezing inside his glove.

Hughes' grave was four rows up and six columns over, MH(11), RM(46), asymmetrical subset of matrix Omega. Ed could have walked one to the other with his eyes closed.

"This is a desert plant," Fletcher said. "It's got long roots that are used to having to burrow for nutrients. I can accelerate the growth until they hit the lid, then send an alchemic charge down them that will decompose the pine. That part won't be hard. What'll be hard is…"

"Gathering the materials," Russell said, sounding like he badly wanted to be superior and impatient and couldn't quite bring himself to. "The roots can bring them up, but it'll be delicate work getting them to begin with."

Ed opened his mouth to tell them just to do it, it wasn't like it mattered to Roy anymore, and found that he couldn't. It was stupid, it was irrational, but he couldn't say it. Distantly, he wondered if he was going to be sick.

"Brother," Al said. "You should go home. We can –"

"No!" Ed snapped. "Fuck, Tringhams, come on. Do now and explain later or we'll be out here all goddamned night."

Fletcher shuffled unobtrusively behind Russell, but neither of them flared back at him. Ed squeezed his eyes shut and looked away, fighting a hot surge of anger. There was no one to push himself against anymore, and he couldn't get his balance. God, trust fucking Russell to pick now of all times not to be an asshole…

"You should move back, Al," Fletcher said. "We'll need something to hide the light from the alchemy. If anyone sees us we'll be in a lot of trouble."

"Fletcher Tringham, master of the understatement," Russell muttered.

Fletcher elbowed him. "Brother, give us cover of some kind."

Russell drew a circle in the earth and set a hand on it.

"Wait," Ed said, stepping forward. "Don't close me out of it."

Russell lifted his hand and looked up at Ed. "Maybe it would be better if –"

"No!" Ed said, too loudly. "This isn't – it isn't yours to do. It's mine, okay? You just get things started."

Fletcher and Russell looked at each other, then at Al.

"Brother, please," Al whispered. "You're here. That's enough. Do you think the General would have –"

Ed's laugh was louder than it should have been too, and harsher. "Are you kidding me? That bastard? He's probably waiting down there to get in one last short joke."

"You can be in here with us, but you can't help," Russell told him. "It's delicate work as it is. You know it's dangerous to step in the middle of someone else's circle. You have to promise to stay back and not interfere."

"Or what?" Ed snapped.

"Or Fletcher and I pack up the plants and go home, and you transmute a shovel out of something and start digging."

Ed shrugged off his coat. "Fuck it. I can do that. Get lost."

"Ed," Al said thinly, his voice strained so near the breaking point that it stopped Ed in his tracks. "So help me, if you don't stop this I'm going to knock you unconscious. You agreed to this, now stand back and let them work."

And that was it, Ed thought bitterly, because Al's word was law; and if there was a tiny part of him that was relieved to step back and let the Tringhams bring up Roy's bones, it was just one more thing to hate. "Right, okay," he said, not looking at anyone. "Just hurry up, will you?"

Fletcher and Russell exchanged a glance. Russell's hand came down on the transmutation circle, finally, and a solid wall of earth surged up around them, arching to close just higher than Al's head.

"That's the best I can do right now," Russell said, lantern-light reflecting strangely from the earthen dome into his hair. "Let's move before anyone notices a giant dirt igloo in the middle of the graveyard."

He and Fletcher huddled together over the plants, blocking Ed's view of the grave. Ed found himself looking at the stone instead. It was standard military-issue, plain and phlegm-colored, only Roy's name and two dates. When this was done, Ed was going to come back and carve something into the stone, down toward the bottom where the grass would grow over it and no one else would see.

"Got it?" Russell asked.

"Reinforced. Send down the charge," Fletcher said. There was a grating, shivering sound muffled by six feet of dirt. Ed wondered, if he listened hard, if he'd be able to hear everything that moved in that grave, or a vast white silence where nothing moved at all.

"Please don't blow this one up, Fullmetal," Roy said, sounding pained. "The military's funds are not unlimited."

"Oh yeah? So who says you have to pay for it? Come on, the guy was making chimeras out of –"

"Yes, of course, but –" Roy said, and went on to explain, and Ed didn't care. He didn't care because he'd done that
stupid thing again where he fell into some sort of temporal vortex at right angles to the real universe, and the only thing in this stupid universe worth paying attention to was the way Roy's hands curled around his coffee mug. How fitting that the weapons that made Roy so dangerous were so goddamned beautiful that they shut down Ed's brain.

"Idiot," Ed whispered, too softly for Al to hear. "Fucking stupid, stupid little boy."

Fletcher and Russell were whispering to each other, the lines of their faces stark in the white alchemy fire. Beside Ed, Al was standing with his hands stuffed into his pockets, watching bleakly, looking frighteningly adult in the strange light. Ed looked quickly away from his brother before his subconscious could start sending up treacherous whispers about what they had, between the two of them, managed to do.

But Al wasn't dead. Mustang is dead. Dead is dead, and you can't bring them back.

But we almost did before. We almost brought back Mom. Whatever that was, it lived for a while, and we were only ten and eleven then.

Ed shook his head hard. Someone had already tried to bring Mustang back, with consequences entirely predictable to, apparently, everyone but the mysterious someone and people named Edward Elric.

And that was another thing that needed a fucking reckoning, that voice in the back of his head whispered. That someone had laid that kind of claim to Roy Mustang, when there was already a goddamned line, thanks very much. And when the line consisted of Ed and Hawkeye, you did not fucking take cuts.

Something new flared, a different charge that Ed couldn't identify. "There," Fletcher whispered.

"Can you keep hold?" Russell asked, his face blank with distraction and strain.

"For a minute," Fletcher answered. "Hurry."

The light from the charge flared so bright that Ed had to close his eyes against it just as Russell and Fletcher closed in around something. There was another charge, and another – and then they died down, and Ed opened his eyes, blinking in the comparative dark of the lantern light.

"Well?" he demanded.

Fletcher climbed to his feet, his hands clasped together in front of him. "This was the best we could do," he said. "We cleaned them off and... and closed up the grave again. Here."

For a moment, Ed couldn't move. It was Al's sharp, worried look that stirred him into motion and dispelled the brief flash of panic. It's just… it's nothing, Ed told himself, reaching out. Not anything anymore. Just lines of carbon. There is nothing of Roy left here.

They spilled into his hands like rune bones, dull and rattling: scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, pisiform, trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, hamate, metacarpals, phalanges, long and fine even disassembled.

Ed cupped his hands around them and leaned his forehead against his gloves, struggling for air that didn't smell of dried bones and grave soil.


Smoke-clouded blurs of green and brown flew past the window of the train, muted under the overcast sky. Riza watched them without seeing, mentally composing a letter to Havoc. They'd taken the morning train after all, twelve more hours for Havoc and Falman to meet with Armstrong and set things in motion, another eighteen at the earliest before she could send or receive word. It was a long way to Briggs Pass.

Her civilian clothes felt strange on her, too binding in all the wrong places, and her hair kept falling into her face. She wanted her uniform. More, she wanted her guns on her hips instead of in the clutch purse that sat awkwardly in her lap like something someone else had lost. Too many unfamiliar things, too little comfort where she'd been accustomed to finding it. There were so very many things that Riza wanted back; right now, pragmatically, she'd settle for her balance.

There was a flurry of movement out of the corner of her eye and she looked back to see Ed sprawl into the seat across from her, all long limbs and fox-sharp face and hyperkinetic adolescent energy. He hadn't grown more than an inch or two since he was fifteen, to his own despair and Roy's not-so-secret delight; but the proportions of his body were more man than boy now, and the red coat that no longer quite covered his wrists probably should have been gracefully retired years ago.

And Roy had noticed, she thought with a sudden, tired flash of bitterness. Not in the way he noticed the new arrivals in the secretarial pool, not in a way that would have led him to do something about it, but he'd noticed. This boy sitting across from her burrowing in his pack like an industrious cat could have been Roy's lover, if he'd known how to ask, if Roy had lived a few more months.

"I got some sandwiches," Ed said. "You want one? They're not very good, but hey, I mean, they're food. You can't knock food."

He held out a limp-looking sandwich, not quite looking at her. Riza made herself smile and took it from him, setting it down on the seat beside her. "Thank you, Edward," she said.

Ed fidgeted, picking at the crust of his sandwich. His first sandwich of many, from the look of the stack of them in his lap. The child ate like a coal boiler; Riza had always been vaguely fascinated by it, and Havoc and Breda had a long-running bet as to how much food it would take to actually make him ill. "I hate trains," he offered, still looking down at his sandwich, his eyes hidden by stray tendrils of hair. "You can never bring enough books to last the whole ride and then there's nothing to do. Al and I play cards a lot. I cheat and he gets mad at me but he always plays me again, even though he always says he won't. But it gets boring pretty fast, playing cards."

Alphonse had come to see Ed off at the station, looking miserable, hands stuffed into the pockets of his too-large overcoat. He'd come out of the armor a head taller than his brother, lean and wiry, with huge, expressive eyes; even from her vantage point in the train compartment Riza had been able to see the unhappiness in them, the uncertainty, as if he could see Ed falling and couldn't figure out how to pull him to safety. Ed had touched him lovingly on the shoulder and started for the train, and gotten two steps before Al had come after him, yanked him back around, and pulled him into a hug that nearly lifted Ed off his feet. Riza had been able to see his mouth moving close to Ed's ear, quick, desperate words tumbling over each other.

But Ed had gotten on the train anyway, and Al had watched it go, flanked by two other boys who had apparently gotten to the platform too late to do more than wave goodbye.

"Alphonse is very patient," she said.

The look he shot her was a little hurt and bewildered, a little suspicious, as if she'd reprimanded him for something but he wasn't quite sure what. Riza couldn't decide whether she was more exasperated with Ed's hair-trigger paranoia or with herself. He was only a boy, and hurting as much as she was; it was… petty, to keep him at arm's length like this.

But the truth was that it was too soon, and it was all Riza could do to put one foot in front of the other. She had prided herself on her resources once, but she had nothing left over to mend things between herself and Ed.

"Where do you think he is?" Ed asked quietly.

"You know the habits of homonculi better than I do," she reminded him.

"Yeah, but you know –" Ed began, then stopped, looking utterly stricken.

Riza started to say You can say his name, Edward, and then thought better of it. This kind of loss, at Edward's age… maybe he couldn't. Maybe he never would again.

Damn you, Roy, she thought wearily, and looked back out the window, blinking eyes that were too dry for the sooty train-compartment air. "We'll know more when we get there," she said. "I don't have a feel for what the surrounding territory is like. If there's enough left of Roy in him then he can go to ground in the countryside but he won't want to. Even if he has to hide, he'll still want lights, activity, people."

"Women," Ed said in a brittle voice.

Riza closed her eyes. "Maybe. Yes, probably."

It wasn't Roy, this thing they were going north to kill. It wasn't even human. But if it still carried some of Roy's more predictable traits, that could be turned to their advantage. This creature in Roy's body wouldn't know her, wouldn't know to look for her guns until it was far too late.

"I could pass for a girl," Ed said.

Riza looked sharply back at him. His face was turned studiously away from her, but though he probably didn't intend it, every line of his body from his crossed arms to the set of his legs was veiled challenge: I can make him want me. I don't want him to want you.

"I'm skinny enough, and my hair's long. If I can pass for Ishbalan I can pass for female. And it's not as easy to take my weapons away from me."

Improbably, Riza felt like laughing. Rather humorlessly, probably, but she felt like laughing. "Edward, do you think my guns are the only defense I have?"

Ed shrugged. "They're still easy to take away. A hell of a lot easier than ripping off automail limbs."

"Barry the Chopper didn't have much difficulty with the automail," Riza reminded him sharply, and almost regretted it when he snapped his head around to glare at her.

"I'm not stupid," he said between his teeth. "I learn from stuff like that, okay? And anyway –"

"Ed," Riza said, lifting a hand to rub at the burgeoning headache between her eyebrows. This was becoming ridiculous very quickly. She needed quiet, and a furious Ed was not going to give it to her. "We aren't spending eighteen hours on a train so we can fight each other. There are larger goals here."

It was a long time – a long, mercifully quiet time – before Ed said, with obvious difficulty, "Sorry."

"So am I," she said, let the matter rest for now, and turned to look out the window again.


She hadn't let Ed drive, and he was still sulking a little. She had no doubt that he could drive, for some value of "driving," but she preferred to keep the car in one piece, and equipment handed over to Ed tended not to stay in one piece for very long.

He'd barely slept on the train. He was still small enough to curl up in the seat but he'd jammed himself into the corner between seat and window anyway, nodding off only to wake himself over and over with restless shifting – and once with something that brought him out of sleep shaking and gasping, his eyes flying instinctively to the seat across from him. But it had only been Riza there, not Alphonse, and no comfort to be had, and for a moment she'd thought he was going to cry.

But he hadn't. He'd only turned to look out the window, his face washed-out and bleak in the moonlight.

"Aw, man," he said, sounding awed and horrified. "Look at this place!"

Riza pulled the car off to the side of the road just where the road entered the village. Burnt wood and scorched ground cracked unpleasantly under the tires. It was worse than it had looked in the newspaper photos; from up close, it began to seem like a wonder anyone had made it out alive at all. The houses were burnt-out husks most of the way up the street, nothing left but blackened frames, and the fields were burnt to ash for what looked like half a mile to one side of the road. She'd seen Roy wreak this kind of devastation before, and worse; but that was when he could do alchemy, and when he'd been too young and too inexperienced to avoid the orders of genocidal madmen.

She wondered why he'd done it this time, this thing that wasn't Roy. Because he was newborn and too uncertain on his feet to get out of doing as he was told, or simply because he'd wanted to and he could?

Selfishly, she hoped it was the latter. It would be hard to kill him, otherwise, and she needed it to be easy.

"Hey!" Ed yelled suddenly, startling her so that her fingers twitched toward her pistols. "Hey, you! C'mere a minute!"

There was a wary silence for a minute, and then a young boy, no older than twelve or thirteen, edged out from behind a building, peering at them with sullen suspicion. "Yeah?" he asked curtly.

"We won't hurt you," Riza said, a little exasperated. She'd never really liked children. All other things being equal, she felt that they shouldn't actually be allowed to come to harm; but that was about as far as she was willing to go, and this one didn't look likely to change her mind. "Please come here so that we can ask you some questions."

His scowl deepening, the boy shuffled toward them. "What do you want?"

"What the hell happened to this place?" Ed asked. "You see the guy that did this?"

Sullenness was very nearly edged out by a spark of interest. He had, then, and – better – he was bursting to tell someone about it. "Yeah, I saw him. He was dressed all in black. Looked evil, too. Him and that fat dumpy guy he was with."

For just a moment, Ed looked a little like he'd been slapped. No one who didn't know him very well would have caught it, Riza thought. "Real short guy? High voice? Stuck his fingers in his mouth and drooled a lot?"

The boy looked askance at him. "I didn't see them that close. But he was real short, yeah. Even shorter –"

"Where did you see them?" Riza cut him off. "And when? Before or after the village burned?"

"During," he said. "The fires all started up at once, it seemed like. So we all ran out of our houses into the street, and I saw him over there."

He pointed to a decrepit fence set across a path winding downward, about fifty yards from the road. Water shimmered at the end of it, barely visible through the trees.

"Both of them were standing there, just leaning against the fence and watching stuff burn. The tall guy, it looked like he was tossing a box of matches up and down. That's how I knew he was the one who started the fire. I turned around to tell my dad where they were, and when I looked again they were gone. I guess they went into the woods, but I didn't see them moving in the trees. They just disappeared."

Riza looked narrowly at him. "You have sharp eyes," she told him, and meant, You're embellishing.

There was nothing in his look, though, that bespoke awareness of being caught in a lie. "Yeah, I do," he said proudly. "And… and there was a lot of light. The whole village was burning."

Riza met Ed's eyes silently.

The boy only faltered for a minute before he rallied, though. "Hey, why do you want to know? Are you looking for them?"

"Yeah," Ed said grimly. "Yeah, we are."

"I hope you find him," the boy said with quiet implacability. "And when you do, punch him one for me. He burned our house. We've been living with my grandma down at the end of the road. It stinks. My mom hates it. She wants our house back."

"That's understandable," Riza said.

The boy took a step back. "Look, I gotta go. I didn't see anything else. You find him, though." He turned and vanished into the trees, quick as a fox. Riza stared after him, thinking.

"Lust," Ed said, curling trembling hands into fists and jamming them into his pockets.

Riza frowned a little. "What?"

Ed gave a hoarse bark of a laugh. "Lust, he's Lust. Before, it was always Lust who hung around with Gluttony. Figures, doesn't it? Bastard couldn't go one weekend to the next without five different women in between, what other sin would he be?"

Riza closed her eyes and rubbed a hand across her forehead. "Greed? Pride?"

"I wish he was Greed. Greed, Greed turned out to be… I killed him, 'cause I didn't know and I found out too late." Ed was shaking all over now. Riza looked at him for a minute, then slid a tentative hand onto his shoulder, prepared to pull it back instantly if he reacted badly.

"I'm okay," Ed said, but he didn't pull away. "Gimme the keys, let's see if there's a road back there they could have pulled a car into."

He was still shaking. There were circles under his eyes, dark as a crow's wing, and even his hair was limp. Riza might have felt sorry for the boy, but there was not enough sympathy in the world to persuade her to allow him behind the wheel of a car. Even Alphonse would have been relegated to the back seat in this condition.

"You can drive next time," she told him, not unkindly, and turned back toward the car.

Al knocked on the door, then stood listening to the crashing noises that drew steadily closer. Suddenly a little nervous, he brushed flecks of green door paint off his gloves and debated whether he should turn to look out at the street as if he weren't waiting for anyone at all, really. Stupid thing to do, but he'd seen people do it. Sometimes they even whistled. You'd think it was perfectly normal to stand on someone's doorstep for no reason, whistling, perfectly amenable to going inside if the person who lived there happened to accidentally be home. Sometimes Al thought normal people were weirder than him and Ed, and with less excuse.

There was a crash just inside the door, followed by the tinkle of breaking glass, and the door jerked open. Sciezka peered out, glasses askew and a smudge on her nose, and her face lit with a radiant smile when she saw him.

"Al! Come in! I was just tidying things up a bit, you know how when you have everything organized one way and then you decide that it'd be better if you organized it a different way so you –"

Al gulped a little as she grabbed hold of his collar, but let himself be dragged into the house. It was probably, all things considered, a good thing she had hold of him; he'd never have been able to find his way through the maze of book stacks. Sciezka made a peculiar Ariadne, trailing bright chatter instead of string, but when you were tracking a minotaur you took what help you could get.

"Coffee?" she asked, and Al found himself sitting cross-legged at a small tea table with a mug in his hands before he could open his mouth. Hesitant, he took a sip. It was too bitter, burned-tasting, and he didn't think cream and sugar would help.

Sciezka leaned her cheek on her hand and blinked at him like a studious squirrel. "So what can I do for you, Al?"

Al set his mug carefully down. "I need a book – two books, actually. Both of them were in the Central Library First Branch. The title of the first one was Medical Alchemy. It was about two hundred pages, with burgundy leather binding and a gold title stamp. It was in the third bookshelf on the left, middle shelf, as you came up the flight of stairs back by the ornithology section on the first floor." The interior of the First Branch opened up before him like a book falling open to a favorite page, all sunlight on marble and the rustling of old paper. "The second one was by the same woman, Elizabeth Kramer. It was called Night's Garden. It was a book of love poems. I don't know where that one was shelved; I picked it up off a table because I recognized her name, but then Brother found what he was looking for and we needed to go."

Sciezka sighed in that way girls did when they were talking about pink sparkly things. "Oh, love poems! I have some really wonderful collections, if you can't find the ones you're looking for I could – wait. Were they really love poems?"

It was stifling in this room. Al tugged at his collar, trying to be discreet about it. "No. It was her alchemy notebook. I don't know if she got the idea to put it there from Dr. Marcoh, or just willed her books to the library and that went with them. Did you ever read them?"

"Hmm. No, but you may be in luck with the poetry book. I remember it being checked out just a few days before the fire, so if whoever checked it out didn't return it early, by now it will be back somewhere in the Second Branch."

"Good," Al said, relieved on one count and disappointed on the other. Well, he could still look, at any rate. "Thanks, Sciezka. And thanks for the coffee."

Her expression flickered for a second in a way that Al couldn't read. "You can stay for a while, you know. Finish your cup."

Al looked down at the mug of overcooked coffee, feeling uncomfortable in a way he wouldn't have been able to explain. "I'd love to, but I really do have to go."

Sciezka's face was falling a little. There was something too sharp in her eyes, like hope and disappointment ground together in glittering shards. "Oh. Well… come back again sometime soon, okay? You can tell me how everyone is doing in Rizembul."

She probably heard from Winry more often than Al did. He didn't want to come back. He didn't want to sit in this airless room drinking bitter coffee with Sciezka and her too-bright smile, and he didn't know how to say no without feeling guilty and awful. "I –" he began uncomfortably.

Her smile was already cracking around the edges. "Oh, no, it's okay. I know you're busy. With Ed gone, you must have twice as much to do in the lab as usual. Honestly, it's always work, work, work with the two of you. Winry's always telling me –" She stopped and gave a high, nervous laugh.

"Yeah, it's – we have experiments that can't be left for long." Al scooted back away from the table and got to his feet, not at all sure that he could find his own way out. "I'm sorry, I just… another time, maybe, after Ed gets back."

"Oh, sure. It'll be nice to see Ed again too," she said, not looking at him as she rose. "I'll walk you to the door. It's a little messy in here, I guess. You have to sort of know where you're going."

He followed her to the door, having to brush too close to her on the way out as they wriggled uncomfortably out of each other's way. Standing in the doorway, she pushed up her glasses with a nervous movement and gave him a smile that didn't match the look in her eyes.

"Goodbye, Al," she said, and closed the door before he could figure out what to say.

Wishing he hadn't come, Al set out for the Second Branch.


The hotel was well-built, but Riza's hearing was keen, and she heard it when Ed's breathing moved from deep and slow to unsteady, shivering gasps.

She didn't think he'd woken; the very fact that his almost-sobs were audible argued against it. For a minute she debated waking him, but in the end she let it go and turned her attention back to the letter in front of her. Riza was the last person to believe that tears were cathartic, but sometimes it was worse to hold them in. For all his volatility, Ed held too many things in already.

White Snows Hotel, Havoc had told her the night before they left, handing her two identification cards. You're Anna Richards, traveling with your brother Jack. Riza, for God's sake be careful. And make sure Ed keeps his automail covered, his alchemy out of sight, and his mouth shut, at least until you can go to ground somewhere.

Darling Anna, the letter started out, because even in code Havoc was still Havoc.

Armstrong had nothing for them but fleeting rumors; and that in itself told Riza something, because a man with Roy Mustang's looks got noticed. A woman who saw him in a bar would watch for him the next night. Even a man would, under the right circumstances, in the right bar. Wherever he was, then, he was lying low, and wasn't likely to break cover any time soon. Lust she didn't know, but Roy had generally started things as he meant to go on.

Ice settled in her water with an unnervingly sharp sound. Riza rubbed her fingertips over her eyes and tried to think.

You're tired, Hawkeye, Roy's memory whispered in her ear. Go home. The paperwork will wait.

You have a date, you mean. She'd even been able to say it without bitterness, most of the time, and kept him from hearing it when she couldn't. Just once, she'd wanted him to slide his hands onto her shoulders when he said it, to feel his breath warm on her ear, the lean strength of his body against her back.

Just once.

"What did Armstrong say?"

Startled out of her thoughts, Riza looked up to see Ed leaning in the doorway between their rooms, bare-chested and barefoot with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. His eyes were red, long lashes stuck together by the remnants of tears, but his face was impassive. Or as impassive as Ed's face ever got, at any rate, which in this case meant that his eyes flicked back and forth between her and the letter as if he expected one or the other of them to do something extremely interesting and informative at any moment and didn't want to miss it.

You should be in bed, she wanted to tell him, and didn't. He wasn't a child, and she wasn't his mother. "Very little," she said. "A woman who thinks she saw someone who looks like him driving away from the village, toward town, in a grey car. A fire in a tenament that only failed to kill anyone through a minor miracle. He's keeping himself well hidden."

Ed frowned and padded over to stand beside her, smelling of sleep and the warm cotton of the blanket, squinting down at the letter as though he could read the code. It was entirely possible that he could, or at least wouldn't take long to figure it out. "Homonculi are really good at not being seen unless they want to be," he said. "Fuck if I know how they do it. You'd think they'd be hard to miss."

Riza sat back in the desk chair and rubbed a hand over her mouth, thinking. "What now?" she murmured. "We should drive around the city tomorrow morning and see the lay of the land. Then we can make a list of all the places homonculi would be likely to go, and all the places Roy would be likely to go, and see if there's overlap on the lists."

At the mention of Roy's name, Ed stiffened beside her and drew back a little. "We don't even know that he's here," he said sullenly, the moment of cooperation apparently gone.

God, it was hopeless. Armstrong had failed her, she had no leads, and her only help was a seventeen-year-old boy so miserably in love with a dead man that he was still fighting for him as if there were something left to win. For a moment, Riza wished grimly that her glass had something in it a bit stronger than water.

This wasn't getting them anywhere. Riza took a breath and pushed despair back where it had come from. "If you have a better idea, Edward, now is the time to say so," she said briskly. "I'd be glad to hear it."

Ed gave her a narrow, sideways look. "Not yet, but there's got to –"

There was a soft, dull thump at the door, and then silence.

Riza pulled out her guns and got quickly and quietly to her feet. Ed brought his hands together, letting the blanket fall from his shoulders, and drew a long steel blade out of his automail with a crackle of alchemic reaction that sounded far too loud in the taut stillness. Waving Ed back into his own room, Riza flattened herself against the wall by the door and listened for the space of long breaths.

Nothing. Carefully and silently, Riza drew back the chain on the door and eased the deadbolt back into its socket; then, heart pounding, she threw the door open and stepped outside, one gun pointing in either direction down the hall – pointing, fortunately, over Ed's head when he slammed out of his own room a second behind her. There was nothing in the hallway but closed doors and dim, steady light, and no indication that anyone had been there at all.

No indication, that was, except for a scrap of blue cloth tacked to Riza's door.

Head swimming with a sudden burst of nausea, Riza holstered one of her guns and reached for the cloth. It was torn from the jacket of a military uniform, one small medal still clinging to it, and the end of the scrap was brown and stiff.

"Oh, god," Ed said.

Riza closed her eyes, just for a moment, and let her fingers warm the chilled cloth. "From him?" she wondered.

Ed shook his head slowly. "No," he said. "He won't remember. And it might weaken him anyway, getting around… that. But it's from someone who knows who he is, and knows who we are. How the fuck did they find us so fast?"

As careful as they'd been, there were a dozen ways they could have been found by someone who knew them, and Riza couldn't guess which was the most likely any more than Ed could. "I don't know," she said.

Hesitantly, Ed lifted the fingers of his human hand to touch the cloth, brushing them with a sort of obsessive masochism over the rust-colored stain and up to where Riza still clutched the scrap in her own fingers. "I'll get whoever did this," he said, and there was something in his voice that ran deeper than anger and grief into some realm where nothing existed but white arrays and the cold certainty of someone else's mortality. "I'll get whoever planted that bomb, too."

Riza forced her hand to unclench and drew it slowly back, leaving the cloth in Ed's hand. Her nightmares were all the memento of Roy's death that she needed, and more than she wanted.

"Get dressed," she said. "We'll start with the doorman."


"God, Ed." Roy's voice is a husky whisper, the smooth velvet of his voice roughened, a perfect fit with this firelit room. "You're beautiful, do you know that?"

"Fuck, yeah, talk to me," Ed whispers back, baring his throat to Roy's tongue, hair spilling down his back in soft waves. "I love it when you do that."

Roy's hands are everywhere, winding into Ed's hair, stroking down his automail arm, sliding down his pants, touching everywhere Ed loves to be touched and won't admit it. Ed makes a strangled little sound and arches into Roy's hands.

"Don't stop," he says in a voice that rides a trembling line between pleading and command.

"Oh, I won't," Roy says silkily, easing Ed's tank top off and down until it entangles his wrists behind his back.

His eyes open where Ed can't see, purple under thick lashes, cat's-eye pupils opening into the dark.

Al woke with a start, spilling books across the table. In the empty quiet, they sounded like a city falling. Shaking, Al gathered them up and tried to make his heart slow down.

"Go to bed, Al," Fletcher said from behind him. Al turned to see him wandering into the kitchen, sleepy and rumpled in a shirt and sweats that were probably hand-me-downs from Russell.

"I didn't mean to wake you," Al said.

Fletcher frowned a little and went to open the refrigerator, staring contemplatively into it. "I didn't say, 'Al, go to bed because you're keeping me awake.' I was awake before you knocked down whatever you knocked down. I told you to go to bed because you look like hell and you fell asleep at the table. And you look like you were having nightmares."

"Yeah," Al said unsteadily, rubbing his hands over his face. "I was."

Fletcher came to sit across from him, hands full of crackers, a knife, and a brick of cheese. "Want to talk about it?" he asked as he started slicing.

"Russell's going to kill you for slicing cheese right on the table," Al said.

"Does that mean no?" Fletcher asked wryly.

Al sighed, scrubbing at his eyes. "It's just… Ed does stupid things sometimes. Not because he's stupid, but just because… because he wants things, so much, and he can always see six different ways that he ought to be able to get them, and even after everything we've been through he never seems to understand that there are things you just aren't meant to have. It's not like he wants that many things, even. Just that when he wants, he wants big."

Fletcher pushed some cheese and crackers across the table to Al, looking uneasy. "And one of the things he wants is General Mustang, who is now dead," he guessed.

"It was Ed's idea to bring our mom back," Al told him, framing the cheese slice carefully in his fingertips. He hadn't eaten all day; the thought of eating now made him queasy. "I mean, it's not like I tried to talk him out of it or anything, but he was the one who came up with it. He was the one who figured out how to get my body back."

"But you helped with that, too," Fletcher noted, nudging at Kramer's medical alchemy text with his fingertip. "And now you're going to sit up all night until you collapse trying to help him get this too before he tries by himself and does something really stupid."

"It's not…" Al began helplessly, spreading his hands. "It's not like Ed doesn't know the difference. He knows the General's dead. He knows this new homonculus isn't him. But I know what he's thinking. If it's got the General's body then it's got the General's brain, and if it has his brain then somewhere in those synapse pathways is everything that made Roy Mustang who he was, all his memories, all his knowledge, all his thought patterns."

"But that isn't all," Fletcher said. "Ed knows that. He even said that when you try to bring a person back there's always something that's missing."

"Yes, but –" Al leaned into the table, cheese and crackers forgotten. "What if what's missing is time?"

Fletcher frowned. "What?"

"Suppose you could find all those pathways and start them firing up again. You'd have to do it fast, before they got overwritten, but once you started him thinking like Roy, feeling like Roy, maybe he could compensate for whatever was missing, like you compensate for a missing limb when you can't afford automail. You wouldn't be starting from scratch. He's alive – he's not Roy Mustang, not yet, but he's not dead either. You're that far ahead of the game; Ed and I didn't have that kind of advantage when we tried to bring Mom back. It would be like bringing someone out of a coma, or curing their amnesia."

"Al," Fletcher said slowly. "Does Ed want to bring the General back or do you?"

Al blinked at him for a minute, then sat back in his chair. "I'm afraid Ed does, and I don't want him to get hurt doing it," he said.

"And whatever Ed wants, Ed gets, if it kills you and him both," Fletcher said. "This is bad, Al. Let it go. Both of you. General Mustang is dead and buried."

Al smiled wryly. "Are you going to tell me not to meddle in things I don't understand?"

"No," Fletcher said. "I'm going to tell you not to meddle in things that you're deliberately misunderstanding because seeing Ed like this hurts you more than you know how to stand. Ed's strong. He'll get past this."

"You're pretty smart for fifteen, you know that?" Al sighed.

"Smart enough to know that you think I'm wrong," Fletcher told him. "You don't think Ed will get past it, and the reason you're pushing yourself like this is that you think there's only so long before it'll be too late to even try to bring Mustang back and every hour closes the window a little more. Go on, tell me I'm wrong about that."

Al's head was throbbing and his eyes felt full of grit. Maybe he did need to go to bed, except that he'd tried sleep once already tonight and wasn't any too happy at the outcome. "He's going to do this, Fletcher," he said wearily. "One way or another, he's going to try. If he tries and fails he's going to have to kill this thing that's got Roy's body, and he'll do it if he has to but it'll kill something in him."

"If it's the part of him that keeps trying to bring things back from the dead, maybe it's just as well."

"What the hell are you two talking about? It's three in the morning."

Al started and turned to see Russell leaning in the doorway, mussed and scowling. "Nothing," he said. "Sorry if we woke you."

Russell raked a hand impatiently through his hair. "Yeah, well – Fletcher, are you cutting things on the damn table again? I've told you a hundred times –"

"Go back to bed, brother," Fletcher said with some asperity. "We'll be quiet."

"You'll be intolerable in the morning, is what you'll be if you don't go get some sleep," Russell argued, appropriating the knife from Fletcher. "Go on, both of you."

"You are bossy," Fletcher told him plaintively.

"I am tired. And so are you. Go. You too, Al."

Al gathered his books meekly and went to the guest room while Fletcher was cleaning up the cheese and crackers. Too tired to get undressed, he kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, bits of medical alchemy chasing each other randomly through his brain.

Russell's voice and the unsettling image of a homonculus' hands on Ed's skin followed him down into restless sleep.


"He was there twice," Ed said as they made their way down the steep stone stairs, the overcast sky a distant, fading rectangle above them. "The night the village burned and again in the morning when the newspaper guys were there."

"So he didn't stray far, at least for a while," Riza observed.

"But why? Why there? Was there something important about the village or did he just not have anything better to do? Or was he calling someone out? If he knew the newspapers would be there…"

That wasn't an idea Riza liked. As far as she could guess, the people most likely to come looking for Roy Mustang's ghost were the members of his staff – the Elrics, in particular.

The stairs ended in an ominous-looking iron door and the faint strains of music – a woman's voice, low and smoky, singing something slow. Ed pulled the door open, more cautious than he appeared, and stepped inside.

It had been two days since someone tacked a bloodstained strip of Roy's uniform to Riza's door in the middle of the night; two days with no sign of the homonculus wearing Roy's body, and only faint rumors that had brought them here. It would be time to move on soon, which was problematic, as Riza had no idea where to move on to. Roy had been a soldier, accustomed to moving, touching lightly where he came to rest, and as far as Riza knew there was nowhere he had loved enough that a homonculus in his form would wake and turn his eyes there.

But there were other emotions than love, after all, and some of them were just as powerful.

The cabaret was smoky, glum, dark except for the dingy spotlight shining down on a tired woman in a red dress. It was smaller than Central's cabarets tended to be, at least in Riza's limited experience; the patrons were male and middle-aged, balding men in wilted suits who gave Ed and Riza one disinterested glance before turning back to their drinks. It would have bored Roy. For all Riza knew, Lust might have loved it. Ed, amusingly enough, was rigid with disapproval.

"Who would he have talked to?" Ed asked under his breath. "Her?"

Riza looked the singer over. She was older than she looked at first glance, thin and brittle; but there was a faded loveliness in the bones of her face, in the dark hair that spilled down in waves to the tops of her opera gloves. In a certain mood, Roy might have been intrigued. "It's possible."

"He has to have," Ed said. "If this doesn't pan out we've got nothing left."

"There's one more place we might look," Riza told him. "Not here. But… he might have gone there, even if he didn't understand why."

Ed glanced up at her, his eyes sharp and luminous, unsettlingly golden. "Ishbal," he guessed.

Riza nodded, her throat too tight to speak. It hurt unexpectedly fiercely, how much he reminded her of Roy, with his careless brilliance and his way of seeing the world as a web of points drawn in an array.

"But the thing about homonculi is that they mostly go where they're sent," Ed said. "I wish we knew how much of Mustang there is in him. Mustang would have found a way to go to Ishbal if Ishbal was where he wanted to go, and he'd have made the person controlling him think it was their idea."

The sound of clapping broke sharply into Riza's concentration. She glanced up to see the singer drifting off the stage. "Wait here for a minute," she told Ed, and started through the close-set tables, her hand brushing her hip where a gun should be.
beachlass: red flipflops by water (Default)

[personal profile] beachlass 2010-11-03 01:48 am (UTC)(link)
This is lovely, and aching, and even unfinished, I'm glad to have had a chance to read it. Thank you!
stultiloquentia: Campbells condensed primordial soup (Default)

[personal profile] stultiloquentia 2010-11-08 01:35 am (UTC)(link)
Whew. *pleased sigh* It's been four years since I last read this, but it stuck with me for all that time. The mood you set is that powerful. God, what a set-up. I love the teamy stuff when Havoc finds the newspaper photo, and "you did not know Roy" (because it's true), and the phrase, "where nothing existed but white arrays and the cold certainty of someone else's mortality." Gah.

And eeee, you added a bit! And...Al is dreaming Ed!porn. And if you break your stories down into engine, clock and line, enter the clock. That's two of three: are you sure you're not writing this sucker?

Thanks very much for sharing. Even if you never write another word of it, it's good for a daydream or two. :)