A/N: I'M ALIVE!
I've edited the previous chapters of this fic; most of them haven't been changed much except for several dialogue heavy scenes, including:
-Ming's conversation with Ed and Al in Chapter 4
-Ming's conversation with Mustang in Chapter 6
-Mustang's conversation with Hawkeye in Chapter 9
I haven't changed any really major plot points, but given that I haven't updated in nearly a year, it might be a good idea to reread this whole thing anyway, yeah? #shot
By the way, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT. I can't believe this story kept getting recognition despite the notorious lack of updates…over 300 reviews, AND favorites, AND follows? Plus, I just realized that it's featured in 9 communities, and it's made it to the first freaking page of the FMA archive when ordered by follows—holy shit! You're amazing, and I love you all.
I also wanted to give a shout out to the youtaite shadowlink4321 aka Daniel Alvarez, whose beautiful English covers of FMA opening/ending songs are currently my writing music. Personally, I especially love his versions of "Melissa" (Porno Graffiti, from the 2003 anime) and "Golden Time Lover" (Sukima Switch, from 2009), so definitely check those out when you guys get the chance.
Okay! You guys have waited for this update long enough, so without further ado, I present to you…
S . I . N . H . E . A . R . T
"Calculation never made a hero." John Henry Newman
two weeks earlier…
"Let me see her!"
"I can't do that, Fullmetal."
"Are you serious?" Ed slammed his hands on the desk. "How can you say that after what's happened?!"
"Nina Tucker is currently under military jurisdiction," Colonel Mustang said calmly.
A metal watch was promptly shoved in his face. "Yeah, well, I'm military, aren't I? Goddammit, Mustang, I went through that stupid examination to stop you stuffy bastards from telling me what I could or couldn't do! I don't care how the hell you do it, you're going to take me to see Nina right now!"
"Stand down, Fullmetal!"
Edward stood back, panting from his outburst, desperation making his eyes wild. By contrast, Mustang's eyes were cool as he crossed his arms.
"I cannot take you to see Nina Tucker," he said, stressing each word. "She's being transferred to Central for laboratory investigation."
Ed made a noise like that of a wounded animal. "You're going to let them experiment on her? That's fucking sick! She's just a kid, Mustang!"
"Goddamn it, Fullmetal, it wasn't my decision," Mustang snapped, losing his patience. "It was an order from the higher ups, alright? They didn't waste any time; she's on her way to Second Laboratory already. So will you calm down?"
The golden-eyed boy gritted his teeth. "How can I get access to her…experiments?"
"You can't," Mustang said immediately. "They know you're the one who found her, they know you lived with her for weeks, you're barred because of bias. And," he eyed the heaving of Fullmetal's shoulders, "for good reason, I can see."
"'Bias'? Is that what they call being a decent human being in the military?!" Edward practically shouted, disbelief and fury warring in his voice. "She's fucking four years old—how can you just sit here like this and not do anything? You're no better than they are!"
That one stung a little. Mustang closed his eyes and folded his hands, resting his forehead against them. "Look, Fullmetal, this is for the best. I saw the initial analyses—Nina Tucker's DNA was so tightly bound to her dog's, you wouldn't have been able to separate them without killing them both. The Laboratory has more people and resources to dedicate to reversing the transmutation."
"You and I both know that's not what they're after," Ed snapped.
"Fullmetal, sometimes you have to just accept your losses!"
"Accept?! How the hell can I accept that the military is going to fucking treat a little girl like some kind of lab animal?!"
Mustang glared at him. "You'll do it," he said slowly, "because you're a State Alchemist, and that was an order. Don't forget that you have your own problems right now, Fullmetal."
Edward flinched; this was as close as Mustang had come to threatening him since the first day of his term as State Alchemist. The room was engulfed in silence.
Suddenly, the door opened. "Colonel," Lieutenant Hawkeye said, her calm tone sounding extremely out of place, "I've finished carrying out your orders."
"Report," Mustang ordered.
She entered and closed the door behind her. "Your appeal to State Alchemist regulations code twenty-seven, section nine was successful. Due to the combination of Shou Tucker's work under your jurisdiction and a crime committed in an East City district, Nina Tucker's case has been recognized as the jurisdiction of East Headquarters, and will be treated as such."
Ignoring Edward's stare, Mustang let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. "Where is she?"
"Currently transferring to a train back to East City, sir."
"When will she arrive?"
"Tonight at 2200 hours, sir."
"Have you spoken with Lieutenant General Grumman?"
"I have, sir," she paused. "He says that whatever you're up to, he doesn't want to know unless it's directly detrimental to his reputation."
Mustang chuckled. "Sounds just like the old man." He looked back at the blond midget, who was gaping at him. "Satisfied now, Fullmetal?"
"I won't be able to keep him out of Central's hands for long," he continued, ignoring Ed's sputtering. "They'll want her sooner or later; I bet the Second Lab scientists are screaming their heads off already. I also have my hands tied with Scar at the moment, so it's up to you."
He met Ed's eyes, trying to convey the urgency of their situation.
"Save Nina Tucker," he barked. "That's an order, Fullmetal."
The boy stared at him for a moment. Mustang could see the exact moment when understanding dawned: Fullmetal's shoulders straightened, his golden eyes sharpened and gleamed, and a grin spread across his face.
He didn't snap a salute—he wouldn't have been Fullmetal if he had—but he did nod once, quickly. "Got it!" He turned to hurry out the door, undoubtedly eager to tell Alphonse the news, before pausing. "Colonel?"
Mustang blinked for just a fraction of a second, and then snorted. "Don't thank me yet," he warned. Things could still go wrong in so many ways; he had played his own move, but though he could fight to keep Central at bay, the most important part—actually restoring Nina Tucker and Alexander the dog, reversing the atrocity that Shou Tucker had committed—would be Fullmetal's job.
"I know, but, just," Ed hesitated, and then plunged on. "You're not as bad as I said you were."
Then he ran out before Mustang could respond. Dumbfounded, he could only stare at the door and then glare at Hawkeye when he spotted her faint smile.
"It's not funny."
"Not at all, sir."
Realizing that his dignity was a lost cause, he glanced at the clock; it was three. He stood up. "Lieutenant?"
"Retrieve our guest and escort her to interrogation room number three. I have a few questions for her."
"It's us, Edward and Alphonse. Do you recognize me?"
"…yeah, that's me. Big Brother. And this is Al. You called him…Bigger Brother."
A swallow. "Yeah. I—I know. That's why…don't worry, okay? We'll find a way to fix this. Don't be scared. Big Brother will fix everything."
"Nina, are you okay?"
"…just hang on, Nina. Please. Whatever you do—don't give up."
Don't give up on us. Please. Because we're not giving up on you!
Maybe it had something to do with Edward's head wound, but everything seemed to be in a haze.
The past couple of hours had been surreal. He and Al had discovered the truth about the Philosopher's Stone—thanks to Ming, who he would be having a serious talk with the next time he saw her—and they'd then deduced that Fifth Laboratory was the site of military experimentation, and marched off to investigated the place, where they'd promptly been separated and forced to battle it out with the most unconventional security guards he'd ever come across. He still hadn't processed the idea that there were people out there who would actually tear a person's soul from his body and bind it to a suit of armor out of anything other than desperation, though he supposed that once you were depraved enough to sacrifice lives to create a Philosopher's Stone, moral boundaries ceased to exist.
He had won his fight and was questioning one of his opponents—he'd nearly lost earlier because he hadn't realized there were two—when the guy he'd almost grown fond of (if you ignored the fact that they were serial killers, they kind of grew on you after a while) was speared through his blood seal.
Ed stiffened in shock.
"That was too close. You mustn't blab too much, 48."
"Wow…why's the Fullmetal Shrimp here?"
His head snapped up.
There were two of them. Both were dressed in black, with eerie red eyes and sinister smirks—and both of them sent his instincts screaming danger! Alchemist's eyes flickered over their bodies and noticed their strange tattoos: the Ouroboros, an insignia he recognized.
"Well, now," the one whose gender he wasn't sure of was saying. "What should we do with you?"
Even its voice was androgynous. Not to mention its clothes…was that a skirt or a pair of shorts?
"What a troublesome boy," the other one, definitely a woman, murmured. "So, tell me…how exactly did you find out about this place?"
For a moment, everyone in the room was still. And then Slicer—the older brother—groaned. The woman looked at him in surprise, as if she'd forgotten he was speared on her fingernails (how the hell did she do that? Was she an alchemist who transmuted automail fingernails?). After a moment of contemplation, she shrugged.
"I didn't want anyone to see this, but I can't do anything about it now." She retracted her nails, leaving the helmet suspended in the air—and then sliced it in half, right down the blood seal. The other Slicer screamed.
"Brother! Brother! Brother!"
Edward felt sick. For a moment, it had sounded like Al was calling his name...
"Damn you! We can still fight!"
The other…thing picked up Slicer's fallen sword.
"Give me a body…give me a new body!"
It sauntered over to the bottom half of the armor, right past Ed, as if the blond alchemist didn't exist.
The awful sound of metal slicing through metal echoed through the hall.
The black-haired thing's placid expression was replaced by one of ugly disgust.
"Oh, shut the hell up, you nitwit!" He stabbed the blood seal again and again. "You were going to kill a precious sacrifice, huh? You have any idea what you're doing?"
Edward watched with horror as Slicer reached toward him with a trembling hand. He's asking me to save him… He gritted his teeth, trying to will away his exhaustion. Come on, body, move!
"Plus, you were about to tell us everything about us! How do you plan on taking responsibility if the project gets held up?! Say something! Ah?"
The hand collapsed.
"Envy," the woman rebuked, "he's already dead."
"…ah?" It bent over as if to check, and then straightened. "Oh…what a wimp. I hate weaklings." Spinning around with the sword cocked on its shoulder, it spotted Ed, who stiffened as its violet gaze fell on him. "Oh, right, right!"
It stepped over with a friendly smile.
"How do you do, Fullmetal Shrimp?"
He twitched. Come to think of it, it had said the same thing earlier…
"I'm impressed that you made it this far! Good job." It knelt in front of him. "But since you did see something you shouldn't have…I guess I should kill you, too?"
Edward growled. "You…" Leaning against the wall, he pushed himself up. The…thing, Envy, watched him with interest—and, unfortunately, ducked just in time as he swung a kick at its head.
"Whoa! Hey, the shrimp's getting violent! Aww, I don't like fighting—it hurts."
Ed fell into a stance, his eye twitching. "Stop…saying…SHRIMP!" He clapped his hands together. "You're the one who fucking started this, so I'll take you on, bastard!"
He glanced down.
His automail arm hung from the shoulder, useless.
"WHAAAAAA?! WHY AT A TIME LIKE THIS?!" he panicked. Meanwhile, the two weirdos smirked.
"Looks like an automail failure," the woman remarked.
Envy dashed forward; Ed hacked and felt the air rush out of his lungs as the thing kneed him in the stomach. "You know, I was joking about killing you," Envy murmured, grabbing Ed by his braid. "You're lucky your arm broke down, since you got out of this without getting hurt too badly."
Then it dropped him and his head slammed onto the ground. Blackness ate away at the edges of his vision; the duo's voices faded in and out…
"You sure are lucky, boy…don't forget that we let you live."
"Well, we don't need this place for Stone creation anymore, so shall we blow up the evidence?"
"Still, is it really a good idea to let this kid live?"
"We still need him—we need to figure out how he found out about this place. Someone obviously let something slip. Look into it."
"Aw, why is it always me?"
"You can probably kill them once you're done with them. And as for him, it doesn't look like he knows anything except how to create a stone, which doesn't matter in the long run. The project's already in its final stages, after all…"
"And just where do you think you're going?"
Light flooded the back room.
Ming froze in the doorway.
Izumi's foot tapped.
"…out?" Ming offered weakly. Izumi took off a slipper and threw it; it bounced off her head. "Ow!"
"What part of 'grounded' do you not understand, young lady?!"
"Uh, the part where it means I have to stay in the house all the time?" Ming winced at Izumi's expression, but didn't move to take off her shoes. "I-I'm sorry, I'm sorry, don't kill me. I just—I have something I need to do downtown. Please? It's really important."
Izumi folded her arms. "You should've thought of that before you decided to disappear for four years, huh?"
"Anyway, what's so important that could possibly be taking place at," Izumi glanced at the clock, "eleven at night? And have you heading out with a broken arm?" Her eyes narrowed. "You're not going on a date, are you?"
This was so far out of left field that Ming blinked. "Uh, no."
"Good," the older woman said firmly. "Any guy you decide to start seeing will have to go through honey and I."
Ming felt a trickle of sweat drip down her forehead. "Yeah, don't worry about it." It was obviously more of a threat than anything else; she couldn't think of a single boy who would be willing to brave Sig's dark-and-silent muscle, let alone Izumi's casual violence. But it was unnecessary. She'd never considered a relationship of any kind, anyway—she hadn't even thought about anything remotely related to the subject since, well, her previous life. It was too weird a thought to contemplate, now, when her mind was more than a decade older than her body. Besides, she had better things to worry about.
Like homunculi. More specifically, homunculi who'd decided to take up residence in her Amestrian hometown. Even more specifically, homunculi who would soon be dead, if she didn't find a way to get out of being grounded.
"So?" Izumi prompted. "Are you going back to bed or do I have to knock you out?"
"Getting knocked out can't be good for my health," Ming countered very weakly.
Izumi raised an eyebrow. Neither of them moved.
"When are you going to stop this?" Izumi said at last.
Ming shifted her broken arm. "Stop what?"
"Don't bullshit me," the woman snapped. "This—dancing around. Pretending you're fine when you're not. Oh, don't act surprised, it's been your bad habit since you were little, I can read you like a book."
Her voice softened. "I know there's something you're not telling me," she held up a hand as Ming opened her mouth to protest, "no, I know there's a lot you're not telling me. Hell, there are things I haven't told you, either. And that's okay. That's the nature of humans—to have secrets even from the people you're closest to."
That hit Ming like a brick. "To have secrets even from the people you're closest to"…she considers me one of the people she's closest to?
"But you know what's not okay?" Izumi leaned against the wall with a firm frown. "Keeping things to yourself when they hurt you. It's okay to keep some things for yourself; it's not okay to keep other people from helping you. You're not alone." A strange look crossed her face; it looked almost hurt. "I don't understand why you still seem to think that, even after all these years."
The back room was silent for a very long time.
"I'm sorry, I have to do this, this is really important," Ming said quietly. "But—for what it's worth, I'll be back soon."
She ran. Izumi didn't chase after her. The master alchemist remained against the wall, an unreadable expression on her face, head tilted up to watch the moon through the open door.
The streets of Dublith were long and winding at night. Light still blinked from windows here and there, dappling the ground with gray shadows; their number grew as she approached the lawless district that was Greed's domain. She knew she was in the area when drunken whistles and catcalls began to dog her footsteps; a group of men almost crashed into her as they bumbled along the street.
"Hey, girl, how much fer yer business?" One man reached for her from a side alley greedily; she ducked to avoid his grab. "Aww, don' be like that, sweetheart. We're all here t'ave fun, ain't we?"
She'd memorized the way during the day, but she hadn't taken into account how difficult the red light district would be to navigate when it was crowded with pleasure-seekers and drunkards. "Get out of my way, please."
"So cooold." He leaned over her. He was easily three heads taller than her—smaller than Sig by a long mile, though—and she could see the outline of a beer belly against the harsh light. "C'mon, girl, one night an' I'll make it worth yer while."
He leaned in; she wrinkled her nose at the beer in his breath.
"Sorry, I didn't want to do this," she told him, before she ducked behind him and knocked him out with a well-placed blow to the neck. Luckily, no one noticed as she dragged his unconscious body back into the alley.
Even more luckily, that was the only encounter of its kind that she had, though she was fairly certain that several pickpockets had eyed her before realizing that she was literally carrying nothing on her. After deftly dodging scarlet women selling their wares and annoyed bartenders dropping lightweights in the middle of the street, she made her way to a brightly lit bar with an unfortunately apt name: Devil's Nest.
The bouncer at the door squinted at her. "You over eighteen?"
"No," she admitted, and then scooted away.
Entering through the front door wouldn't do; she doubted Greed was in the main parlor, anyway. He probably had a private room in the back. The best way to bust in…hmm.
She eyed the bouncer and ducked into the alley behind the building when he looked away to stare down another bar goer. There was a loud squelch and she grimaced—she'd stepped into a pool of vomit. Gross. Resisting the urge to gag, she squeezed through the side alley (a difficult feat of maneuvering when she had a broken arm) and out into the back. The stink of the dumpsters hit her full in the face; she forced herself to press on.
At last, she stopped to scan the back wall and her grimace smoothed over. Ah, there it is.
Another sign, the same one: Devil's Nest. Only this one was perched inconspicuously above a stairwell that led down, into a lower back entrance. Oddly enough, there was no one there; perhaps security was tighter on the inside? Not about to question her luck, she stepped down the first stair.
"What the hell d'you think you're doing, kid?"
Ah. Of course it wouldn't be that easy.
"Sorry, that door's V.I.P. only," the man behind her continued with a yawn. She turned around slowly; her eyes widened. "Why don'tcha go try your luck at the front, huh?"
"Dolcetto," she breathed.
The dark-haired man, who'd been in the middle of a stretch, suddenly froze and narrowed his eyes.
In a millisecond, there was a blade to her neck. "Who the hell are you?" he growled, sounding very much like the dog chimera he was. "How do you know my name?"
She would have swallowed if it wouldn't have put her in more contact with the keen edge of steel. "I'm an ally," she promised. "Listen, I need you to take me to Greed—" the blade pressed harder, but she didn't flinch "—I have information for him, it's important, he has to listen to me."
"How do I know you're not lying?"
"I'm hardly in a position to lie right now," she pointed out, thinking fast. "Look, this is about his family, alright?"
"Greed doesn't have a family."
"Yes, he does, he doesn't want to admit it but he does," she said very quickly. "They're the other people like him—only maybe about, uh, a hundred times as evil and horrible and annoying." When Dolcetto didn't move, she pulled out her last card. "I'm a little girl with a broken arm and you can smell me, I'm human, I'm normal, right? Just take me to him. It's not like I'll be able to do anything in a room full of chimera and a homuncul—"
He pulled away the sword and slapped a hand over her mouth. "Are you stupid?" he hissed. "You don't just go around blurting that kind of stuff out loud! Alright, fine, I'll take you to him, but you better be telling the truth or it's your head, you hear?"
She nodded frantically. He grabbed her good arm, shoving it behind her back, and marched her down the stairs.
He opened the door. It was dark inside; she guessed that animal-based chimera didn't exactly need their vision to find their way, though how they used their noses in a place that stunk of beer and cigarette smoke was beyond her. "C'mon, this way," he growled behind her, pushing her forward, and she followed his lead.
They walked down several hallways before he finally gripped her to make her stop walking and opened a door to the side. "Hey, boss! I've got something for you!"
"Ah? It better be good, Dolcetto."
"What the hell, Dolcetto, what are you doing to a kid?"
"Shut up, Martel, she asked for it!"
"I told you to shut up!"
Ming blinked at the dim light of the room and began to make out shapes.
Her eyes hit the walls first: multiple rifles leaned against the stucco, and several coats hung on the hooks. A stocky woman with dark skin and light hair stood next to them, her arms folded. On her other side stood a huge man with thick gray hair and a muscle-bound body that could have rivaled Sig's. She mentally labeled them: Martel, snake; Loa, bull. Her eyes swept across the room; another man with glasses knelt in the far corner. She didn't recognize him, but logged him as a probable chimera.
And in the very center of the room, facing the entrance, a man lounged on an expensive-looking couch, his feet propped on a low table with an ashtray and multiple glasses of something probably alcoholic. He had a pretty woman on each arm, both of them wearing low-cut dresses and heavy makeup.
The man himself was dressed all in black and looked like the epitome of a sleazy gang boss, except for one thing: the Ouroboros tattoo that flashed as he reached for another glass of wine.
He eyed her from behind his shades, a sharklike grin playing on his face. "Oh? And who's this?"
"She says she's got info for you," Dolcetto said, pushing her forward with the back of his sword. She stumbled but caught herself before she hit the table.
"I don't remember using kids as informants," Greed drawled, turning to murmur something into a prostitute's ear; she giggled. "Make it quick."
She stared. She hadn't been expecting this—the way he acted like she didn't interest him, like she wasn't important at all, like she was beneath his notice. It annoyed her, just a little bit.
"Um," she said. "I don't think you're going to want your friends to hear this…"
She motioned at the prostitutes, who looked at her as if noticing her for the first time—and promptly turned their noses up at her, curling back against Greed. She was reminded, absurdly, of offended cats.
Greed laughed. "Anything you need to say, kid, you can say in front of my girls."
She retorted before she could stop herself.
"Wow, you're a complete pedophile."
Everyone in the room froze. Including her, after she registered exactly what had just come out of her mouth.
"What the hell did you say, you little brat?!" Dolcetto roared from behind her. Greed held up a hand, and he fell silent.
The homunculus let go of the prostitutes, set his feet on the ground, and leaned forward to actually look at her.
"Y'know," he said slowly, "I really don't remember using kids as informants. Who the hell are you?"
The chimeras tensed. She could hear Dolcetto drawing his sword again. Trying not to let the sound intimidate her, she straightened.
"I really think your gal pals need to leave the room," she said.
He stared at her. And then he laughed.
It was the stereotypical Greed laugh—but hearing it still sent shivers down her spine.
"GAHAHAHAHAHA!" He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye, still grinning his sharp-toothed grin. "You're pretty interesting, brat! Alright, girls, time to go."
"But Mr. Greed—"
"Aw, Mr. Greed—"
They protested at the same time. Greed shook his head and pushed them off the couch with both hands. "Sorry, girls, but business is business. Next time, huh?"
They pouted at him and then, finding him unmoved, flounced out the door. One of them made sure to stumble into Ming as she did so.
"Martel, go stand guard at the door," Greed ordered after they left. The tough-looking woman followed the prostitutes out, glaring at Ming with suspicion. Wow, I feel popular, she thought sarcastically. "Alright, kid, who are you and what do you have to say?"
"My name's Ming, Ming Curtis," she said. Offering her full, official name to someone for the first time felt strange. "I'm here to warn you. In the next few weeks or so, a State Alchemist will be in town."
"Oh, yeah?" Greed kicked his feet up again. "And what's that got to do with me?"
"It's got to do with you," she retorted, "because Fuhrer King Bradley will be tailing him."
Against the wall, Loa tensed. Yeah, if she heard that the man who used her to commit genocide and then carried out illegal experiments on her would be in town, she wouldn't be relaxed, either.
"Oh, really," Greed drawled. "And how do you know this, again?"
"I know a lot of things," she said coolly. She didn't know what it was, but there was something about this guy that just annoyed her. She hadn't been this irritated by another person since her three-year-old brother spilled calligraphy ink all over her alkahestry books. "I know you're a homunculus, for example. I know your core is a Philosopher's Stone. I know you've lived for two hundred years, give or take. I know your creator was a man you call 'Father,' but you don't follow him anymore; you want to pursue your own goals. I know there are six more like you—all named after the seven deadly sins. And I know one of them, Wrath, is Fuhrer King Bradley."
"Which is why, if you know what's good for you, you'll keep your head down until he's out of town, unless you want to get boiled back into oblivion by your loving dad."
Silence followed her tirade.
Greed was no longer smiling. He propped his chin on his hand. "You," he said slowly, "are very interesting. You work for good ol' pops, or something?"
"If I did, would I be here to warn you that he's about to find you?" she retorted.
"Good question. Which is what I was gonna ask next—why are you telling me all this?" he countered.
She shrugged. "To be frank, I don't like your family a whole lot," she told him. "I'm planning to take them down and though it'd be nice if you helped, it would be nice enough just to have you not get your personality destroyed and be stuck working for Father again, because both of you are bitches to deal with all on your own."
"…did you just call Father a bitch?"
"Uh," crap, "maybe?"
He laughed. "Gahahaha! I like you, kid!"
She eyed him weirdly and started to scoot away. "I guess…that's good? Uh, right, so, I've given you my information. Just don't do anything stupid until Bradley heads back to Central, and you can do whatever the hell it is you do here later. Now I have to get home before Izu—my…uh…"
"…guardian kills me," she finished.
Greed abruptly stopped laughing. "Now hold on a second, kid."
Uh-oh. That doesn't sound good.
His shark's grin was back. "That stuff you know is real confidential—and I'm wondering what else you know. It could be pretty damn useful."
Dolcetto's sword was suddenly at her neck again. Greed stood up; he was actually pretty tall, though not as tall as Loa.
"You know my name, but do you know what it means?" he spread his arms. "I'm Greed, the greedy. I want money! I want women!" His voice rose dramatically. "I want land! I want fame! I want everything in this world! And you," he jabbed a finger at her, "seem to know a lot. Chances are you know a bit about how to get what I want too, don'tcha?"
"Look, that's great and all, but you really can't keep me here," she said calmly.
"Kid, I'm Greed, I do whatever the hell I want," he laughed. "And what I want right now is everything you know. Right here." He poked her in the forehead. "So, tell me everything!"
"No, you don't understand," she protested. "You actuallycan't keep me here. If you keep me here, my guardian's gonna come looking for me, and you really don't want that to happen."
Dolcetto snorted. "Brat, if I had ten senz for every time I heard that line…"
"Trust me, you don't wanna mess with her," she said hurriedly. "She's a master alchemist, she survived a month on Mt. Briggs by hunting bears and stealing from military outposts, and she's married to a butcher—can't you smell the animal blood on me?"
There was a pause as the dog chimera sniffed. "Yeah, it stinks pretty strong," he admitted.
"See? So let me go before scary lady hunts you guys down and blows this place up."
She had never been more relieved for Izumi's reputation of terror than the moment Greed waved a hand and Dolcetto's sword lowered from her throat. "Have to admit, though, this 'guardian' of yours sounds like an interesting lady," Greed smirked. "Think she'd wanna work for me?"
"She'd die first," Ming assured him. She glanced at Dolcetto, then at Greed, then at the door. "Er…I'm just going to go now. Nice talking to you, bye."
She hightailed it out of the room and bounded down the route she'd memorized as Dolcetto had led her inside, almost running into Martel, who reached out with a snakelike hand to grab her before Greed called out the former soldier's name.
Honestly, she was glad she'd gotten out of there. Greed may have been the most benign of the Homunculi-in the loosest sense of the word-but he was also the most unpredictable. And the weirdest, though Envy took the cake for that one in terms of physical appearance...
"I do whatever the hell I want!"
It must be nice to have that kind of blind certainty in your life, she thought as she raced up the stairs and into the open air.
"Can you believe it? My daughter's going to be three years old!"
"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes…" Mustang took a deep breath. Calm down, calm down, count backwards from 50. 50…49…48…47… he lost it. "I'm busy at work right now!"
"Really? Wow, fancy that. I'm busy at work, too! It's just that she's sooo cute every single day!"
"I get it already, so stop calling me to brag about your daughter all the time! And especially not on the military line!"
"It's not just my daughter! I'm proud of my wife, too!"
"…do you think there's a way to fry a person over the phone with alchemy, Hughes?"
"Ooh, the big bad Flame Alchemist's scaring meeee. Oh—speaking of alchemy, what's the lowdown on Scar?"
"He hasn't been found yet. As it was a very large explosion, many unidentifiable bodies have been found. He might be among those…but there haven't been any witness reports in the East area, so the general consensus is that he's dead."
Mustang felt something clench in him even as he said the words. Curtis wouldn't be happy when she found out—neither was he, really. Although serial killers didn't make the best allies, so perhaps they were better off…
"So we can cut loose the Elric brothers' guards?"
Hughes's voice brought him back to reality. "Yeah, they're in Central, so I'll leave that up to the discretion of the brass there."
"The brass at Central, huh…" Hughes paused. "You know, Scar knocked out some of the higher-ranking guys in charge of state alchemy, so there's a shortage in personnel."
Mustang smirked. Now that was news he could get behind. Not that the way Scar had killed multiple high level State Alchemists was a good thing or anything…"Oh, really?"
"There's a rumor that a certain Colonel Mustang is about to be assigned to Central."
"…Central, huh? Not bad."
Hughes's tone grew serious. "Careful, now. Getting too high up the ranks at this age means you'll make more enemies."
Mustang closed his eyes. "I'm prepared for that." He paused. "You…be careful too, Hughes."
Silence on the other end of the phone.
"Hahahahaha! What's with that? Don't worry, Roy, I'm not a freak like you. I live a nice, safe, boring life in the investigations department, you know. No one's coming after me."
"You never know what can happen," Mustang said lightly. "Your photo sharing could tip someone over the edge someday."
"Impossible! There's no such thing as too much Elicia. Children are adorable! And my daughter's especially adorable! Oh, but my wife is wonderful too. Which is why I was saying—hurry up and get married."
Mustang immediately slammed down the phone. "DON'T BE RIDICULOUS!"
"Colonel, please be quiet when you're on the phone," Hawkeye said calmly from her desk.
On the other end of the conversation, Hughes paused. "Ah. I forgot to tell Roy that Ed was just hospitalized. Oh, well, I better go pay the kid a visit…and show him some pictures of Elicia!"
"Lieutenant Colonel, please don't skive off work again," one of his subordinates called. He grinned and gave her a thumbs up.
"It's okay, don't worry! If you want to see them, there're plenty of pictures to go around!"
"That's not what I meant!"
"Here, look, this is her at the park two weeks ago!"
"Never mind, it's obvious that your mind isn't on your work! Just go!"
Sitting in a military cab, Hughes smirked. Skiving off work, success!
The ride to the hospital would take a while, and left him with some time to think. Though he was sorely tempted to go through his Portable Elicia Collection for the fifth time that day, he heaved a sigh and tucked the packet of photos back into his jacket. There were more important things to contemplate.
Like Edward's recent excursion into the Fifth Laboratory. He'd heard the general sweep of things from General Armstrong—no pun intended—but he had a feeling a long question-and-answer session would be needed soon. He was getting a bad feeling from all of this, and if there was one thing he had learned as an investigator in the military, it was to trust his gut.
And when kids like Edward and Alphonse were involved in something that made the gut of a man who had watched a genocide clench…it made him sad about the state of their military. The state of their country.
He could still remember the first time he met the infamous Elric brothers—"infamous" as in "Roy complains about them all the time"—the day after the Shou Tucker murder:
"Fullmetal, this is Lieutenant Colonel Hughes. He's been assigned to the Scar investigation."
"Wow, you're really just a kid, huh! Wanna see some pictures of my daughter?! She's adorable and she's turning three next month!"
"WHO ARE YOU CALLING A MIDGET SO SMALL HE'D FIT IN A SHOE?!"
The memory made him chuckle. Ed was really easy to rile up—just like Roy, as a matter of fact. For people who disagree as often as Roy says they do, they sure have a lot in common…
Speaking of Roy, the man had been acting strangely, lately, too. For example, that you be careful, too…his tone had been serious. Too serious. It was like he was warning Maes of something…
Suddenly, a thought occurred to him and he mentally groaned. Oh, no, who did he piss off this time? He filed that away for later analysis.
And then, there was the conversation they'd had a few days ago…
"Hughes, when can you get back to East City?"
"Uh? I've been pretty busy over here lately, we got a couple of murders up here that need my skill and expertise—"
"—maybe a week or so, if I don't get a case that puts me back over there. I'll get sent over there again if you find Scar, though. Why, what's up?"
"Roy, I know you better than that."
"I'll tell you some other time. Say, can you look into something for me?"
"Depends, will it get me arrested?"
"Ha, ha. A girl named Ming Curtis. She's from Dublith, daughter of Izumi and Sig Curtis, teenager. I want anything you can find on her."
"How do you spell that?"
"Ming Curtis, Dublith, got it. Any particular reason or do I not need to know?"
"I told you, I'll tell you some other time, Hughes."
Truth be told, he hadn't had time to get around to anything more than a preliminary background check. The girl was interesting—an adoptee, it seemed, and a runaway. It was also interesting that Ed had been put on her case back when she went missing. But she'd been found again, so Maes didn't really see the problem…though of course he still had to dig deeper.
Regardless, the tone of their conversations these days worried the soldier in him. Maes closed his eyes and leaned against the window.
Roy…I sure hope you know what you're doing.
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