This fic takes place 15 months after the Promised Day, manga/brotherhood verse.
Disclaimer: I do not own FMA, though that would be one HECK of a birthday present...
It just wasn't fair. It's not like he could do anything, after all.
Dark gold eyes stared at him sullenly, the face surrounding the bronze orbs in a definite pout. Arms were folded across the chest below. All in all, the prime picture of a pouting teenager.
"Al, I don't know where your brother is," Mustang said exasperatedly. "We've gone over this."
"You have to have some lead," Al protested. "It's been almost a year. How can there be no trace at all?"
Colonel Roy Mustang rubbed his forehead. This conversation was becoming an almost daily occurrence; Edward Elric had disappeared off the face of the earth nearly a full year before, barely three months after saving the country on the Promised Day. Ed had given up pretty much everything he could in favor of bringing his brother home, and now something had happened to the alchemist—only, they didn't know what, and there didn't seem to be any chance of figuring out anytime soon.
"Okay, so let's see," Mustang sighed, leaning forward to place his elbows on his desk and steeple his fingers. "I've searched any files that might possibly give a clue to where your brother might be. You've searched the entire country. No trace. I don't know what to think, you don't know what to think. Sadly, that's the end of the story. We've got nowhere left to turn."
"You're saying he's dead?" Al demanded tremulously.
Mustang gave up the cool front and kneaded his forehead with the heel of one hand. Why had this happened? He was supposed to be able to protect his subordinates, and here Ed had run off with no tracks to follow. "I'm saying he's either dead or out of the country," he hedged, knowing that the second one was not much of a likelihood at all.
"Out of the country?" was the thoughtful reply. "I never even thought of that!" Al looked excited, suddenly all for the idea of searching the world to find his brother.
"You're seriously going to comb every country in hopes of finding him?" Mustang asked with raised eyebrows, unable to keep the skepticism out. He caught Hawkeye's glare at him; right, be kind to the traumatized kid with an AWOL brother, sure. But he didn't play that way.
Apparently Al wanted him to, though. "Yes, I will. If that's what it takes. I'm going to find Ed."
And before Mustang could say another word to contradict the stubborn kid, said stubborn kid stomped right out of the office. Roy face palmed with a groan.
"If you mean what you say, you gotta be more firm, sir," Breda said, watching in amusement from his work station.
"Shut up," Mustang snapped. Hawkeye stood coolly to the side, watching events play out with a detached kind of amusement; the amusement of the other subordinates in the room wasn't so detached, however.
"Really, I wonder where the chief's gotten to," Havoc mused, his mood brought down a bit at the thought of the missing Fullmetal Alchemist.
"There's not exactly much of a chance of ever finding out," Mustang growled. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got work to do."
That shut them up. When Roy Mustang ran from a conversation by going to work, you knew it was time to keep your trap closed. All of them knew the nature of Mustang's apparently sudden ire; they'd seen his loyalty to Havoc even after he'd been crippled and knew it was killing him that he'd lost Ed, another of his subordinates.
"Thank you, sir," Hawkeye said, moving a pile of unfinished work right in front of him. "This should have been done yesterday. I'd start with that."
And Mustang, at as loss at his retreat from the conversation, sighed and started on the first bit of paperwork.
Two Weeks Later
Overtime was awful, Mustang had decided. Downright terrible. Especially when you had no hope for escape with a cold-blooded sniper breathing down your neck. Not that he was saying Hawkeye was cold-blooded or anything, no, not to a poor defenseless men with chronic procrastination syndrome… Of course not…
"Sir, stop staring at the wall. I'd like to get out of here before midnight," Riza sighed. Roy jerked his eyes and mind away from his pointlessly blank stare at the wall and hastily began to scribble away again. The pile was slowly decreasing, seeming to be going down with the sun seen in the window behind him. Sunset came and went; Mustang was finally almost done, thanks much.
The phone rang, and he automatically reached toward it, but Hawkeye got there first.
"Riza Hawkeye speaking." Mustang delayed his work, choosing instead to watch Hawkeye as she listened to the other end with rapt attention. After a moment, she took the phone away from her ear. "Sir, it's for you. Jordan Fluegal."
Mustang raised an eyebrow. "Fluegal? What does he want?"
Jordan Fluegal was a retired State Alchemist. In the havoc after the Promised Day and with the complete chaos most of the military was in, he'd almost been called back in, but he'd resisted the leash around his neck; he'd given up being a dog of the military. However, that didn't stop him from giving what he could to the effort to pull the country back together. As an alchemist, he'd gone to the research side of it when several underground illegal laboratories were discovered, with chimeras of mixed animals or—the true horror—humans. Mustang had heard a few things about the research to figure out a possible way to reverse the transmutation, but things weren't going well. Despite having rescued the chimeras from the labs they had found and putting them in more hospitable locations then ill-fitted cages, not a single chimera melded with a human would speak.
After what Mustang knew about Tucker and his daughter, Nina, coupled with the chimeras that the Elrics had recruited on their journey, he knew that was strange. Maybe something had gone wrong with the vocal chords during the transmutation…
Mustang took the phone from Hawkeye and placed it against his face.
"Roy Mustang speaking."
"Ah, good. I rather figured you'd be working overtime; due dates coming up and that terrible procrastination habit of yours…"
Definitely Fleugal. Mustang's eyebrow ticked at the 'habit' comment, but Fluegal was fairly easygoing, so long as it didn't pertain to his research. The sudden firmness of his next sentence declared that's exactly what he'd called about.
"I have a favor—not exactly a favor, more a request for the good of the research—anyway, something to ask of you. You are aware of the many chimeras we've found in illegal facilities all around central?"
"Are you aware that we found another illegal facility—in tip top shape, I might add, still in use, we've got to find the people doing this—less than a week ago?"
"No. I admit I don't watch your program with eyes peeled," Mustang added drily. Could the man just get to the point?
"Well, no one does, I suppose. Anyway. One of the chimeras escaped my facility, mere minutes ago, in fact. Frankly, we're shorthanded as it is, and we've got no chance catching it with our staff. I was wondering if you could do that for me."
"You want me to catch a chimera wandering around Central at night?" Mustang said skeptically. "Those are pretty broad outlines."
"I'll narrow them up for you, then. See, this chimera is a human hybrid. It was crossed with a bird, golden winged. Once you get sight of it, you probably won't lose it; most of these chimeras aren't used to large places, having been in cages, of course. It won't go too far, but it'll still be a little tricky to catch. Rooftops and such—and once you get up there, it'll just fly away. I need you to catch it by dawn, or else it'll be visible to the whole city, and heaven knows we don't need that kind of pandemonium right now. But please don't harm it! If you can't get it completely unscathed by dawn, I want that girl of yours—Hawkeye—to shoot its wing. When it's close to a rooftop, that is, so it won't injure itself in the fall. I want that chimera back as healthy as possible. Thanks for doing this for me, Mustang, I really appreciate it, and I'm sure the chimera will too, once we find the answer in this research."
All at once, the line went dead. Fluegal had hung up.
It occurred to Mustang that he hadn't even actually agreed to this.
So he could go out and catch a flighty little birdie, or he could stay here and finish up the paperwork.
Mustang stood up and shrugged on his coat. Hawkeye's eyebrows shot up, and she appeared ready to protest for the sake of the unfinished paperwork. He rolled his eyes and gestured her towards the door.
"I don't exactly have much of a choice," he said; a half-truth, but Fluegal hadn't exactly given him a chance to say anything. "We've got a chimera to catch."
Central at night was not always the friendliest place. All kinds prowled about in dark alleys and dilapidated houses. Luckily, that was mostly in the southeast district, and their search was mostly centered around the new facility for rescued chimeras, near the center of the city and a little to the north.
Of course, Mustang would have felt perfectly safe anyway, with his gloves and his alchemy, and with Hawkeye at his back.
It felt more like a midnight walk than an intense search, as they hadn't spotted the chimera yet. Mustang strolled along, ostensibly nonchalant, but with sharp eyes on the night sky. The streetlights felt revealing, and Mustang was almost certain that if the chimera were anywhere near, it would have spotted them and taken flight long before.
Yet another scan of the sky in vain for any sign of the chimera. Golden feathers. Flying. Nope, nothing visible in the velvet stretch of sky above…
Hawkeye's voice cut through his concentration; Mustang followed her pointed finger and saw something—he was barely sure what—off on a chimney on the roof of a building nearly two blocks away. The distant figure jumped off, then fluttered; wings caught the light of a streetlamp and threw it back golden.
"Good," Mustang murmured, eyes on the chimera. "We found it."
They moved to the sidewalk and started toward it with quick, silent steps. With absent observance, Mustang noted that Hawkeye's hand was on the gun at her hip—just in case the chimera wasn't as harmless as Fluegal had made it out to be, no doubt.
The chimera seemed uncertain. Mustang wasn't quite sure if it had seen them or not; it flapped, hovering, in the same spot like it hadn't decided if it wanted to move on or stay by the street light. The light it hovered under gave Mustang a view of the creature as its ever-moving wings constantly shifted the shadows on its body.
It was easily seen that, despite feathered wings and tail feathers and—was that a beak?—it was not fully a bird. For one, it was too large to be any bird Mustang had ever seen before. For another, the shape of the body was wrong, as was the angle. The legs weren't visible; that is, if there were any at all. There was hair on its head that glinted the same color as its wings for the split second Mustang saw it uninterrupted, and then the chimera made up its mind and fluttered up to rest on another rooftop.
"Hawkeye. Can you get onto that roof?" Mustang asked his subordinate quietly.
"Yes, sir. But it will have flown away by the time I get close."
"Probably," Mustang admitted, "but there's no harm in trying."
Hawkeye sighed softly and ran silently to the fire escape of the building the chimera had landed on. Mustang watched from below; it was hard to see everything that was going on with the darkness of night, but he caught the general idea by simple outlines.
The chimera was roosted on the edge of the roof near the street. Hawkeye came up on the opposite edge. She walked toward it slowly as its back was still to her, but as careful as she appeared to be, the chimera glanced back at her when she was barely halfway across. In a quick reaction, Riza held out her hands in a peaceable gesture, as though to keep it calm, and took another step toward the chimera. The chimera jumped off the roof and fluttered over to the top of the next building.
Much of the next three hours passed this way; either Mustang or Hawkeye would climb onto the roof of whatever building the chimera happened to have chosen and attempt to get close enough to grab it. Alchemy was out after Mustang's second botched attempt; the first time, he'd tried to transmute a cage right over the bird, but it had flown out with a deafening kree of alarm before the cage could close over it. The second time he'd managed to get it inside, but it had broken the cage within five seconds and had flown in circles with distressed choruses of kree kee for several minutes before lighting atop a building again.
After the second fail, the two military persons regrouped for a short planning session.
"Maybe it doesn't respond so well to alchemy after what it did to the poor thing the first time," Hawkeye noted, a little sarcastically.
"If I were a chimera, I wouldn't like alchemy much either," Mustang admitted lowly. "But this is still getting frustrating."
"If I were a chimera," Hawkeye said drily, "a couple of soldiers climbing about like monkeys and trying to sneak up behind me wouldn't exactly do the job of recapturing. What does Fluegal want us to do if we can't catch it by sunrise?"
"You're to shoot its wing. But that's supposed to be a last resort; he wants it back uninjured."
Hawkeye sighed, slightly frustrated. "Can't I shoot its wing now and you just turn it in at sunrise?"
"Tempting," Mustang admitted, "with the way this is turning out. However, I admit I don't like the idea of shooting it and then giving the cooing little birdie six hours to guilt trip me for letting it get hurt when we're just too clumsy to catch it."
Hawkeye rolled her eyes. "So much for getting to bed before midnight," she muttered. Mustang was fairly certain he hadn't been meant to hear that. He concentrated on trying to figure out any possible way to catch it. He definitely couldn't flame it, considering that it was supposed to be unharmed—
Wait. "I've got it," Mustang said, and quickly told Hawkeye his idea.
Hawkeyes thighs weren't very pleased at the moment, judging by the way they were aching as she climbed the—what was it—sixteenth fire escape that night, up all five stories. She peeked up over the top; there was the chimera, golden and fluttering, across the roof and approximately four feet from the edge. Glancing to her right, she saw Mustang on the neighboring rooftop, standing and staring at the chimera.
He clapped his hands together.
Alchemy of his sort wasn't usually visible until he lit the fuse, Hawkeye knew, so she wasn't surprised when it seemed that nothing had happened. But she knew that around the chimera, the oxygen was gone, now replaced by carbon dioxide. Riza waited fifteen seconds, then rose to her feet, climbed onto the roof, and started toward the chimera. She saw the moment it noticed her, the way its body straightened and the wings flared up. With a powerful downward stroke, it would rise into the air as it always did; but this time, the downward stroke had no power.
Its wings fluttered weakly before falling limply at its sides. It swayed, chest heaving for want of oxygen. Hawkeye stopped with caution, sprinting toward it and catching it as it crumpled, raising her hand in a signal to Mustang that he could let up on the oxygen deprivation. He disappeared from the rooftop; Hawkeye knew he was coming here for the chimera. She didn't envy his climb of the five stories on the fire escape.
She and the chimera were too close to the edge for her liking, so she scooted over a good ten feet and knelt down, stroking the head of the downed chimera. No longer deprived of oxygen, it was already getting back its strength. One powerful swing of its wing almost knocked Riza over, and she quickly repositioned herself to avoid that fate. She stroked its shoulder and attempted to calm it, hushing it softly. The wing fluttered and lay against the chimera's side once more as it made that desolate-sounding kee once more. On a whim, Riza tried whistling, just a little.
A pause, then a returning whistle. There was no more resistance from the chimera.
"Speaking bird, are we now?" Mustang said, slightly out of breath, right behind her.
"Yes," she said softly, then whistled again as the chimera stirred restlessly at the sound of a human voice. It whistled back, then let out another soft kee.
"Poor little thing," Mustang said softly, regretfully. "Why anyone would do this to a human—or to an animal, for that matter…" he discontinued his sentence and walked around to crouch in front of the calmed chimera, examining its golden feathers. "Quiet little thing, once you've actually got it," he noted, brushing his hand along its wing. The wing fluttered a bit, and the chimera whistled at him. Mustang raised an eyebrow and looked over at the chimera's face.
His expression froze, then melted into one of horror.
"Sir?" Hawkeye asked worriedly.
"Its face," he whispered. "Look at its face."
She expected some hideous deformation, some abomination that could shock her even after all she'd seen.
It was much worse.
She sucked in a breath and pressed her lips together, unsure whether she wanted to cry out or simply cry. The chimera, its—his—head resting on her lap, gave a soft kee at her distress.
She rested a hand on his forehead and couldn't stop a tear from escaping her eyes and falling onto his lashes; he blinked and opened his painfully familiar golden eyes again.
"Well, at least we found you," she whispered to him.
The chimera was Ed.
Thanks for reading. Review, please! Reviews are an author's weapon against the dreaded writer's block...