Disclaimer: FMA isn't mine

Tears of the Alchemist

Chapter I – Better Come Home

Ed slammed his fists down on the table in front of him in anger. "Ugh! I hate this!" he yelled through gritted teeth. The same paperwork was scattered before him that had been there for almost a week now. He and Al had been working on decoding the top-secret material for longer than they had expected in hopes that it may reveal several leads to the Philosopher's Stone. Their attempts had gotten them absolutely nowhere, and now they were beginning to get frustrated.

"What if we just started over?" Al questioned. "Are you kidding!" Ed retorted furiously. "We've already spent so much time on this. We just need to work backwards to make sure we didn't miss anything." Ed fingered through a few of the papers and removed one from the middle, scanning it with his eyes and following the process in slow whispers. "I still say it may be easier if we just started over," Al tried again. Ed ignored him, trying to control his temper.

The work silently proceeded into the hours of the night. Three and a half cups of coffee later, Ed threw up his hands in submission. "I give up!" he complained. The ceiling fan creaked above then as if laughing at the boys. "This isn't going anywhere. This may just be false information not intended to make any connections to the stone," Ed explained. Al sat in silence, pretending that he was still working. Truth be told, he gave up long before Ed finally 'threw in the towel.' He knew that everything they had before them was regretfully useless.

A light tap on the door sounded and echoed in the gloomy room. Al stood from his place at the table and started toward the door. Every step he took revealed the disturbance of lonely metal crashing up against nothing. The heavy armor was all that existed of Alphonse Elric. One simple detail drawn in blood that remained within the hardened shell was all that kept him alive. Hunger never struck him and tears never stained his face for he was incapable of emotions, but somehow, he was still a living person. He was still the brother of Edward Elric.

Upon reaching the door, Al laid his hand on the doorknob to reveal the familiar face of Maes Hughes. "Hey guys!" he greeted them. Hughes was always the friendly, accepting type who was extremely proud of his family. Not a day passed by when he didn't remind the surrounding world of his wife's tenderness and his daughter's accomplishments. Elicia was truly daddy's little girl.

Hughes entered the room with his announcing presence and adjusted his glassed that sat upon his nose. He was a great and reliable friend of the Elrics. They knew they could always turn to him when in need, for he was a good man with astounding generosity. He often worried about the brothers. Over time, he came to accept them as a part of his family and knew to check up on them whenever possible. 'Those boys are great kids,' he always thought.

He opened his mouth to speak but noticed the mess of paperwork that covered the table in the center of the room. He walked over to it and picked up the sheets closest to him, examining the text. The brothers sighed heavily, not wanting to be reminded of the countless hours they wasted trying to decode the indecipherable data.

Hughes silently cleared his throat before he spoke. "Looks like you came across last year's military inventory." Ed's mouth gaped open while the words processed in his head. "What?" he said bluntly after failing to comprehend what Hughes had told them. "Last year's inventory," Maes repeated. "It's good to see you've found it because we seemed to have misplaced it."

Al said not a word and took a seat several strides away from his angered older brother. Fire arose in Ed's eyes as he glared at the papers Maes still held in his hands. "You mean to tell me…" Edward growled. "That all this time we were decoding inventory records?" "Well, yeah. It's the inventory that…" Hughes trailed off. "Wait… decoding?"

Ed slouched back in his seat and brushed his hair to the side with one gloved hand while locking his eyes filled with furious glowing embers on the scattered notes and releasing an enraged, heavy breath. "What do you mean 'decoding?'" Maes asked, shifting his glance back and forth between brothers. "We picked those papers up believing it was some inside information about the stone," Alphonse finally admitted after a long pause filled with silence.

Maes started to laugh after assuming Al was only joking. When no words were spoken by either of the brothers he faded his laughter, realizing the grave look on Edward's face. "You uh… weren't joking. Were you?" Hughes dared to ask. "Nope," Ed said matter-of-factly. Hughes scrunched his forehead as the light reflected off his glasses. "What made you think this was in regards to the Philosopher's Stone?" "What does it matter now?" Ed groaned in frustration. He stood, outstretched his right arm of mechanical parts, and with a single swipe, he wiped the table clean of all information and allowed the useless papers to fall to the floor.

Hughes followed the papers with his eyes until they rested upon the floor. Edward turned his back to the table, refusing to face the material. "Wow. You two must have spent quite a while on that stuff," Hughes stated as he kicked the disposed data out of the way. Ed remained silent, but Al sullenly nodded in agreement. "Well, anyway," Hughes began. "I just wanted to check on you—" he was cut off with another knock at the door. It startled the guys, but they didn't hesitate when answering the interruption. As Maes reached for the brass knob, he sighed in annoyance. He felt that whenever he finally got the boys alone to discuss how things had been going, he was interrupted in one fashion or another.

Hughes opened the door to invite one of the newly hired members of military personnel. He was fairly young with chocolate eyes and thin hair of powdered sand. A few scattered freckles lined the bridge of his nose and his uncertain lips showed the slightest tint of natural pink. Upon noticing Hughes standing before him, the young soldier immediately raised his hand to his brow in an awkward salute. "Sir," he announced. "At ease, uh…" Maes searched the boy's uniform for a nametag. "Alan," he finished after spotting the name above his right breast pocket.

Alan dropped his arm to his side. "I have a message for Edward Elric," he claimed. Edward was standing a few feet away from Hughes and still fuming about the number of hours they had wasted. When he heard Alan speak his name, he stepped forward to receive the news. "What is it?" he asked almost positive that Mustang was only calling on him for another rat race. "There's a phone call for you down at the main office," Alan informed. "Who's calling? It isn't Mustang is it?" Ed questioned not wanting to answer the call. "I'm not sure, sir. I wasn't told."

Ed sighed and pushed his braid, which had quietly crept around his neck, over his shoulder. "The main office, you said?" Ed asked Alan. The young soldier confirmed the question with a nod and a quick "Sir." "I'll be back," Ed called over his shoulder to Al and Hughes as he made his way past Alan to head downstairs to the main office.

Ed's steps left slight depressions on the carpet that covered the floor of the hallway as he entered the corridor that led down to the stairwell. "Damn that Mustang," Ed muttered angrily under his breath while descending the lonely steps. Each step resulted in a slight creak of his metal leg and a faint sigh from the forgotten stairs. Each floor Ed passed started another series of curses as Ed finally caught sight of the base level. Ed leaped across the last three steps not wanting to waste any time and made a sharp right hand turn down the hallway that led to the main office.

He stepped inside looking for the secretary, but she was nowhere to be found. "Anyone here?" Ed questioned the quiet room. "Behind you," answered a familiar male voice. Ed whipped himself around to face Havoc who was deep in thought and standing over a variety of files. "I have a call?" Ed asked. "Line two," Havoc confirmed allowing the lit cigarette to dangle from between his lips. "You know those can kill you," Ed stated as he gave his infamous smirk. "Oh, well," Havoc muttered followed my more mumbles.

Sighing, Ed spotted the telephone positioned upon the front desk and slouched as he made his way over to it. "Mustang?" Ed asked Havoc, hoping he would disprove his theory. "No, I don't think so," Havoc replied still hovering over the assorted files. Ed moved his glance back to the man and raised an eyebrow expecting a further explanation. "I believe it's from Resembool," Havoc said as his fingers continued to organize the files before him.

A soft smile crept across Ed's face, and he headed to the phone with excitement in every step. 'Winry!' he thought as he reached for the phone. He closed his eyes and envisioned her the last time he saw her. Her velvet locks of hair fell kindly upon her shoulders, and her lips were pursed together. She was mad at him as usual, and he couldn't help but that at the thought.

He cautiously lifted the receiver, careful not to drop it or disconnect the call for this was one he wanted to take, and he placed the earpiece upon his ear. "Hey, Winry!" he happily began the conversation. There was a brief moment of silence before a response traveled through the phone. "Edward?" A quick sense of surprise struck Ed when he heard the reply. 'This isn't Winry,' he thought. "It's Pinako," continued the caller.

Ed smiled as soon as recognition had swept over him. "Hey, you old bag," Ed joked. "Ed, now is not the time for fun and games," Pinako stated in a serious tone. Ed wrinkled his nose. "What are you talking about?" "It's Winry," she informed him. Ed stood up straight in alarm at this statement. "Wh-what's wrong?" he stuttered with a shaky, worried voice. "I think you better come home. Winry's very ill. You're needed here."

"I'm coming!" Ed announced without much deliberation and slammed the phone back to its resting place. When Havoc turned to him to question about the call, Ed was already bounding up the stairs, leaping up three steps at a time.