Found wi-fi! Greetings from England ^.^

Merry Christmas, all. I tried to get this done before I left the country. It didn't work. Still … better late than never, right?

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Claret [klar-it]
noun

1. The red table wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France: originally it was light red or yellowish.
2. A similar wine made elsewhere.
3. Also called claret red. A deep purplish red.
4.
Slang. Blood.

adjective

5. Deep purplish-red.

(from Dictionary . com)

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Roy Mustang

It took hours to get to the Tucker house.

Well, at least it seemed like hours. Time stretches out when one is stuck carrying a dead Chim through abandoned streets. This, Roy had found out the hard way.

In the beginning, he had complained and bitched and moaned under his breath. Mr. Tucker was walking quite a few feet ahead of him, so there would be no damage done. No damage, that is, besides the glares Elizabeth shot in his direction. He had quite forgotten that she was walking only a foot or so to his left, and therefore could hear every word he said.

At least she's not shooting bullets, he thought gratefully. He knew she would, if she could … but they couldn't afford to waste the ammunition now.

Yes, now. It was something she had done before. Before as in … before.

By the time the three reached the house on the outskirts of the city, Roy was drenched in the thick red goop that was the chimaera's blood. The viscous stuff acted as glue, sticking tufts of the chimaera's fur to the worn fabric that his shirt was made of. He felt like a mess.

Scratch that. He was a mess.

And he was so damn glad that Edward wasn't around to see him in such a state of disarray.

The Tucker residence, like any other inhabited building in Amestris, showed signs of chimaera attack. The windows, while he was certain there had been glass before, were now crisscrossed with wooden beams hastily nailed haphazardly into place. Around the property was a ramshackle barrier created with nonessential furniture such as bookshelves and extra dining chairs. It was broken in places, and in even more places it was covered in dried Chim blood.

It wasn't as clean as their setup at Eastern HQ, but considering both Tucker and his daughter were still alive and living in the house … Roy assumed it was effective enough.

A sharp cough from Elizabeth alerted him to the fact that Shao had opened the front door and was now ushering them both inside. He could debate Chim survival strategies later. Right now, he just wanted to get the one he had on his shoulder off his shoulder.

"Come in, come in," the older man said. "I would offer you both something to drink but …" he trailed off, not needing to finish his sentence.

Both Riza and Roy stepped inside, although the male teenager had a bit more difficulty considering the burden he carried. It was with a grateful grunt of relief that Roy dropped the Chim inside the front hall. The wood was stained a darker color in one spot – a dark red, he assumed, the result of preceding bloodstains from preceding Chims. The muddy color was just the right size for a chimaera, and that was where he dropped the creature he carried.

"Oh, thank you," Shou said. "Yes, right there is good."

With the Chim off his shoulder, Roy could more easily scope the place out. The inside of the house, he noticed, was just as cluttered and disorganized as the outside. Books and sheaves of paper littered almost every available surface in the room. Many of the papers were crumpled and marred with marks which could only have been made by bloody fingers.

So, Roy thought, his research hadn't ended with the beginning of Chimaerism.

There was also a shotgun resting on the wall by the door they had all just come in. Extra ammo sat on a nearby bookshelf. This man was not a stranger to combatting Chims, by any means.

"So," Elizabeth said as she concluded her own assessment of their surroundings, "you were one of the scientists working on Project Chimaera?" The question was prodding – there were no two ways about it. To his credit, however, Mr. Tucker indulged the two desperate teenagers with a small smile.

"Yes," he said, "I am. Come this way – we don't have to stand in the entryway for this conversation. In fact – it's better that we don't. Since I lost the glass in those windows, my daughter and I have had to stay extremely quiet. Noise draws the Chims, as you most likely well know."

Both teenagers nodded their heads in agreement as they followed the man into the house. Roy, however, didn't miss the fact that Riza kept the safety off on her pistol. As much as this man seemed trustworthy, no one was trustworthy anymore. They couldn't let their guard down.

"Good idea," he murmured into her ear as he came up behind her. As much as he tried, he couldn't ignore the shiver that he both felt and saw make its way down her back. Sighing heavily, he drew back to put at least a foot's worth of space between them once again. Someday, he told himself, just not yet.

Pounding footsteps interrupted his thoughts.

"Daddy!"

A little girl, whom Roy assumed to be Nina, came running in from one of the back rooms. The black-haired teen could suddenly understand why the Elrics had been so adamant in attempting to help her – she couldn't have been older than little Elicia back at Headquarters.

"Daddy, I heard you from outside! We have visitors? We never have visitors … it's not Ed and Al … who is it?" She spoke her words in a rush, excitedly. When she turned to look at Roy and Elizabeth, her face lit up. "Are they okay?" she asked the two.

Roy was puzzled. Neither he nor Elizabeth had mentioned knowing the two boys, so unless the little girl was a mind reader, there was no way she should have known to ask the question. Still, he answered it for her.

"Yeah, they're fine. They were a little wet when they got back, but we got them dried off quickly… how did you know we knew them?" He couldn't help but ask the question. He had to know. In this day and age, unknowns were dangerous. He preferred to have all his facts straight all the time.

"You smell the same," she said simply. Beside her, Shou Tucker wore a proud smile but chuckled nervously before prodding her back toward the way she came.

"Nina, darling, why don't you go back and play with Alexander? I have some important, boring grown-up business to attend to with Roy and Liz. You'd hate it."

Both Roy and Elizabeth visibly winced at the nickname.

The girl looked as if she was going to protest, but then sighed resignedly. "Okay," she said heavily before turning back around.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, whirling back to face Roy and Elizabeth, "tell Ed and Al I said 'hi!'"

"Will do," Riza promised, and Nina beamed before flouncing her way into the back of the house once more.

Strange child, Roy thought. Somehow, having the answers he craved only served to make him even more uneasy.

"So. You wanted to know about the Chims," Shou said suddenly, clapping his hands together and knocking the raven-haired teen from his thoughts. "Come in, sit down. I apologize about the mess."

"It's fine," Roy said, more focused on the matter at hand. "Information is information, and information is what allows us to survive longer." He followed the older man into what seemed to be the living room, as it held two couches and what seemed to be an unused fireplace.

Shou ushered them toward the loveseat while he himself took the armchair. While Roy took the offered seat, however, Elizabeth chose to stand behind the couch. Sometimes Roy thought that she needed to loosen up just a little bit – after all, she wasn't his subordinate or anything – but he never spoke his opinions. Everyone had dealt with the outbreak in their own way, and becoming militaristic and proper had been hers.

"Yes, well," the older man said as he sat down, "the first thing you need to know is that we meant to help. None of the scientists ever meant for any of this to happen. We knew Project Chimaera wasn't refined enough to go into the public. We tried to convince the higher-ups that it was a bad idea but … they wouldn't listen. They wouldn't listen, it's not our fault! Okay, remember that."

Roy nodded. Already this was more information than they'd had previously. A surge of anger built inside him as he couldn't help but think that the scientists working on the Project could have done more, but he kept silent. He couldn't afford to blow up and lose their only source of information.

"It was all we could do to sit back and wait for the inevitable. We didn't know what would happen, only that something would. Any man who tried to warn the public was shut down immediately. I knew a couple men personally whom were never seen again. Whether they're in jail or dead, I don't know. When the effects first made themselves known, we tried to help with those, too.

"It started with a fever, as the body tried to fight off the foreign material. At first, it was thought to be normal. After all, the body was adjusting. Therefore, they kept administering the Chimaera drug. Then people began coughing up blood. The government refused to see it – they passed it off as an outbreak of tuberculosis. By the time they got their heads far enough out of their asses to see the connection between the symptoms, the Chimaera drug had been administered to almost ten million people.

"After weeks of coughing, the patients would fall into a state of delirium. They no longer responded to any sort of stimulus, at least not coherently. They could no longer comprehend what we were saying – the fever, it fried their brains. After that, it wasn't long before body hair thickened or feathers sprouted and bone growths caused the skeleton to take a more animalistic form.

"The very last thing that happened was the snap of the mind into the mindset of a rabid animal. The metabolisms due to the fever run extremely fast, so they're always hungry. That, combined with the hunting instinct of the animal … well, you know how they are."

Throughout this, both Roy and Riza listened in silence. After Shou finished talking, the silence remained for quite a few seconds before Elizabeth finally broke it.

"You mean … those people are still alive?"

Mr. Tucker hemmed and hawed. "In a sense," he finally admitted, "but you can hardly call them human, not anymore. There's no way to reach them. Talking to them is just about as useful as asking a lion not to attack you."

A hand clamped down on his shoulder, and Roy allowed himself to put his own on top of it. Riza hated killing, and this new information … it must be terrible for her, he realized. Their fingers tangled, and he knew just how bad it must be if she was allowing the contact between them.

"But now," Roy forced himself to say, "people turn within minutes of being bitten or scratched or coming in blood contact with Chim blood … why? Why did it take so long then, but not now?"

"The body mutates the genetics," Shou explained. "Already-mutated material will affect the body a lot faster than the pure genetics. In our studies, we discovered that the period of sickness, especially while the patients were coughing blood, was because the genetic material was mutating. Take out that portion of the process, and you're left with the fever and delirium."

The man paused, and then leaned toward the teens. "I don't mean to scare you, but we're all infected. Every time you drink the water, or breathe the air, or touch a surface which has had contact with a Chim, you obtain miniscule amounts of the mutated material. It's not much, and therefore your body is able to fend it off, but once you overload it with an infected substance – like blood – it jumpstarts the process into occurring."

This time, it was Roy's turn to seek comfort from the young woman standing behind him. She squeezed his hand in return, and it calmed him only slightly. All this time, whereas he thought he had been running a safehouse from Eastern HQ, he had only been managing a time bomb. From the sounds of it, they were all doomed. It was a fact he had known subconsciously, but having it spoken aloud made it that much worse.

"I'm trying to find an antidote. I'm trying to find out what makes these things tick. I'm still attempting to figure out what went wrong. It's difficult, now, but I think I'm making process. My wife died last year due to the disease, and so finding all its secrets means more than anything to me."

The teens from Eastern Headquarters stayed at the Tucker residence for a while longer, discussing Chims and other heavy subjects with the older man. It had been months since anyone at HQ had encountered anyone from outside their tightly-knit group, and it was an eye-opening experience. Remembering his promise to the Elric brothers, Roy tried to convince Shou to bring Nina and Alexander with him back to Headquarters. Key word – tried. As he had with the Elrics, Shou turned the offer down once more.

Thus it was with heavy hearts that Roy and Elizabeth made the return journey, this time uninterrupted by Chims. In fact, it was only once they came into sight of the abandoned hotel that they let go of the grasp they'd held on the other's hand since the moment in the Tucker's living room. It was rare that they ended up on their own together like this, but now things had go back to the way they were.

Roy had a lot to think about, given this new information. Did he make it public knowledge around Headquarters, or keep them in the dark? He knew the answer to that, but he didn't want to deal with the ramifications such information would cause.

Speaking of ramifications … the Elrics wouldn't be very happy with him …

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I think my chapters are getting even longer still …