He Who Searches For Himself


Front Side of the Gate (Alphonse)

Dante continues her examination of the Gate while Izumi lays out an explanation regarding her motives as well as The Theory of Beyond the Gate. The Hughes family is escorted out of the country by the Tlingum brothers.

Back Side of the Gate (Edward)

Winry's rescued from her frustrating adventure through the city of London and uses Ed's shoulder to cry on as a vent. After some awkward recovery time, they retrieve the box from the post office that caused so much trouble for her.

Chapter 77, Part XXVI – The Theory Of Beyond The Gate

"The Theory Of Beyond the Gate," Dante's abuse of Nina's childish voice rang out, "sounds too mature for a picture book. Let's call it: The Story of the Great Gate. By Dante," the little body turned, "Break it up, Aisa – Dan and Te, with an accented E. It should read: 'Written by Dan Té'."

Aisa raised an eyebrow, taking down the note while glancing to the locked door of Nina's spacious room as the childish creature pranced about over a light grey carpet.

"Chapter One: Once upon a time, hundreds upon hundreds of years ago, there was a philosopher. A great, wise, and noble philosopher…" the child's arms floated around at her sides like an orchestra conductor, "you're taking notes, right Aisa?"

"Yes Miss."

Dante drew up Nina's tiny index finger once again. She spoke as though she were an adult, whimsically addressing young children, playing with their thoughts and teasing their imaginations, "This philosopher was an alchemist. He dared to do things no one else sought. And this man, like so many other alchemists of his time, was a medical alchemist. All kinds of diseases could be cured through his wisdom and compassion. Soon, he would teach the world how to not only make medicines through alchemy but with two bare hands. He lived with a dream that he could create a greater good for society."

She would write a picture book – a child's picture book. Dante gleefully made the decision on her way home from the underground city she coveted. That journey was so easy to do too, some days. Half of the staff in the Prime Ministers private quarters had been brought under, what had been at the time, Lyra's sphere of influence. Now it was hers, but to let on that a child was at the helm of this organized dissent would be absurd. The new controller was simply recognized as anonymous and far more cold than 'Lyra' – to keep the minions in line. Disruptions continued within the nation at her own discretion and control. She was so close to what she wanted and in her life's legacy she would leave a book written for a child, telling this world how she understood the folk tales, myths and legends that had barely survived through time before arriving in her possession – where she wiped them out.

"One day, a traveler came into town. He collapsed at the philosopher's home, begging for help. 'Oh the hells I've seen, you cannot imagine,' the man cried, exhausted and worn, 'all the turmoil I have been guided through to find you here, Great Philosopher. Please help me.'"

The tale would be something to entertain the minds of young children and be foolishly disregarded as imagination by all their parents. Like the skilled alchemy masters of eons past, this alchemical story would be told in code. If that fateful day would come where she no longer stood on this earth, then let it be her last laugh at an ignorant world.

"The philosopher took this wounded man into his care and soon, through what the traveler described as a miracle, his body was healed.

'You are far greater in your knowledge than I could have ever imagined,' stated the traveler, 'my wounds are indeed healing.'

'Where have you come from, young lad?' asked the philosopher, 'for someone to not know the workings of simple medicine, I'd like to know where our nation may lend a hand and aid your plight.'"

Children's eyes would get to see this mysterious story of the fictitious 'Great Philosopher' and learn more about their own history than their parents could even comprehend. There was no one left to validate the stories as anything more than that and the most important events of their lifetime would sit right under their noses for no one to find.

"'I come from beyond the Gate, Great Philosopher. I was granted knowledge of your existence and was given lead to this world only if I could withstand the hardships; I'd feared I'd have died. I have passed the tests with the aid of Gods and their sons and here I stand.'"

As a young woman in the body she'd been born into, she'd heard the stories. Word-of-mouth tales that grew into greater secrecy as the generations went on, told only to those deemed great enough and trustworthy enough to take on the secrets. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago, the legendary tales took place at what was viewed by present-day alchemists as the new dawn of their art. Alchemy, from those fabled stories forwards, exploded. That was the Alchemy Revolution.

"The philosopher laughed, 'I know nothing of which you speak. This great God, his son and crossing Gate - no mention of these has there been in any known time. I am nothing more than a doctor and an alchemist.'

'You are an alchemist?'

The traveler had asked his question eagerly to which the philosopher replied proudly, 'I do not deny that.'"

Dante would put no effort into the advertisement of her book. If a child's eye found it, then let it be so. If they did not, then so it shall be. It could be discarded when the eyes are no longer interested, or immortalize it as a fairytale. Fact-based fairytale stories which she'd taken from the world decades or maybe centuries before. Stories re-told in diluted fashion for any simple mind to read, then reorganized and clearly conveyed as best she and her husband from long ago had ever come to understand any of it – regardless of how incomplete her understanding may be.

"'Shall we converse, Great Philosopher? For your knowledge on the betterment of my wounds, I will, in exchange, give you the knowledge I carry in my fibers for your alchemy.'"

But this book, it was just a toy; a fun little aside to keep her feeling as childish as her body. It did not quell the annoyances. The Hughes', the lakeside cabin, or the little inner workings of the government that a full sized Lyra Mitchell once had much more access too.

The way the Hughes had 'left home' had made her suspicious. Alphonse was with them and that family had far too many connections to people who fit into other parts of the picture. She wasn't certain where to sound the alarm bell, but she'd given a general alarm for the entire situation. The growing number of people who answered to her omnipresent beck and call were in all corners of the country and she'd prefer to hear back from any one of them sooner than later. She couldn't help but wonder about the story out of West City, of a young mother, a little girl and young boy that fit her criteria for Elysia and Alphonse. But what was strange, was the addition of a young man that she could not place on her puzzle board. Was she looking too hard, or was this deliberate to throw her off? In the meantime, Dante would be forced follow the actions of a useless police task force, sent out to track down this 'woman and family' that she was more than certain was not meant to be found again. This drew a vile ire from such a small physique.

Where the hell was Izumi?

Was it Mustang or her own informants that burned down the cabin community? How many bodies? She hadn't heard back – that worried her. As it stood, Mustang and his right hand were missing, but his left hand was about to be locked down, and his loyalists were to be conveniently placed out of reach from one another.

"…Miss?" Aisa's voice came up.

"Hm?" Dante lifted her head, the twisted expression wrapped in thought bled into her face, "I'm burdening myself, Aisa."

"What's on your mind?" the woman squared herself around to the petite figure.

"Everything and that's the problem," Nina stepped forwards again, "I'd like to think that most of this will wash itself out, but I don't want to be confident in that. I dislike playing chess a great deal."

"Nina?" there was a knock, and a familiar male voice came from beyond the sealed bedroom door, "Dear, may I come in?"

"Wretched excuse of a man," the child muttered. A narrow set of eyes tore down the wooden door in thought. The voice of the man she gave an honourary title of 'father' to had startled her, causing her train of thought to come crashing to a halt, "interrupting me constantly. I'm tired of him and his fawning. Something needs to be done about him."

She was half tempted to leave him on the other side of the door to beg for permission to enter her room. Instead, she grudgingly smeared on her nicest expression and invited the bothersome lump of flesh in to entertain him in whatever nonsense he wanted with her this time.

"So, Once Upon a Time…" Edward tilted his head, casting a thoughtful gaze into the corner, "pieces of this world's mythology got tangled up in our ancient history. We didn't know how to interpret mythology and ended up with ideas that formed 'The Theory of Beyond the Gate'."

Gnawing on the last bite of her tea bun, Winry could only shrug, "The messed up rate of time on this side could line our histories up that way, I guess."

The centerpiece of a library table, overflowing with hidden mysteries and unknown wisdom, was the thick, leather-bound book with a golden latch. Each endless page inked in handwritten scripture depicted the skeleton of a theory whose final form was still incomplete.

Rattling the end of his pen on the desk, Ed sat up in his seat. His eyes would fall to the tabletop for minutes on end as he tried to connect the pieces of a fractured map, "The Hermaphrodite Child of the God of Boundaries," Ed pointed a finger to Winry as he read, "You'd said Dante had named the baby 'Diana', right? In the theory, that child at the boundary is called Diana," his eyes flew back to the pages in hand, his brow tightening, "So a hermaphrodite infant is meant to be the purest representation of alchemy, 'one to represent all'. The theory tries to use Diana as a doorstop, but she isn't so much a doorstop as she is a peace offering or plea for assistance," golden eyes darted around the table, picking up mental snippets of other information, "'When an infant is placed at the gateway, the worlds will appear'," Ed read aloud, "In the theory, the 'God of Boundaries' is Hermes – he's the shepherd. One of his children was a Hermaphrodite," his face twisted more as he tried to untangle the logic, "someone in our history misunderstood the mythology references and I think Dante figures that the logic behind Diana will suffice. Make an appeal to the Gate for it to show both worlds and allow passage all in one shot. Why does it seem to be working? It shouldn't."

Winry took up the slouched position Ed had once sat in, rather disappointed that she no longer had any tea buns to keep occupied with. Since they'd entered he public library shortly after it had opened, the pair had only seen one curious attendant wander to the far corner where they had set up fort. No patron had bothered to wander so far back, no other attendant had ventured there either. No one beyond Winry could see the pile of books Edward had collected in an exuberant sweep of the library archives. What notes did not appear on the table had been etched in stone within the Elric's mind.

"For Diana to serve her purpose, two 'Points of Entry' are needed," he reiterated in common form how he'd come to understand the words within the theory to mean, "A point that goes 'there to here' and one that's 'here to there'," Ed somewhat wished he could shake the book and have the answers fall out onto the table for him, "Diana has one point of entry on her stomach with that pentagram, but there can't be a match on this side for it, because alchemy doesn't work. The theory doesn't recognize that at all – it's assuming alchemy functions properly, which almost entirely debunks the theory," he threw his gaze down, narrowing an eye, "but, maybe it didwork at one point in time?"

"Why don't you wait and ask your dad?" It was the third time in the last hour she'd given him that answer to the endless rhetorical questions Ed voiced. Even after being immersed in a science she had very little understanding of for eight hours, as much as Winry appreciated his excitement and unwavering devotion to his science, she was extremely bored.

Shaking his head, Ed couldn't dismiss his day so easily, "And when do you suppose he's coming back?"

"Whenever Dr. Wilson brings him back," Winry gave her defeated answer with a heavy sigh, "but I'd bet he can answer your questions, since his name is on the first page."

Somewhat disheartened by Winry's lack of interest, Ed's train of thought broke away from his studies and switched to hers, "It's obviously my dads. It's done in his style and there's too much alchemical knowledge in it for anyone on this side of the Gate to even have had a hand in it. Now-a-days anyways," Ed redirected his focus to one of his scattered sheets of paper, "They'd called and said they'd be back 'sometime this week' and I'm not waiting around to find out if 'sometime' is tomorrow or three days from now."

The night when Ed realized what it was he had been reading his world stopped. It was the most astounding feeling he'd had in years. The amount of information in his hands was incalculable. The potential of it was inconceivable. Bubbling up from inside was a childish, jubilant side of him that wanted to make sense of it all – now. Why care about where the package came from? He hadn't felt so vibrant in years and he couldn't fight the desire to chase the knowledge around in gleeful circles.

"It's so ridiculous," the end of Ed's pen found his teeth, "The more I look at it, the more I think the ancient civilizations on this side of the Gate had known what they'd possessed thousands of years ago; they just didn't know how to use it. Or couldn't. Their histories are full of incredibly powerful, but absolutely useless information. They must have been beside themselves with frustration."

At his point between England and Germany, Ed felt like he'd nearly drowned in an ocean of knowledge. Places so saturated with information that all he had to do was stand there and it would all come to him without any request or effort. The most exciting jaunt he took was the gleeful dive he took through Greece. Sure Rome was neat, but the whole country of Greece was fascinating. There was some place called Egypt he would have loved to have gone to, but he was unable to reach it. The names of the cities within these countries meant something far different to Edward than they did to anyone else in this world. They were concrete apostles full of stories about everything he'd ever wanted to know and things he didn't realize he could know. In these places, it wasn't always about proper alchemy, but things that could be used in combination with the science and make it magnificent, glorious and unequivocally pure with understanding and power. The history of this world was the only shred of vibrancy Edward Elric had ever found since his arrival. But, as these civilizations died, they'd taken with them mans ability to listen to their teachings – they became history, then legend, then myth. Nevertheless, Ed felt like a kid in a candy store, except there would never be enough days in his life to uncover everything there was to know from this decrepit world's flavourful history. A diverging path led him back to his father and to a country in a great amount of pain. Germany linked to the atrocity of Thule but also to Oberth, who at one time was yet another one of the faintly sparkling hopes he'd latched onto.

Ed threw his arm out onto the table, fishing for a book that he soon scooped up, "Stories here talk about quests people would embark on to arrive at a place of 'great knowledge'. In some cases, it sounds like they're referring to going beyond the Gate. I wonder if they're mistaking it for a religious or spiritual journey, when that's not what's really happening," he had to watch himself to make sure his voice remained low, "but we could still show them all sorts of new and 'magical' things, but when they'd come home with their new knowledge, alchemy still failed to produce," he paused in thought, "or maybe it did work to a degree, just not like it does back home. The bonds between mind, body and soul on this side don't connect. But then, our stories are about people showing up with great knowledge, and that's the basis of the theory," the mindless expulsion of thoughts was ultimately getting him nowhere, but it was it a tantalizing gauntlet to struggle through, "the theory is how we can embark on our version of a knowledge quest and live to tell about it. Nobody's ever done that."

Just then, there was something uneasy about how Winry had cleared her throat after he'd stopped chattering and Ed's suspicious eye wandered to her, "What?"

"I'm sorry Ed," she skipped a drained facial expression around the table, "but am I doing any good by being here? I'm not really contributing anything… useful. I feel like a token in a chair."

The question was a surprise for Ed, having been so wrapped up in this merry-go-round of thoughts that had been very fun to ride, "Well, it's not like I don't want you around or anything," he scratched his cheek childishly, "did you want to go out somewhere while I work on this if you're bored?"

Winry straightened herself in the chair, "I'm happy that you're happy with all this and everything, so I don't want to rain on that by being a spoilt sport. It's just… you sound like you're speaking German."

Ed tilted his head, knotting his brow as he thought over the statement, "I haven't said a word in German since we left the country."

Winry threw a pen from the table that bounced off his forehead, "No, you idiot. Alchemy sounds like German. Neither of them makes any sense to me."

Sighing, Ed's hand came up and feverishly scratched through his hair. She'd been mostly muted since they'd arrived. Unintentionally, Ed had ignored her growing attempts at withering around in a chair to express a festering boredom. It wasn't as though he hadn't noticed; he just wasn't ready to stop the avalanche of knowledge he was sailing down on to do anything about it. The rush was revitalizing and he wanted it to run like water. Slouching in his chair, the end of Ed's pen tipped into his mouth once again. Slowly, the stem was chewed away at as it rolled around in his teeth. To Winry's credit, she'd sat around patiently, albeit twitching around occasionally, but letting him have his day. However, it was going on six hours now…

Ed took a sharp breath, "Did you want to go be Aunty Winry to Margaret for the rest of the afternoon?"

A carefully constructed smile was drawn over Winry's horrid boredom, "I think that would be nice. Thomas can drive me home later, I'm sure."

"Sorry," Ed shook his head at himself, spitting out his pen to the table.

"What for?" Winry chirped sharply.

Ed laughed at himself, looking down to the pile of papers he bundled up, "I got carried away. Sorry."

Folding her arms, she shook her head at him, "Don't apologize for that. You, of all people, need to have fun once in a while," Winry reached up and quickly ran her fingers through her hair to make sure it hadn't tangled while she'd rolled around in the chair, "just give me a mini digest version when you have one, so I know what the heck I'm stuck in the middle of."

Nodding, Ed brushed his papers together, keeping an eye on Winry's actions as she gathered up the books. He wished he could resist offering. He knew it wasn't her thing, he knew she didn't understand it, but there was simply no one else around to hear him ramble on and not chastise him for it, "I can give you a mini digest version of… erm… the general purpose for the Gate, if you're interested?"

"Alright," amused, Winry rolled her eyes, "tell me why."

Through flared nostrils, Ed took a sharp breath as he twisted his grin to one side, "Basically, big, ominous gates are meant to keep people out or keep people in. If the door is always shut, then it's probably supposed to be that way. If a gate was around with its doors wide open and a paved road going through it, it would serve no purpose. Nobody builds things like that."

Winry continued with her paper shuffle as she let Ed continue, "That makes sense."

"Both worlds are established with exactly what they were meant to have, so we don't destroy ourselves. Our world has things that would ruin this world and so much of this world would be extremely dangerous back home," his low voice carried out harmoniously and filled their quiet hide-away at the back of the library, "the nightmare you're subjected to getting to the Gate isn't meant to challenge our resilience or be some measure of a man like we want to glorify it as, it was meant to frighten us away," Edward slowly released the remainder of his breath through tight lips, "Sensei was right. She's always been right."

Edward couldn't recall if he'd ever voiced that in any capacity before. He didn't want to be wrong, but he had to concede that his sensei had always been right about the dangers of seeking what the Gate had to offer. The Gate did not offer some grand and lavish knowledge waiting to be discovered, the visions from the Gate were visions of a hell that teased secrets it buried deep within. Were the extinct secrets of a fool's gold mine worth it? It was a cruel trick and it had captured Edward, his father and dragged in Winry. Izumi had been frightened away and had tried to instill that in her young apprentices. Ed had heard her words but hadn't listened properly. Perhaps, he had been too young to understand how to be frightened by it. Perhaps, he was trying too hard to be brave in front of all of it.

"I think Izumi would be really happy to hear you say that," Winry grinned, patting a hand down on the stack of books that reached nearly to her shoulder, "then she'll punt you into next year for all this."

Ed paled, shuddering a bit as he stuffed away his paperwork into his briefcase, "Ugh, don't I know it."

The point where Al had been horrified at the thought of who his father was had passed. Perhaps, he'd been desensitized to the idea by Dante. Why didn't this information horrify him anymore? He didn't dwell on it.

The point where Al had been livid with Izumi, with everyone, for not telling him anything about his father until now had passed. That didn't matter anymore. What was he to do about it anyways?

The point where Al had wanted to curl up and wither away had been a feeling he'd not been able to discard so easily. It had nothing to do with who his father was, or what his father had done, but it had everything to do with the military crew who had carelessly told him: as that wretched suit of armour, he had a solid, vivid memory of his father. A memory, like these others, that had been snuffed out. They were not forgotten, they were not lost, but they were gone.

Life was not fair, everyone knew that. But this was unfair!

He had been too young to remember his father. For some reason, no amount of his brother's belligerence against his father seemed to sway Alphonse's idea that a father figure would be grand. He wanted to fume against his teacher – how dare she not tell him about his encounter with his father!

Once Izumi had mentioned Hohenheim as the author, the walk had resumed while Alphonse voiced an endless stream of questions pertaining to his father. At some point, Mustang had made mention of the stop in Rizembool where they had met Hohenheim around a year ago and Izumi brought the troupe to a halt with a verbal assault that started off with, 'You inconsiderate troll…'

At some point, while Al was reeling from an emotional belly flop and locked in his own world of disenchantment, they'd hitched a ride in a truck's hay carriage. At that point, he had found a quaint little spot to ball up in and indulged in a selfish desire for solitude. He'd pulled his knees up, put down his head and was graciously left alone for the entire ride. Alphonse never noticed the horse drawn carrier stop.

"Stand up."

Al lifted his attention to Mustang's voice.

"Pay attention."

"Sorry," Al drew himself up; looking around at the rickety town they'd disembarked at. He'd let his mind wander for too long it seemed. The trip had passed him by. Stretching his legs, it felt as though he was waking up from a restless sleep. Alphonse caught the women in the group taking a free stroll away from the ride they'd taken, watching as they went along without urgency. Maria had Brigitte's hand.


Again Mustang asked for his attention and Alphonse apologized for being dopey. Al hopped off, glancing over to the officer as he cleared the cart, eyeing him as he slung Brigitte's camera bag over his shoulder.

"Are you about done?" Roy tilted his head, looking down at Alphonse with the classic, no-nonsense expression the boy had come to expect from him.

"Done…?" Al began to walk, not certain about what to make of the question.

Mustang followed; his brisk, military pace adjusted to match the careless strides Al took, "With your sulking? Or do you want more time for that?"

Frowning, Alphonse wasn't sure if he was supposed to be insulted or was expected to come up with some smart-aleck response to the question, "Is this how you use to talk to me and my brother?"

Somewhat caught by the question, Mustang ran the idea through his mind, "My conversations with your brother weren't always the most civil; though I think I was a little more provocative with Edward than that. He was my subordinate and you had no obligation to me."

Alphonse couldn't shake the feeling of discontent and wrinkled his nose as he spoke, "I still have no obligation to answer you."

"No, you don't, but I wasn't demanding an answer out of you," the officer adjusted the strap of Bridgette's case against his shoulder as he brushed his feet along the dirt road, "I wanted to see if you'd volunteer a response, or if you'd go back to feeling sorry for yourself a little longer."

Al tightened his brow and continued to hold the wrinkles over the bridge of his nose, "You have a funny way of asking someone if they're feeling alright."

Mustang chuckled at the response, glancing up to the open sky, "I've always been of the belief that both you boys can handle what I throw at you, even if you don't want to hear what I have to say. I've yet to be disappointed," the officer slowly rolled a curl through his expression as he chewed on a thought, leaving him with a distant look, "I have another question for you instead. Which one frightens you more: The thought that you'll grow up never knowing who your father is, or that you'll grow up knowing your father knows nothing about who you are?"

The question was surprising and Alphonse stopped, shrouding his feet in a light dusting of the dirt road. Turning his gaze down, Al mulled the question over. There were the memories that he'd created of his father: they were based off of the pictures he could see and the things his mom and brother would say, even if Edward's stories had evolved into things that weren't very nice. Al had always had some foolish daydream that he could have some sort of relationship with his father, because in his mind that was possible. He wanted someone he could come home to and talk about his day to, someone he could go out with and do father-son things with – but there was no father figure in his life.

Although he recognized that Alphonse wasn't moving, Roy took a few extra strides before coming to a stop and looking back over his shoulder. His expression left no room for discussion, he was looking for an answer, "Well?"

"If I don't know about my father, even if I had a way of finding out for myself and couldn't, there are enough people around who can tell me about him, like my brother, you, or the other people that met or knew him," was the response Alphonse gave, "I'm the only one who can tell Dad about me."

"And regardless if you remember it or not, you did meet him. You didn't listen when we told you that," Mustang pointed out, watching as Alphonse bristled a little, "and you spent an entire night with your father. Alone. Talking. I do know that he asked you to talk about your mother and your adventures up until then; I was standing there. Even if you can't recall that part of your life, wouldn't you think that you'd probably have told him most everything you would tell him today? Unless you can think of some reason why being a suit of armour would change everything you want to talk to him about."

Al's gaze drifted away into cityscape. He wasn't sure how that was supposed to make him feel. Usually, the thought of finding out that someone knew the Metallic Alphonse Elric was upsetting, but the idea that his father knew him like that didn't have that same nasty bite. He'd always wanted to talk to his dad about his mom and how much she loved him, and how no matter how much Ed looked like he hated him, he was still their father. Did he really get the chance to say all that? If those things were important in his memories a year ago, before they transmuted their mother, then they would have still been important when he'd become the armour. That would make sense.

"Dad got to see how good we'd become with alchemy, right?" Al's attention suddenly perked at a question that bubbled into his thoughts.

Frowning a little, alchemy felt too natural to Mustang at this point in his life to know if he could recall either of them performing anything in front of their father's eyes or not, "I'm certain he knew. Your existence was enough of an example to satisfy that."

Alphonse took that answer as positively as he could.

"So, are you done sulking?" Mustang drew upon a more authoritative tone than he'd been using moments earlier, "or do you want to find another corner to hide in while we set up?"

Rolling his eyes, Al sighed and lightly shook his head, "I'll live…"


Sharply drawing in a breath and forcing it out again through sealed lips, Alphonse wrinkled his nose, "At least I know what Wrath was talking about now."

Mustang frowned, puzzled, "What was this?"

Shaking his head, Alphonse tried to shuffle together his thoughts, "When we found Shou Tucker's body and I met Wrath, he told me that Diana was part of some Gate theory that 'Hohenheim' came up with. He was rambling on about Dante, Nina Tucker, Diana and just nonsense. I had no idea what he was talking about," he laughed lightly, foolishly at himself, "I didn't know what to do with it, then we found Sensei."

Silently, Mustang mulled over the thought that there was a little AutoMail equipped golem running around half-naked with possibly a plethora of information on a very vile topic, "What would Dante want with Nina Tucker? Why would Wrath care?"

Alphonse paused. Mustang watched as the young man turned his attention away in thought. Not thought of the question, he figured, but thought on how to answer.

"Wrath said that Dante cut Tucker's head off because of Nina," he mulled the idea he'd hoped wouldn't become part of the puzzle, "He said that Tucker had made her and that I'd helped with the Philosopher's Stone."

"You'd helped?" Mustang asked, wondering if he'd ever honestly get a foothold at some point, "With the Philosopher's Stone?"

Alphonse shook his head sharply, "I don't know. It's like 'he said, she said' because Wrath heard it from Dante. I dunno if it's true or not," he wished it to not be so, "I don't remember it."

Mustang mulled his thoughts over, "And Nina was valuable enough to her to permanently shut Tucker up." He wanted to shout out how ridiculous it was, but he withheld it, feeling that perhaps there was some point that he was missing that could connect all the dots. Folding his arms, Roy's thoughts drifted, "You don't remember how Nina Tucker died, do you?"

"No," Al's attention tilted up to the officer asking a question he must have known the answer to, "how did she die?"

He responded by wrinkling his nose and giving a momentary laugh. He remembered, clearly, the night surrounding Nina Tucker, "That is one of those questions that, when I tell you the answer, you will regret having asked," he gave a light shake to his head, "it was an egregious indignity to a human life."

"I wouldn't have helped to bring her back?" Alphonse asked, "not willingly?"

The answer was solemn, "No, you wouldn't have."

Thomas's crossed arms fell lose at his sides and a moderately horrified expression followed in its wake, "You two… will have this nonsense cleaned up before Charles returns home, I most certainly hope?"

There was paper everywhere. There needed to be paper everywhere. Sheet one had everything to do with sheet 11, and 11 had everything to do with 53, while that was linked into sheet 32. The chain went on endlessly. It needed to be all 'there' at his fingertips, Ed discerned; he needed to have the links line up without having to flip through and find each sheet over again. He wished he could draw lines between everything. The centerpiece for this sprawling mess was the gold accented handbook.

"We'll have it tidied up," Winry responded courtly, her feet tucked beneath her in the side chair, "we don't need to be evicted."

"Very well then," Thomas cleared his throat, adjusting the coat he still wore. He looked around the study the two of them had holed up in. Winry's chair had been taken from the main room and added to the side of the desk, the one electrical light upon the desk had the shade removed, flooding the room with light. The room itself was stuffy; the windows were closed, though Thomas soon figured that Ed had done that to keep any paperwork from sliding around. He'd seen Edward in a set-up similar to this before.

Slowly, Thomas's arms came back up to his chest. His speech was careful and calculated, "My wife and child wanted to know how the two of you were doing, since we haven't seen you in a bit."

Winry had opened her mouth to respond, but Ed beat her to a response, "We're great Thomas, thanks."

The visitor's gaze narrowed at the Elric who wasn't giving his presence fair attention, "Did you two want to go out to a park with the family later? The weather is quite fair."

"Not today Thomas, we're busy."

Thomas detached his focus from Ed and tossed it to Winry. She could only shrug, feeling the same presence in the room that Thomas could – the ragingly annoyed one Ed created around himself when his concentration was being intruded on. What Winry couldn't recognize about the awkward conversation was the unwanted sense of déjà vu that was creeping in from a discarded stitch in time.

"What are you working on that has you so enthralled, Edward?" the Englishman finally began to pry.

Ed cleared his throat quickly, lifting his head and giving Thomas a wary eye, "Complex math equations." He spoke pointedly.

"Right…" relenting, the visitor gave a nod to the response, "complex math is an extremely good use of your spare time."

"Are you deliberately toying with me, Thomas?" Ed narrowed an eye, an undertone of aggression filtered into the low vibrations of his voice.

Winry's brow rose at the inflection in his voice. It was strange that he'd become defensive over what they were doing with Thomas in the room. Rising up from her chair, the pile of paper Winry had collected in her lap was set aside and she brushed the backside of her skirt smooth, "I think going out might be good for everyone. And Ed needs to clear his head, I think." Winry's hands came to her hips. Ed's train of thought never broke for any passengers, stop light or hazard sign. It was a wonder that he hadn't run out of fuel, "I'm starving and want food, so since I like the idea of getting up anyways, why not just go out."

Unable to help himself, Thomas simply had to ask, "Have the both of you been trying to figure out complex math?"

"It's not my kind of math, but I'm trying," Winry shrugged, "We're trying to find an equation that'll find and open a door."

Both parties caught the sound of Ed's hand slapping his face as she'd spoke.

"Is this New Math?" Thomas stretched his brow, "Sounds more like a riddle, since opening a door is a fairly simple thing to do." Tilting his head, reaching a hand to his face to brush away an assortment of stray hairs, all the while keeping Edward in the corner of his eye, "What does the door look like?"

Stepping through Ed's paper map spread over the floor, Winry made her way through the room, "Not too sure. It's big though."

"And you need math for this? A big door should be easier to find than not. Are there handles?" the hand at Thomas' forehead swept out in front and he offered a courtesy hand-hold to Winry as she cleared the obstacle course. His voice took up a provocative tone, "Edward, does your complex-math door problem have handles?"

Unwilling to snarl or voice his displeasure in words, Ed wrinkled his nose and shot an unimpressed gaze up to the two of them as he rose to his feet. Unlike Winry had done, the papers in his possession were carelessly discarded to the floor, "No, it doesn't."

Lifting his head high, Thomas gave a grin to the response and tilted his gaze back to Winry, "Then I certainly hope you can push it open when you find it."

Thomas had barely released the last two syllables of his careless thought before realizing he had unintentionally brought an arctic chill to the room, and everything froze. Edward had not finished standing up. Hunched over, his knees bent, Ed's widened eyes stared far beyond the baseline of the wall and carpet that intersected his line of sight. Straightening up with muscles and joints cleansed of all their restrictions, Ed turned to look at Winry. His widened expression held her thoughtful gaze for a moment before the stun finally washed away. The room melted. He could feel it, in flesh of both his hands – in the palm of the hand he had never lost and in the shadow of a memory that he had of the other. Ed could feel the pressure, the strain on his shoulders, the temperature of the doors, the resilience that ran in his veins and the clairvoyant stream that propelled him forwards at the time he had first returned from his initial escapade beyond the Gate.

"We can push it open…"

"Alright you two, don't lose me," Thomas quickly glanced between them, "don't take some crazy thing I've said, run off with it and drown in the river. Are you both coming or not?"

"No! We can't, not now!" Ed's voice carried out suddenly. His excitement had bubbled up again and Edward was back in the middle of his paper nest, snatching up pages like a hyperactive child.

In stark contrast to Edward's sudden jubilation, Winry felt Thomas' polar reaction. Without warning, Thomas took Winry by the upper arm and hauled her into the hallway. The sudden behaviour was uncharacteristically harsh for Thomas and Winry could only stumble along. Stopping out of earshot of Ed, the Englishman's expression had clouded over and he spun her to grip both arms.

"What 'calculations' are you really doing in there, Winry?"

"Um…" she had no idea what was going on or why he was so angry, "I'm not too sure about the exact formulas and terminology myself, but Ed knows what he's doing, so…"

"Is he playing with alchemy again?" Thomas spat out the question with an overwhelming volume of disgust, "some magic door in the heavens? You're letting him see madness again?"

Winry did not and could not understand the reaction. She glanced back towards the room Edward remained in through the cool, dimly lit hallway before reestablishing eye contact with Thomas, "I'm sorry, what? …Yes?"

"For Gods sake woman, why are you letting him fill his head with witchcraft and nonsense?" Thomas spoke pleadingly, loosening his grip but taking hold of her at both shoulders, as though begging a young, ignorant child, "it's dangerous to let him think that he can make magic happen with circles and stars on pieces of paper, especially in this post-war time. Only mad-men and gypsies do these sorts of things, Edward is neither and is too young for so much trouble," he shook his head, lowering his gaze momentarily in thought before re-gripping her arms and looking again into Winry's eyes, "the pneumonia did horrible things to his head, made him terribly sick, bleached his eyes, caused him to think of strange things under his breath and made his mind a mess. We worked very hard to purge the blasphemy before he went anywhere with it. Please don't encourage him anymore."

Wait, what?

Standing with her back against a white wall, Winry looked back into Thomas' expression. Her mouth open a touch, poised to give a response, but having no idea what that would be. Defensive instinct told her to stiffen and demand to know what's wrong with alchemy, like she could correct Thomas' line of thinking. Yet, everything about his behaviour told her she would have no luck. She had no proof to substantiate anything. There was no alchemy in this society. There was no alchemy references anywhere beyond the places Ed could provide.

"But, he's happy with this stuff and not hurting anyone. It's harmless, really," she finally answered.

"People's thoughts are dangerous, Winry…" Thomas again pleaded, "and he can't always see that clearly."

She wouldn't argue that.

"If someone thinks he's trying to play God with occult science the church will have him committed, deported or something. Lord, in the countryside, he'd be tied to a stake and burned alive. What he is doing is not acceptable in this modern city and he knows that and he also knows the trouble it brings," he adjusted the grip on her arms, "please burn his papers and find him something else to play with."

Cornered in a chilly, darkened hallway, Winry stared into the eyes of a man so convinced of his position that she couldn't argue. Her lips poised to respond but nothing was immediately forthcoming. Looking back down the hall, Winry took her bottom lip into her teeth.

"I'll talk to him about it."

Her response held little honestly, but was delivered for Thomas' sake. A white lie would set souls at ease.

"Thank you."

Thomas finally relinquished his hold on Winry. She watched as he quietly straightened the coat over his shoulders and adjusted the buttons. He gave a glance back her way, but did not offer another outdoor invite. Leaving Winry standing alone with her muddled thoughts, he walked away into the dim candle lights and deep shadows towards the household exit.

With the whip of his wrist, Roy Mustang swung the pool cue around and seamlessly threaded the tip into the notch of his index finger and thumb. Lowering his eye, head and shoulders to table level, he looked out across the deep green surface, darkened by the low and nearly absent light at the back of the pool hall.

"Three ball, corner pocket," his right hand snapped, two balls collided, and the three ball did as was instructed.

There was no playing partner. He was left alone at the back of this dreary tavern. The bar counter at the far other side of the modest building had the odd straggler hunched over their beer mug, drowning their mind in a thick brew. The careless, round wooden tables and chairs were scattered around the floor without plan or care – the seats barely occupied by anyone in this town. The lone pool table at the back of the room sat in near darkness, maybe ten minutes earlier the flickering light bulb that hung by its wires overhead had given up. Mustang's one eye had no problem with the poor lighting though, it was more his mind that was out for a romp than any skills he might have for this game.

The choices were simple: the in-house nanny, Aisa, whom Roy suspected would prove difficult to run a history trace on, or the reconstructed body of Nina Tucker. One of the two would be Dante. If Dante were Aisa, then Nina Tucker was a marionette, guided around the most important office in the country. If Dante were Nina Tucker, she was in direct contact with the most influential people in the country and Aisa would be a pawn. Irregardless of which one of the two stood to be actually Dante, both options would be dangerous and monumentally difficult to prove.

Dante: a woman who was the conductor in this game. A woman he had never met and a woman whose existence eclipsed everyone else.

The noise of chattering men from outside the building broke Roy's thoughts up. With a hint of foregone vanity, he took a glance down at himself - he looked like he'd been traveling in the same thing for days, a visual made worse by the shadow beard. How disgusting. At least he was dressed to look like he belonged at the back of a filthy pub and wouldn't draw attention to himself. Though, he would certainly love to wrap himself up in fresh shirt and they were close enough to Central now that he would probably have one the next day. The pool cue slammed down into his two hands again and Mustang stalked around his table, eyeing the pockets in which to bury his prey. His footsteps made no sound; however, the quartette of low ranking officers who'd wandered into the dive while he stalked the table made enough noise for all five men.

The Hughes family was removed from the picture being painted. Somewhere, deep down, a great relieve basked in the warmth of that knowledge. The surface temperature raged with fire though. Brigadier General Mustang felt responsible for that family's welfare and to be left out of their situation just wouldn't sit. It almost burnt him like a failing, but he couldn't quite convince himself of that.

"Four ball, side pocket," the pool cue whistled through the air as it tore a sharp path.

Izumi had been located and had brought with her more information than Roy could have ever imagined. What an infuriating woman to be involved with. And an Alchemy Gate? How absurd that sounded on its own, without any qualification. How many people running around on this earth had this kind of knowledge of his mastered trade? It was as though it were trying to patronize his own knowledge by appearing so much larger than the science he understood.

The white cue ball cracked off of its target.

"Are you winning?" came a voice that had broken away from the noisy group of young men.

Roy snorted, straightening up, "One can never have too much practice."

Dressed in his standard military garb, having entered with the fellow soldiers on evening leave, Broche made his way into the darkened back corner, "I'm not so good at this game," he took up a cue that rested in the stand mounted to the wall, "I'm a bit better at darts. After a few drinks, that is."

"Darts are for long range artillery generals and grenade throwers," Mustang whipped the cue around his wrist as he continued to circle the table, "pool is for precision workers: assassins and snipers."

"You're walking better," Broche polished the cue tip with a blue chalk block.

Roy's nose wrinkled in disgust, "I'm ignoring it."

"Ah," the young sergeant walked up to the near corner of the table, "there's a recall notice out for you. They've rescinded your medical leave and want you back in Central."

Mustang's eyes drifted carelessly but deliberately to scan over the crowd in the heart of this rural dive, "Have they?"

"Major Hawkeye's vacation has also been withdrawn. Notices have been sent out regarding it," Resting the cue along the polished wood frame of the pool table, Broche scanned what was left atop the pool table, "it looks more like a warrant. If anyone sees the two of you, they're to escort you back to Central. Someone isn't going to interpret that bulletin correctly."

"What fun would it be otherwise?" Mustang gave a laugh to his words, as though he'd known that was coming, "I made too much noise before I left. I figured our little parasite wouldn't want me far away."

"I'm sorry, Sir?" Broche's gaze rose in confusion.

Shaking his head, Mustang returned to his table of entertainment, "Don't worry about this one. Keep your nose clean and eyes open wide," stepping up to the table's edge, he slipped his gaze over to the young officer, "take your shot, Sergeant Broche."

Without any real thought to the layout of the pool table, the sergeant brought up his pool cue and laced it through both hands. Taking barely a moment's thought to his course of action, Broche cracked the cue ball and sent two balls scurrying; tumbling into opposite pockets.

"Nicely done," Mustang drew on a mild grin.

"Thank you, Sir," he stepped back from the table, watching as his superior returned to a careful examination of the table, "Lieutenant Havoc has been arrested for the disappearance of Winry Rockbell."

Broche drew back as Mustang's path began to envelop an aura, filtering off of his shoulders like steam. The pool cue came back to both hands again, his thumbs sharply spinning the finely polished wood in the palms of his hands, "And their evidence?"

"I don't know, Sir."

"It's a notice to us, then," stopping his march, Roy firmly gripped the handle of the cue with his right hand, slowly setting the stem down in the crook of his left thumb, "To pay attention," his voice came out low, but mockingly, "he'll be held hostage to deflect attention away from whatever had really gone on."

Broche flinched at the sharp sound Mustang drew out from the cue ball as it cracked off of the six-ball, vanishing into the far corner pocket, "I don't understand how Winry's ended up being an issue for this situation. She wasn't in the market. She wasn't at the hospital when we first met Alphonse. She came in from Rizembool strictly for Alphonse. She'd had an arrest warrant issued as a ruse – only a handful of us knew about it, and then you threw it out."

Mustang's ears listened as he signaled the young sergeant back to the table.

"She's not an alchemist. She's not military. She doesn't work for the government. Why target her apparently at random?" Broche leaned down to be eyelevel with the table, swiftly lining up his shot, "the situation we were dealing was different when she vanished, and since we're assuming it wasn't random, what could she have had at that time that we didn't have?"

Watching as the shot rang out, Roy's eyes followed the one ball that danced into the side pocket, and the other that bounced off the edge and rolled into the center of the playing field.


Broche stood up, unfazed by his missed shot.

"Knowledge is something we have now that we did not have before, it's something easily and quickly acquired, and its something that can be just as swiftly silenced," Mustang lined up the easy shot left laying on the table for him, "there's been a pointed effort to try and control or silence people with knowledge. Us. Havoc. Tucker. Brigitte."

Pool balls cracked against each other again and the familiar sound of a ball delivered to its pocket was heard.

Broche returned to the side of the pool table, eyeing the layout of the clean white ball, the numbered character ball, and the ominous black eight ball. Mustang did not remove himself from the table edge like he had previously, instead he hovered over it. His hands gripped the side as his thoughts dug deep through the run-down layout of the tap house.

"Winry roamed free between the Prime Minister's residence and the Hughes' household. It was only Gracia who'd controlled Winry's movements within the city – asking for her over to the house," Roy drew back, "from Dante's perspective, she was an uncontrolled element within a situational experiment. But, she did not factor into the experiment because what she had to offer was inconsequential. At what point did she become a danger to the experiment? The only time her actions were controlled was when her tool case had gone missing – she was drawn back to the Mitchell house. Does that make the entire staff under that roof part of the problem? She didn't have enough time to endanger the experiment. None of us were even aware that Dante had been under that roof."

From beneath his brow, Mustang watched as Broche's attempt at a double shot, failed, leaving the two remaining balls in play in near perfect alignment.

Tapping his cue on the table's edge, Broche looked to his superior, "Maybe Dante screwed up and Winry found out."

Rolling the pool cue through his hands, Mustang again snapped the rod through the air, listening for the faint whistle it would generate. Slowly and seamlessly he again laid out his shot; hand gripped carefully at the end of the cue and balancing the tip perfectly at his index finger and thumb. Roy held the position for far longer than he had intended as he ran the idea that Winry had encountered something tremendous at the Mitchell property. What was left behind of hers were nothing more than a pair of shoes that could have been left at a door and tool case that might not have been found.

The balls on the pool table cracked again, each rolling as Mustang had desired, soon vanishing beneath the surface of the deep green table top.

Broche had said 'nice shot' but Roy had not acknowledged it. He had never imagined that he would have wished a standard street-side kidnapper to have been anyone's fate – especially for a sixteen-year-old girl. However, it seemed frighteningly more attractive than the how the alternative was unfolding, made worse by the fact that there was absolutely no tangible trace remaining of Winry Rockbell. No ransom. No threats. No tease. Just silence.

"Sergeant Broche, you should join your comrades for their drinks and mind this old pool shark in the corner."

"We never met, Sir. Don't worry."

Reaching into the pockets, Mustang began fishing out the balls he'd vanquished.

There was no snow tonight, no overcast skies, no angry wind; just a winter chill in the air that didn't have the same bite as the earlier days. Ed wondered when the winter had stopped feeling so cold.

Years ago, he would have sat on the porch on nights just like this, watching other people's lives move along, and wished he could go home to his. But those nights, sitting outside, never lasted long. It was so cold he couldn't tolerate it. But, those first winters were no colder than this night, he figured. Winters back home were nothing like they were here – Winry could probably attest to that now better than he could. Ed missed that disgusted feeling he once had for so many of this world's traits.

The last few days had been so exhilarating, so passionate and so alive. Like a wild animal, set free to chase down its prey, he ran headlong through the information in the gold-plated text. Doors opened. So many doors. With the exception of the one he desperately wanted to reach. But, never before, at any point, had Edward Elric ever felt like he'd been so close. The vibrant thoughts of finally escaping coursed through him and it kept him running on high.

He snapped his wrist and brought his hand up once more. Looking at the etching he'd recreated of the bastardized transmutation sigil upon the Thule Hall floor, Ed ran his eyes along the grossly misaligned creation. How did this factor in? It wasn't in the theory. The theory was bitter and resentful of the alchemical 'wonders' beyond the Gate, but it was not cruel. Not like this.

"I am…"

Ed turned over his shoulder.

"… so good!"

Winry burst out of the door and onto the porch to announce, "Dinner is served!"

Laughing, Ed allowed a deviant into his grin, "You're fitting in so well, Winry. They've domesticated you already."

Sputtering, she missed smacking him upside the head with an oven mitt, "Congratulations Jackass, now your fate is to starve to death. I can eat a mountain of mashed potatoes all on my own without any help from you."

"You'll get fat," Ed's voice almost sang his words.

"This temple is not getting out of shape any time soon, okay?" Winry flashed her hands in Ed's face before throwing the door back open, "there is way too much walking in stupid shoes in this world for that to ever happen."

Shaking his head, Ed glanced down to the sheet of paper in his hand, listening as the door creaked at Winry's thrashing, "Never pictured you as a shoe girl, Winry."

Turning back to grab the door handle, she rolled her eyes, "Neither did I. And then I found a place that had more horrible shoes than I knew what to do with. I am a victim of circumstance, Edward Elric."

Ed glanced over with a feigned look of innocence, "Is this where I apologize for that?"

"Yes, you do."

"Oh," he again flicked his wrist and looked at the penned transmutation circle in his hand, grinning as he heard the door slam.

Why did Winry first appear on this sigil? It was ridiculous to think it was coincidence. Where did Brigitte go when Winry appeared? It didn't make sense.

Raising his eyebrows, unprompted, Ed looked over his shoulder again, "What?"

Winry stood in the doorway again, hip propped up against the doorframe, arms crossed and face twisted, "Dinner is served."

Ed thumbed back to the door, "I thought I was sentenced to Death by Malnutrition?"

"Idiot," Rolling her eyes, Winry reached out and swiftly wound Ed's loose right sleeve around her hand and yanked him inside, "Stop staring at the paper, it's not going to answer you tonight."

Snorting, Ed rolled his eyes as he slid out of his shoes and stumbled into the house. He took a quick sniff of the dinner aura before responding, "I still have no idea what the hell it's for," he dumped the sheet with the gross sigil on the dinner table, "a good number of the conditions for the theory are met back home, its just that there is no matching 'there to here' connection to the Gate on this side. Instead, the only historically documented 'drop zone' for the Gate is this ugly alchemy sigil on a German sect floor."

Plunking a myriad of steaming plates down upon the cloth covered table, Winry shook her head as she busied about the kitchen, "Then its time to seek out more advice. Thomas told me when he stopped in to check on us that Mr. Wilson and your father would be coming home either tomorrow or the day after. They've gotten tired of discussing politics with people. Apparently, your dad said something about how he'd been reminded about why he'd chosen a career in education over one in politics."

"Winry," Ed took up his fork from the table, "when did Thomas stop by today?"

"Um," she sat down, putting the oven mitts in her lap, "before noon sometime. He wanted to know if we'd actually cleaned up the mess or if he had to tell Doctor Wilson that we were running a pulp mill triage center."

Casting his gaze across the layout of steaming dinner, Ed tapped his fork on the table, "Would you not talk to Thomas about what we're doing? At all. Period."

"Why?" Winry threw one leg over the other and leaned forward for her answer.

Leaning back, Edward narrowed an eye at her forthright behaviour. Regardless, his response came out bitterly, "Thomas can gossip better than a swarm of thirteen year old girls. I don't want our alchemy to give him something new to focus on."

Rolling the motion through her shoulders, Winry pulled her hands over her knees, "You don't want him to purge your blasphemy?"

Dropping his fork down, Ed sat up firmly in his chair. If he'd had two arms to cross, he would have done so, "I knew he'd said something. What the hell did he tell you?"

With the flick of her wrist, Winry took up a spoon from the table, swept it through her prized whipped potatoes and licked the winnings away, "That magic doesn't happen with circles and stars and that only gypsies and cults do alchemy. I'm supposed to discourage you."

Snatching up his fork again, Ed sharply sank the prongs into a fat cauliflower head drenched in steaming sauce and pointed it at Winry, "I've told you alchemy is not an accepted science here. It's defunct, obviously," he waggled the dripping end of his fork over the table and Winry threw him a napkin to keep the tablecloth clean. "The first time I brought up alchemy with Thomas I didn't realize why my dad had told me not to do that with anyone. Thomas persisted for a bit before telling Wilson about it. That ass arranged counseling for me at the church with his priest. It was the highlight of my February getting told that I was traveling on a road to hell and needed to get off and follow their path back to the holy light."

Winry giggled, swallowing hard on her potatoes, "That's special."

"Sure," Ed rolled his eyes, popping the cooling vegetable into his mouth, entirely unimpressed with the memory, "Doctor Wilson and my dad had a good yelling match that ended up having a bunch of my things burned."

Winry's tone changed to something less amused, "Um, now that's a little extreme."

Ed laughed at that, shaking his head, "Winry, the single most important lesson you're going to take away from this world that has nothing to do with alchemy, is that you do not screw around with people who orchestrate the 24 hours of their day around their god."

Turning her attention back to dinner, Winry began picking away at her evening's culinary accomplishments, "Is that why it took you so long to start getting your information on alchemy together?"

"You mean the stuff back in Germany?" he sputtered out after popping a spoon in his mouth.

Winry nodded, "Yeah, you didn't seem to do anything for your first while here."

Shaking his head, with the spoon handle trapped in his teeth, Ed popped the utensil out with the snap of his tongue and flick of his wrist, "Like I said, a lot of my things were burned. Paperwork included," Ed raised his hand, waving it dismissively, "what I'd worked out wasn't much good anyways. I couldn't find anything useful at first, not until Thomas got into college and he'd gotten me access to the library. I wasn't up for it initially anyways; I had other things to deal with when I got here."

"Like New Monia?"

The spoon woven through a few left fingers and a strong thumb tapped down onto the edge of Edward's plate. Lightly, he tapped it against the porcelain plate as he ran a tight knot through his upper lip, "Yeah, like that."

It wasn't so much of an Edward Elric Wall as it was a rickety old door, and Winry narrowed a curious eye, "Can I ask what it is?"

Like the fork earlier, Ed brought back up the spoon and held it firmly between them, "No, not at dinner, you can't."

She felt a twinge of fascination, making her feel like a curious five-year-old and she replied sweetly, "Okay."

Watching as Ed began to wave the spoon back and forth through the air, Winry's curious grin grew as Edward's face slowly adopted a ridiculous smile. She watched in amusement as the spoon slowly developed at deliberate pace, seemly timed with the tick of the second hand on the wall clock.


Ed chuckled, dropping the spoon limp in his hand, "I'm going to get us home."

It was irrelevant if Edward did or did not know how that would happen exactly, it was the first time the tone in his voice had been honestly believable. It had always been words before – words of comfort. Words of confidence tingled within the body so much more and wrap you in a warm blanket that you never want to crawl out from.

Grinning like some silly juvenile school girl at the delightful statement, Winry gave a sharp shake of her head to clear the childish air, "Not if you don't eat! You die of malnutrition and I'm screwed," Winry's two index fingers suddenly began directing table traffic, "You. Me. Dinner. Now."

To Be Continued…

Author's Note:

- Wow it's 3am, my cat is screaming at me (because I'm not in bed for her to sleep on) and I hope I didn't miss anything – I did some touch-ups after AmunRa gave it back to me.

- Thanks to everyone who read the last chapter. Some little part of me was worried no one would be interested anymore.

- For Ed's deal in the library, I hope people maybe picked up that the words I italicized in Ed's speech were words he was directly reading from the book.

- I think that's all for now! I'll post-edit if I remember something.