Well, here we are. It's been a few years (!) since I updated. This was hard to write, but finally it happened. Thanks for your support, your messages and reviews.
CHAPTER EIGHT - Digging Through Dirt
"So your assignment this week will be looking at notable figures in recent history and researching as much as you can in preparation of an essay for next week," the professor began, pacing the front of the classroom, rubbing a piece of chalk between his dusty fingers. "When I say recent history, I mean within the last one hundred years or so, no more. As you're probably aware, your parents lived through at least one conflict or war and our country as lived through some significant history recently, so there should be lots for you to discover and easily too."
Hastily scribbling the task down, Sara sat at the back of the class. Her twin brother was on the desk in front of her, scratching his head. Maes was grimacing and chewing the end of a pencil to her right. Sara smothered a smile and as the school bell rang and both boys were snapped back to the present day. Sara collected her belongings and popped them in her satchel, catching up with her twin brother and her best friend who were already at the door.
"... looks like another library job for us then," Maes sighed to Edmund, who shrugged a reply.
"I don't think it's that bad," Sara interjected. The pair turned to look at her as they passed down numerous corridors to the courtyard.
"You like the library far too much," Maes said, a smile touching the corner of his lips.
Sara's face warmed. "It's not that: if you like we can research military figures and visit mum's friend Schiezka."
Edmund scratched his head again, his golden hair in a tangled mess around his shoulders. "That would make sense: I can just pick the first person I come across then," he chuckled, winking at Maes.
Sara rolled her eyes. "It's not meant to be like that, Ed," she grumbled, pushing open the main entrance door. "We're supposed to pick a notable figure who-"
"Who is important to us and stuff, yeah I get it," Edmund groaned. "But history ain't really my strongest suit: how is that going to help with my mechanic studies?"
"You could look at a notable mechanic for your assignment?" Maes suggested, failing to suppress a chuckle.
Edmund took an apple out of his pocket and took a bite. "Oh ha-ha, Mustang," he said sarcastically as they crossed the street towards their favourite cafe. However, Sara lagged behind and looked thoughtfully down the street.
The two young men turned to watch her. "Sara, you coming?" Maes asked.
Sara hesitated then shook her head and began making her way down the street, towards the military buildings.
Edmund swore under his breath. "Can't we at least eat before we start studying?"
Winry clutched the receiver tightly in her hands, drumming her fingers on her desk as the phone dialed. She spoke and abundance of security phrases and questions before she was finally connected to the person she had been waiting for. As it began to ring, her impatience flared and she stood up, looked around her small office littered with blue-prints and automail parts, before sitting back down again. Eventually there was someone at the other end.
"General Mustang here."
Winry swallowed. "Hello, err, it's Winry Rockbell here, Mr Mustang," she said nervously, twirling the phone cable with her fingers.
"Ah, Winry, how good it is to hear from you. Riza will be pleased: she hasn't seen you for a while and was getting worried." he replied, his voice brightening.
She smiled absently. "Thank you, Roy. I've just been incredibly busy opening my third shop in downtown Central."
"Oh, that's excellent news, congratulations! Now as much as I am thrilled to hear from you, I can't really take a personal call on this line. I can patch you through to Riza though -"
"That's very kind of you Roy, but I want to speak to you today, on military news," she said, her voice shaking.
There was a pause and all friendliness disappeared from Roy's voice as he turned professional. "What seems to be the problem?"
Winry took a deep breath. "I heard from my friend at The Central Times that they've had some reports of an earthquake or something, in the south, near Dublith."
"Yes, that's right. We've been incredibly busy all morning trying to figure it out."
"Well, I was just wondering if there are any signs of... if it's got anything to do with... you know...?" she said hopefully.
There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the line. "Look Winry, I promised you that if I ever heard any news or inclination that it could be him, then I would let you know. I haven't forgotten."
"I know, I know," Winry supplied quickly. "It just seems quite unusual and I know you're so busy and I didn't want to get in the way..."
"I understand. But I promise you Winry, it just seems like a standard earthquake: a fairly minor one, with little damage. But I will have a squad or two sent out with a State Alchemist to see if there are any signs of alchemey. And of course, if there is, then I shall let you know."
"What about the Official Secrets Act?" Winry enquired.
There was a dark chuckle. "We'll keep this a secret, alright? I know how hard it must be-"
"Thank you, General Mustang." Winry interjected. She did not like hearing the pity and sympathy from others.
There was another pause. "A pleasure, Miss Rockbell."
Winry put down the phone slowly and rested her head in her arms on her desk, breathing in the oil and ink surrounding her. With a little surprise, tears did not fall, but instead she felt empty inside.
Over the last seventeen years, she had always called Roy Mustang whenever there was a whisper of potential for Edward to be attempting to return. As the years passed, the smallest glimmer of potential was nothing and Winry began to not call Roy as she knew it was another false hope. The years had made her pessimistic and her hope dwindled. Today was unusual as the call she had received from her friend Ren - the assistant editor at the Central Times - oozed with potential. Eye witnesses swore they saw alchemy at work as the ground moved, but quite often these descriptions were made off-hand and more of a comparison to what they knew rather than the correct facts.
Sighing, Winry picked up the phone once more, and flipped open her address book. She dialed in a different number and waited patiently, the smallest of hope inside her close to extinguishing.
"Meat Butchers of Dublith, this is Sig," a deep and gruff voice answered.
"Oh, Sig! Hi, how are you? It's Winry here, Winry Rockbell."
There was a pause. "Miss Winry, I hope you are well. Are you calling about the earthquake?" he asked.
Winry froze. "I-err, yes I am. How did you know?"
"Because, like I've been telling everyone here, I'm convinced it means something."
Winry clucthed the reciver so tight to her hear, her knuckles turned white. "What do you mean, Sig?" she asked.
He sighed. "It's different to other earthquakes, Miss Rockbell. I wish Izumi where here as she would be able to convince others of this... there was light coming from the ground with unusual patterns. The ground moved but not like an ordinary earthquake. It almost... hummed."
"Did it really?" Winry said excitedly. She took a deep breath and calmed herself. "Are there any signs of alchemy? And markings?"
"From what I can tell it was just the strange translucent blue light. I don't really know enough about alchemy to identify it," Sig admitted.
Thoughts raced through Winry's head. "Do you think...?" she trailed off.
The man sighed. "I don't know. The MPs are crawling all over the place but are as clueless as me."
"Right, well then there is only one thing for it: I must come and have a look." she said hurriedly, not really thinking about what she was saying.
"You're more than welcome to stay here. I'll get the guest room ready."
Winry smiled. "Thank you Sig, I'll call you before I leave," and with that she hung up, pulled her hair back out of her eyes and set about to a few more phone calls to prepare for her departure.
Maes picked up his pace and caught up with Sara, her stomach doing a small flip inside and their shoulders brushed. Not long after, she heard her twin brother catching up, muttering complaints under his breath. She ginned at her small victory and turned to Maes as they walked.
"I thought now would be a good time to start: Schiezka might have a busy schedule and we don't want to get in her way. I really want to look at an important military alchemist incase they have some interesting research i can use. What about you, Maes?"
They were close the the main buildings now, and began rummaging in their bags for their identification. "I'm not sure really," Maes replied. "Perhaps one of my father's colleagues is mentioned?" he thought aloud.
They passed through the first level of security, explaining their task and headed to the main reception area, where a cheerful receptionist with dark curls and perfect nails told them to take a seat whilst she patched through to Schiezka.
Edmund looked at Maes, as if he had just started paying attention. "hang on, isn't your old man a General? Can't you do the research about him?"
"Heh, as if he would let me. He practically discovered the Official Secrets Act." Maes shook his head. "As if he would tell me anything anyway"
Sara frowned. "What about your mother? She's a high-ranking officer too, right?"
Maes sighed, spreading his hands. "Yeah she is, and I think she would tell me more if it weren't for the Official Secrets Act. I swear my father just introduced the Act to hinder me." They fell into a comfortable silence occasionally making casual observations about the people that passed them or the building itself.
Eventually the chirpy receptionist peered over her desk and put down her telephone. Looking nervous she approached the three of them and nodded respectively to Maes. "I'm sorry I didn't realise you were General Mustang's son. I'll take you to him right away."
"No, that won't be necessary!" Maes exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "We're just here to see Schiezka, thank you."
The receptionist blinked and then smiled. "Certainly, follow me".
They walked down bland and quiet corridors, their footsteps echoing in the empty spaces. They hardly saw any other military staff, and the ones they did see where of very low ranks. The military building was a complete maze and Sara was sure that even with her brother and friend, they would not be able to find their way back out without assistance. After a few knocks at locked doors, they finally found a small be-speckled woman perched on the top of a tall ladder in the central library facility. Her hair was untidy, her head tilted to one side as she poured over a thick leather bound book. She wobbled as she spotted them in the doorway.
The receptionist cleared her throat as Schiezka carefully made her way down the step ladder, clutching the thick book tightly to her chest.
"You have visitors, Warrant Officer," the receptionist said, before taking her leave and disappearing down the corridor.
Schiezka brushed herself down and placed the book she had been absorbed in on her desk, which was also piled high with books. She smiled nervously.
"Well, I wasn't expecting such lovely visitors this afternoon. Master Maes, does your father know you're here?" she asked.
Maes frowned. "No, and he doesn't need to know."
Schiezka stood awkwardly and glanced at the telephone on her desk. "I had better give him a call-"
"Miss Schiezka?" Edmund interjected. "We won't take much of your time: we're just after a book or two about notable figures in recent history for an assignment, and we weren't sure who we should study. Seeing as your knowledge is incomparable to anyone, I thought you would be the best person to ask," he gave her a genuine smile, to which Sara rolled her eyes. Her brother was known for being a flirt in a flattering way.
Schiezka's features softened and she eventually nodded. "Alright, I don't see why not. I would love to help." She beckoned them over towards her. "Master Maes, why don't you research your father? There's lots of material about him. He is the youngest man to ever reach the rank of General, you know..."
Maes sighed, "I know that, but I would rather not go for the obvious choice. Might get marked down, you know?"
Sara took out her notebook out of her satchel as Maes and Schiezka discussed a few other options. She leant against Schiezka's desk and casually skimmed over the documents open. To the right was a photo of a grinning man in military uniform with glasses and short cropped hair, with a friendly arm around Schiezka's shoulders, who looked incredibly uncomfortable and much younger.
Sara looked up. "Who are you with in that photo, Schiezka?"
Schiezka paused, a soft smile crossing her face. "That's Maes Hughes: the man who gave me this job." she then clapped her hand to her mouth and glanced at the three of them. "Oh, did you know you're named after him, Master Maes?" she said.
He looked at her, mouth open. He reached passed Sara and picked up the photo and examine the picture. "Who is he?" he asked.
Schiezka dropped her gaze. "You were never told about him?" she sighed. "Perhaps it is right you knew: it will make your project interesting, unless General Mustang disagrees... perhaps I should just call him..."
As Maes and Edmund began to insist that it would be fine to not let General Mustang know, Sara walked around the room, randomly pulling books off the shelf and replacing them. Most contained documents, case studies and files on standard military procedure, including expense forms. Peering through one absent mindedly, she paused when she saw her mothers name. Sara, glanced over he shoulder to see Edmund and Maes still in a heated debate with Schiezka. Carefully, Sara returned her attention to the document and narrowed her eyes as she skimmed the information. It read about her mother's details and of Sara and Edmund's great grandmother, Pinako. There were signatures and Sara recognized her mothers and underneath was the signature of Roy Mustang...
"Ed..." Sara called quietly. Moments later Edmund joined her, leaving Maes to fight for his secrecy.
"What have you found?" he asked noting the official documents.
Sara took a deep breath, attempting to register what she was reading. "Ed, these are documents for military finances for mum, from just before we were born."
Edmund frowned. "But mum wasn't in the military, was she?"
Sara shook her head. "Neither where her parents, or anyone from the Rockbell family."
They paused. "Perhaps it was because our grandparents were killed in the Ishval war...?" Edmund thought aloud.
She shook her head. "No, there's no mention of Ishval." Sara continued to read the document. "It talks about unborn children... that must mean us. So mum was pregnant with us when this was being processed... but how was she allowed financial support?"
"Wait, what does that say? Just there, above General Mustang's signature?" he pointed.
"In absence of Major Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist (due to the events of The Gate) this financial support is given to his unborn children's mother, Winry Rockbell and is supported by Colonel Roy Mustang..." Sara read. The room fell silent. She turned to see Schiezka and Maes looking at them both. Edmund didn't move. Sara shivered and felt as if she had plunged into a pool of ice.
"Where did you find that?" Schiezka asked quietly.
Neither of them answered. Sara looked up at her brother, who was gripping the paperwork tightly, crinkling the paper. She gently pried the paper out of his hands and tried to flatten it, quickly scanning the contents once again before looking up.
"Who is the Fullmetal Alchemist, Schiezka?" Sara asked.
Schiezka failed to meet Sara's gaze and looked at the floor. Eventually she mumbled, "you should've been told."
"What does that mean?" Sara asked, her hands shaking.
Suddenly Edmund turned and glared at the small woman. "Schiezka, give us everything you have on the Fullmetal Alchemist. Now." he said, dangerously quiet.
"I... I'm not sure I can," she stuttered. "It's not my place." and with that she reached behind Maes, and grabbed the receiver of the phone and dialed a number.
"What are you doing?" Edmund demanded, striding forwards.
Schiezka ignored him and whispered into the phone. "yessir... they know. Please, you must... yessir... I didn't... yes of course, sir..."
Edmund pulled the receiver out of Schiezka's hands and slammed it down. "Give us the information, please," he said.
Maes stepped forward. "Ed, it's not worth it. Schiezka can't help us."
Edmund glanced at Maes. "She knows things we ought to know. And she will tell us, won't you?"
"Ed, please", Sara hissed. "Clearly Schiezka cannot tell us anything. You're going to get her in trouble."
"So what?" Edmund shouted, glaring at Sara, making her feel small. Her brother often had quite a temper and being on the receiving end was not very pleasant.
Thankfully, Maes was used to his manner of aggression and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I think we should leave," he said.
Edmund shook his head. "No, not yet. I need to know who Edward Elric is. Sara and I have a right to know."
The door was knocked open, making them all jump. A flood of military police entered the room, quickly followed by a tall dark haired man, to whom the MP's saluted. Maes groaned.
General Roy Mustang gazed around the room, his sharp gaze piercing at each of them. Edmund stepped away from Schiezka, who was sweating nervously. General Mustang strode towards his son, taking the photo of Maes Hughes and Schiezka from his hands. "We'll talk about this later," he said quietly.
Another figure appeared in the door, who Sara recognized as another of her mother's closet friends, Riza Mustang. The tall woman wore no expression on her face but her her eyes betrayed her worry as they flicked between Sara and her brother.
"Perhaps the children should be escorted off the grounds, General?" Riza suggested, saluting General Mustang.
He nodded. "Yes, an excellent idea Major General Mustang. Will you see to that, Major General?"
Riza nodded. "Of course sir."
"Excellent, now gather your belongings - and only your belongings. You are not to return here without my prior consent, understood?"
Sara mumbled a 'yes sir' in unison with Edmund and Maes and picked up her satchel, carefully slipping the creased document in between the sheets of her notebook. The followed Riza out of the room and back down the many corridors they had been shown down previously. Not one word was said between them until they reached the front gate.
"You should all go home now and not speak a word of this to anyone until they speak of it to you first," she said sternly, her arms crossed. Again, she was expressionless but relaxed as her gaze fell on Edmund. "Don't give your mother a hard time," she added quietly, before turning on her heel back towards the military buildings.
The watched her leave before unanimously releasing a huge sigh of relief. The started to walk back towards their favourite cafe a few streets away. There was small talk and not much else until they were sat in a cosy corner of the cafe.
"Fuck," Edmund said, as their coffee arrived. He stared at his cup, unblinking.
"Ed," Sara hissed, giving an apologetic glance to the waitress who walked away, looking bemused.
They lapsed into silence, drinking their coffee.
"What do we do now? For the assignment I mean?" Maes finally said.
"Fuck the assignment, I say," Edmund said. "I'm going to find out who Edward Elric is."
"And how are you going to do that? I don't think we can just go waltzing back into Central Headquaters." Maes said flatly.
"I don't care. I'm going to find out... damn, if only I had a memory as good as Schiezka's," he mumbled.
Sara spluttered on her coffee, the hot liquid burning her throat. Maes patted her back ash she couched, giving him a grateful smile as she calmed down.
"Ah sorry... thanks Maes." she said gratefully, her face warm. She turned to look at her brother who was watching them closely. She cleared her throat. "Look you don't need a memory like Schiezka's," she said quickly, distracting him. After a dramatic pause, she pulled her notebook out and presented the document to them on the table.
"Sara..." Maes started, looking at her with admiration.
Edmund snatched it up. He began to pour over it, subconsciously stirring his coffee. After a while he lay it back down, his eyes narrowed.
"There's no more useful information there at all," he grumbled.
Sara clicked her tongue. "You're not looking close enough. See here?" she said, pointing to a line on the document. "This says about the events of The Gate, which we have briefly studied, remember? It happened just before we were born."
"Perhaps we can find some information about The Gate then?" Maes suggested.
Edmund sighed. "Yeah, but where from? The school aren't going to let us have it if it's so secret."
Sara spread her hands. "Well mum's good friend Ren Jones is the Assistant Editor at The Central Times and I know that newspapers keep archive copies of their publications."
"How do you know this?" Edmund demanded, glaring at her.
"I pay attention in all of my classes Edmund, unlike you."
Maes held up a hand. "Alright, let's not start this again." After a pause he said so quietly, that Sara struggled to hear him. "Do you think that this Elric guy could be, you know, your... father?"
Sara glanced at Edmund who was looking at her. Eventually she folded up the document and slipped it back into her notebook. "We don't know Maes. Our mother has never talked to us about him."
"Just said he ran off before we were born, the bastard," Edmund spat.
They chewed over their thoughts silently as they finished their coffee.
"Well, I'm going to see Ren. I don't think I've seen her since she babysat us."
The three of them collected their belongings and set off towards the newspaper office.
Winry pulled across the shutters to her first shop in the north-east part of Central. Her staff had gone home for the day and she had made all of the arrangements for her absence with her store manager who would help oversee her other two stores. Over the years the automail trade had boomed after the incident with The Gate, where many were seriously injured. Her automail was not only convenient for patrons, it was also safe and well made. The Rockbell wasn't just her name, it was now a brand and product. She had built enough reputation to be a high figure of authority on automail and made enough money to expand her business to different parts of the city. Her success was what drove her to forget the past and provide a comfortable upbringing for her children, who were now nearing the age she had been when she had fallen pregnant with them.
Winry flicked off the lights in the shop and retreated to her office where she made a final phonecall to her research team in Resembool. She had converted her grandmother's old house into a research facility for automail and medicine and due to this her automail was far to superior to any others. She had named the research the Pinako Rockbell Research Centre in honor of her grandmother who had passed long ago.
But at this moment, all thoughts of her success in her career were distracted once again by the past. She had not been this flippant and spontaneous since she hears news that Edward was coming back to Central when she was eighteen, and she had fled Resembool just to see him. She smiled to herself as she remembered her folly, but as she looked at the photo on her desk of her twins, she did not regret it. Life had been hard bringing them up by herself but she had friends and her children were her only family. if the suffering of her and what had happened to Edward and herself left her with such happiness in her children, then she reasoned that she would do it all over again to experience the joy of motherhood.
Her phone rang once again, making her jump.
"Rockbell Automail, Miss Rockbell speaking," she said formally, expecting a call from a business client.
"Winry, it's Riza here," was the reply she got instead.
She smiled. "Riza, how are you? It's been a few weeks, I know. I'm terribly sorry: my new shop opened in downtown and there were a few teething troubles."
"I understand, don't you worry about it. But we'll have to catch up about it some other time. Winry, I think Edmund and Sara are learning about Edward," she said bluntly.
Winry's smile, good mood and optimism vanished. "What? How can they?"
"Roy received a call from Schiezka's office saying that 'they knew'. We went down there to find them wound up with Maes and holding a document. I don;t know what it said - the MP's are looking at it - but it must have something as Edmund was demanding information about the Fullmetal Alchemist..."
There was a silence.
Riza coughed. "I'm sorry. I think they need to know the truth."
"The truth?" Winry replied, her mind blank.
"But they need to know, Winry. I know it's hard-"
"I'm sorry Riza, but no you don't. I'm the one who has brought them up, put food on the table and protected them from this."
"But they are nearly adults now. They are nearly the same age as you when you had them."
"And you think I don't know that?" Winry snapped. She pinched her nose and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry Riza, it's just I didn't expect this to happen."
Riza sighed. "You must have. There was no way you could protect them forever."
"The time has never been right to tell them," Winry replied.
"Perhaps this is the right time," Riza said gently. She bade farewell and hung up, leaving Winry alone in the office, the only noise mixing with her thoughts, was the empty dial tone from the phone still pressed to her ear.
Now that this chapter is done, the others should be coming along soon. Your reviews are loved, read and replied to. Thank you ever so much.