a/n: Happy holidays! This story isn't related to the season at all, but whatever.
"Look," he calmly said in the white expanse (to the white expanse? Who said this thing wasn't just appearing in that form so he wouldn't completely lose his head?), "I understand the laws you've got going here."
"Understand, yes. But you've never been one for conforming to the laws, have you?"
"Well, I walk the grey line sometimes."
A snort. "Sometimes?"
"Most of the time. Technicalities." He gave a charming smile.
"How's Mr. Burke doing?"
"You know, it's Agent Burke."
The being laughed. "Titles for government employees don't mean anything to me. Do you think I obey the laws of a bureau or agency?"
"You don't look the sort," Caffrey, Neal Caffrey, agreed. "You know, I didn't either for the longest time."
"You didn't answer my question. How is he?"
"I think your omniscient mind can tell you that," Neal said. "Which is why I won't bother debating about why I'm here."
"You're planning on using your charm to get me to let you pass through here without me taking anything from you."
"Actually, I was going to ask if you could just open up a portal or something. That way if I want to come back I can just hop over instead of having to bother you again."
The Truth smirked. "Well, aren't you just a bit pushy?"
"I've been told that." Neal shrugged out of his suit jacket and threw it over his shoulder. He put his hands in his pockets, leaning his weight onto his right side. "I've also been told that you were the person to talk to about this whole portal thing. Something complicated, something neat, something intricate… You were the person to talk to."
"That I am… That I am." The Truth took a similar pose to Neal's. "Why would you want to go back to Amestris once you get home? Hawkeye nearly took out your kneecap and Mustang singed a few hairs off you."
Neal rocked back on his heels nonchalantly to glance down at his knee. It had been tied up in a tourniquet to prevent further bleeding, but a bit was still leaking through. He looked back up to the Truth and smiled. "It was a misunderstanding."
"I think they understood perfectly what was going on, and I think that's why they shot at you," the Truth replied, amused. "And they hounded you across half of Central for it."
"And their subordinates patched it up. Ironic, that."
"Not really. You never saw them interact in a room together."
"I don't think I want to. Fullmetal seems to have superiority problems."
"He has other problems too."
Neal paced a few steps to the left, looking around the white room. "Love what you've done with the place. The decoration's to die for."
"Some have died seeing it, that's for sure. Not sure if they were planning to talk to their interior designer about putting it in their living room, though."
"I can see the appeal. Plenty of space to think. Does it ever end out there?"
"You can start walking and find out for yourself."
"Just intellectual curiosity." He turned back to the Truth. "Peter's doing fine, in response to your earlier question. Well, he was forty-eight hours ago, anyway. Can't vouch for anything recent."
"And Mrs. Burke?"
"Also doing fine." He smiled. "I wonder if they've put together a search party out of worry or irritation," he mused.
"You assume they've already done so?"
"It's not like I just wander off for no reason a whole lot. But let me tell you, this will do loads to my reputation when it comes to disappearing acts. I literally disappeared off the face of the earth."
"What about to your bill of health?"
"Ah, that might go down a bit, depending on how the leg heals."
"The bullet gouged out quite a bit. You're going to need a professional doctor to look at that sometime soon," the Truth noted. "The sniper soldier is quite a good shot. You're lucky it didn't hit something more… vital."
"I think it would've taken a chunk out of my head if I hadn't been falling backwards over the railing when she took the shot. I'm not sure if I would've been more worried if she had kept coming after me or if Mustang had. Fullmetal and his brother seem to do things just to irritate Mustang, though."
"They do things just to irritate a lot of people. Mustang doesn't get sole credit for that."
"But he gets a lot."
"Oh, he gets most of it. You met Winry, right?"
"Yes, she threw a wrench at my head."
"I thought she threw it at the Edward Elric's head."
"Well, she did, but it bounced off and hit me. In the leg. Where I had just been shot."
The Truth laughed. "Did she apologize?"
"She was too busy throttling her childhood friend. I think the two are going to get married at some point. Buy a house, have little kids running around their legs, settle in…"
The Truth considered the statement for a second. "Except their both A-type personalities…"
"Oh, in comparison to her, Ed's B-type. They'll do fine. Anyone else of a weaker personality would get run over by her. She wouldn't even see him there."
A few moments of content silent passed.
"You still want that portal?"
"Anytime you want to put it up."
Edward dropped his head into his hands with a groan. "Where did he run off to?"
Alphonse shrugged, looking down the riverbank. "I don't know. Do you think we should ask Mustang if he could put together a search team?"
"No, no, they'd probably shoot him again just for spite against him getting away the first time." Edward got to his feet, brushing dirt off his butt. "Okay, Winry, are you going to head back to the hotel, or-?"
"I'm going with you, nimrod! It's your fault he's in this mess!"
"How's it my fault?! I don't even know who he is!"
"Your military friends shot at him!"
"It's not like I told them to do it!"
"Hey, we should get going if we want to find him," Alphonse pointed out. "When you left to get food, Edward, Winry and I heard the police coming so we left to try to distract them. We got back a few minutes later and he was gone. But the police had gone in the opposite direction, so we know they didn't get him."
"At least there's that. He's probably just hiding further down the bank in the opposite direction they were coming. I think he'd head upriver. Mustang and Hawkeye would be looking in the opposite direction."
"Are you sure you shouldn't contact them?" Winry asked. "I mean, what if they were shooting at him for a legitimate reason?"
Edward snorted. "I doubt it."
"But still. You could get in trouble later if you should have reported it."
"She's right, Brother."
"Hush, I'm thinking." He grumbled under his breath for a few seconds, was quiet, and then came to a conclusion. "Okay, we'll split up. Al, Winry, go upstream, and I'll go downstream. Hide him if you see him, and I'll talk to Mustang and Hawkeye if I see them. We'll meet at the hotel ten to twelve, alright?"
"Why not just at twelve?" Winry said in frustration. "You guys have to make this complicated or something?"
"If Mustang catches on, he'll post people who will by instinct keep a closer eye out on the hour for suspicious behavior or on the half hour. It's usually when people choose meeting times," Alphonse pointed out. "And it avoids predictability."
"So you just want to piss off your boss is basically what this whole thing's about."
"Hey, we never denied it."
Edward found the two aforementioned soldiers about ten minutes down the river. He wasn't sure why he'd continued after the first five, because he wasn't sure the man would've made it down the river that fast without dropping a blood trail. But he had time to spare until the meeting and he needed to talk to his superiors anyway, however much he didn't want to.
They didn't disappoint. They were down the river, scavenging the area for the wounded man. Neither of them nor any of the soldiers or police with them saw him until he marched right up to Mustang. "Still looking?"
Mustang barely spared him a glance. "You heard?"
"Yeah. I can't come to Central without engaging in some death-defying activity, so I figured I might as well get it out of the way in case this guy is armed."
"Doesn't seem like he is. He didn't fire off a shot while Hawkeye and I were chasing him. You heard he was shot and fell into the river?"
"Yep. Isn't that a little overboard for someone who just broke into a building?"
"He broke into Central HQ. In particular, the Fuhrer's office."
"And you didn't give him a chance to explain."
Mustang rolled his eyes. "How ever did I guess that you would take his side?"
"Probably because he's not on yours. Any clues?"
"Unless he got out of the river and went into the city, we should be coming across him sometime soon. I either missed or hit him in the head, though. Chances are his body in somewhere down the river."
"How high is the likelihood you killed him?"
The three of them turned to look at the man making his way down the riverbank and into their conversation. He was wearing a suit and walked like a government agent. He was followed by someone wearing nondescript clothing and who walked like someone who most definitely not a government agent. The first nodded at their confused expressions. "I believe I know the suspect."
"How?" Mustang asked.
"I work with him. Or, I did, until he left the country. We haven't heard from him in the last few days."
"Is that cause for concern?" Mustang asked.
The man gave a very humorless laugh. "It's cause for worry."
"How well do you know him?"
"Probably better than anyone, but that's not much help because no one knows him well. Now, what's the probability he's dead?"
Hawkeye and Mustang exchanged a glance. "Usually I would say it's almost a certainty that he's dead," Hawkeye said carefully, "but usually, they're not dodging fire and back flipping over railings into the river below to avoid the fire."
"Was he being chased for theft or just breaking and entering?"
"Both. This happens often?"
"He's a renowned art thief, forger, and con man."
"Ah, that's alleged on everything but bond forgery," Neal said, appearing at Peter's elbow. He held out a hand to shake Mustang's. "Ah, hi. Sorry about earlier. I would've stopped to talk, but I was kind of taken off guard by the… pyrotechnics."
"What were you doing in the Fuhrer's office?" Mustang demanded. He was pulling out a pair of handcuffs.
Peter held out a hand to stop him. "Wait. I hate to play jurisdiction wars, but he broke his parole. I assure you, we can arrest him on breaking and entering and theft as well." While the uncertainty and suspicion played out for a few seconds on Hawkeye's and Mustang's expressions, Peter turned to Neal and hissed, quietly so only he would hear him, "You were here for less than two days, and you already committed a felony?!"
Under his breath so only Peter would hear, "I overheard some people talking about how suspicious things were going on there, and I figured he might know about what happened."
"And what the hell did happen?"
"I found out what the music box was hiding is what happened. It was a portal here without a return route. Ah, and the Fuhrer didn't know anything."
"The music box caused this?!"
"Hello, we're still here," Mustang pointed out, having caught absolutely none of that conversation. "If you don't mind, we're still going to have to do something about the charges."
"Well, I think you're going to have larger problems than him breaking into whoever's office."
"That 'whoever' runs the country."
Neal should have been fried out of his shoes by the glare that Peter sent his way. Some magical force saved him. "Ah. I'm sorry for the inconvenience. I'm sure he'll put anything back that he took."
"I didn't actually take anything. I just looked around."
"What I meant was that this is a bit larger than him just breaking in there. We're not actually from… where are we?"
"In what country?"
"Yeah, we're definitely not from around here."
"No, I don't even have a clue where this is located on the map."
"It's next to Xing and below Drachma," Hawkeye said, frowning slightly.
"That doesn't help much. We're Americans."
"Exactly. Look, this is all his fault," he said, pointing at Neal for emphasis, who rolled his eyes and folded his arms, "so let's just blame it on him and get on with our lives. We can take him back and arrest him, but I'd rather not start an international incident between countries who don't even know that the other existed. This whole thing is rather awkward."
"And all your friend's fault."
"Entirely his fault."
"Do I get a say in this?"
"Absolutely not," Peter responded, almost before Neal finished. Peter took hold of his arm and started to pull him away.
"This is the largest conspiracy theory I've heard yet. How could this not have come across my radar before?!" the inconspicuous man behind Peter and Neal suddenly exclaimed. "Suit! Did you know about this?"
"No," Peter sighed, almost groaning. The Amestrians were looking at him in surprise, having completely forgotten he was there.
"Are you lost?" Hawkeye asked him, as the small man looked extremely out of place and nondescript for the situation.
"Hey, Woodrow, where'd you go for the last five minutes?" Edward frowned.
Before Neal could respond, Peter broke in. "Wait. Woodrow?" He glanced at Neal. "Woodrow Wilson?"
"That's what he said his name was…" Edward trailed off. "I'm missing something."
"Woodrow Wilson, like the thirty-second president of the U.S.?"
Neal shrugged absently. "I see him a lot."
"He's been dead for over eighty years!"
"Not literally! He's on the 100, 000 dollar bill. And his name just… came to mind," Neal said, turning to the alchemists and soldier to change the topic. "Anyway, do you know of a white dude in a white area with some huge ass doors?"
Edward froze and shot a glance at Mustang. Mustang suddenly became a lot more suspicious. "You could say that."
"Who exactly is he?"
"A bastard, for one thing, but he also calls him the Truth."
"Weird. I convinced him to put up a portal to connect the two worlds."
"You conned the Truth?!"