Returning Echoes

Disclaimer: I do not own, nor ever will, Fullmetal Alchemist or the characters within.

Chapter 37: Arrivals and Reports


Last chapter:

"Sarcastic bastard. At least then I wouldn't get invited to stupid dinners."

"Oh yes and how was your foray into Officer territory?"

"A complete fucking waste of time. And I got seated next to the biggest asshole I think I've ever met."

"Even worse than the Councillor?" She could hear Roy chuckle.

"That asshole has some intelligence, this one couldn't see past the Colonel stars on his shoulders. What is it about being a Colonel that turns you all into morons?"

In a small room in South City Headquarters two Colonels looked at each other and blinked, and in Central an ex-Colonel struggled against the laughter he could feel building up inside.

"My dear Edward, it's not the Colonels at fault but the Lieutenant-Colonels we have to deal with that ruins us."

"Just as well I was only a Major back then, wasn't it?" Edward smirked as she leant further back in her chair. She could feel his amusement through the phone and she felt the now familiar sense of easy warmth seeping in and making her relax. When she had first known him, it had been driving him into angry insulting outbursts that had pleased her. It was rather strange to realise that now she felt good when she heard him smile and laugh. It's unnatural.

"You were never only a Major, Ed."

"Like you were never just a Colonel?" Ed snorted.

"You were the one responsible for adding all those extra adjectives."

"And you deserved every one of them." Ed's grin was audible. "I didn't even have to try and think of them. Just the sight of your smug arrogant face was enough."

"And you certainly wasted no time in letting me know exactly what you thought of my face or anything else to do with me, for that matter." She laughed at the smirk she could hear in his reply.

"Someone had to help Hawkeye keep you in line. Falman was starting to complain about the ammunition requisitions she kept putting in."

"That would be your fault." Roy's voice was suddenly bland and Ed stiffened slightly, a frown creasing her forehead.

"And your logic is?" she asked warily, sensing but not seeing the direction he was taking. She knew he was going to have a dig at her, she knew it and her cautious tone would tell him she was aware of it. She didn't have to see his face to know he was smirking.

"She only shot at me when I was arguing with you."

"She did not!" Ed snapped back instantly, her relaxed state making it easy for the ingrained response to Roy's baiting to take over. "There were new patches on the walls and ceiling every time we got back from a mission." She smirked automatically as she went onto the offensive. "Al and I started to bet each other as to how many of them there'd be."

"Was that because Al wouldn't play cards with you anymore?"

"Oh shut up bastard. If you could've found a way to cheat at chess, you would've," Ed retorted and was rewarded with Roy's laughter.

"And then Hawkeye might not have missed."

"Now that I would've loved to have seen." Ed grinned.

Lieutenant Rowe slipped the headphones from one ear and turned around to look at the two Colonels at the other listening stations. It was a small room and it was easy for him to reach out and place a small piece of paper in front of Colonel Naylor. Colonel Naylor turned quickly after reading the single sentence.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes Sir," Rowe replied in a soft voice.

"Good work. As soon as the call ends get it transcribed."

"Yes Sir." Rowe turned back, putting his headphones back in place and went back to transcribing the earlier calls and keeping an eye on the call currently being monitored.

Naylor nudged his fellow Colonel and slipped the paper to him. Eyes went wide and Naylor was faced with a wide grin.

"No shit? Really?" The Colonel's voice was overly loud and he realised it, slipping his earphones from one ear.

"Apparently so." Naylor had done the same. He had had enough eavesdropping experience to be able to split his concentration and not miss anything said either to his face or heard in his ears.

"He doesn't sound much like the Ice General. Are you sure?"

"Rowe is and that's good enough for me." Naylor paused. "And it was always rumoured that First-Lieutenant Hawkeye took a strong line with him."

"She's a Major now I think." The Colonel frowned thoughtfully. "Elric gave no hints that she was on such friendly terms with Mustang. That's his home number she's called."

"If she served with him for as long as the reports say, it's feasible that they could be friendly," Naylor said slowly as he considered it.

"And we've been with Sarin for nearly three years. Friendly is the last word I'd use to describe my relationship with him. We're not even close. He's our General, our superior officer. And Mustang is hers. So where does all this 'friendship' come from?"

"Mustang has a reputation for being unorthodox. Even when he's followed orders there's always been that sense of something different about him. Most of the reports I've seen say that."

"I know but there's something more here." The Colonel's frown deepened. "She disappears for four years and then she re-appears. No matter how friendly they were, it doesn't explain why they're still so friendly now. Unless they had contact while she was gone."

"No-one has even hinted at that." Naylor stared.

"Maybe we should start to consider it. There's no telling where she was for those years. This could all be an act to cover up whatever is really happening."

"You've always been the suspicious type, Rourke, but aren't you reaching a bit here?"

"No, I don't think so. At dinner she shut Mantel down completely without any regard to rank or place. She may be here for the investigation but there's more to her than we know about."

"So, how many complaints will I be receiving from this evening's events?"

Ed snorted in response. "None. Unless that Colonel has a petty streak. Which he might have. I didn't look to see." She shrugged, not really worried. If the asshole did complain, he wouldn't get far. Once Roy heard what the Colonel had said, the Colonel would find himself on the receiving end of something rather more severe than anything Ed had said.

"Nothing serious then?" Ed could hear a slight frown and realised once again that she really did know Roy too well. She could picture the way his forehead would crease before an eyebrow would lift as he sought confirmation and information without needing a full explanation.

"No. he just has some views on what soldiers should do that kinda differ from mine. Grand would've liked him," Ed added dismissively.

"Ah, I understand." And he did, Ed knew that and she knew she didn't have to say anything further. Roy had similar views on the late General and she had a feeling that they were stronger than hers judging by the grimness in his voice. "I'm guessing you didn't hit him this time?"

"I did think about it," she smirked and heard the lightening of his mood in his reply.

"Then I should be grateful you didn't go through with it. It will get difficult to explain if you suddenly develop a habit for hitting Colonels."

"That other Colonel was just asking for it, and you know it," Ed replied hastily. "Besides there are too many Colonels around here. I'd break my hand before I'd gotten halfway through them."

"And Winry would not be pleased."

Ed groaned. "Don't even say that." Roy laughed again and Ed smiled. It was strangely nice to hear him laugh and even stranger to feel the warmth that came from knowing that she was the one making him laugh. It was a warm laugh and it made her smile every time. Another facet to this 'I like Roy' place that was becoming more and more entrenched in her mind. Half the time she didn't even question it. Acceptance was slowly and surely taking over and it was becoming harder to summon up the anger and confusion she needed to be able to deny what was happening.

"I'd still like to get a day free to go and see them," she said after a short pause.

"I don't see it being possible, Ed. You said the General wanted results as soon as possible and you know the Fuhrer wants that as well. I can't see anyone allowing you any time away from the investigation."

"What if I got Al to come here? He could stay with Sig and I could say I need Winry to look at my arm…" she trailed off.

Roy's laugh was soft and sympathetic in her ear. "Sorry Ed, you can't justify that one. It hasn't been more than a few weeks since you had your arm repaired. And who is Sig?"

"Teacher's husband," Ed replied promptly. "Al and I lived with them while she trained us." Ed took a breath. "I need to go see her, Roy. I never had a chance to say good bye and if she knew I was close by and didn't visit she'd come back and haunt me and I really wouldn't want that. It was bad enough when she was alive."

"So I've heard. I'm sorry Ed, I really am but I can't see it being allowed. Not at this time. Perhaps when the investigation is finished and after the reports are handed in but not before."

"After this is all done I'm going to be stuck with the asshole Kinase and the liaison job. And the research department's still in a mess. There won't be any free time." Ed grumbled.

"I'm sure we can manage without you. That temporary Colonel seems to be handling things satisfactorily and I will talk to the Councillor. You won't be expected to take up your duties as soon as you return."

"Ha! I'll believe that when I see it. I think he'll be waiting right outside the Fuhrer's door so he can grab me the minute I hand the report over. The guy's a pushy irritating asshole." She let her breath out in an audible stream. "You watch; he'll be on my back as soon as he can. He doesn't think I can handle it and he'll be trying to prove that as quick as he can."

"It was the Fuhrer's decision, not his and you are more than capable. We've already discussed this. No matter what the Councillor tries, it will take time to get you set up as Liaison. A week will probably be all that you could be spared for."

"A week will do fine. That would still give me nearly two days to spend with Sig and everyone. And I'll ring the asshole tomorrow." She sighed. "I'm going to have to get used to dealing with him."

"And him with you." Roy's snide tone had her laughing.

Colonel Naylor blinked, feeling rather lost as he listened to the conversation. Lieutenant-Colonel Elric was sounding like no Lieutenant-Colonel he had ever met before. She spoke seemingly without fear or favour of anything. She had hit a Colonel? She called First Councillor Kinase an asshole? Naylor had never met the Councillor but he had heard several rumours. The First Councillor was not someone you took lightly and it sounded as if she was going to be working with him. At the Fuhrer's command? He looked around and met the eyes of Colonel Rourke.

"Told you there was more to her."

"Yes." Naylor nodded and went back to listening.

"Hey bastard?"

"What Ed?"

"D'you think I can get the Fuhrer to agree that I never have to wear a skirt again?"

"What brought that on?"

"Colonel Becfor. He said I should've been wearing one tonight."

"It is a part of the formal uniform and required at certain events. You wore it for the Parade. You even wore it as a bet, so why query it now?"

"Because Becfor seemed to think that I'd have one with me. I'm down here to investigate an explosion. A skirt is the last thing I'd think of. It's not going to help me finish any quicker."

"But you never know when there will be an official function."

"And wearing a skirt will make me more acceptable? I'm here to do a job and nothing else."

"I doubt anyone was offended by your lack of a skirt, Ed." She could hear the smile in his voice.

"He made it seem so damned important," Ed complained before shrugging. "But I ignored him anyway."

"So I can expect a complaint either about your dress sense or your attitude. You really did behave yourself if that's all I have to watch out for."

"Sarcastic bastard." There was no spite in the insult and Ed wondered if she ever would feel that bitter edge again. She'd never stop insulting him but the resentment and - at times – hatred she had once felt about him had long since died. If anything the insults lately were almost affectionate in tone and feel.

"You would be disappointed if I changed."

They both laughed and Ed nodded. "No-one would recognise you. And they'd never believe it anyway."

Naylor had his eyes half-closed. The easiness between the Lieutenant-Colonel and the Lieutenant-General was remarkable. Completely comfortable with each other. In all the conversations he had listened to, it was rare to find two people less self-conscious of what they were saying. So many people tried too hard when they used the phone. Because they couldn't see each other often Naylor would have to sit through long tedious instructions and descriptions as people tried to make up for the lack of visual clues. This was good when the information pertained to his objectives, but most times it didn't and he often got very bored. But these two spoke as if they were sitting opposite each other. They seemed to know each other very well. There were no apologies or excuses for words or intonations. They read each other without needing clarifications. It was refreshing. It was also frustrating. Naylor needed the clarifications to ensure that there would be no misunderstandings.

Gathering information was easy enough but it was too easily misconstrued or incomplete. Naylor didn't like that. The information he supplied to his superiors was always correct and complete. There were never any errors or even the slightest chance of one. He had built a reputation on it. No matter where it came from Naylor always double checked and triple checked all possible permutations and connotations of his information. He cross-referenced it with anything and everything that could possibly be pertinent. If there was one thing he hated above all else it was having to say "We're not completely sure what this means". Naylor was a professional when it came to information retrieval. Unlike some – and he avoided looking at Colonel Rourke – Naylor preferred precision and facts to instinct.

Ed yawned. "I guess I'd better be going. At least tomorrow we should have something to report on."

"I'll look forward to it. Get Falman to bundle up what's happened so far and send it to us once you have those first results. We can do any checking here if it's needed."

"Okay." Ed yawned again.

"Don't wear yourself out, Edward."

"You sound like Falman," Ed grinned slightly.

"We know what you're like." There was a corresponding grin in the words.

"Fucking great," Ed groused with no emphasis. She'd had enough people tell her that she tended to become slightly – completely - obsessive at times that his words came as no surprise. Obsession was an Elric trait and they all knew it. "Falman's making sure I don't get too carried away. I think Hawkeye had words with him about it."

"She probably did. She, like the rest of us, does care about you."

"I know. I …care about you all as well." Ed fidgeted and hesitated from saying more. 'I like you' trembled at the tip of her tongue but she couldn't bring herself to say it. It didn't feel right to just blurt it out. It had been different last night. Last night the conversation had been about the whole liking issue. Tonight's had not and that made it feel wrong to suddenly bring it up. Besides they didn't really need to say it every night, did they? It wasn't as if she was going to forget it any time soon and she didn't think Roy would forget either.

"Go and sleep, Ed. Ring me tomorrow and let me know how it goes."

"Okay." But she couldn't leave him without something so she added softly, "Take care Roy."

"You too, Edward."

Simultaneous clicks echoed in Naylor's ears and he waited for a few moments until he heard the relays click again and the tape stop spooling before he pulled his earphones off. He stretched and turned around to face Colonel Rourke.

"We'll have the transcript ready for the General to read in the morning. It won't be a complete report yet. The personnel files are due later tomorrow and I'll be able to check and confirm what I can."

"She is definitely an interesting person." There was a small smile on Rourke's face. "A very interesting person indeed."

Edward filled her tray up as she walked in the line for breakfast. Eggs, bacon and a couple of sausages. Tomato, toast and coffee. Everything she needed and it would get Falman off her back if she could say honestly that she'd had a full breakfast. Because she knew she'd probably end up skipping lunch again and Falman would force her to have lunch if he knew she hadn't had breakfast. Balancing her tray and mug she wove her way easily along the trestle tables to a vacant spot. She had barely settled when someone sat beside her.

"G'morning Lieutenant-Colonel," a cheery voice said and she looked to her right to see Colonel Rourke setting his tray in front of him as he got comfortable. "You're starting early. It's barely six-thirty. Mind if I join you?"

"Hello Colonel." She gave him a casual amused glance as he settled and waved uselessly at the table. "You already have." She went back to her breakfast adding, "Six-thirty is hardly early. I slept in."

"Tsk. How lazy of you," Rourke murmured with a smile as he started on his eggs. "You'll have to work back late to make up for it." Ed shot him a quick glance to confirm that he was teasing. His easy manner of the night before was obviously his normal nature if he could be so light-hearted this early in the morning.

"I'd be doing that anyway," she replied around a mouthful of toast and bacon.

"Such dedication," Rourke said and felt Ed turn to look at him. He met her gaze keeping his face as clear as he could. The humour was still in her eyes but her eyebrow was lifted as if she had caught something that she hadn't expected.

"I live but to serve," she stated with a sardonic edge and he laughed.

"I believed you more when you said you'd slept in." His laughter was infectious and she grinned.

"Actually I really did sleep in." Her grin widened. "I'm usually here at six."

"It must be my lucky day then." He smiled at her as she looked confused. "Your sleeping in has given me the chance to get to know you better."

Edward blinked. She'd only met him last night and now he was spouting a line that she could almost hear Roy saying back in the old days. And she was almost positive she was blushing as her face began to feel warm. She looked at him closely. Dark hair, not as black as Roy's and probably not as soft. Deep blue eyes, not midnight blue like Roy's. His face was lightly tanned and there were laughter wrinkles around his eyes. Not at all like Roy's pale smooth skin. She recalled that he was taller than Roy and broader across the shoulders. Edward blinked again. Why was she comparing him to Roy? He wasn't Roy; it was stupid to compare them so why did she have this need to do so?

Colonel Rourke wondered what was going on as she stared at him. He'd had women stare at him before but none with quite the air of examination as the Lieutenant-Colonel was. It was an unexpected response to his light flirting. He wasn't even sure if she realised that he was flirting with her. The light blush on her cheeks suggested she did but the staring seemed to negate that. He began to feel like a subject in one of Stost's laboratory tests. But he had to admit that those golden eyes were extremely gorgeous as she kept cataloguing his features. She blinked and a puzzled look flashed across her face before it disappeared.

"Why?" Ed asked bluntly. She couldn't think of any reason a man she had met once would be wanting to know her better. No real reason anyway. The light almost flirty tone he had used was dismissed almost without thought. Even Roy didn't flirt with her. It wasn't as if she was a girl or anything and she'd be damned if she was going to even pretend to behave like one. She hadn't forgotten the Councillor's comments at the civic function and her self-awareness was getting stronger. She was Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Elric investigating an explosion on the Fuhrer's orders and regardless of her gender or age she knew she could do this.

It was Rourke's turn to blink. He'd never gotten that response before. He'd had women blush and look suddenly self-conscious, he'd had women react with disinterest and he'd had a couple that hadn't picked up on the light flirty line but he'd never had one question it. And he was at a loss how to answer it. Somehow he didn't think any of the normal responses were going to work this time. Which left honesty.

"Because you interest me." It was as honest as he could be without saying anything incriminating. "And we got on well last night."

Ed snorted, a decidedly unladylike noise as golden eyes stayed fixed on the Colonel. "Considering the company we were in, that's not really saying much. And I'm only here temporarily."

"Have you ever thought about transferring down here?" Rourke asked suddenly.

"Why'd I want to do something like that?" she laughed.

"You have to admit the weather here is better than Central," he carried on easily.

She shrugged. "I've never paid much attention to the weather," she replied dismissively and concentrated on her breakfast. Rourke almost missed the shadow that crossed her face as he looked to his own meal.

Within ten minutes of reaching the explosion site Edward had forgotten about Colonel Rourke as she dug around the bottom of the pit, shifting more debris and pulling at contorted steel fragments. She didn't notice the others arriving and it took Falman several tries to get her attention when the messenger arrived from Colonel Stost.

"Colonel Stost sent these, Edward," Falman said for the fourth time as he waved the folder in front of her face again. This time there was recognition in the golden eyes and she grabbed the file.

"Why didn't you say so sooner?" Ed asked automatically as she flipped it open. Falman rolled his eyes. It was unnecessary for him to reply. Edward knew he would have tried a few times to get her attention.

"There will be more results coming this afternoon. Colonel Stost has been allocated more men to help speed the testing, according to the Corporal who brought this," Falman contented himself with saying.

"Sarin really wants to know what happened doesn't he." Ed remarked as she read. "He asked me last night as well. I'm guessing that Stost sent a copy of this to the General as well?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Get another copy and send it to Central, or should we wait for the next one if it's due this afternoon?" Ed pondered.

"There's a late express train leaving tonight. They could both go on that."

"Do that then. And anything else you think the bastard should have as well."

"I'm sure I can find some paperwork that has to be sent," Falman said blandly, meeting Ed's knowing smirk with a faint twinkle.

"Good." Ed looked over the file in her hands again. "There's nothing in this that we weren't expecting to find. No unusual substances so far. Traces of most of the heavy oils and diesel we knew they had stored here. Nothing to indicate what ignited it all yet."

"I've made enquiries regarding the soldiers involved in the blast. None of them can remember anything sparking. No-one was smoking, even though they did want to according to one private, but with an inspection about to happen they were more afraid of getting caught. Apparently the General has very strict rules about smoking in his presence."

Ed blinked. "Really?"

"Yes." Falman gave her a small grin. "The General doesn't smoke and won't allow anyone to smoke near him."

Ed laughed. "Havoc'd never survive here." She shook her head. "I don't recall Eastern being this regulated."

"It wasn't," Falman replied. "A different General in charge with different expectations of what his command should be. The rules and regulations were the same but its how they're applied that determines the feel of a base."

"Well, I won't be transferring down here any time soon that's for sure." Ed waved the report. "I'm going to show this to the others," she added and headed over to where Ralke and van were standing. Falman blinked and wondered where Edward had dragged that seeming non sequitur from.

General Sarin studied the report on his desk and then looked up to Colonel Becfor.

"And there is more information coming this afternoon?"

"Yes Sir."

"Hmm. Nothing untoward has been found to date, is that correct?"

"Yes Sir."

"So it would appear that this incident was an accident."

"It would appear so, yes Sir." Becfor handed over another file. "The transcripts from Lieutenant-Colonel Elric's phone yesterday, Sir."

Sarin opened it and began scanning the sheets. Two calls from her Senior Warrant Officer to organise a visit to the injured soldiers, one to thank the base hospital afterwards. One from Captain Grant to Central enquiring about stress points for steel beams. One from Major Havoc in Central wanting to know if Falman wanted in on a bet. General Sarin frowned at the frivolousness. When he ran Central there'd be no room for such idleness. He stopped when he came to the last call and his eyes narrowed.

"The Lieutenant-Colonel called the Lieutenant-General at home?" His voice rose slightly and he lifted a surprised face to Becfor.

"Yes Sir. We double checked. It was definitely Lieutenant-General Mustang's home number." Sarin frowned and looked back into the file.

"Quite a friendly call too. I wasn't aware that they were on such terms with each other."

"No Sir. All reports detail a level of acrimony between them." Becfor paused. "The personnel files we requested will be arriving this morning."

"Good. Bring them to me as soon as they arrive. And look further into Elric's interactions with Mustang." He frowned. "There's something strange about this Elric and I want to know what it is."

The personnel files passed easily through the large gates to South Headquarters. The two young people traveling with them did not.

"I'm sorry Sir, but only military personnel are allowed further." The corporal at the gate spoke no hint of apology in his voice.

"Then perhaps you can send a message to Lieutenant-Colonel Elric and let her know that her brother is here to see her," Alphonse responded in his usual polite manner.

The corporal studied the young man. He didn't look very old but there was an air of confidence about him that was slightly daunting. Young men shouldn't be so comfortable when approaching military bases the corporal thought. The young woman at his side seemed equally comfortable and confident. The corporal frowned and marched efficiently to the gate house where the duty sergeant was sitting.

"Sergeant, there's a couple of kids here wanting to see Lieutenant-Colonel Elric," he said as he half-entered the doorway, keeping one eye on the gate. "Isn't that the one that's down here from Central? The one they say's also the Fullmetal Alchemist?"

"Yes, I heard that too." The sergeant frowned. "What's the kid look like?"

"Young, blond, tall. Nothing special. He says he's the Lieutenant-Colonel's brother. There's a young woman with him too."

"Go and tell the Lieutenant-Colonel," he said. "The Lieutenant-Colonel has a brother but he's supposed to be a State Alchemist."

"The kid looks too young to be an alchemist."

"Doesn't matter. Better to be safe than sorry. And it's not like we're letting him on to the base." The sergeant looked at the corporal. "If he's not who he says he is we'll find out as soon as the Lieutenant-Colonel gets here." The corporal nodded before trotting off to the explosion site. The sergeant stood up and made his way to the gate. The corporal was right. The young man looked impossibly young at first glance.

"We've sent a messenger to the Lieutenant-Colonel. Should get an answer back soon," he said easily and the young man nodded.

"Thank you Sergeant." Alphonse stepped back and stood next to Winry. He smiled at her. "Ed won't keep us waiting."

"Not if she knows what's good for her, she won't."

Ed dropped the beam she was carrying when she was told. It had taken Falman several minutes to get her attention, it took seconds for her to be moving up out of the pit and running hard towards the front gates. The corporal tried to follow her, but gave up as she easily outpaced him. He arrived to find the Lieutenant-Colonel already caught in a tight hug with the young man while the young woman looked on indulgently.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Ed exclaimed as she twisted free and looked at them both. "Where are you staying?"

"We'll stay with Sig," Al told her. "The Lieutenant-General told us you wouldn't be able to come home while you were on this investigation so we thought we'd come and see you."

"What's that bastard doing?" Ed asked with a small scowl. "I was going to organise a week with you after I'd handed in the reports."

Al shrugged, ignoring both the scowl and the question. Ed moved to hug Winry and had no choice but to stand still as she tugged up Ed's sleeve to check the automail.

"Do you mind?" Ed asked.

"No." Winry turned the arm around and manipulated the wrist joint. "It's looking good. You haven't broken anything… yet." She let go of Ed's arm and pulled her into a hug with a laugh. Ed relaxed into the hug, meeting Al's eyes and they grinned at each other behind an oblivious Winry.

The sergeant watched them, his eyes widening at the sight of gleaming metal. He wasn't sure what to do next. The Lieutenant-Colonel obviously knew the young couple so it appeared that the young man really was her brother. But the Lieutenant-Colonel wasn't stationed here so the rules that would normally apply to family visiting didn't apply – at least he didn't think so. He had heard that both Elrics were in the military but the young blond – Al, he'd heard the Lieutenant-Colonel call him – looked like a normal civilian, nothing military about him at all, and General Sarin had strict rules for who was allowed on his base. The sound of someone softly clearing his throat behind him had everyone turning to face the newcomer.

"Senior Warrant Officer Falman," Al greeted the older man with a smile.

"Mr Elric," Falman replied with correct civility and a smile in return. Ed rolled her eyes at them.

"You're as bad as each other," she commented. "Not sure I know what I did to deserve that." Falman and Al turned to stare at her with nearly identical sceptical looks.

"You know you can't be let out without someone to babysit you, Ed," Winry said with a laugh, easily deciphering that double look.

Ed glowered at them all, trying hard not to reply. She knew they were teasing and any response she gave would just add to their enjoyment. She really had no way to defend herself. There had been too many incidents in his youth that could be dragged up and used to counter any argument she mounted. It was humiliating and decidedly annoying. Any attempt at retaliation was only going to add to the humiliation so she contented herself to heaving a loud and theatrical sigh and eyed them both with a casual glance.

"And yet whenever someone wanted something done, it's always me they called for," Ed said with studied carelessness just loud enough for them to hear. Winry snorted lightly and Falman's eyebrows rose.

"Because if they didn't, you'd complain about being ignored and treated like a child," Al retorted with perfect equanimity and they all saw Ed's face redden and the golden eyes narrow as Edward glared at her brother. Falman exchanged an amused look with Winry, before he stepped forward to distract Edward from her imminent rant.

"Where are you lodging, Alphonse?"

"With Mr Curtis in Dublith. Winry and I thought we'd call and see Ed first before we went there."

Ed grumbled. "No-one's giving me any time off from this investigation or I'd come with you."

"It's just a bit too far, Sir," Falman said apologetically. Getting to Dublith from South Headquarters would take half a day which meant any visit was going to take the better part of two days if Edward wanted anything approaching a decent amount of time to spend there.

"Being retired now means I don't get Military billeting anymore," Al remarked with a smile. "Otherwise I'd be able to stay here with you."

"Winry'd have to find someplace though," Ed smirked, her mercurial temperament evident and running strong with her excitement of having Al with her. Falman hid his grin as Winry snapped back at Ed and Al laughed at their squabble. The gate guards watched with wide eyes and Falman stepped back next to them.

"Perhaps you could send a message to Colonel Becfor for me," he murmured to the Sergeant.

Colonel Becfor placed the heavy file on General Sarin's desk. The folder was worn and faded and looked to be over two inches thick. 'Elric, Edward' was printed clearly along one edge. 'Personnel File: Copy: To Be Returned' read the label stuck firmly in the centre on the cover. Another label further down bore the signature of someone from the Personnel Department and beneath that Colonel Becfor had signed to show that it had been received. He knew that when the file was sent back it would end up with more labels to prove that it had been returned. The Military's need to label and account and track everything was something Becfor greatly appreciated. It made his job easier.

Sarin looked at the file for a long moment. "Have you read it?"

"No Sir." Becfor shook his head even though the General had not taken his eyes from the file.

"See that I am not disturbed for the next hour," Sarin ordered as he reached out to pull the file closer to him.

"Yes Sir."

Becfor stepped away from the desk with a nod and a salute. He walked quietly from the office and closed the door behind him. He passed on the General's orders and headed to his own office next door. His secretary, a smart young Major stood up as he appeared and held up a piece of paper.

"A call from the gate for you Sir."

Becfor took the note and looked at it. "The Lieutenant-Colonel's brother is here?"

"Yes, sir and Senior Warrant Officer Falman would like a word with you if it could be arranged."

Becfor frowned, trying to look thoughtful rather than worried as he wondered just how coincidental that request was. His pragmatic side came to his rescue.

"Tell the Warrant Officer I will see him now," Becfor decided. The General would want him in an hour. If the Warrant Officer's request had anything to do with the Elrics – which it probably did - then the General would want to know and it would be efficient and practical to have that information ready and waiting. Colonel Becfor always tried to be practical and efficient.

General Sarin read steadily. Page after page, report after report. Despite himself he found Edward Elric's file to be fascinating. He had intended to skim through it, to find the information he sought but he found himself reading the reports from individual missions. Edward Elric the General quickly realised, did not fit into any category of soldier he had ever known. First impressions from the reports suggested that Edward Elric had been a public menace to both people and property. The General counted over two dozen dischargeable offenses within the first four reports alone. Allowances for his age. Sarin snorted cynically at that notation on several reports.

The more he read the more he was forced to revise his opinion. Edward Elric got the job done. The boy had completed every assignment he had been given despite the damage he caused. Not only that, but the people seemed to appreciate his efforts if the many letters and documents received from civilians was anything to go by. The same people that complained about the damage were just as quick to compliment and Sarin sighed at the fickleness of civilians. Civilians, Sarin had decided early in his career, were a necessary evil, good only for supplying the Military with men and services.

"The People's Alchemist," Sarin muttered and frowned. Alchemist. Most of the missions Elric had been sent on had been alchemy related. Some as ridiculous as the Philosopher's Stone, others more credible. To apprehend a rogue alchemist, to investigate possible chimera sightings and to assist other alchemists. Obviously Mustang had had to find something for the boy to do. After all twelve was hardly the best age for anyone to join the Military.

Sarin wondered why the boy had been allowed to sit the exam in the first place. He found the copy of then Lieutenant-Colonel Roy Mustang's request to allow one Edward Elric - age eleven - to sit the exam and stared at the words scrawled across it. Approved upon competency confirmation, Fuhrer Bradley. Two extra pages were attached. One was signed by a Shou Tucker, Sewing Life Alchemist, who claimed to have tested the boy's ability and been suitably impressed. He had recommended the boy be allowed to continue despite his age. The other was from General Hakuro's office stating the boy had been resourceful in a recent brush with would-be rebels and deserved the chance to make something of himself. Sarin almost smiled at the condescending tone of the letter, but obviously it had worked and the application had been approved. Sarin wondered if any of them had expected the boy to actually pass the exam. Which he had done in rather a startling manner if the next page was anything to go by.

No circles needed…too young for active deployment…need to know if his technique can be taught to others… several Generals have expressed interest in having the Fullmetal Alchemist assigned… physical testing would be necessary… controlled experimentation required…investigate possibility of familial trait… mother deceased, younger sibling (brother) sickly, father missing… Sarin skimmed the page. Another scrawled note from Fuhrer Bradley. Decisions regarding the future of the Fullmetal Alchemist to be deferred until he reaches maturity. He is to remain under the command of Colonel Mustang and posted to East City until his sixteenth birthday whereupon he will be seconded to my command for further instruction.

Sarin frowned. The late Fuhrer had obviously had an interest in Edward Elric. Sarin briefly wondered what would have happened if the Fuhrer had not died and Elric had remained in Amestris. He also wondered if Edward Elric had been aware of the plans that had been made for him, but he doubted it. Elric would not have returned to the Military if he'd known there'd been the chance of his being experimented on. He looked at the reports again. Given permission to sit the exam at eleven years old, the boy had been twelve when he'd passed it. He'd still been twelve when he'd shipped out to East City and begun the first phase of his military service.

Except that even Sarin would not have sent a twelve year old on some of the assignments Elric had been sent on. Colonel Roy Mustang seemed to have had no qualms about the boy's age and sent him off with little or no back-up from what Sarin could see. And Edward Elric had succeeded, with each completed mission adding to Mustang's growing reputation. Sarin wasn't sure if that made Mustang a tactical genius or a lucky fool.

Mustang. Sarin knew the stories. He'd never been one to pay much attention to gossip but it had been hard to avoid back then, especially for a newly minted General wanting to keep track of any possible threats to his new status. Fuhrer Bradley had been known to play favourites with his Generals on occasion. Mustang had been just a Colonel, but he had been one that people had heard of, he had been someone that people knew about. No-one had heard of Sarin, no-one talked about him. Which he now counted as a blessing as he had avoided the fallout that had come after Fuhrer Bradley's disappearance and still slightly unexplained death. Sarin shook his head.

Mustang had been quiet, almost unseen and unheard of these last four years. His involvement in the death of the late Fuhrer Bradley had been the subject of rumour and innuendo, all of it discredited through several inquiries held soon after the event. Sarin frowned. Mustang had been promoted shortly before Fuhrer Bradley's death but he'd voluntarily dropped back to a Colonelship within a year. And now he was a Lieutenant-General. Just a few short months after Edward Elric had reappeared. Sarin wondered if there was a connection. Coincidences only went so far. He began to search the file for more recent reports.

Over halfway through the file he found a single page. The transcript of a short interview with a young Alphonse Elric and Izumi Curtis. The notes at the side of the page said the boy had been found unconscious in the company of a young woman and baby and all three had been taken to Central Hospital. It had taken three days before Alphonse had been identified and Mrs Curtis had arrived soon after to take him into her care. She had taken him away as soon as the interview had been completed. Sarin had once met Izumi Curtis and he had no doubt that the Military had not been able to stop her. He was slightly amazed that she had allowed the military to talk to the boy at all.

Alphonse Elric had stated that he had no memory of the four years he had followed his brother. He didn't know where Edward had gone, he didn't know why he'd been in armour and he had no recollection of First Lieutenant Hawkeye who had been present at the interview. Izumi Curtis had filled in some of the gaps. Apparently the boy had been weak and sickly and the armour had been for his protection. Mrs Curtis had mentioned the disturbance at the Devil's Nest and Sarin flicked through the file to find the relevant report. It confirmed what his own staff had already told him. Edward Elric had been there and even detained for safety reasons at one point along with Mrs Curtis.

Sarin re-read the interview. Mrs Curtis had claimed that Edward and Alphonse had been tracking several dissidents but they hadn't told her more than that. Another page in the file seemed to confirm that. There was mention of an explosion at a supposedly vacant laboratory caused by these same dissidents and the Elrics had been given the task of finding them.

Sarin kept turning the pages. The boys had been in pursuit for quite a few months it appeared and they had been interrupted by the events of Liore. Ordered to deploy there by Fuhrer Bradley. Again it was a single page that detailed Edward's alchemic attempt to keep the explosion of Liore from decimating the soldiers remaining on the outskirts of the city. Sarin frowned. Alchemy. Alchemist.

He was struck by a sudden thought and rifled rapidly through the file. He found them bundled at the back of the file. Two copies of Edward's notifications of State Alchemist Title attached to two copies of the State Alchemy Examination papers. Transcripts of his two interviews. Accounts of both practical components. Copies of two re-certification reports and one battle assessment. One report and the battle assessment had been handed in through East Headquarters but the other report bore the stamp of South Headquarters. He looked at the date. It was around the same time as the Devil's Nest incident, and he skimmed the report. Circles and formulae covered the pages. He didn't understand any of it and the handwriting was bordering on illegible. But someone had read and understood it. It had been stamped. Certification approved. Sarin wasn't sure if he was relieved or suspicious that all the documentation proved that Edward Elric had been, and was again, a State Alchemist.

Sarin kept searching through the back half of the thick file. Another bundle of reports proved to be medical in nature and he placed them to one side. Five minutes of further searching brought up a handful of pages with recent dates. He spread the pages out. A handwritten proposal for the restructuring of the Research Department. A note authorising Edward Elric to restore and restructure the Research Department. An official letter of Notice for the Appointment of Central Council Liaison. Terms and conditions drawn up for Edward Elric's return to Military service. And finally the one report Sarin wanted to read above all others.

Edward Elric's hand written report on her return to Amestris.

Colonel Becfor nodded his head as Falman finished speaking.

"I understand, but the General is quite strict about letting non-military personnel wander around his Headquarters."

"Alphonse Elric is a retired Major, Sir. He's not the average citizen. And he is an alchemist as well. His aide would be beneficial to all."

"I realise that, Warrant Officer. I can let the General know that Mr Elric is here and it will be his decision as to what access the young man may have." Becfor didn't try to intimidate Falman with an outright refusal. He knew it wouldn't work. In some ways the Senior Warrant Officer reminded him of himself. Men who needed to have all the i's dotted and t's crossed with all angles covered. Men who thought of the solutions to problems the others hadn't begun to think of. Men who understood that having a query referred to a superior officer was a sign of following the chain of command and not a method of passing the buck.

"Thank you Sir." Falman bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement of the Colonel's response and kept his placid expression firmly in place. He doubted Colonel Becfor did anything without the General's approval and he hadn't expected the Colonel to react otherwise.

"Let the ex-Major in," came a cheery voice from the door and both Becfor and Falman turned. Falman blinked at the unknown Colonel standing in the doorway and saluted automatically. Becfor frowned at the newcomer.

"You know that would be against all regulations," he said calmly, too used to the Colonel's manner.

"I know, but I doubt the General would refuse to allow him entrance." The Colonel stepped further into the room and acknowledged Falman's salute with a small nod. He moved easily to the desk and leant against it. "The General can't be interrupted for another hour and you don't really want to make the kid wait at the gate for all that time do you?"

"How do you know about it, Rourke?" Becfor asked.

"I passed them on my way in," Rourke replied with a casual shrug. Becfor's eyes narrowed and the two Colonel's stared at each other for a long moment.

"Excuse me Sirs, but Mr Elric wouldn't be wanting to enter South Headquarters until tomorrow. He intends to organise the lodgings for his fiancée and himself first. This matter can wait until the General is available," Falman interrupted with a gentle depreciating manner.

"It certainly can," Becfor agreed with a mild glare at Colonel Rourke who blandly smiled back. "I will make sure you are informed as soon as the general makes his decision," Becfor told Falman.

"Thank you Sir." Falman saluted them both and left the office as quietly as he had entered it.

"He seems very efficient," Rourke noted.

"He is," Becfor replied. "It makes a pleasant change." There was no special emphasis in Becfor's voice and he didn't look at the other Colonel. Rourke laughed.

"But not as much fun."

Edward watched Al and Winry disappear along the South City streets and let her breath out. She turned to Falman who was standing silently a few feet away.

"Back to work I guess," she said.

"Yes Sir," Falman replied and started to walk back to the explosion site.

"D'you think Sarin will let Al through the gates?" she asked as she took a last look over her shoulder as if able to still see her brother.

"I wouldn't presume to know what General Sarin will do," he responded with the perfect example of a properly subordinate manner and Ed laughed.

"Maybe you should have asked if he'd let me out of the gates instead," she grinned. "You know I don't remember Eastern being this strict about entry. Is this another one of those whoever's in charge makes the rules thing?"

"Yes, although admittance isn't usually this tightly controlled," Falman mused.

Ed shrugged. "Maybe he had a bad experience before." Ed took a few more steps. "Or he could just be paranoid."

"Most Generals get over being paranoid once they've been Generals for a while," Falman told her.

"Really?" Ed's eyes widened and she smirked. "I thought paranoia was the usual military mindset. I remember it being one of Ro… the bastard's middle names. Right up there with arrogant megalomaniac most days." Falman rolled his eyes and she laughed.

"There will always be a certain amount of paranoia in any soldier, Edward. It's necessary for our survival, but it's not true paranoia, it's more that we're all suspicious and looking out for possible threats."

"So when a soldier goes from being suspicious to truly paranoid he's up to no good?"

"Or he's overly worried for the men in his command," Falman remarked.

"Would have said Sarin was more worried about results than he was about his men," Ed noted. "But that's no cause for paranoia that I can see. The Fuhrer doesn't seem like someone who'd target a General for poor results. I think he'd go after them for not looking after his soldiers first."

"Maybe. I'm sure we'd all like to believe it but Edward, he's the Fuhrer. He wouldn't hesitate to remove a General or you or me if he thought we were a threat to the country or to the military."

Edward blinked at the solemn tones and paused for a long moment. She had forgotten what Hawkeye had said about the Fuhrer after that first lunch. Ed recalled the Fuhrer's brisk and completely controlled manner when he had sent her on this assignment. His earlier casual and friendly manner to her had disappeared and it had been all business. Ed hadn't thought much of it because she had agreed with it. Had seen the necessity of attending to the matter at hand because it had been more important than anything else at the time. For a moment she wondered if his friendly attitude had all been an act but she tossed that thought aside quickly. It had been too genuine, there had been no other agendas. Not at first.

It was different now. The asshole Kinase had tried to tell her and she hadn't understood as much as she thought she had. He'd told her that the Fuhrer wouldn't allow her to refuse the Liaison position. He'd told her that she had no idea what she was getting herself into. And he'd been right. She hadn't understood, she hadn't consciously realised all the possible ramifications it meant for her personally. Beyond the inconveniences she'd whined about, beyond worrying over the many possible reasonings for her appointment was the indisputable fact that she was now directly answerable to someone who had a plan she knew nothing about. Again.

His teens had been dominated by Mustang and his unspoken plans and now she'd gone and placed herself right back into a similar position, except this time it was the Fuhrer who controlled her fate now. And there was no-one to command him otherwise. Not like the last Fuhrer. Ed didn't know how much protection Dante's orders had granted him from Bradley during his earlier service, but he'd been free of most military restrictions up until Liore. Perhaps if things had been different after Liore… if he and Al hadn't left and gone into hiding. If he hadn't been able to convince Mustang not to hand them in. If, if. There were too many ifs in Ed's past.

Ed shook herself out of her thoughts. She wasn't going to add another one to the list. Besides she'd have to go all the way back to her decision to re-enlist to avoid this one, and that wasn't going to happen. And this Fuhrer was completely human and while he probably did have an inhumane streak of duty and honour, he did have a sense of humour, and she did like him. Despite his close friendship with the asshole Kinase.

Ed mentally shrugged. She was letting her thoughts ramble again. She'd been doing that more often these last months. Looking backwards, looking sideways and getting distracted when she wasn't concentrating on the matter at hand. She blamed Roy. If she hadn't started worrying over how she felt about him, her mind would be its proper logical self and not this strange mishmash that wandered wherever it wanted. She shook herself. Time to start thinking about the explosion again. Time to get back to work. She looked at Falman as they headed back to the pit and grinned slightly.

"I think he should remove Sarin for having too many Colonels and then I wouldn't have to sit through another dinner like last night."

Three pages covered in scrawling handwriting with crossed out lines and spelling mistakes. Sarin stared at it. He was too used to neat typewritten reports that he'd forgotten what raw information looked like. There'd been no attempt to change or censor anything and he wondered why no-one had typed it up. Why had it been left like this?

taken by them into an underground cellar…going to use a hostage from Liore to add weight to their demands… the Fuhrer's secretary was supposed to be there, don't know why…used alchemy to get free, Al was hurt…found a large circle… had elements for human transmutation in it… not sure of it's whole purpose, would've needed a few months of study to figure out…large explosion when the circle was activated… the woman who appeared to be in control died…suspect she hadn't had enough control over the reaction… other two escaped and I followed…human transmutation is highly illegal, had to stop them from trying it again…

over two weeks on foot to West City… fugitives knew I was there… damaged my automail when they jumped me… short fat one disappeared, think he was hurt… tried to call Central HQ but couldn't get through… with my watch gone, had no way of proving identity…kept following the other one, kept heading westward…

left Amestris…took six months to get through Creta… the bastard knew I was still following him…thought about letting him go, but he started to kill random strangers…called himself Envy… couldn't let him continue, had to keep following him… I think he'd been there before, he knew exactly where he was going… he never had a problem getting supplies, felt like he knew every back alley in every city we went through…

kept following…had no idea what countries I went through, languages all so different…automail began failing often and no-one seemed to know what it was… they didn't seem to know about alchemy either… avoided using it as much as possible…

took a year… found Hohenheim of Light in a place called London… major war in progress meant I lost track of Envy… Hohenheim replaced my automail with prosthetics, nowhere near as good, but I could walk properly again…helped me track down the fugitive Envy…

Hohenheim died… Envy killed him… I killed Envy…

couldn't get back… the war in the way…had to wait nearly a year before I could start working my way back home… war was still going on but it had become concentrated on a couple of fronts… found gaps and went around the hot spots…felt like I was walking through massive graveyard…landscape much changed…

war ended but became harder to travel… people very wary of strangers…most towns had military patrols made up of ex-soldiers, rationing made it hard to get food… caught a local fever…nearly two months to recover enough to travel again… prosthetics didn't work so well anymore… after effects from the fever made me more tired…

back in Creta…what took six months the first time took nine this time…Cretans don't seem to like alchemists or strangers much, got run out of several towns… I think they thought I was a spy or something…stayed away from the main traffic routes for safety… Creta has several mountain ranges…nice to look at, very hard to walk over…

found a small outpost obviously been deserted for years, writing on the wall Amestrian…hoped that meant I'd found the border and was back home again… it had a telephone in there but it didn't work… looked around, found the line had gone, decided to follow the poles…three days later found the last of the poles and the burnt out foundations of another outpost…

took a week to find anyone…small, very small, village, somewhere south of the West Districts… was definitely back in Amestris… no communications though, only a post coach once a fortnight…decided to keep on walking… followed the coach road…

half-trained alchemists are stupid and dangerous…came across a pair of idiots with a circle they'd gotten from a book… didn't like the look of the circle…looked like it was too many circles put together… 'Alchemical Formulae and Calculations' they claimed it to be, but they'd burnt the cover off… looked more like Bassey's Treatise On Mineral Properties In Alchemic Reactions to me…wondered if they were trying to make gold, Bassey had been rather outspoken on the subject… tried to grab the book… small altercation over book…circle reacted…

woke up and found two dead alchemists and me – changed…

my prosthetics were gone, I had my leg back, I was female…judging from the remains, I think the reaction took material from the idiots as well as me to use in the transmutation…unpleasant after effects from the change…massive headache and took two days to stop throwing up… another day to be able to stand…

they'd been trying to recreate the Midas myth… Teacher once said it was an obscure legend that alchemists had long since proven false about being able to make gold from a human touch… not sure how they learnt about it, but they'd assumed that by combining the illegal alchemies of making gold and human transmutation they could make it work… however Bassey's circles are used in the destruction of gold, not manufacture… notes seemed to suggest they thought they could draw the circles in reverse and then apply it to themselves to make up the human element of the equation… idiots…

destroyed all their notes…buried what was left of them…

decided it would be safest to make my way home, to Resembool first and then get into contact with Central HQ afterwards… needed to get my arm replaced as well and to get some form of identification as I didn't look like me anymore…had been nearly four years since I'd left…needed to know what had happened to Al and to everyone else…

found Al in Resembool, got automail for my arm…found out Al was a State Alchemist now… headed to Central with him…

Sarin put the pages down.

Edward found it hard to concentrate completely on dragging more debris from the pit and decided to head to the gym hall for some exercise. There was always someone there now that she could spar with. She wondered as she warmed up what they'd make of Al when – if – he was allowed into South Headquarters. It would be good to spar with her brother again. She had to keep remembering to be careful with her automail with these soldiers, with Al she didn't have to. Al knew how to avoid it and how to take a hit from it if he had to, they didn't. They all thought she was good, wait until they saw what Al could do. She grinned with anticipation as she walked past the ring of spectators to see who she was facing today.

"I thought I said I wasn't to be interrupted." General Sarin looked up as Colonel Becfor entered.

"Yes, Sir but it's been over an hour and there are several matters that need your attention." Becfor stood straight. He didn't often push against the General's orders and always felt nervous when he did.

"What matters?"

"There's another report come through from Colonel Stost's department with more results and Alphonse Elric has appeared in South City, Sir."

Sarin's eyebrows drew together. "Alphonse Elric?" he repeated.

"Yes Sir. He approached the gates and spoke with the Lieutenant-Colonel for a short while before he left. Senior Warrant Officer Falman did ask if Mr Elric could be granted permission to enter, to help his sister with the investigation."

"Where is he staying at the moment?"

"In Dublith, Sir. With a Mr Curtis." Becfor didn't have to elaborate. The General knew who Mr Curtis was. Sarin was silent for a long moment.

"Granted. Day access only."

"Having to travel between Dublith and here would take up most of his time, Sir." Becfor felt the need to point out.

"He can find lodgings close by if he wants," Sarin replied. "He is no longer a part of the military so we are not required to offer him a billet."

"Yes Sir."

"Leave the copy of Stost's report."

"Sir." Becfor placed the file on the desk and saluted. He knew a dismissal when he heard it.

Edward returned to pit to find Falman waiting for her.

"General Sarin has allowed Al entrance to South Headquarters but on a day pass basis only."

Edward frowned. "What does that mean?"

"He'll only be allowed in between 0900 and 1600 hours each day."

Edward's breath puffed out. "That doesn't leave much time with travelling."

"He might have to find somewhere close to stay for a few days. That's if Al agrees. And Miss Rockbell won't be allowed to accompany him."

Ed grimaced. "Winry won't like that." Ed looked at the large hole in the ground. "And Al'll accept it, even if it's only for a day or two. Al's too curious for his own good sometimes."

Falman smiled. "Just like you." He held up a file. "More results from Colonel Stost." Ed just smirked in response and took the file. She began to leaf through the few pages inside as she headed to the desk. She dropped into a chair and let the file rest on her lap.

"They've found nitric acid."

Falman looked at her with a puzzled frown. He had skimmed through the results and while he hadn't understood much of it, there had been nothing in the report summary to indicate there was a problem.

"Is that a problem?"

"Depends. We knew there'd be some traces of it. There was some ammonia based cleaners stored here. But the results show there's more than I'd expected."

"What else is it used for?"

"Fertilisers, dissolving metals, you can even use it for purifying gold, but the main use is for explosives."

Sarin re-read Edward Elric's report of her return before he leant back and surveyed the mass of paper that made up her file. All he had left to read was the medical section. He really didn't know what to make of her. He had thought her file would give him some idea of what and who she was. Instead he was left with confusion. She was a soldier with an attitude he'd hate to have in his command, but she was efficient, she got the job done. She was practical, she wasn't fanciful. She was too young and yet she'd done more than some twice her age. Contradictory and conciliatory. She seemed loyal but he wasn't sure where that loyalty was directed.

He looked at the file. He'd read her medical history and then maybe the transcript from the taped calls again. Then he had that report from Stost to look at and then dinner. Maybe after that he'd let Becfor read her file, see what a second opinion would be.

Edward and Falman sat in the office they'd been given reading file after file. Ralke looked in at the doorway and grinned slightly.

"Coming to dinner Ed?" he called and she looked at him blankly for a moment before she realised what he'd said.

"No thanks." She waved a hand over the desk. "I want to get this figured out."

"You need to eat," Ralke replied firmly.

"I agree," Falman agreed suddenly.

"Then bring a couple of plates back," Ed said with a sigh.

"The mess hall doesn't do that," Ralke told her.

"Then I'll go later," Ed responded vaguely as she picked up another file, already scanning the page.

"Edward." Ralke's voice became firm.

"Not now Ralke," Ed replied equally firmly. She was reading the file and missed the exchange of glances between Falman and Ralke. Falman reached over and pulled the file from her hand.

"You will go and eat, Lieutenant-Colonel. I will expect you back in thirty minutes when we will continue this and you can make the daily phone report." Falman was sterner than either of them and he allowed no refusal. Ed frowned at him and scowled. "No arguments or I will inform both the Lieutenant-General and Alphonse."

"You've been taking bastard lessons haven't you?" she groused glaring at him fiercely. Falman simply smiled at her. Swearing under her breath in several languages, Ed stood up and stomped to the door.

"Thirty minutes," she snapped at Falman. "Come on Ralke, stop dawdling!" She left and Falman could hear her stamping footsteps going down the hall. Only when he was sure they were out of earshot did he start laughing.

Exactly thirty minutes later Ed returned and found Falman sitting at the desk.

"And when do you eat?" she asked as she entered.

"I ate earlier, Sir," he replied easily.

"I'm going to call Al first. Let him know the General's decision." She looked at the desk. The files that had been scattered everywhere were now stacked neatly. "You tidied."

"Yes, it's what I do," Falman blandly remarked. Ed met his eyes and they laughed. Ed walked around the desk and sat down. She picked up the phone and dialled.

"You know the number?" Falman questioned.

"Yes," Ed said shortly as she listened to the phone click and the soft noise of it ringing at the other end.

"Dublith Meat." A deep slow voice answered and Ed felt her spine twitch.

"Sig," she whispered, her voice losing its strength. She coughed slightly and tried again. "Sig, its Ed."


"Uh yeah. How are you? Is Al there?"

"Yes, he arrived a short while ago. He said you were back. Everything is well here."

Ed envied Sig's calm manner. He'd always been so calm no matter what happened around him. He always seemed so stoic but he could be surprisingly vocal when he felt it was needed.

"Can I have a word with him?"

"Yes, he's hovering near by." A small pause. "She'd like it if you came for a visit."

"I know. I want to do that, but it might have to be after I finish here."

"As long as you do. She did understand the necessity of the military even when she didn't approve."

"At least she won't hit me this time."

"I will do it for her." There was the faintest shadow of a smile in the deep voice and Ed grinned. "Here's Al."


"Hey sis. Didn't expect you to call."

"Thought I'd do it now. Let you know that you can come help with the investigation if you want."

"They gave me permission to enter?"

"Yeah. Only on a day pass though. Restricted hours. You'll have to find somewhere in South if you want to do it."

"I remember a few places that weren't bad when I was searching for you."

"Oh and Winry's not included. She'll have to stay behind."

"That will make her happy." Al's voice was sarcastic and Ed laughed. "Careful Ed, I might just let you tell her that."

"You wouldn't!" Ed snapped back in horror.

"That's what brothers do."

"Only horrible ones," Ed grumbled and Al's laugh echoed in her ear. "How's Sig?"

"He's good. Mason lives here now. They have a cat too."

Ed smiled at the lilt in Al's voice. "I will try and get there to see them and Teacher after this."

"I know Ed. Sig understands. How much longer do you think?"

"No idea. You were always good with formulae, you can help sort out some of the compositions. There's a good lab here. Any extra help will get us to the answers quicker."

"And if it was just an accident?"

"Then we'll find that out too. Al, I don't want to rush it and miss something, but I don't want to spend the next six weeks doing this either. I know Sarin and the Fuhrer don't want it take that long, but they don't want the wrong answers either. We've always worked well together and I'd rather have you than anyone else helping out here."

"Isn't Alphonse Elric a State alchemist too?" Colonel Naylor asked as he listened to the conversation in his earphones.

"Used to be. He retired recently," Colonel Rourke replied.

"He's only a kid!" Naylor exclaimed.

"Eighteen I believe."

"Why did the General grant him admittance?"

Rourke shrugged. "Don't know, but these two are obviously close. Alphonse Elric is reported to have spent years searching for his brother."

"Wonder what he feels like having a sister now," Naylor mused.

Rourke grinned. "Maybe I'll ask him while he's here."

"Rourke," Naylor warned his fellow Colonel.

"Don't worry," Rourke smiled winningly. "I'll be careful and discreet."

"You're never careful." Naylor sighed. "Can you even spell discreet?"

Ed hung up with a smile.

"Al will probably be here the day after tomorrow," she told Falman.

"I'll let colonel Becfor know so he can get the pass organised."

"Thanks." Ed stretched and looked at the phone again. "Now for the bastard."

"Would you like me to leave you alone while you call the Lieutenant-General, Sir?" Falman asked politely and Ed looked at him suspiciously. There was a distinct twinkle in his otherwise expressionless face.

"Well I can't really complain about you if you're here now, can I?" She grinned.



Nitric acid is made via oxidation of ammonia.

The main use of nitric acid is for the production of fertilizers, other important uses include the production of explosives, etching and dissolution of metals especially as a component of aqua regia for the purification and extraction of gold, and in chemical synthesis.

Author's Note: yes, the monster is back… I haven't forgotten it, nor any of the others… the bunnies are still with me even if they don't care to sit still long enough to be caught these days… I wasn't too sure at stopping here but Ed and Roy always like to spend a long time talking so I thought they could have the next chapter to do that… lol…

And a very big thank you to everyone for not giving up on the monster or me… Hvala vam

silken :)