5

The new prime minister of Amestris had not been a member of the military in recent times; he had long since retired and thus had the prestige of rank without the taint of massacres like Ishbal. He had been democratically elected, more or less, by the members of Parliament. His swearing in ceremony was open to the public, and, for the first time, without the assembled forces of Amestris' military in attendance. So far, he had garnered a reputation as a kindly old man who loved children, kept the military at arm's length, and governed benignly and blandly, which suited the public just fine. With his reputation, an officer like Mustang was just the kind of person he would want to stay away from.

The prime minister's secretary greeted him, informed him that the minister would be with him shortly, and offered him some tea in the meantime. Her quiet unobtrusive manner was reminiscent of Juliet Douglas and it was enough to put him ill at ease already. She left him and went back to her desk down the hall, with only the sound of her typing to remind him of her presence.

It was a moment later before the prime minister himself appeared, peering out of his office door like a child hiding. He cocked his head quizzically at the general, and then glared at him, looking every bit a cantankerous curmudgeon. "Who the hell are you? Did I invite you here? Well, get in here, I suppose beggars can't be choosers. Come on, get in!"

The prime minister was older than any acting official in Amestris. He was elected to be an unofficial interim minister to hold and restore order while a better, more long-term candidate could be found. What they had apparently neglected to realize in doing so was that he was also apparently senile.

Or perhaps not. The old man gave him a quick wink, and Mustang saw intelligence shining in his eyes. "Go on, come on in! Just let me find my glasses so I can have a look at you." He shut the door behind them and offered a hand, which Mustang shook after a moment's hesitation. "Well done, general! One would think you were quite bemused by all that. I hadn't expected you'd play along so well."

He was surprisingly, enjoying this, although he had no idea of what was going on. "To be fair, sir, I'm not sure what exactly I was playing along with."

"Oh, appearances are everything around here. At this rate, they'll be saying I'm losing my wits before dinnertime and no one will give this meeting a second thought. It's one of the advantages of being old. I would prefer, for now, not to have this taken for what it is." He sat at his desk, templing his fingers. Yes, William Heinrik was a canny man. It was most unexpected. "Appearances aside, I am pleased to meet you at last, General Mustang. My old colleagues in the East have said much about you. Some it's actually praise, if you can believe that these days. Please forgive my façade, but in order for both of us to get what we want, it would be better to keep up the act that our meeting is simply your way of humoring an old man. It seems," He smiled slightly. "That we have a friend or two in common."

"I'm not sure-"

"Your cook. I have not met the young lady in question, but it seems that certain tongues are wagging that there's some mysterious language that only she seems to know. Rather cliché, don't you think? Incidentally, Victor Hausman is minded to lodge a complaint against you. He claims you've stolen his translator. I advised him against it, as Amestris does not condone indentured servitude and the young lady is free to seek employment where she will. A very simple matter, easily resolved. However, things could get dicey if you were to intervene directly at this point, which was why I called you here."

Heinrik tapped his phone slightly. "I happened to receive a call a short while ago telling me that Hausman's gang was investigating an incident in the church on 28th street. Apparently, a priest and a petty officer were killed and some text was scrawled upon the altar. There's certainly information that's pertinent to those serial killings in there, yet Hausman lacks a translator. What a terrible little conundrum that is, don't you think?"

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"It shouldn't be far now…" Havoc muttered, shifting down a gear as the car entered the middle of a traffic jam before the church. He glanced over to the passenger side to see Laura O'Rielly bent over, her head nearly touching the floor. "What's with you, kid?"

"Sorry." Her voice sounded muffled. "I saw Mr. Hausman back there. He's going in the opposite directing, but I'd just rather not be seen."

"Good thinking." He glanced around with a critical eye to the street. So far it looked like Hausman's investigatory team (although calling it that much was a stretch) had cleared out of the area. He wasn't sure what the cause of such a quick getaway would be. "This whole thing is weird. I'd feel better if the general were here. I don't like this whole anonymous tipster thing. Still, if this pays off, I guess Mustang'll be happy."

"I don't know if it will." The girl spoke up. "This is kind of a switch in the pattern. I hope it's a break for us though. I started with Lieutenant Hawkeye's death, and I want to finish this."

"Why are you so interested in who killed Hawkeye anyway?"

She looked a little surprised that he asked that. "Because it's the right thing to do."

He laughed slightly. "Sounds like idealistic jargon to me."

"Whatever gets you through the day." She said, eyeing his cigarette.

He shook his head, saying nothing more. It was a few minutes later before he got close enough to beep his way through the rest of the traffic and park the car by the back entrance. She hopped out of the car and ran for the door. "The caller said we had to be fast, right? Let's go!"

"You can't just run into these things like that!" He reached for his holster and ran in after her. "Man, no wonder Mustang thinks you're a kid!"

He found her inside musing to herself, standing before the altar, carefully avoiding the two chalk outlines where the bodies had lain. "They've never done two people at once before. And what's more, this is crude work. I don't think Vittoria would…"

He looked at the words on the altar, but shook his head. "Well, I sure hope you can understand this, because I sure as hell can't." He glanced down at the chalk outline to see another circle surrounding a small throwing knife. He turned it over in his hand, examining it. "What do you make of this?"

"Yes, it's very crude. The cases are all wrong. This is just bad Latin. It's not Vittoria's work. Either this is a very bad copycat, or her flunkies are slacking off." She was writing rapidly on her notepad. "It's hard to tell what it's supposed to be, without the right cases, but I think it says… 'Down with the dogs of the military. Tell General Cyclops to back off.' I can't imagine General Mustang's going to be happy about that one. Oh!" She looked up to see what Havoc was holding. "You meant that knife, didn't you?"

"Right." He said dryly. "I'm not one for this cryptic stuff. This is direct, at least. The murder weapon was a throwing knife. Not a particularly effective approach, unless you've got a good aim and a strong arm. All those transmutation circles by the victims led us to profile for an alchemist. I'd need the body to tell for sure, but I doubt it took just this one knife. This looks like it was planted."

She stepped gingerly past the outline and down the dais of the altar. "Does anyone besides that caller know we're here?"

"I don't think so."

"Good. Then no one can blame us for removing something from the scene of the crime." She smiled as Havoc pocketed it.

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"I myself called in the fake dispatch." The prime minister smiled slightly. "For about fifteen or twenty minutes, that church will be virtually deserted. Lieutenant Havoc should be taking Miss O'Rielly to the site now. I believe the translation will probably be on your desk by the end of the day. With you here in my office, you can viably plead ignorance when and if Mr. Hausman finds out."

"Sir… Not that I don't appreciate your help, but it's my experience that people rarely do anything for free."

He sighed, but it was simply one of resignation and not irritation. "You may not have noticed this, general, but I'm getting on in years. You'll have to forgive an old man his foibles. I knew Lieutenant Hawkeye when she was just a girl and her grandfather was a friend of mine as well. It broke my heart to hear about her death. Such wonderful potential cut short… I do not know why the powers that be gave the murder investigation to Hausman, but I know something is up in Amestris. I would much rather see this matter in your hands.

"I'm old, Mustang. I'm not long for this office." He coughed, and Roy noticed that the hand that went to cover his mouth was shaking. "My power as prime minister, right now as we are still recovering, is limited. I've given most of the power to Parliament, but the time will come again will come again when we need someone stronger and more forceful to guide the way. My job is to hold onto things until an able successor is found. It would please me if you were to take my place."

His dream of being the Fuher was not one that he had thought of in a long time. For a time, his life had been happy and Amestris had been stable enough that he didn't need to think on it. And now… "Thank you, sir. But I don't know if I can accept such an offer right now."

"I don't intend to roll over and die tomorrow. Think on it for a while."

"There still that little problem of having assassinated the last Fuher." He said dryly.

"All you need is some good press." Heinrik said cheerfully. "One could easily interpret that as an act of patriotism. It's all in how you present things. You could probably also use the support of several other high ranking officials, and a few well-placed bribes, but that's for the future. You just think about if for now. You certainly have a lot on your plate now. Still, I believe it would please the late lieutenant if you were to have the opportunity again."

He had the feeling that Hawkeye's feelings were probably far from that, given the way they'd parted. But that was something that he couldn't even begin to address within his own head, let alone with the prime minister of Amestris.

"Which brings me to my second point." Heinrik said. "I may have a task for you soon, but I would prefer, for the time being, that the details of this remain between us…"

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Mustang was not used to coming home to a house that smelled of food. He was not used to coming home to anything besides hours of solitude. What he certainly wasn't accustomed to was coming home to a house that smelled vaguely smoky and the sound of cursing and clattering pans coming out of the kitchen.

"It's not done yet." Laura burst out of the kitchen, her expression grim. She was also not looking directly at him, but rather in his general direction because her glasses were completely fogged up. "It'll be done in ten minutes. I burned the pot so I had to make another one. You can take it out of my paycheck."

He ignored that pronouncement, and slumped in a chair in his living room. He picked up a newspaper and cast it aside; it was old news and not even good news. He should have been feeling overjoyed, or happy at least, that his one remaining dream of being able to help Amestris was not dead, but felt a kind of tired wariness instead. He was not a young man anymore, and now youthful idealism didn't suit him anymore than that fedora Riza had once forced him into.

"I left the translation on your desk in your office." Laura called from the kitchen. "I'm afraid it's not very flattering towards you, but I figured you'd prefer a literal translation. The whole phrase wasn't well written, so I don't think its Vittoria's, or Dante's rather."

Strange hearing her refer to Dante in the third person, when she was the woman's double.

"I was thinking about Vittoria actually," she just kept on talking. Between this and the prime minister's offer, he wasn't sure if he could take it anymore. "She had lent me a book some time ago, when she wanted me to brush up on my Italian. The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri. It's not the same Dante, obviously, but the coincidences are quite striking. It's about a man's trip through the seven layers of Hell, and there's a layer for each sin: Lust, Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Wrath, Sloth, and Pride. Virgil, the man who wrote the quotes around Miss Hawkeye's transmutation circle is the one who guides this person through Hell. It's really quite strange how everything is connected."

He and Riza had once sat and debated throughout dinner, lively talks about literature and life. Sometimes they would simply sit and eat in silence, with no need to fill the air with idle chatter; they were content just to enjoy each other's company. They would joke sometimes, when time had put enough distance between it, that it had only taken a near death experience to bring them together.

He was struck suddenly by the cruel irony of this whole situation, that it was not Riza in his house, the only person he had ever really loved, but this girl who was practically a child. Riza was a woman grown, and although she was not much older that O'Rielly, he could not think of her as anything but a child.

Roy, how could you?

He had only thought to make their life together complete. He had not thought about anything else. He'd failed, and she left him, and he had enough trouble addressing that fact in his own head, let alone out loud. It had been all he could do to escapeAnd just like then, her voice came back to haunt him.

O'Rielly slid a plate of spaghetti in front of him, and at the moment, he didn't have the energy to tell her that it was the worst thing he'd ever tasted. That would come later, when everything she made was either too hard, too soft, or too inedible. For the moment, he didn't want anything more that to have her go and to never have to see her again. "That's enough, Laura. You can go now."

"I was just going to wash things up-"

"No." He said softly. "I'll do it. Please go."

She nodded, uncertainly. She had the unreasonable urge to apologize, although she was not sure what she had done. All she could think of was when they'd first encountered each other, when she'd stammered some grossly inadequate apology for the death of Riza Hawkeye. Instead she left, feeling worse for having said nothing at all.